Scream? I Didn’t

Last Friday saw the nationwide release of Scream 4.

The Scream franchise is something that reminds my social group (all in their late 20s and early 30s) of their Halcyon Days; Degeneration X, South Park, the Dundee University Students Union, Halloween Nights etc. I imagine it’s the same for most people of that age since it currently sits atop the UK Box Office Charts.

And sure enough, my friends – most of whom mump and moan at the mere suggestion of a trip to the rather overpriced cinema – were all like “A new Scream film? I’m there!!!” So we all agreed to go.

The ever bumbling Ghostface is knocked down...

But then it occurred to me – I’ve never seen Scream or any of the sequels.

“You’ve never seen Scream? You can’t mean that!”

But it’s true, I haven’t. It’s just one of these things that has passed me by. I haven’t seen the Karate Kid either come to think of it…

So anyway, I decided that before I see Scream 4 I should at least see the first one, and then maybe 2 and 3.

Plot

Since it was implied that I was the only person in the world  of my age-group not to have already seen it, I’ll assume you know the plot.

But if you don’t, here’s the imdb plot summary

A killer known as “Ghost Face” begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one.

Thoughts

I’ve had trouble writing this section of the review. It has actually been sitting open on my PC for a couple of days while I’ve tried to work out what to say without rambling.

And again...

So to get to the heart of the matter, the problem with watching Scream in 2011 – especially for the first time – is that is has dated; badly.

Fair enough, 1996 was 15 years ago, but it seems like things made well within the ‘mid-late teen era’ of my demographic shouldn’t look quite so old. It does though. It looks ancient, people have terribly dated clothing and the incidental music is loud and intrusive (thus negating the entire point of ‘incidental’ music). The greatest sign of its age is that mobiles are referred to as “Cellular Telephones” and that the ability to check someone’s phone record is used as a clever way to catch the killer. It’s a bit like the episodes of Columbo made in the 80s and 90s that catch people out because of newfangled technology like ‘Telephone Answering Machines’ and ‘Home Printers’.

1996 is clearly a long time ago.

The one thing that hasn’t aged about Scream is Courtney Cox, mainly because she looked old back then too. Was this woman ever young?

But its not just the look of Scream that had dated – it’s the concept and the effects as well.

As a concept, it’s maybe not fair to be too critical. It would be like criticising Laurel & Hardy for using jokes you’ve seen and heard before. Scream was the film that revitalised the genre – we all know that – but if you’ve seen any horror film made between then and now, you’ll have seen this film before. Naturally, those that followed it expanded upon ‘The Scream Formula’ so it was bound to have dated in that respect.

And again... Seriously, why do these girls not try and attack him once he's down. Or at the very least, disarm him?

In terms of the plot – it seems to rely on the ‘swerve’ of who the Ghostface turns out to be. Now I’m not sure if the ‘swerve’ (i.e. suddenly challenging what the audience has come to believe is the point) was something that wasn’t used all that often back in 1996, but I doubt it was new. By the late 90s though, everything was a swerve. In films, M. Night Shyamalan was the chief culprit, while on TV, step forward Vince Russo. Need I say more than “It’s me Austin! It was me all along” (anyone who knows what I’m talking about will agree on that score). Even in recent films like Unknown, the ‘swerve’ is still a major part of it.

What that does is conditions the viewer to try and guess where and when the swerve is coming, and in Scream, it really isn’t all that difficult. Within 30 seconds of the main cast all appearing together, you know exactly who Ghostface is. By the time Ghostface appears again you’ve worked out that two people are combining to be Ghostface. So you just sit there waiting for the bit that is supposed to be shocking and offer yourself a rather hollow congratulation on ‘working it all out’.

And then there are the effects…

I’m sure at the time, the first scene was considered really scary and gruesome. But since then the quality of special effects have increased greatly and films like Saw and Final Destination have ramped up the gore to a whole new level. It’s got to the point where the viewer is now completely desensitised to stuff like this, and so everything that happens in Scream just seems really tame. While people may have been frightened watching this in 1996, I just sat there chuckling. Maybe that was the desired audience reaction, but I doubt it.

Oh, and one other thing that makes the film seem dated is Ghostface himself. Whether it’s because he’s been the subject of so many parodies or because people have been dressing up as him at Halloween for years now, I just couldn’t take him seriously as he pranced about in his cloak. He comes across about as threatening as Donald Duck.

And on the subject of Ghostface – he’s the most bumbling serial killer ever. While watching the film, take note not only how how many times Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell evades him, but also look at the amount of times he ends up in vulnerable positions having slipped or been knocked down. The people he does kill ultimately deserve all they get for not fighting back. The scene where Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell’s friend gets killed in the garage is the worst example of it. She manages to knock him down three times and each time just prances over to another part of the room allowing him to get back up again. For God’s sake love, kick him in the head while he’s down. That would have

"It's Me Austin. It Was Me All Along". Those were the words that made anyone who saw the WWF Higher Power angle look out for 'The Swerve''. Everywhere. As such, Scream's attempt at a swerve is childsplay.

sorted him out. But no, she tries to escape head first through a cat flat she couldn’t fit through. Dear oh dear.

