10 March 1998
Scream: Not Your Typical Horror Movie
Dracula. Frankenstein. Godzilla. These monsters no longer strike fear into the hearts of viewers as they once did. Formerly the villains of the classic "monster movie," these relics, who now represent all that is archaic in horror film history, move aside to make room for the newcomers. The monster movie of the past makes way for the thriller or slasher movie of the present, while the monster villain gives its role to the deranged psycho/serial killer. The Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and more recently Copycat and Seven, have become the new classics in the genre of the horror film. With films like The People Under the Stairs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Nightmare, Wes Craven has proven himself to be a master of the creation of modern horror films.
With his recent masterpiece Scream, Craven shows his audience that he is not restricted by the typical conventions of the horror film. In most of these films, the background is set up before the killer does any actual slashing. However in Scream, Drew Barrymore's character is tormented by the killer from the film's very beginning and both she and her boyfriend are dead less than ten minutes after the opening credits. Craven manages to make Scream a film of less"fluff" and more substance than most thrillers. Recurring themes in the film, such as the lack of teens' seriousness, the callous nature of today's younger generation, the crossover and confusion between reality and movies, and the negative representation of television media not only add to the film's entertainment value, but also often portray a fairly accurate picture of twentieth century America.
Despite all the film's blood and gore, Craven creates a comedic tone so successfully that at times the audience wonders whether Scream might be a comedy after all. Even though the safety of their small town has been shattered by a deranged serial killer, the characters do not seem to take the situation very seriously. The main characters are eating lunch at school the day after the first murders and, as might be expected, the killings make up the topic of their conversation. At one point, the character Randy turns to Tatem, and in a convincing imitation of Billy Crystal, he asks her, "Did they really find her liver in the mailbox? Because I heard they found her liver in the mailbox." Tatem and Sidney, the other female present and the movie's main character, cringe at this tasteless remark. Tatem's boyfriend Stu puts his arm around her protectively and says, "Liver alone." He then bursts out laughing and continues, "Get it? Liver alone?!" When none of the others laugh, Stu's smile fades and he remarks in an incredulous tone, "Liver alone. It was a joke." While Stu's friends may not be able to see past the joke's tactless nature to its humor, I laugh each time Isee the film again.
Not only do the characters not take themselves seriously, they also don't take horror movies seriously. A day after the first murders take place, Sidney Prescott receives a cryptic phone call. However, she is not frightened because she believes the caller to be one of her own friends Randy, a movie lover, calling to harass her. The mysterious caller asks her why she doesn't like horror films and she replies, "What's the point? They're all the same: some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act and is always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting." As an audience member, I realize that this skeptical"and often accurate"view of horror movies is a message directly from the film's writer and director (Riptov 86).
Later in the film, when Sidney suggests that the killer might still be on the loose, her best friend Tatem replies, "Don't go there, Sid. You're starting to sound like one of those Wes Carpenter flicks." As the audience, we get a...
Cited: Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Grant, Barry Keith, editor. Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1984.
Newman, Kim. Nightmare Movies. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.
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