Thursday, October 2, 2008

Scream (1996)

Sidney: “But this is life. This isn’t a movie.”
Billy: “Yes it is, Sid. It’s all…it’s all a movie. It’s all one great big movie. Only you can’t pick your genre.”

Title: Scream
Genre: Horror
Year: 1996
Rated: R

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers
David Arquette as Dewey Riley

Plot: A small town girl’s life is interrupted when a serial killer with a penchant for modeling his murders after scary movies begins stalking her.

Tagline: Someone has taken their love for scary movies too far.

First Viewing: 9th Grade (2003) on Encore.
Added to The List: 2003.

Generally, I don’t like horror movies. It’s not because I get scared (I don’t). It’s not because I’m sensitive to blood and gore (I’m not). And it’s certainly not because I have my nose up in the air about the genre. Mostly, it’s because in these typical teen slasher flicks, the villain/monster/ what-have-you doesn’t have a good enough motive to merit a series of creatively violent murders…at least in my humble opinion.

When I first saw Scream, I was kind of going through a horror movie phase. Actually, it was more of a phase-ette. Whatever you want to call it, I was “researching” the many, many sequels of the three most popular/famous teen horror movies: Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). I had recently seen the 7th Elm Street adventure, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (which is, in my opinion, the best one) when I discovered that the man behind this franchise also directed Scream, a movie that satirized the slasher movie genre.

One random night, I happened upon it. I figured that I would watch it until I grew bored and fell asleep like I’d done with the first Elm Street flick on three separate occasions (how’s that for irony?). But instead of silently drifting off as the killer waited anxiously just around the corner, I was wide awake and intensely concerned about Casey Becker and her boyfriend Steve.

I love Scream’s beginning. It doesn’t fuck around. It doesn’t bother with character development or establishing shots. The phone rings and Casey Becker promptly answers. The caller claims he has the wrong number but then begins flirting with her. She flirts back, until his already creepy questions tip the scale. Casey then finds herself in a dangerous game: answer a few movie trivia questions or her and her boyfriend get 86ed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose any kind of trivia to answer while threatened with my life, I’d choose movie trivia. I guess that makes me kind of morbid. But I’m fairly confident with my extensive knowledge of film. To be honest, horror is not my forte, but I knew both of the answers to the killer’s questions. Casey Becker, sadly did not.

Incidentally, Casey wasn’t the main character or even a friend of the main character. Technically, she did sit next to the main character in English. We first meet Sidney Prescott shortly after Casey’s murder. She’s alone in her room, typing on her computer when her boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Johnny Depp’s clone) climbs through her bedroom window. He basically asks for sex, she makes out with him and then he leaves.

This brings up an important rule in horror films. A rule that is actually proclaimed by a character later in the film. All horror movie heroines are virgins and to have sex is a big, big no-no. (More on this later). Rarely are we given a reason why the heroine remains chaste. Of course, we can assume because it’s “the right thing to do.” But Sidney has a reason. A year ago, her mother was raped and murdered. Also rumors were flying about Mrs. Maureen Prescott being the town tramp and Sidney fears she will become her. Reasons…I love reasons.

The next day at school, everyone is reeling from the death of their schoolmates. We are then introduced to Sidney’s other friends: Tatum, her best friend, Stu, Tatum’s dumbass boyfriend, and Randy, the secret admirer of Sidney and resident horror film expert…my personal favorite.

Shit really gets complicated later that night. Sidney is waiting for Tatum to come over. The killer calls her, harasses her, and tries to kill her, just like Casey. But Sidney survives and Billy shows up shortly after, as do the police who take him into custody. Sidney suspects him until she receives a call from the killer while Billy's in jail. He is later cleared of all charges, but their relationship is strained ever after.

Randy still suspects Billy. He explains it to Stu in the video store that there’s always some “stupid, bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend” and Billy’s is because Sidney wouldn’t have sex with him. As a horror movie fan, he thinks everything in this situation can be solved by watching Prom Night. There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula. Everybody’s a suspect!

