“What’s your favorite scary movie?!” – Memorable words from the 1996 smash-hit “Scream.”
Seeing as how “Scream” itself is my favorite scary movie, I thought I would turn that line into a writing prompt!
As a scary movie fan, I watch said movies year round. But the month of October, with the countdown to Halloween, really puts me in the mood for something scary to watch. The first officially scary movie I remember watching was the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” when I was 9 years old. I didn’t think it was that scary – just bloody and gross. But, I watched it while sleeping over at my younger cousins for the night; a night in which we gorged ourselves on pizza, candy, and pop while binge-watching movies. Around 2:00 a.m., my stomach hurt so bad it woke me up, and my 9-year-old brain interpreted it as Freddy Krueger coming to get me as punishment for watching his movie! Once the stomachache subsided and I was able to go back to sleep, I realized how silly that was. For some, an experience such as that may have scared them away from scary movies for good. For me, that is where the seeds were planted, and my life as a scary movie fan grew from there!
In a way, it is fitting that another Wes Craven movie – “Scream” – became my favorite scary movie. I started my scary movie watching life with his first major hit (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”), but “Scream” was his most successful movie ever – both critically and financially. Upon its theatrical release, “Scream” slowly took Hollywood by storm. Despite opening just five days before Christmas (an unusual release date for a horror movie), and debuting at only #4 with a low $6.2 million dollars, critics and audiences raved about it. The positive word of mouth then turned it into a box office hit, and it remained in the Top 10 for multiple weeks in a row, ultimately ending its theatrical run with over $100 million in revenue. Once it hit video store shelves, word of mouth again made it extremely successful in the rental market.
I was 12 years old upon its release, and it seemed at the time to be the only movie kids at school were talking about. Even though the old Rees Theater used to let me into any movie I wanted because I already looked like an adult at 12 years old, I refrained from going to see it in the theater simply because none of my friends could go with me. I, like many, had to wait for it to be available on video, and I rented it as soon as I could upon its release. I loved it, and have watched it many times since!
“Scream” is the story of high-school senior Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who is recovering from her mothers’ murder just one year prior. With the killer having never been found, and a father also struggling to move on, Sidney and her friends find themselves the targets of a serial killer on the loose in their small town of Woodsboro…a killer connected to the death of her mother! The killer wears a white “screaming” face-mask with a black robe, and disguises their voice in threatening phone calls, often opening conversations with the victims by asking them what their favorite scary movie is. With a rising body count due to an incompetent police force, things quickly spiral even further out-of-control thanks to media swarming the town and turning the murders into a national sensation. Sidney and her friends must not only survive, but also discover who the killer is before it is too late.
At the time of its release, the horror genre was in a major funk. Horror movies had been churned out by the dozens year after year, and audiences quickly grew tired of them due to bad plots, bad acting, and well, bad everything. “Scream,” however, was “fresh” and different. The movie gives nod after nod to horror movies of the past. Some examples: Linda Blair, of “The Exorcist” fame, has a cameo as a news reporter. One of the main characters has the last name Loomis, which is a reference to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) from the “Halloween” franchise. Director Wes Craven himself has a quick cameo as a creepy janitor named Fred, a reference to his hit “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series. There are a bunch of other nods and references too!
The biggest surprise, however, involved one of its stars. Well-established big-name actress Drew Barrymore was prominently featured in TV spots and trailers leading up to the release, along with both physically appearing on the poster, and having her name listed in the credits as if she was a major star in the film. Her character is gruesomely killed within the first 15 minutes of the movie! Many people went to see the movie based on Drew being in it – with them assuming she was the main star – only to be completely blown away upon her quick and graphic death. When this “mega twist” happened, audiences knew for sure that “Scream” was going to be way different than what they were expecting!
Another part of what made the movie such a success was its lightheartedness. Unlike previous slasher movies that were seemingly nothing but gratuitous violence, sex, and gore – all in a completely serious tone, “Scream” added humor to the mix. The cast of characters had great chemistry together. Combine the films humor and the casts chemistry, with the nods and references to past horror movies, mix that all together, and you have what I personally consider to be a horror masterpiece!
“Scream” ended up being such a hit it spawned 3 sequels (with a fourth – “Scream 5” – set for release in 2022) a short-lived re-boot TV series on MTV that ran for 3 seasons starting in 2015, and made Hollywood producers and executives rethink the entire horror genre. Countless ripoffs and copycats were soon rapid-fire filmed and released, something that would be repeated just a few years later when “The Matrix” came out and became a mega-hit of its own, entirely revamping the action movie genre. Director Wes Craven experienced a career rejuvenation, and newcomer “Scream” screenplay writer Kevin Williamson shot to stardom, churning out hit after hit across movies and television through the remainder of the 90’s and into the mid-2000’s.
I still remember the first time I ever watched “Scream.” It was the middle of the afternoon on a very nice Saturday, and instead of playing baseball or basketball with neighborhood friends somewhere, I was enthralled by a movie so wonderfully perfect in just about every way, it changed me from a somewhat casual horror movie fan into a full-fledged horror nut.
As for the sequels I will say this: if you’re going to watch any of them, go with just “Scream 2.” Entries 3 and 4 are both so collectively bad they will taint any bit of enjoyment you got out of the first two movies. Trust me on that!
“Scream” is rated R for language and graphic horror violence, with a runtime of one hour and fifty-one minutes. It is available to borrow from PPL on DVD.
Now it’s your turn to answer: “What’s your favorite scary movie?!”
See you at the library!