Scream and Loathing: A Look Back at Scream and post 96’s Horror
Article by Anthony Cleveland
A recurring agreement I keep seeing on many horror movie forums and comment boards is that the 90s sucked for horror until Scream came out and changed the way we look at the genre. From what I’ve read in these discussions, many consider pre-1996 a dry spell for quality horror. Scream absolutely did lay the meta down thick by pointing at the overdone clichés, plot devices, and poor character choices of horror films, particularly with the slasher subgenre. To many, Scream brought about a new era of semi-aware horror that would allow its characters to be more realistic and have its terrors resonate deeper with the audience.
But, I remember the 90s as an amazing time for horror. Jacob’s Ladder bent the audience perception and brought nightmares to life on the screen. Candyman spotlighted the point of view of an outsider trying to peer into urban culture, hoping to return home and feel safe, only to have the horrors follow her home. There was a rebirth and new following of the Universal Monsters. And Silence of the Lambs won an Oscar for God’s sake! It was the time for intelligent, thought provoking horror. Even the monster movies that were coming out had some creative intelligence, films like The Relic, Mimic, Ghost and the Darkness, and Tremors. All these films blended genres and pushed boundaries to create something unique. Yet many insist that Wes Craven’s Scream was as affirmative to the genre as Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the All Saints' Church door.
After eavesdropping on much of the debate, I decided to venture back and do a rewatch of the original Scream to see if it still worked today and what impact still resonates in today’s horror films.
*sigh* It doesn’t hold up...and I think it started a trend, which became everything that's wrong with genre in the later half of the decade.
The film tries to separate itself from the other slasher films out there, but it only creates a new set of plot devices for the franchise to fall into. The film sets out to abolish slasher film stereotypes, but instead ends up reaffirming them and spawning a new generation of imitations all using their own version of red herrings in a very giallo style, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legends, Valentine, Final Destination, and list goes on and on. Instead of challenging the genre to abandon its past structures, Scream killed the genre with a franchise based on a guessing game of “WHO DONE IT?” that lasted four films and tainted the horror film market for years to come.
My revisit of Scream felt like unearthing a time capsule that should have remained buried for a few more years. Do I think it will ripen with age? Maybe. But, 20 years hasn’t done it much good so far. Phrases like “What's your favorite scary movie?” are now lost, whereas “Yeah, Baby,” still meets an audience. I think a lot of what’s lost here is that the genre has been oversaturated with imitations for so long, that none of it feels unique any more. Its legacy seems to be gone with today’s audiences.
However, there's a lot to praise with this film that cannot be shorthanded. One thing that caught my eye was the lighting in the chasing scenes through the house. In a lot of horror movies the power will be cut by the killer to set the mood, or the victim will kick over a lamp. Here EVERYTHING remains visible. Its jarring to the viewer who is used to cues from horror movie scenes where the dark means you know something bad is coming, but you’re safe in the light. There was very little of (what I call) the 3 step formula in the film, which amounts to this:
- Step 1: The lights won’t turn on.
- Step 2: The character slowly stumbles about the house.
- Step 3: Then, there is an overly long pause, which leads us right into the jump scare.
Most of the scenes are heavy handed with the meta, but are still effective. For instance, the editing in scenes like the group of guys watching a nude scene from Halloween and saying, “Here comes the obligatory tit shot,” becomes a ham fisted meta giggle when it cuts to oue main character who is about to take her bra off. It just beats you over the head with how meta it is. For a one-off film, like Cabin In The Woods, I think this would be fine, but Scream spanned 4 films, which is a bit excessive, don't you think?
There are still plenty more horror movie eye rolls that this film hits on; the redundant red herrings, false killers, the car won’t start, people running up the stairs vs. running out the front door. Constantly, the franchise fell into the same genre traps it was critiquing.
Scream didn’t learn for its own lessons and neither did the genre. Everything that was good or original about the first film was either ignored or disregarded by the “WHO DONE IT?” slashers that followed. Mainstream horror didn’t rebound for a long time after either. When the teen slashers lost steam, studios dived into remaking classic horror films and just now we’re finally emerging from that shlock.
What do you think? Do you agree that Scream did more harm than good? Are you one of the people that champion Craven's Scream franchise as the saving grace of horror? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well.