Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Scream Review - Bloody, Perfect
With this harsh tone set, what follows is simple atmosphere: we move on to Sidney Prescott, a smart high school senior. After some sexy times with Billy, her boyfriend, Sid goes to school the next day. Only then does she learn of what happened the night before - the town is now buzzing from the worst act of violence since her own mother's murder one year ago. What will Sidney do now with violence all around and unwanted memories rising to the surface?
This 1996 pic was box office gold for Mr. Craven, and my 3-paragraph MRQ entry didn't do it justice, so I'll correct that now. He took a $15 million budget and an R-rating, then went on to earn over $103 million in the US from his work. Although it was so bloody and filled with so much malevolence, Scream did better than his previous 5 films combined. The secrets to its success were simple...
As with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven's most-famous effort, Scream focuses on a group of teens living in a quiet California town where hidden dangers come out through vicious antagonists and gruesome violence. But the similarities end there, since Wes didn't simply repeat himself: the kids were smarter, the threat wasn't supernatural, and the humor was even stronger than before.
The movie's cold open gained my admiration, but I fell in love with Scream because of an early 3-minute sequence that showcases the protagonist's majestic home. It presents an amazing vista, conveys some needed exposition in a natural way, and - by thoroughly-establishing a major location - does wonders to make the world of this film feel more credible. It's clever of Wes to first set the mood for horror, and then to establish the overarching atmosphere.
On the commentary track, Mr. Craven relates a perfect anecdote about the MPAA. In essence, they wanted to give the film an NC-17 due to the film's violence. However, Craven notes that the ratings board was mostly bothered by his killer getting up close to victims and stabbing them to death. A guy handling a machine gun and mowing down people is apparently cartoonish enough for the MPAA - they just don't want people seeing something more realistic.
I find this amazing, because realistic violence is both scarier and should actually turn people off from glamorizing or glorifying it...
In any case, Craven had a solid premise, yet he got quite lucky in terms of casting, too. The film's main figures - Neve Campbell (Sidney), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), and Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley) - are all in fine form. These then-rising stars neatly exhibit the sarcasm, crassness, uncertainty, and emotional turbulence of teenagers. You feel Sid's intelligence and strength, you laugh at Tatum's bluster and snark, and you get tingles from Billy's rawness and intensity.
In turn, they get exceptional support from some skilled adults: David Arquette, Courtney Cox, and Henry Winkler. Arquette's boyish Deputy Riley displays the actor at the height of his goofy charm. Cox is letter-perfect as Gale Weathers, the goal-oriented, narcissistic reporter. And Winkler is excellent as Principle Himbry, the authority figure who cares excessively. From his first PA announcement to his final scene, he's brilliant.
Jamie Kennedy (Randy) and Matthew Lillard (Stu) round out the players, lending more overt comic relief to a film where the whole cast gets at least one funny line. I know many can find both to be grating, but the writing plays to their strengths, and they're really quite good here - Lillard, especially.
The script does well by all of the actors, getting you invested in them and developing opinions about each one. This is exactly what happens when you give characters enough time to make a real impression on the audience. Yet Scream's storytelling genius lies in shifting so smoothly between all of them.
While the picture focuses most on Ms. Prescott, the narrative moves around so much that the audience can't help but be engaged. Everyone is set up as a suspect, keeping the viewers guessing. Sudden outbursts, crude remarks, and obsessive behavior are matched by shots of boots - and, since the killer favors footwear which is so common, a furtive eye is cast at a dozen potential murderers. Whether through humor, characterization, or tension, Scream does a lot to suck the audience in, and it all works.
The screenplay probably deserves much of the credit here. Kevin Williamson makes each teen seem distinct and authentic. Best of all, these are all kids who are very familiar with pop culture and film. It not only serves to make them seem smarter, but it allows younger audiences to relate, as well as bringing in people who grew up on Halloween, aNoES, and Friday the 13th.
Throughout, Williamson lives up to expectations based on his work in Dawson's Creek by making Scream a veritable checklist of youth genre scenes: lockers, bedrooms, school bathrooms, the local video store... Film and video are as big a presence here as they are in the lives of actual American teens, and their savviness is both realistic and infectiously fun.
Seriously, you can't write a better scene than one where a fierce description of "the rules" of horror films than to have someone recite them while the killer in Halloween is paused, knife aloft, just behind the speaker:
But, excellent scripting aside, the film is also directed brilliantly. Violence and gore are appropriately disturbing and well-used. No scene feels too long, grows dull, or gets weighed down by awkward exposition. At one point, we see the events of one location through two different viewpoints, and it is nothing short of effective and arresting.
The humor helps take the edge off a picture that is macabre and grisly. Gone is the cartoonish violence of a guy with huge weapons. Here, all you need is a knife, a mask, and one creepy voice-masking device. In fact, you will - like I was - be on the edge of your seat every time a phone rings...
Even better, the lead (a female lead treated well!) has a genuine character arc, and the movie itself manages to say something about violence - a perfect validation of the horrors that viewers are forced to witness.
one specific rapper or are a different rapper who appears on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I love the mask - it's very unsettling and scared me the first time I saw it, although it's clearly an homage to the Edvard Munch painting called Scream. And, hell, no one should be scared of Norwegian painters.
The bad guy in this pic works well, but I dislike granting any iconic status because of the sequels. Scream was great, if a bit nasty, but this fine story shouldn't have been made into a franchise. I really didn't enjoy the resulting Screams 2-4; they all had a bunch of actors I liked and felt over-written, under-written, or poorly-written. As with Cursed, 9 years later (and, ugh, The Following), Williamson has proven himself to be clever and talented as well as dumb and hacktastic. I mean, who else would want to call their horror film "Scary Movie?" (See the 2nd to last paragraph (and Craven liked that title, too!))
Clocking in at almost two hours, Wes Craven gives his picture lots of breathing room, which is used well. You get a real feeling for the locations and characters and the world of the fictitious Woodsboro, California. As a horror film, Scream is a true stand-out, and I would recommend it to anyone who's willing to go along for a rough-but-terribly-fun ride.