TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Scream “96”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/Stars: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, W. Earl Brown, Joseph Whipp, Liev Schreiber, Drew Barrymore, Henry Winkler, Frances Lee McCain, Kevin Patrick Walls, Lawrence Hecht, Lynn McRee, David Booth, Carla Hatley, Linda Blair, Wes Craven; Voice of: Roger L. Jackson/ Runtime: 111 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by asking is there any genre of movie magic that is as purposefully wink and nod if not just plain ironic as the horror genre seems to revel in being? Indeed it really has started to become that if you are new to the world of scribing and helming a slice of cinematic pie then you usually get your start on a horror film. Along with that though, we also see that a lot of these newbies also pride themselves on filling their directorial debuts with as many “time honored clichés” as possible if for no other reason than to show that they paid their tribute to what came before. As such I can’t even begin to count the number of horror films that start with a terrified young woman fleeing a little seen pursuer only to be bumped off before the opening credits. Yet that infamous cliché is just the first of many that I could see fit to mention. This is because there is literally a grocery list of clichés that anyone who has seen their fair share of movies in the horror genre know by heart. These can include, but are not limited to, couples being viciously murdered after they’ve had sex, the killer coming out of what seems like nowhere to strike, and the killer always coming back to life for just a little longer following their eventual defeat at the end of the film by the movie’s virginal, virtuous, or both hero/heroine. To that end, it should be said that a key part of what has consistently made the 1996 slice of cinema pie that I am reviewing today known as Scream and its sequels so darn enjoyable is how they took pride in embracing those very clichés whilst also mining them for scares that were actually novel and very well done. It should come as no surprise therefore to learn that when the original Scream first came to audiences back in 1996, it was very well-received and in the process opened the flood gates for a new type of horror film. Yet even though the sequels, with the jury still out on the 5th one due to it not being due to be released until January 2022, were all fairly well done in their own right, I do feel that the very first Scream is one of the finest in the group. Not just in regards to self-aware horror movies, but also when looking at the Scream series on its own. Indeed through the combined efforts of a talented cast, scribe Kevin Williamson and iconic horror film helmer Wes Craven we are given a top-notch mix of chills and comedy as well as a low-key wackiness that is there even when what is being shown on screen is quite visceral and terrifying. A mix that incidentally is what results in the first Scream film proving to be quite a, for lack of a better phrase, slicing and dicing good time to be had for both avid horror aficionados as well as novices to this particular genre of movie magic in equal measure.

The plot is as follows: Scream opens its haunting tale in a small picturesque community known as Woodsboro. A town that, among other noteworthy attributes, is one that has unfortunately had recent events really cast quite the dark shadow over the tiny community and her denizens. You see dear reader not only was a local woman viciously murdered a year prior to the start of our story, but it soon becomes quickly and terrifyingly apparent that someone wants to celebrate the anniversary of this woman’s passing in a rather…..unique way. A way that takes the form of a new killer at the start of our story terrorizing and subsequently butchering a pair of local teens in horrific fashion and leaving them to be discovered by one of the teens’ parents. Thus with an onslaught of news crews led by a determined leach of a reporter by the name of Gail Weathers descending on their hometown yet again and suspicions really starting to flare up, a group of teens must figure out not only who is hunting them down and why, but also learn the rules of surviving a situation like this even by those very same rules some of them are not likely to make it to the end of this madness and some are more of a suspect than others…..

Now before I go any further, I guess I should point out that Scream is one film that is aided immensely from some sharp as a butcher knife writing by Kevin Williamson. This is a huge benefit because this is one guy who has a clear love and admiration for horror cinema, but who also at the same time is not willing to toss on the bonfire a well thought-out and quite comedic at moments immersive look at just how over the top the horror genre truly can become. It is with that in mind that we see that Williamson is also able to do a fantastic job at impaling every single modern horror cliché on the end of the killer’s razor-sharp knife whilst also still giving audiences scares that are actually well thought out and fairly riveting. Yet for all the good that Williamson provides on the written page, we see that iconic horror film helmer Wes Craven is able to bring all of the ingredients that this film provides him and makes them work in a spot-on manner. For starters, we see that Craven makes the brilliant decision to let the dialogue contribute the winks and nods and comedy portion of the film whilst letting his expert helmsmanship contribute the scares the audience is there to see unfold before their eyes. At the same time, we also see that as par for the course for his horror films Craven is also able to get truly phenomenal performances from his cast who are all wonderfully game to play in this distinct and blood-soaked sandbox and make the most of their characters.

It is with that in mind that we get top-notch work from David Arquette who as Dewey Riley is a delightful mix of determined, inquisitive, and boyish charm and Courtney Cox who is equal parts slimy yet also human and driven to succeed in her role of reporter you love to hate Gale Weathers. Also doing great, and one of my favorite characters in the whole movie, is Matthew Lillard as Stu who is perhaps the most wonderful mix of lovable jerk, delightful doofus, and over the top in ways I won’t spoil here that I have ever seen in a horror film. We also get hilarious work from Jamie Kennedy as horror film aficionado Randy and finally I also feel that Neve Campbell is absolutely perfect as heroine Sydney Prescott due to being a wonderful mix between sweet girl next door, terrified out of her wits when the situation calls for it, and yet also ultimately determined to get the best of the brutal maniac turning her life to say nothing of the whole town upside down. With that in mind, the best moments that this slice of cinematic pie gives us is most assuredly the balls to the wall ending where the reveal of just who the killer is given to us courtesy of a wonderful mix of comedy and chills all while the film literally throws our way every single horror movie ending cliché in the book and then some. Now it has long been stated that the reason you might hear nervous laughter from movie goers whilst watching horror movies is because of how tied together comedy and terror are in the human mind. The reason I bring this up is because I feel that this slice of cinematic pie’s finest attribute, even when taking into all the winks and nods it makes towards other movies in the horror genre, is how beautifully it is able to merge comedy and terror together in a way that works perfectly. Indeed be it your first time or 51st time watching this, it really is quite astonishing to see how this slice of cinematic pie is able to go back and forth with ease between being scared out of their seat and laughing themselves silly. Finally, it should also be noted that the amount of meta found in this movie’s script is also thankfully never too playful for its own good even as it purposely pokes at all the clichés that we have come to expect from this genre in a similar vein to a horror film’s “final girl” kicking, shooting, stabbing, etc. at the supposedly down for the count maniac just to ensure their reign of terror is finally over.

All in all I think it can quite easily be said that in many respects the 1996 slice of cinematic pie that is the very first Scream was one that managed to help the horror genre really change things up in a wonderful way for the horror-film craving film audiences of the 90s and beyond. Yes multitudes of films in the time since this one slashed its way to theaters have all tried to capture even a vein of what made this one so successful, but by and large (at least until recently with such entries as Get Out, It Follows, and the 2018 Halloween among others) not many have been able to get the blood to flow quite like this one did. Indeed operating as a spot-on mix of being wryly and cheekily self-aware, quite funny in certain moments, and actually quite frightening and visceral at others, Scream “96” is a slice of cinematic pie that ingeniously is aware that you the movie goer is aware of what to expect from a slice of cinematic pie like this. As such it is able to then toy with you and your expectations much in the same way that a cat does when it has a helpless mouse by the tail. Indeed it really is not that often that an entry in the horror genre is just plain fun, but it is fun that is what this slice of cinematic pie has managed to be both when it was first released and to this day thus making for a movie that for every fan of horror be they new to the horror game or a seasoned pro a true must see in every sense of the word. On a scale of 1-5 I give Scream “96” a solid 4 out of 5.