A HORROR HOT TAKE
Hype is a fascinating construct created by the human emotions. It leads to two different hallways. One is fulfillment and the other is disappointment. I don’t think there is any bitterer pill to swallow than one where one’s high expectations are met with disappointment. When I was growing up, I loved ’80s slasher movies, and to this day, I still do. However, when I was in school, there were a bunch of kids who had never heard of Jason, Michael, or Freddy yammering about a little ’90s slasher movie entitled Scream. When Halloween rolled around, a bunch of kids were rocking the Ghostface costume. It was the hip horror film to be into. I had not seen it yet and had no idea the context. However, eventually, one night, my mom rented the movie, and we watched it. Since that day, I have felt like that kid in school seeing everybody rave about it and not understanding it. I feel deeply alone in my thoughts and stance on Scream.
Scream, in my opinion, is not a very good movie. I think it is probably the most overrated horror film of all time. I can think of very few contenders for that crown. I know I stand alone amongst horror fans, and I know saying all this will probably hurt my cred. However, with Scream 5 on the horizon, I am here to finally bring my thoughts and feelings about the franchise to light. But more importantly, I want to share my perspective on the first movie and give an insight that probably isn’t heard all that often.
The problem with Scream is how self-important it feels. I don’t blame Wes Craven for this, because Wes Craven has never given me any indication that he makes movies with self-importance in mind. The problem with Scream comes down to the aspect most praised: Kevin Williamson. Throughout this retrospective, I want it made clear that when I am talking about creative decisions I take issue with, I am not blaming Wes Craven. The bulk of the blame goes to Williamson.
Williamson’s script puts a sour taste in my mouth. I want to think he is just paying tribute to the genre I love with all my heart, because in interviews, he talks about how much of a fan of the genre he is and talks about his love for the original Halloween. However, whenever I am watching the movie, I don’t feel like I am watching a playful jab the genre. It feels like he is taking the piss out of it and acting like every word he writes is so clever and so much better and smarter than the genre he is representing. He may love the original Halloween—that is obvious with amount the film is showcased throughout Scream. That being said, I don’t think he understands why the original Halloween works.
Scream is not a very scary film at all. It replaces atmosphere with movie quips, which would be fine if this were a spoof movie. However, it is a movie that is taking itself super seriously, apart from the wild tonal inconsistencies sprinkled throughout. Neve Campbell, who is fantastic in this and throughout the franchise, is doing some really damn good acting. However, she is acting up against everyone who is not taking any of this seriously. So, it’s hard to feel the punch of what that character is going for about her mother and her mother’s legacy when you have David Arquette doing misplaced goofy shit throughout the film next to her. It feels like Sidney is in a different universe than the one everyone else is inhabiting. Outside of Sidney, there is not a single character that I fear for when Ghostface is on the prowl because the movie constantly reminds you that none of this is serious and that you are watching a movie. That works for a spoof and for something like Deadpool, not for a horror film.
I have always had the stance that Scream peaks far too early. I think the opening scene is the only scary and intense scene in the movie. I think this movie would work far better for me if it had just been a short film. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is not only scary but also clever. Had the movie ended there, I think I would understand the hype that surrounds the movie. The gimmick of riffing on slasher movies wears out its welcome shortly afterward. I do not have any criticism for the opening scene, and I can tell that it is the one Williamson and Craven put the most effort into. The movie loses me as soon as Billy Loomis enters the window in the next scene.
I think the movie fails as a whodunit, as well. The problem with the mystery comes down to two faults. The first one is that, despite Craven and Williamson’s efforts to trick us, Billy Loomis is so obviously the killer from jump. Williamson knew this, and I give him credit for trying to trick the audience twice by having Billy be arrested and “stabbed” at two points in the movie. However, it is a futile effort, and in fact, it ruins the other twist of the film. Once Billy is arrested at the midpoint of the movie, Williamson tips his hand that there are two killers doing all of this. Also, because Billy is so close with Stu and they have several sinister encounters together, it’s not hard to guess Stu as his partner. So there is absolutely no mystery here. Also, there is no way in hell I could suspect David Arquette’s or Jamie Kennedy’s bumbling ass is the killer.
The other major fault with the mystery component is the fact that every single character in this movie, Sidney excluded, talks exactly the same. This aspect drives me up a wall because there is no way everybody talks this way and it never feels like I am watching characters talk and interact. I might as well just be watching the screenplay displayed onscreen. With that in mind, it was never going to be a shocking reveal for the killer when they are all just the same person. Vessels to showcase just how clever Williamson thinks he is.
A lot of horror fans praise this film for originality, but you know what sticks in my craw? Nothing within in this movie or franchise is new or all that fresh. Hell, Wes Craven did this schtick so much better in the undervalued New Nightmare that came out a couple years previously. Also, as a Jason Voorhees guy through and through, I can tell you the gimmick of Scream was done to absolute perfection in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Not only is that movie funnier with its self-aware nature, but it also serves its function as a horror film. It feels like a genuine love letter to the genre and other previous horror genres.
I want to close this out with Scream’s biggest crime against cinema: it ruined my favorite genre forever. Every slasher movie that came out after Scream for the longest time was complete dogshit. The sequels that followed this movie: trash. I Know What You Did Last Summer: hot garbage. Freddy vs. Jason: one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later: shit. I hate the era of slasher films that spawned because Scream broke the seal and gave creative heads the bright idea to take all the fun out of the genre, and the horror, too, for that matter. They began to focus more on trying to be clever and cute and less on the important aspects that make up the genre.
Look, if you love Scream, more power to you. I am glad you enjoy it for all the reasons you do. I wish I could enjoy it myself and see it through your eyes. However, I just don’t vibe with this movie or franchise. There are good aspects about it. The opening scene, Neve Campbell, the voice of Ghostface, and a few jokes here and there. But on the whole, I can never get into it as a movie because it just feels like some dweeb is sitting next to me, yelling in my ear, “Get it? Get it!? Isn’t this so smart?” Bleh. However, will I still be seeing Scream 5 on opening day? Yes.