Scream series

Slasher flicks thrived in the 1980s but a couple years into the 1990s the horror genre was in a noticeable decline. A screenwriter named Kevin Williamson decided that he wanted the final word on the slasher subgenre. He wrote a screenplay that was simultaneously a parody of and loving tribute to classic flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th. Wes Craven, the horror icon behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on the Left, stepped in to direct. The film was extremely referential and was intended to be the final word on the slasher flick subgenre. The film, Scream, benefited from critical acclaim and good word of mouth. It became the first horror movie to make $100 million at the box office. Instead of being the elegy of the slasher film, it reinvigorated it. Copycat films were produced left and right. Scream went on to spawn two sequels in the following years and now, after an eleven-year break, the fourth entry of the series is hitting theaters. But first a look back at the series so far… Be warned there are spoilers for the first three films (who dies, who the killers are, etc.), but I held off on the fourth.

Scream (1996)

The plot of Scream hardly breaks any new ground. Someone is running around in a mask stalking and killing the teenagers of a small town in California. The killer even calls his victims on the telephone, like the killers in the 1970s films When a Stranger Calls or Black Christmas. The biggest star (at the time) of the film is killed off in the first 15 minutes, which has also been done many many times. The thing that set Scream apart was that all the characters (especially Jamie Kennedy’s) were familiar with horror movies and knew all the “rules” for survival. They also point out several of the inconsistencies of the genre, steering clear of some and running right into others. Neve Campbell’s character Sidney, on the phone with the killer, complains that the victims in horror films always “run up the stairs when they should be running out the front door.” Moments later when the killer attacks, she heads for the door but is stopped and runs right up the damn stairs. This movie knows what it is and embraces it while simultaneously twisting it around. It uses the audience’s genre savvy against them. Like the somewhat creepy guy who was in the right place to have committed the murders? Way too obvious, couldn’t be him. Oh wait… Our expectations get used against us.

Before they were famous: Rose McGowan (pre-machine gun leg), Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, Liev Schreiber (barely)

Memorable deaths: Kevin Patrick Walls is gutted, the effects of which are depicted rather graphically in one of the series’ goriest scenes. He has no lines. That is his ENTIRE ROLE. Matthew Lillard is killed by a TV falling on his head and electrocuting him. I have to give Kevin Williamson credit for not going with any cheesy “too much TV will kill you” style quip. But most memorable has to go to a perky-nippled Rose McGowan who is killed by an automatic garage door whilst attempting to escape through the doggie door.

Body count: 7

Scream 2 (1997)

Of course any successful horror film gets a sequel (we got seven god damn Saw movies in seven god damn years!) and Scream 2 deconstructs horror tropes as ably as its predecessor. The key characters have relocated to Windsor College (never specified just where that is). As the first Scream was noticeably lacking in minorities, Scream 2 begins with Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett discussing the exclusion of African Americans from the horror genre and how the ones who are included get killed off early. Guess what happens to them. On another note, the character Joel (played by Duane Martin) decides about halfway through the movie that far too many people are getting killed so he’s going to get the hell away from all this carnage. He totally survives, because that may be the smartest decision anyone has ever made in a horror movie. Jamie Kennedy presents a new set of “rules” specific to sequels. Also I’m not sure but having re-watched this movie again this week, was Timothy Olyphant trying to play his role gay? I never noticed it before because it’s not over-the-top or anything (he’s a better actor than that, even in cheesy horror genre satires) but there were a couple of mannerisms (particularly in his last scene) that seemed that way to me. I don’t know; I could have been imagining it.

Before they were famous: Heather Graham, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Wilson, Portia de Rossi

Memorable deaths: Quite a few. Omar Epps stabbed in the ear while eavesdropping in the men’s room (one of many reasons YOU SHOULD NEVER DO THAT). Jada Pinkett killed in front of a theater full of moviegoers who assume it’s a publicity stunt (begging the question how long did they just let her body lay there rotting before someone called the cops?). Jamie Kennedy gets a spot simply because they unexpectedly killed off the fans’ favorite character. Timothy Olyphant just gets shot but he gets shot like a million times because he it takes just that many to kill Olyphant (while this movie isn’t the best example, the man is a badass). Most memorable goes to Chris Doyle who is hit by a car which is then crashed into a construction site where a pipe impales his head.

