Well, we've come once again to the end of another year and I've had a lot more time to reflect on things this week than in years past thanks to a combination of having no distractions and absolutely nothing to do. I'm starting to wonder where my friends have all gone. No one is around, because they all have better places to be and so here I am, spending the week leading up to New Year's with no one but my cats to keep me company. If there was ever a time I felt more like an old maid, I cannot remember it. I have enjoyed playing with my Christmas presents, particularly the new Zelda game. I am so close to beating that. I also got a new vacuum, which is amazing compared to my ratty old thing...my carpets haven't looked this nice in years. I'm not sure if I should be excited about cleaning my carpets though...I don't think its normal. Anyway, today as I was watching a film I'm quite happy to now own on Blu-ray, I got to thinking about late post-Christmas December and certain things that have become traditions based on years past. There's one tradition that started back in 1996 when a film was released in late December that would have usually come out in the summer or in the "dump months" of January or Feburary and it got me doing it for years to come...watching horror films before New Year's Eve. That little film was a Little Engine that Could in terms of movies...fighting the uphill battle that was being a horror film in the 90s (when horror was really in the pits) and coming out at a time when family films and dramas were dominating the release dates leading up to Christmas. And yet it took the country by storm as word of mouth spread until it was the number one movie in America...and to think I might have skipped it entirely if that word of mouth hadn't reached my ears. It ended up being one of the best times I ever had at the movies and was probably the last horror film to really scare me in the theaters. So let's listen to the sounds of terror as we examine Wes Craven's ultimate masterpiece, Scream.
"What's your favorite scary movie?" the voice on the phone asks Casey Becker moments before her parents come home and find her and her boyfriend Steve brutally murdered. The killings rock the town of Woodsboro, California to it's core as the sleepy village has only once before been hit by such a tragedy...the murder of Maureen Prescott a year before. Maureen's daughter, Sidney, hasn't dealt well with the loss of her mother and the new killings are suddenly bringing all those old feelings of terror back to her. To make matters worse, the killer of Casey and Steve seems to have turned his sights on young Sidney and her friends and seems to want to make her the star of this sick situation that seems to have come right out of the horror movies. Even more frightening is the prospect that the killer had something to do with Sidney's mother's death, and that he could be someone she knows. So as the body count rises and the killer closes in on Sidney, she has to make a choice as to whether she is going to succumb and become a victim or to fight back and become a survivor.
If you strip Scream down to it's bare essentials, it reads just like the score of slasher films that came out of the 70s and 80s and doesn't do much to set itself apart from those. However, it was one of the first horror films that not only used the cliches we are so familiar with in horror films, but kept us aware that it knew these rules and cliches existed. The famous opening scene with Drew Barrymore as the helpless and hapless Casey begins very much like it could be reality, with Casey and the killer discussing real movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th rather than just generically talking about unspecific horror moments or making up fake titles. This tells us that "this is really happening, in your world" and when Casey makes the horrible mistakes that all horror movie victims seem to make that end up getting her killed...it is not because the writing dictates that she must...but because the killer (who is VERY aware of horror rules and conventions) leads her down a path that traps her and forces her to fall back on those fatal avenues. Likewise, it is the killer's careful construction and planning that turns the finale house party into a bloodbath where no one can escape and anyone could be next. People who only focus on the cliches of Scream really miss the point because they aren't looking at how the killer toys with and traps his targets into the cliches and they then cannot escape the inevitable. Afterall, it isn't as though someone hears a strange noise and goes to investigate alone...rather, someone goes to get a beer (something very natural at a party) and while she is isolated from the remaining guests, she is dispatched. That could (and sometimes does) really happen. The performances in Scream are also a contributing factor in making the film credible and realistic because the actors are so convincing. Neve Campbell has made a career of being Sidney Prescott because she gives Sidney a soul and a uniqueness that feels grounded in reality rather than playing her like some character from a movie. Rose McGowran, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, and Matthew Lillard also hold their own as the memorable and unique individuals that make up Sidney's friends. David Arquette and Courtney Cox play the obligatory adult characters who are also involved and no one could ever say that they didn't do their parts as Dewey Riley and Gale Weathers respectively. There is a reason these actors keep getting asked to revive their characters in the sequels...because they are good and the characters are good. I don't know if horror in America would still be alive and kicking if Scream hadn't given it a much needed shot in the arm (or...if someone else had made a similar movie...I don't know if horror would have gone in the same direction) but thank god it did. From that moment on, you could always count on a horror film or two to be released on December...and you could also count on a few more than usual showing up on tv leading up to New Year's. That is the stuff traditions are made of, my friends.