Sunday, November 8, 2020

Scream (1996)

The only true slasher franchises (stories built around mythical, unstoppable serial killers) are Halloween and Friday the 13th. All of the others have villains who are either too sympathetic or too impotent to rack up a real body count and make the audience jump. Scream falls into that large category of wannabe slasher films, more of a Scary Movie (2000) than an actual scary movie.

This is a horror-comedy that is too clever for its own good, satirizing rather than celebrating. Intentional comedy belongs in comedy films rather than horror films. The unintentional kind is funnier anyways. Not that Scream is a bad movie. It’s pretty enjoyable, but it could have been better in different hands.


The story of Scream is pretty straightforward: somebody stabs people; whodunit? It feels like a market-tested studio product, rather than a lecherous stab at relevance like the original Friday the 13th (1980). In that way, Scream is not as pure and raw, its clever script barely saving it from PG-13 vapidity. The result is a “safe” slasher without the gore and boobs we all love. It is also philosophically “safe”. (More on that in a minute.)

The slasher audience always roots for the slasher, while the Scream audience seems to be a bunch of film snob punks. This critic would rather watch Jason behead people than weigh the artistic merits of a work. Scream is not a real horror movie; it’s a comedy. Begrudgingly, I must give this anti-slasher film the praise it is due. It is competently made and well-acted. The characters are mostly likable.

The film makes the point that journalism is as responsible for societal problems as any other media. I would argue that journalism is the cause of most societal problems, because movies certainly aren’t. Compare that to the Jason movies, which are all about the kills and don’t bother with social commentary. Different audiences, I guess.

Director Wes Craven has a bit of a goody-two-shoes Catholic pretense. Nihilism is arguably a superior philosophy. The Jason movies are nihilistic, though not philosophical. Few horror franchises are both smart and dark enough to really outdo the others, social commentary included. Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes come to mind. They’re basically perfect, at least in the form I saw them.

No, Scream doesn’t fixate on the kills, the blood, or the burning hatred of any character. It’s light. If you don’t mind a little stabbing, it’s wholesome enough to show the whole family. That’s just how Wes Craven is.

Sadly, Scream is one of the last well-known slasher movie franchises. The 21st century brought us such slashers as Wrong Turn (2003) and Hatchet (2006), but nobody cares about that crap anyways. The slasher movie genre died not with a bang but with a whimper. Maybe one day, like Jason Voorhees, the genre will come back from the dead.