As a director, Wes Craven can be really hit or miss. This is due largely to the fact Craven doesn’t always write his own material, just as he doesn’t direct all of the material he writes. But Craven is a particular master of fright, and when he hooked up with writer Kevin Williamson in 1996, the team produced a product that was as macabre as it was witty, as horror genre self-referential as it was openly clichéd. For the Blu-Ray release of Scream, set to hit homes a few months before its 15th anniversary, the film holds up remarkably well.
Scream begins with an homage to Hitchcock so daring that only a film willing to make fun of itself could pull it off without seeming douche-y. Casey (Drew Barrymore), a young woman who seems to be our protagonist, receives a frightening phone call threatening death for her and her boyfriend. The only way out is to answer absurd questions about horror films. Casey’s first answer causes her boyfriend, Steve, to be killed in the yard. Then, after an excess of threats and some aggressive fight tactics, Casey goes out like a mad fireworks display. Only instead of fireworks there are knives. And instead of cute kids watching explosions in the sky, there are dead bodies in the yard left for the parents to clean up. Classless, yes. Unwatchable, no.
Scream then directs viewers to the local high school, where our new heroine, Sidney (Neve Campbell), has trouble coping with Casey’s death. It’s not that the two girls were close -- Sidney’s trouble comes because her mother was brutally murdered in similar fashion nearly one year earlier. Her heartless boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and his insufferable friend, Stuart (Matthew Lillard), begin teasing her incessantly about Casey’s death. Only her friends, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and Tatum (Rose McGowan), support Sidney’s seemingly irrational fears and difficulties dealing with the tragedy. However, as a masked killer hits the streets and more bodies pile up, it becomes clear Sidney is the target, and she had a right to be paranoid.
Scream is a movie of contradictions. It’s good because it’s bad, but only because it’s witty in that it recognizes what it is. Sure, Randy’s cliché is annoying, Neve Campbell can’t really act, and people are gutted in disgusting and manufactured ways. That’s the genius of writing a plot that pokes fun at the conventions of the genre. This is hardly a unique-to-Scream idea. In fact, Abed’s character on Community functions in nearly the exact same way. However, Williamson’s script was the first time this lens was aimed at the horror genre. This meant Scream didn’t need to have one outlandishly innovative horror moment to be successful. It didn’t even need to have a Jackie Earl Haley Freddy Krueger-type performance to rake in the cash. In many ways, because Kevin Williamson was the first to the idea, the creators of Scream didn’t have to work that hard to be successful.
Scream was an innovation to the genre, a revitalization that has opened up a can of worms. It’s a lot easier to face a fear when there is humor attached to it. It’s a lot easier to jump in to poke fun at clichés that are universally understood. Kill the cheerleader bitch. Not the virgin. Frame the dad. When no conventions are altered, we can all be the sarcastic cocksuckers of the horror genre. With Scream, we weren’t relieved of our fears, but for the first time, they didn’t take precedence -- we could gleefully and giddily throw ourselves into every moment. We could stare into the abyss and laugh as it looked back because the stakes weren't as high.
This month, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s new baby, Scream 4, is going to hit theaters. It’s marketing itself by offering a whole new set of rules and conventions for a new decade. It will totally still be amusing if the only thing that’s changed in 15 years is that the virgin can be killed. But wouldn’t it be great if they pushed an old idea into an entirely new context?
Lionsgate has offered plenty of special features with this release of Scream. This is why it sucks so much that the options aren’t all that great. The first extra is audio commentary that is pretty interesting if you are super into the horror genre. Kevin Williamson continually interjects with statements like, “And that line was lifted from Halloween.” It’s amazing how much self-referential humor audiences who only have a little knowledge of the horror genre can pick up, but there is still a ton of homage material that is easy to miss.
Unfortunately, after the commentary there isn’t much to get excited about. There are red-band and green-band trailers, which don’t do much except to affirm why people got excited about seeing Scream back in 1996. There is also a pointless production featurette, which really isn’t a featurette at all. Then there are weird “on the set” segments set to awful repeating music that show footage from when Scream was filming.
After that, there are some awfully mismanaged Q&A segments with the cast and crew. These are formatted into questions; for instance, one segment is called “What is your favorite scary movie?” Cut to: cast and crew members answering the question. End segment. I suppose a Q&A could work in this format had they bothered to ask more than a couple of questions. However, they only asked two, and they only got two answers, so you don’t get much of a feel for any of the cast and crew.
It’s always hard to go back and create features after the fact. Scream came out 15 years ago, before special features were prominent. The extras on this Blu-Ray disc almost come across as promotional pieces thrown together back in the day. Lionsgate may have done the best it could, but this doesn’t really change the fact the features suck.