From IMDb: A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.
How do you casually suggest watching one of your favorite movies of all time without sounding like a zealot? I’m not sure, but I will give it a try.
This is not a movie you will have to worry about “getting into.” Scream has one of the best opening sequences in a horror film of all time. But don’t take my word for it, take my 8-year-old self’s word for it. My first experience with Scream involved my older sister sneaking me into a showing of the film. When she realized I liked horror films, she started showing me classics like Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Funhouse, etc. In true American fashion, I was allowed to watch any death scenes, but my eyes were covered during any sex scenes.
Obviously the 90s were a drought for slashers, so we just watched various movies on VHS we would rent from Blockbuster or Family Video. When we heard about Scream, we were both excited at the opportunity to see a new one on the big screen.
Uh yeah. It was too much for me.
I had never seen something so intense and scary in the theater. I know Scream is known for being meta and funny, but when Drew Barrymore goes from flirting with a random stranger on the phone to realizing something is terribly wrong and her life is in danger, it is enough to make your blood run cold. The opening sequence uses decanted angles and lingering shots of the glass exteriors of the house to create an increasingly unsettling atmosphere. You realize the killer is out there in the darkness somewhere, and he can see into the house perfectly.
By the time that sequence finishes with a zoom on the character’s mother as she see her daughter’s body followed by a shaky tracking shot zooming in up close to the body? Forget it. I was a goner. My sister had to take me out of the screening, and we ended up sneaking into a showing of Jerry Maguire.
For months until Scream was released to home video, I was haunted by the idea of the ghost-faced killer coming for me. I would stay overnight at my aunt’s apartment, which had an apartment-length balcony anyone could get onto and get right up to the windows near where I would sleep. I terrified I would look at the blinds only to see the silhouette of the masked killer there, ready to whip around and attack like in the movie.
When I finally finished the film, it was very cathartic. Yes it was still scary since I was so young, but at least I had resolution. And I loved it. I loved the scares mixed with the campy mixed with the acknowledgement of the movies that came before it. Unlike other slasher films that take place quickly over the course of one night like Friday the 13th or Halloween, Scream breaks up the tension with scenes of the characters going to school and trying to continue to live their lives.
If you ever get frustrated when zombie movies don’t acknowledge the word zombie, you will love the world of Scream, where the characters are aware of films like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. They know “the rules” are quick to try to run to safety or call for help when they are in danger. Which makes it all the more terrifying when the killer still gets them.
It has the structure of a compelling whodunit mystery, which adds an enticing element of intrigue for viewers who are bored by generic psychopaths running a muck. And its innovative ending turns multiple tropes and assumptions on their head. Although it wasn’t the first slasher to poke fun at itself like Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives or even the first meta slasher film like A New Nightmare, it was incredibly fresh for its time.
As a Millennial, the Scream movies are the ones I “grew up” with. All the other classic slasher films were released before I was born, so this to me defined slashers. Every moment feels quotable and etched into my brain. It is easily the movie I’ve watch the most in my life, and even though I can never recreate the way I felt as a child when I first watched it, it never completely loses its magic. I’m always sad it is over when it gets to the end (at least till the sequels continued the story).
Even though it is incredibly funny in many parts, it knows how and when to be scary. It uses humor to diffuse the tension, only to instantly ramp it back up in the next moment. It is incredibly loud during the scary sequences, and delights in some well-timed jump scares.
The film has a strong emotional core involving a teenage girl trying desperately to process and move on from her mother’s brutal death. Loads has been written about what a fantastic final girl Sidney is, but over time I’ve come to especially appreciate the way it handles the other female characters. It makes you care about its characters and see the layers in all of them, including Sidney’s outspoken and sarcastic best friend Tatum:
…and the driven, tactless tabloid reporter Gale Weathers:
Gale: If I’m right about this, I could save a man’s life. Do you know what that would do for my book sales?Scream
Gale: Looks like we’ve got a serial killer on our hands!
Deputy Dwight “Dewey” Riley: Well, a “serial killer” is not really accurate. Gotta knock off a couple more to get that title.
Gale: Well, we can hope, can’t we?Scream
Gale is a remarkable character for any film let alone a slasher. Usually a “bitchy” character like hers would meet a horrific death meant to be cheered on by the audience. Yet Scream grants her a character arc usually only reserved for “complicated” male characters, morphing her from an antagonistic character to someone who makes us cheer her on as she confronts the killer. Quite simply she is lovably unlikable in the best way possible.
The best way to watch Scream is to jack up the volume and watch it on a dark night with some popcorn and beer. It deserves to be watched seriously at least once, but subsequent viewings should be treated the same way it treats Halloween: with a group of excited people ready to jump at and comment on each thrilling, silly, and/or scary moment:
What’s my favorite scary movie? It just might be this one.