The 1990s featured memorable horror films like “The Sixth Sense,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Interview with the Vampire,” and Wes Craven’s “Scream.” Released in 1996, “Scream” has spawned three sequels, countless copycat films, and an annual Halloween costume that still scares today. With quick paced direction, above-average acting, and witty writing the film offers a definitive look at the slasher genre.
One year after the brutal murder of her mother, high school student Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) must confront a masked killer who is torturing the small town of Woodsboro. The opening scene alone has enough horror elements to spread throughout the whole film as the killer is introduced by phone. He reels his victim in with casual conversation that builds up into verbal threats and his eventual appearance.
Director Wes Craven creates a slow building atmosphere that uses both sight and sound to build up viewers. Phones ring, popcorn pops, and the music cues in at the just the right moments before the killer appears. The weapon of choice is a large hunting knife and kills are gory without going over the top. Craven does not rely on cheap nudity or random deaths to move the plot along; each one has a purpose in the ever-building story.
The film’s pacing keeps the mystery alive, reveals little pieces of the puzzle, and small flashes of “Ghost Face” keep people aware of the horror to come. With a mix of Michael Myers’ look and Freddy Kruger’s sarcastic tone, the “Ghost Face” is the ultimate horror villain as it uses violence and speech to torture victims.
Craven’s sleek direction is aided by a strong supporting cast. Neve Campbell replaces the typical “dumb” victim with an intelligent, independent teenager that viewers can actually root for to survive. Along with “Ghost Face,” Sydney struggles with Gale Weathers (brilliantly played by Courteney Cox), an author and news reporter who covered her mom’s trail.
One of the main suspects early in the film is Sydney’s own boyfriend Billy (Skeet Urlich). The “boyfriend” character is usually a one note jerk that becomes the killer or gets killed off, but Billy has a lot of mystery and qualities to keep the relationship and story interesting.
David Arquette, laughably bad in films like “Ready to Rumble” and “See Spot Run,” surprises in the role of Deputy Dewey, a Woodsboro police officer and brother to Sydney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan). He brings a lot of comedy to the film and his chemistry shines in the slow build relationship between Dewey and Gail.
The acting and direction in “Scream” helped bring alive Kevin Williamson’s genius script. Instead of existing in its own universe, “Scream” feels more realistic because of the character’s awareness of existing horror movies. There are countless numbers of horror movies referred to and the video store clerk Randy (Jamie Kennedy) even offers the “Horror Rules” for character survival.
Just when you think you have the masked killer figured out, Williamson throws you a curve and everything you knew is thrown out the window. This all builds up to the clustered climax and shocking end of the film. A few extra minutes of epilogue would have made the ending not seem so sudden, but that’s what sequels are for anyway.
A small town killer, crash course in horror history, and a perfect ensemble of actors has made “Scream” an iconic horror film that reinvented the slasher genre and one of Wes Craven’s best efforts. Unplug your phone and watch it in the dark on surround sound for the best viewing experience.