Scream Star Neve Campbell Explains Why Wes Craven’s Original Movie Did So Well

Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell in Scream
(Image credit: Dimension Films)

Scream made an entire generation of horror movie fans afraid to answer the phone. These days, we’re more likely to text someone than we are to call them, but that doesn’t make the Wes Craven series any less frightening. Now, 25 years after it was first released and just months before the release of the fifth film in the franchise, Neve Campbell is looking back on what made the original film so effective. 

In the 1980s, the teen slasher genre was a major hit with horror fans, thanks to franchises like Friday the 13th and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the mid-90s, the fervor for that particular brand of fright had died out by the time Craven took on directorial duties for a new horror film. Scream featured a smart script from Kevin Williamson, and a cast of actors who were mostly unknown

While Drew Barrymore was the face of the film’s promotion and had one of the most iconic scenes in the film, leading lady Neve Campbell had the most screen (and scream) time. Though TV fans may have known her from Party of Five, she was hardly an A-lister. Despite going up against all these factors, the movie became a sleeper hit. Neve Campbell told The Hollywood Reporter why she believes it resonated with fans: 

One of the reasons Scream did so well at the time was because it was such a fresh reinvention of the genre. The fact that it took a look at the genre itself whilst still feeding audiences its classic big scares was new and exciting. It’s funny, intelligent and terrifying. Not an easy combination to get right.

Fans of the series are likely to agree with the actress. The movie is packed with references to classic and obscure horror films, so it invites fans in while also subtly poking fun at the genre’s conventions and pitfalls. Its self-referential take on a classic slasher story makes it accessible even today because the core tenants of that genre still haven’t really changed. 

That’s also what has likely made the Ghostface-centric franchise so successful. Each subsequent installment has built on similar themes -- pop culture references and callbacks to the original, building on that initial structure to make each movie feel more meta than the last. It’s allowed the series to evolve and survive, even with the invention of smartphones and advances in technology that make the film’s classic premise -- a scary phone call from a stranger -- obsolete. 

It remains to be seen whether 2022’s Scream will be able to effectively pick up the mantle. The core actors from the original movie, including Neve Campbell, are reprising their roles alongside a new generation of stars. If they can get the tone and the scares right, it could mean an entirely new phase for one of horror’s smartest series. The reboot hits theaters on January 14, 2022. 

Katherine Webb