Now, for those who have been with me for awhile now, I’ve made no real effort in disguising my feelings about the movie Scream. But for those who are new to the game, let me try and explain my relationship with the post-modern “parody” of slasher flicks. I recognize what it’s doing. I recognize what it did for the industry and the sub-genre of slasher films as a whole, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Most people are a little taken aback when I say that I’m not a Scream fan (even though I recently re-watched it to prepare myself for Scream 4 which I will undoubtedly see, against better judgment), seeing as I’ve devoted so much of my life to horror. But I think it’s because I love horror so much that I have a problem with what Wes Craven is doing with this series.
For starters, I know there are formulas, archetypal characters, and tropes that appear time and time again in the horror genre. But then again, so did plenty of film theorists before Craven gave it a face. Ultimately, I’m not sure what it is that bothers me about this. See, I’ve got a bit of a skewed perspective considering I was nine when the movie originally came out. As such, I never saw it in theaters and I can’t say I really recall the marketing for the movie that much. So it’s difficult to say what distracts me about this movie. Is it the movie itself? Does Craven seem to take credit for discovering these conventions of horror? While I’d never claim that Wes Craven was a modest individual, claiming that he takes himself that seriously is a pretty bold claim. I think the ultimate downfall, both for this movie and for myself, is its reception. The cultural phenomenon that people turned it into is my issue with the series. As an addition to an already prolific sub-genre, I accept Scream for what it is, but as a re-vitalization of the slasher, as so many people refer to it as? It falls short.
This isn’t to say Wes Craven fails on all fronts. He did some pretty innovative stuff for the film at the time. The scene that comes to mind is, perhaps, the most frequently discussed. That’s right, I’m talking about Drew Barrymore in that God-awful wig. It’s not just the recognition of her star power and Wes Craven playing that against audience expectations. It’s more than that. Hitchcock did that way back in 1960 with Psycho. It’s the way that the scene unfolds. Considering it’s an opening sequence, it’s running time of 12 minutes may seem like a little much, but it’s pacing and its inevitable conclusion make it a memorable moment in horror history.
If Wes Craven had stuck to this kind of pacing and this simplistic form, Scream wouldn’t have exactly broken barriers, but it would live up to its name. The thing that’s so frustrating for me when it comes to Scream is its post-modern flourish. It’s level of self-awareness is good for a couple of laughs here and there, but then using that same self-awareness for scares? For me, it doesn’t work. It’s exploitative and takes me out of the moment, but even that isn’t the real issue. Pure and simple, Scream is overwhelming to me. The way they toss out pop culture references left and right gets to be too much. It would be different if we were limiting it to horror references. In fact, that’d make sense, but the fact of the matter is Scream does no such thing. There are references to Apollo 13 and Citizen Kane in a movie that’s devoted to exposing the clichés of horror. It just gets to be too much. Furthermore, it seriously undercuts the movie’s sentiment that the perpetual influence of the media doesn’t create killers, but rather, it inspires them.
What we’re left with is a messy, half-baked message from a former master of horror. Scream showcases signs of life, but no real heart. With a solid premise and seemingly noble intentions, Scream‘s self-awareness makes it blind to the fact that it butchers itself with its overly smug presentation.