Saturday, October 12, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Eighty-five - Scream, "Say a prayer for the Youth of America"

If you were a teenager in the 90's, Scream was the horror film that encompassed your zeitgeist... much the same way that Nightmare on Elm Street was for 80's teens and Halloween was for the youth of the 70's. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, Scream managed to not only play with the tropes of its genre, but create an actually terrifying horror film without relying on any supernatural gimmicks... just pure, old-fashioned psychos and their victims.

Set in small-town California, Scream begins with your typical horror movie "first blood" cold-opener where Drew Barrymore (in a role that revitalized her career), bites the big one at the hands of a sadistic psychopath who taunts and toys with her, giving the intended dead false hope by playing a horror movie trivia game. Of course she loses at the cost of both her and her boyfriend's lives.

One scene change later and we're introduced (or, in my case, reintroduced) to the young and chaste (note: important!) Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has a tepid relationship with her rugged boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich) as she still hasn't gotten over her mother's death a year previous. It seems that the killer has his sights set on her for his next victim, but isn't afraid to add to the body count, slicing a long and bloody path as he hunts her down according to the rules and tropes of horror movies.

While not quite on the nose and obvious about it's "rules" as copycat film Urban Legend was, Scream managed to keep you on the edge of your seat thanks to excellent balancing of tension with moments of reprieve. This is especially true during the final massacre scenes, during the third act, which bounce back and forth between murder sequences and the party goers on the couch. I love the way that Randy (Jamie Kennedy, in probably his one and only quality role), lays out the rules for the mostly drunk/stoned high schools only to have said rules both exemplified and inverted during the climax.

It's true, the film has some weaknesses. It's very hard to see any chemistry between Cox and Arquette (despite their real-life romance). The same argument could be leveled at the "teens" of the movie (who are all played by obvious twenty-somethings, with bit parts for outrageously obvious thirty-somethings), but they're supposed to be in superficial relationships... it's High School. The breadcrumbs/clues are also decidedly lacking and are all dumped on you at the end of the movie when the murderers reveal themselves, but that's kind of the point, now, isn't it?

I still think this is my favorite role for Matthew Lillard ever, as he has sadly tried to bank on his weird personality and nasal delivery instead of ever actually acting... and it's always good to see Henry Winkler.

I want to say that its worst moment was also one of its best, when Wes Craven cameo'd as "Fred the Janitor" in an obvious send up to Freddy Kruger (hat, sweater, and all). It's funny and meta, but also a bit too cheesy for the overall mood of the film.

Despite it's faults, Scream manages to easily win you over with its quirky characters and sarcastic wit. I only wish that it hadn't spawned sequel after sequel, falling into the trap of horror film cliches with eyes wide open, betraying the very premise that made Scream a triumph in the first place (that and they killed Randy in Scream 2... ugh!).

Still, looking back... Scream has to be one of the best horror films ever made and still manages to hold up almost twenty years later, in spite of its cheese.

Plus, killer soundtrack! Nothing manages to give me chills of awesomeness and take me back in time quicker than the downbeat cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Gus and Nick Cave wailing out "Red Right Hand." I spent many a nights back then just listening to the album on repeat. Many 90's horror flicks tried to emulate, but never managed to repeat, that awesome music direction... so good. On a personal note, this was also the first time I was introduced to Moby, who contributed "First Cool Hive" to the album.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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