Throwback Thursday: ‘Scream’ (1996) doesn’t invent slashers or pop-culture references, but it makes them cool (Movie review)

F

or Spooky Month here at Cold Bananas, we’re looking at the four movies of the “Scream” saga over the next four Thursdays. First up is “Scream” (1996):

Overall thoughts

“Scream” is the touchstone horror movie of my generation. Looking back, it’s more influential than it is good (although it is very good), as many movies and TV shows after this make pop-culture references and take place in realities where real movies and TV shows exist. (In fact, some movies before this delved into meta territory, including 1995’s “Halloween 6.”)

When the killer says on the phone to Casey “I want to know who I’m looking at,” there were audible gasps. “Scream” had us in the palm of its hand for the next 110 minutes.

Many post-“Scream” projects took the lead of Kevin Williamson’s approach or, in the case of “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Faculty” and many other things at the turn of the millennium, were likewise written by Williamson. “Scream” made meta references into the cool thing for writers to do, for a solid decade at least.

As a scare piece, director Wes Craven’s film is not original, although Craven is of course working from the slasher playbook he helped write. At any rate, “Scream” wears its derivativeness on its sleeve as Randy (Jamie Kennedy) mentions how the Woodsboro murders are playing out like a scary movie, most notably when he outlines the rules for survival at the climactic party (no sex, drugs or drinking; never say “I’ll be right back”).

That said, “Scream” is darn good if this is your introduction to the genre, as it was for me and many other people in the theater in December 1996. When the killer says on the phone to Casey (Drew Barrymore) “I want to know who I’m looking at,” there were audible gasps. “Scream” had us in the palm of its hand for the next 110 minutes.

Most meta sequence

When Randy watches “Halloween” at Stu’s party, he says “Look behind you” to Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as Ghostface creeps behind him. Meanwhile, camera man Kenny (W. Earl Brown) in the news van is watching the video feed and pleading with Randy to look behind him. And we as viewers know there’s a 30-second delay, so we’re yelling that fact to Kenny.

Funniest bit

Sidney (Neve Campbell) runs up the stairs – not out the front door to safety – mere moments after ripping horror heroines for doing that very thing.

Best kill

Tatum (Rose McGowan) getting squished by the opening garage door while being stuck in the smaller pet door is a classic. I recalled it being a piece of dark humor, with Tatum’s large breasts preventing her from squeezing through the door, but it’s not precisely staged that way, so I’m not sure if that’s a joke Williamson intended. Still, the whole sequence is gripping.

Most deserved to die (other than the killers)

All those kids who speed off to the football field to see the principal’s (Henry Winkler) corpse hanging from the goal post deserve to get it. Cheering about school being canceled because of a string of murders is one thing; seeing a man’s death as entertainment is another. But they get off scot free. In fact, leaving the party likely saves their lives.

Least deserved to die

Casey is the most likable teen in the movie, probably because we don’t get to know her, as with the others. She settles in for a night of JiffyPop and scary movies only to have her day go straight down the tubes. It’s tempting to think of Barrymore as a big celebrity cameo, but she actually wasn’t a huge star (for example, she had a tiny role in “Batman Forever” one year prior). That said, Barrymore owns that opening segment as the sweet girl who is brutally slaughtered.

Most surprising on this rewatch

TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has a reputation as an annoying character or, at best, someone we love to hate. But she’s just doing her job – granted, because she wants ratings and stardom. But she’s darn good at it, and she’s the only one supporting Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), who has been wrongfully accused by Sidney and is also the victim of the shoddy police and legal work that goes into convicting an innocent man of what was presumably the first murder by two nutjob teenagers. It’s also sweet that Gale genuinely likes deputy Dewey (David Arquette), even if she’s using him at first.

Since this movie came out before 9/11 and the Patriot Act, I’m surprised that the Woodsboro police have easy access to cellphone records — although, granted, it takes all night to call up Billy’s (Skeet Ulrich). Since he’s clearing his name, Billy would of course give permission. But the police’s wider data request — wherein they learn the calls were coming from Sidney’s dad’s phone — seems sketchy. (The whole endeavor is pointless anyway, since the killers easily clone the dad’s phone — somehow.)

It’s also surprising that “Scream” doesn’t have a memorable score (even with Marco Beltrami on the job), considering how iconic many horror scores are. The soundtrack is also tame, not exactly a hit list of 1996 tunes.

Click here to visit our Horror Zone.