Later that night, Stu has a huge party at his house (as all slasher flick teens do, even when a psycho killer is on the loose). There, Randy shares more of his infinite movie knowledge of how to survive a horror movie:

1. Never have sex.
2. Never drink or do drugs.
3. Never say “I’ll be right back.”

Meanwhile, Sidney is upstairs with Billy. She apologizes for her accusations and agrees to have sex with him.

You would think that this genre, which is disturbingly targeted towards teenage boys, would have a member of its audience as the main character. But if you look at most of them, the main protagonist is a teenage girl. Hundreds of articles and term papers have been written to explain this phenomenon. So here’s a really condensed version: boys like to see girls in peril and victimized.

I don’t know if this is actually true. Frankly, I don’t want to believe this unsettling theory. And unfortunately, I don’t have a theory of my own to counter it. I will say this though...I like that most horror movie protagonists are female. I can put myself into the heroine’s position, which is something I like to do with all movies. The “men-really-want-to-see-women-victimized-thing” seems very uber-feminist to me.

And this is what I don’t understand: in most cases, the heroine beats the villain! And she usually does it on her own because everyone else is dead! I suppose there would be something to complain about if, at the last minute, some big strapping man, deux es machina, saved the day ala the woodcutter in “Little Red Riding Hood.” But this is not what happens in Scream.

I guess you could complain about the virginity thing. For one thing, I believe all films of this nature are written, directed, and produced by men. And another, all of these films were made during or after the sexual revolution. So, you could gather that some men were annoyed at the sexual freedom women’s lib brought the average woman. The line between “good girls” and “bad girls” was forever blurred. And the only way these men could get their views across was to kill any sexually active young woman and let the sole survivor be the one who won’t let her boyfriend get past second base.

Of course, it’s not all teen girls that are killed in these movies. Plenty of boys skip down the prim rose path with these ladies. They also break the “no drinking or drugs” rule, which also doom them to a bloody end. So maybe it’s not a feminist issue. Maybe it’s adults/parents cracking down on their out of control children. A scarier, more fucked up version of the Boogeyman, if you will. Hmmmm…

Wow. I really digressed. I apologize. Let’s get back to Scream, shall we?

So, we last left Sidney in the bedroom with Billy. They have sex, and right on schedule, Billy is murdered. Sidney escapes. A few more deaths, red herrings, and chase scenes later, Sidney manages to get back in the house, finds out Billy is alive and then discovers…HE’S ALSO THE KILLER!!!


The main grievance I have with horror movies is the killer’s lack of motive. Michael Myers was insane (cop out). Jason Voorhees, also insane (another cop out). And Freddy Krueger wants revenge…on his murderer’s children…twelve years later. But Billy Loomis and Stu Macher? They have motives. Whether they’re good or not is up to the individual viewer, but they actually explain their reasons. A rarity.

Sure, it’s a little bit melodramatic. If you think about it, what psycho killer in their right mind (HA!) would take the time to explain all their planning to their victim? The smart thing would be to just off them. When the killer gets cocky, that’s where they fail. It's prevalent in action movies as well as horror.

At first, I thought Billy and Stu weren’t going to have a motive. I thought they were two twisted fucks bored with small town life. Like Randy said earlier in the film, “It’s the millennium. Motives are incidental.” But instead, Billy explains everything…that he was the one behind Sidney’s mother’s murder because she was having an affair with his father, which caused his mom to leave. Yeah, it’s kind of a pussy motive, but at least it’s a motive. And Stu? Turns out he’s really just a dumbfuck bored with small town life. Eh…can’t win ‘em all.

In the end, Sidney defeats Billy and Stu, sans virginity…which I believe must be some kind of record or first. There’s a whole other subplot concerning reporter Gale Weathers and Deputy Dewey Riley, but to me, it’s not worth writing about even if it does add some much needed sexual tension and comic relief. I think I’ve written enough already.

To close this blog, I would also like to state that I love how often this movie makes fun of itself and references how much films change and shape our lives. Much of my behavior is modeled after movies, as depressing as that sounds. As seen in Scream, this methodology can have some disastrous consequences. But lucky for you, I was raised on Disney.

Favorite Screencap
You much as I love this movie, it's not very visually stimulating. So, sorry folks. No screencaps this time.

Next Film: The Wedding Singer

No comments: