I love Scream's high concept. Let's face it, we all know the rules for this genre even when we think we don't. One of the cleverest things this movie does is to begin by killing its biggest star, Drew Barrymore. This was actually Drew's idea. Unfortunately I don't think Scream quite manages to bust the rulebook. It's busily pointing out the genre's conventions in lots of clever dialogue which to my surprise I mostly didn't hate, but I also never got any sense that those rules will be broken. It looks like deconstruction, but in fact it's just the script drawing attention to itself.
Had Scream merely been a slasher pic, it would never have taken off as it did. The slasher film rules can be scribbled down in ten seconds on the back of a fag packet. No, Scream is also a whodunnit and those have a list of narrative rules as long as your arm, going right back to classical times. On that Agatha Christie level, it's actually pretty good. For about half the film there were apparently only two suspects and I was absolutely convinced that the best friend was the killer. Even when the film proved that theory to be impossible, I assumed it was just misdirection and we'd get a clever explanation at the end. Ah well, I could never outguess Agatha Christie either.
The slasher stuff is well done too, though for the first hour I couldn't take the killer seriously. Look at that opening sequence. He's a nerd! Our heroine is being menaced by someone who quizzes you on movie trivia and, given the whodunnit thing, is presumably a teenager. He also thinks it's cool to kill people while wearing a Halloween mask. Dude, get a life! Could he be any goofier? Amazingly, yes - just watch the Laurel and Hardy slapstick as his female victims beat the crap out of him.
However he gets scarier once the film-makers wisely decide to make him SHUT THE HELL UP! Once we've had time to forget what a sad geek he is, our killer becomes menacing in a better-than-expected death fest during the final act.
That last sequence works. However until then, I was thinking dark thoughts about whether horror fans are the best people to judge this kind of teen-targeted hackwork. We've seen enough ooga-booga stuff to be relatively inured to limper modern efforts. However, by any standards some of these attempted eeeks don't work. The scene where Rose McGowan thinks Ghostface is a prankster is funny, yes, but a long way from being menacing. And it's saying something when your Attempted Scare By Cat isn't as good as the one in Scary Movie
As a side note, for much of this I couldn't get Scary Movie
out of my head. It's not Wes Craven's fault that I saw the pisstake first, but the two films are so beat-by-beat similar that it was hard to avoid comparing, for example, Deputy Dewey with his brain-damaged Scary Movie
equivalent. And Scary Movie
's chick is far more attractive than Neve Campbell, who has a sort of ugly angularity to her face that Jamie Lee Curtis also has from certain angles (though in a good way). Damn it, now I want to watch Scary Movie
again for comparison purposes. To hell with all of you, that film made me laugh. (Though Scary Movie
2 is an abomination that should be taken out and shot.)
However there's more I like about Scream. Its portrayal of slimeball journalists is gleefully malicious and lots of fun. You want them all dead. Teenagers cracking tasteless jokes about murder and loving every minute was also all too believable. The teens' acting is good - nothing Oscar-winning, but always energetic and sparky. I particularly liked Matthew Lillard, whom I knew from Serial Mom though he'll soon be gracing our screens as Shaggy in Scooby-Doo. Scream takes place in a world with more than the usual one or two dimensions, which I appreciated. It's commonplace to make the heroine a cop's daughter, so here instead we get a more interesting (geek brother) police relationship. And though the self-aware dialogue sometimes gets a bit much, I can forgive a lot from a movie which gives us "the first one was great but the rest sucked" or Fred the caretaker.
There are also some great lines. Courteney Cox gets a good one about guns, while I was on the floor at "peer pressure, I'm far too sensitive".
Even more amazingly, Neve Campbell's character almost has depth! The stuff about her mother is understated and effective, while I liked little touches like dropping psychobabble ("the grief process") when talking with her boyfriend. This is a girl who's too familiar with therapy.
As for the final revelation of whodunnit... at first I found it too much. How unlikely is that? Could it really happen? However after thinking again, I realised that sadly, yes it could. In the town a few miles from where I live, a chap killed his wife after telling her, "You are the weakest link, goodbye." (The lucky ones among you might be unfamiliar with that reference. It's a gameshow.) Personally I've always thought that media watchdogs have their public decency campaigns arse over tit. It's not villains' ultra-violence that causes the real damage to our hearts and minds, but the oh-so-cool hard guy quips of action heroes who've between them killed more people than Sutcliffe, Brady, Hindley and Gacy. After those and other cheery thoughts, I had no difficulty in swallowing the nihilistic mentalities on display in Scream.
My main complaint is that after telling us about the obligatory tit shot, we don't see tits! I'm shocked, I tell you. Oh, and apparently Scream's working title was Scary Movie