My final problem is the motivation for Ghostface’s murders. We can understand why he was trying to kill Campbell and through association we can understand why he killed her best mate. He also had to kill the cameraman to protect himself and the motivation for killing the School Principal is obvious.

But why did he kill Drew Barrymore and her boyfriend, and in such a torturous way? Unless I missed something, that made no sense. There didn’t seem to be any motivation for it, other than to start the film with a ‘gruesome’ set piece. But doing things that have no relation to the plot just to give the viewer something to get their teeth into is not something I like. So marks off for that.

One final observation…

When the likes of Party Teen #1 and Reporter With Mask are named in the credits, why is one of the most recognisable actors – who incidentally has a lot of lines – left out? Henry Winkler as the School Principle is uncredited for Scream. That just seems….weird.

Final Summary

Usually I would end with a ‘Should You Watch…’ section, but my understanding is that now that I’ve watched Scream, the entire human race has seen it. So instead, I’ll summarise.

Scream has dated, but in all fairness that isn’t Scream’s fault. A victim of its own success, Scream has been surpassed by the many films that it influenced. Had I seen it before I watched the likes of Saw, I might have found it more gory than it is. Had I not seen almost any other TV or film made in the last 15 years I might have been caught out by the swerve. And had Ghostface not been parodied so many times, I might have found him something other than an amusing cartoon character.

But I have and it was, and therefore Scream just didn’t have the desired effect on me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad…it’s just dated and irrelevant.

Had the teens been played by cast of Dawsons Creek or One Tree Hill I imagine I would have appreciated it far more.

Having said all that, I look forward to seeing Scream 4 to see how they do a film like this today. In the meantime, I think I might just about what happens in Scream 2 and 3 so that I’m caught up.

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6 Responses to Scream? I Didn’t

  1. FToepoke says:

    An excellent read, SGM. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite the fact that I disagreed with much of it. Even when I first saw it I’m sure I wasn’t in the audience target age for “Scream”. But I thought it completely refreshed the slasher movie genre. Revitalised and breathed clever new life into it. And I found it pretty scary, too. I’m talking about over all, in general, and not going into such hole-picking weakness-identifying detail as you have. I’m not a slasher movie fan, (I don’t seek them out now, never have and never will watch a “Saw” movie) but I’ve enjoyed the GOOD ones and hold them in quite high esteem. That for me means “Psycho” and “Hallowe’en”. Quite some time ago I did, none-too-grudgingly, add “Scream” to that wee list.

    • sgmilne says:

      I think that we’re agreeing more than you think.

      As I say, if I had seen that before these other films then I would probably have appreciated it more. As is, I feel like I’ve seen it all before and in far more gruesome detail.

      The thing about it is as well that the direction isn’t all that good – certainly its no patch on Hitchcock. The stuff is Psycho makes you jump. I don’t think this does.

      At some point I want to review Rear Window, even though I’ve seen is relatively recently. The bit where Raymond Burr realises he’s being watched made me jump out of my skin the first time I saw it, and that’s because the film was so effectively directed that it made you think he’s seen YOU rather than the characters in the film.

      edit: I notice you said you haven’t seen Saw. It’s quite good, but very gruesome. Final Destination on the other hand is a great film.

  2. R-tine says:

    Liked your review. A lot.
    But I think you missed most of it, i.e. Scream is also (but not only) a parody. We must be around the same age and when I saw it I was not really scared. I found the references funny.
    Thus the first scene makes no sense. Yeah, indeed. And so does the first scene in Scream 2.
    Craven only wants to have the blonde girl murdered. And from the start he shows us that he making a parody (that is why they are speaking of horror movies).

    As a horror movie, Scream might be really bad (even in 1996). But as a film that makes fun of its own genre (e.g. the things you should never say in a horror movie), I found and still find it pretty enjoyable.

    • sgmilne says:

      Hi R-tine.

      One of the reasons I kept re-drafting the review was that I found it clichéd even though knew it was supposed to be a parody of the horror films that came before it, and that was difficult to put across well.

      I didn’t know though that the scene at the start was just so Craven could murder a blonde girl though, so I now consider myself educated 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed the review though

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  4. JrJohn says:

    Lol, I agree with what you wrote about Ghostface and his clumsiness, I always thought the exact same thing. If some of his victims had actually fought back and attacked Ghostface when they had the chance, rather than trying to flee, I imagine a lot of them could have probably defeated him fairly easily, or at least disarmed him, as you mentioned.

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