Body count: 10 (11 if you count Heather Graham, who is killed in the movie-within-the-movie Stab)

Scream 3 (2000)

So this is unquestionably the weakest film in the series but is still pretty fun. Because just following the “sequel rules” would be redundant, they decide to take on the “rules” of trilogies. The key “rule” (outlined via videotaped message from Jamie Kennedy) is that things that you thought were true in the previous films are subverted and expanded in scope. There is something of an interesting mystery going on in this flick. Also Lance Henriksen is in it, which brings the badass credibility. I generally prefer slasher flicks to be set in small towns like Woodsboro or Windsor, but the action in Scream 3 shifts to Hollywood. Scream 2 introduced the film-within-the-film Stab (based on the events of the first Scream). Now (after Stab 2 was presumably based on the events of Scream 2), they are making a third Stab film based on just whatever they felt like making up. The Hollywood satire is nothing that you haven’t seen in just about any other movie set against a show business backdrop but it’s fun to watch Courtney Cox’s Gail dealing with the insane actress (Parker Posey) who plays Gail in Stab 3. The killer has a new voice disguising machine in this movie which, instead of only making him sound like voice actor Roger L. Jackson, can also mimic the voices of the other characters. Ignoring the plausibility of such a device, the movie doesn’t really do much of value with the gimmick. The motivations of the killer, and his role in the events of the previous films actually make the killer a more interesting one than the previous ones, but Scott Foley isn’t quite up to the matching the bugfuck craziness of Ulrich, Lillard, Olyphant, and Laurie Metcalfe in the previous films.

Before they were famous: Emily Mortimer

Awesome cameos: Jay & Silent Bob! ROGER CORMAN!!!!!

Memorable deaths: Pretty lacking, most characters are just stabbed. However in one scene the killer faxes the terrified group a scene saying that all but one of them will be killed. They flee outside the house, but Matt Keeslar runs back inside to see who will be spared. He picks up the page but it’s too dark to read so he flicks on his lighter to see the words “the one who will be spared is whoever smells the gas.” Boom.

Body count: 10

Scream 4 (2011)

Well, I’m going to skip on the summary for this one since that would carry with it spoilers, instead addressing the themes. The Scream series revitalized the horror genre but in its 11-year absence from the big screen that genre has changed so much that there is a lot of new material. Perhaps that’s why the film-makers felt now was the time to revisit the series. The film addresses the issue of torture porn, but doesn’t indulge in it. Instead it more addresses the issue of remakes, which seem to have pushed most original horror films to the sidelines. The killer is attempting to remake Stab, but in real-life. So the “rules” of the remake are explored by the Jamie Kennedy substitutes played by Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen. Of course, there is also the advances of social media in the intervening years. Ghostface can now stalk people on Facebook (which is kept to a minimum). One character even streams his whole life online. The rules have changed and Scream 4 keeps mixing things up. When you expect one thing, another happens. When the movie’s conditions you to expect a subversion, it doesn’t give you one. When you expect the unexpected you don’t expect the expected so the expected becomes the unexpected. Or something. I think I’m also obligated to use the word “meta” at one point in this review also. The mystery of the killer’s identity is a good one as the movie gives you a reason to suspect just about everyone. I did guess who the killer was, but then I also guessed about 3 other people too, so I don’t think my correct guesses count. One guy is clearly set up as a red herring but then again so was Skeet Ulrich in the first one so who the hell knows? More than anything else, the movie is entertaining. It isn’t particularly scary but none of the Scream films are. It’s more about the entertainment value. There’s mystery. There’s humor. There are jumps. In Scream 2, Timothy Olyphant’s motives for mass murder was to go to trial and blame the movies. It served as a comment on the ways people escape responsibility for their own actions (there’s a lesser degree of this with Scott Foley in Scream 3). The killer in Scream 4 has a different motivation, but one that provides an equally bleak look at where we are as a culture. The Scream films work because of the satire. They work because of the mystery. But mostly, they work because they’re fun.

Before they were famous: Only time will tell but most of the new cast… Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Shenae Grimes (Degrassi, 90210), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Anna Paquin (True Blood, and if I’m not mistaken the first Oscar winner in the series), Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew), Hayden Panetierre (Heroes), Allison Brie (Community, Mad Men), Marley Shelton (Planet Terror, Sin City), Adam Brody (The O.C.), Anthony Anderson (Law & Order), Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves, Battlestar: Gallactica), Erik Knudsen (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World), & Rory Culkin (the never-ending family of child stars)… aren’t exactly unknowns…

Memorable deaths: That would be spoiling but I’ll still tease… “You talk too fucking much…” “Clear.”

Body count: Significant

One Response to “Scream series”
  1. vinnieh says:

    Great post, love the Scream series but I like the first one the best

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: