Rated R, mostly for teenage stabbing violence with a sprinkling of other kinds of violence. Sure, I could talk about the sexuality that lacks nudity or the swearing and drinking, but if you are bothered by that instead of horrible things happening to kids, there's a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
I don't want to watch movies I've seen a thousand times again. There was a time in my life where I would watch the same movie over-and-over again because these movies would be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Scream, as weird as this might be, has a very important place in my life. It was the first R-rated movie I had really watched. (One could argue that The Exorcist was the first R-rated movie that I watched, but I was REALLY young when I saw that and spent most of the time screaming and running around with my cousins.) My Uncle Pete had taken us to Blockbuster and let us rent Scream. My cousins, experts at R-rated horror, were my guides to the world of horror movies. And I loved this movie. It was so good. Little did I know that Scream might be the perfect front door to R-rated horror because this movie is actually genius.
I've seen all of the Scream movies. That shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, I've just written about the most recent entry, also named Scream. I always thought that Scream was just this metanarrative about horror movies. But after watching the first Scream movie in high def on Paramount+, it really is one of those movies that fires on all cylinders. I'm a bit ashamed to say, but Scream might be one of my rare examples of a perfect film. I only have a few movies on this list: Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Halloween, and Scream. It's not to say that these are my favorite movies (but if I was to be honest, Jurassic Park does absolutely deserve to be on this list). I'm more saying that I have no notes on how to improve these films. What makes them perfect films are the combination of neurotic planning coupled with inspired execution. I normally keep giving the director all the credit, but these are movies that have screenwriters who are looking at story and character from all perspectives. These directors, then, are somehow moved to recognize how to tell this story in a way that no one else could do. It's so applause worthy that it must be celebrated somehow.
I had an argument with Henson about Scream and its direction. My big point in terms of its perfection partially lies with Wes Craven, the director of the film. My argument lied in the fact that Craven had to work against style and type to identify a new subgenre in slasher horror. Like most auteurs, Craven had a certain look and vibe to his horror movies. Often laden with gross-out imagery coupled with intensely dark landscapes, his films would be more about discomfort than storytelling. This isn't a slam on his other movies. A Nightmare on Elm Street, the OG version, is one of the scariest horror movies out there and it is perfectly in his style. (A point against my argument is that the OG Nightmare shares some of its DNA with Scream.) But Henson stressed that New Nightmare was actually the template for Scream. I don't know if that's true. New Nightmare reads more like Dimension Pictures just having a certain look. Sure, both stories are a metanarrative of horror, but Scream has a very different takeaway than New Nightmare.
Scream uses its metanarrative in a way that is almost for a universal appeal. What should be considered an academic study of pop culture, in particular of horror films, becomes perfectly accessible and popcorny. It's something that Scream doesn't actually need to be a great story, but chooses to color itself with to differentiate itself in the '90s. It's a really cool jacket, but it's a bonus to something that is already fabulously crafted. New Nightmare needs its metanarrative to exist. It's more about Hollywood than it is about the role of pop art on society. Also, New Nightmare needs that meta stuff to tell a story. You really could cut out all of the pop culture references out of Scream and you have an epic story.
And what makes Scream such a good movie at its core is that it rewards its audience for really trying to solve the puzzle. I'll never forget who the killers of the first Scream movie are. Besides giving that absolutely perfect twist at the end of the movie that sticks the landing, there are so many details that given to us as clues to the identity of the killers. What's odd is that Kevin Williamson, who would later become the godfather of the new generation of horror movies, builds a world behind the events of the Scream movies. A casual viewer would view the first Scream movie as savvy girl staves off killer who is obsessed with pop culture. But if you are really watching that movie, it's a story of the role of journalism in society and a family disrupted over selfishness. I don't want to put Maureen Prescott on trial because (can I just say the killers already?) Billy Loomis swats a fly with an elephant gun. But there's this really complex tale of the death of Maureen Prescott and that happens a year before the movie takes place. We never actually see the first victims of Billy and Stu. Instead, we are told about it, which is normally this faux pas in storytelling.
And there's just this peppering of a story happening in the background. The only actual footage we get of the world-building stuff is a brief Top Copy segment of Cotton Weary being taken away in a police cruiser. It's weird that this borderline extra would eventually become Liev Schreiber, but that's a story for another day. Everything else is asking the audience to play detective. It gives you everything you need to solve the puzzle. It's just that the Randys of the world are needed to put two-and-two together. And that's why I love Randy. Randy is the avatar for the diligent audience member who seems to be paying attention to everything. I still say that he should have been the grandmaster of the entire Scream franchise, but I acknowledge that something would be lost if that happened.
But there's also something deeply disturbing about the original Scream that I kind of want to rewrite my master's thesis to be about. Scream is all about incel culture. If we're jumping back to the notion that Scream is a metanarrative, Scream's message about the role of fandom is deeply disturbing. I'm not crazy to state that the incel of today's culture is an offshoot of nerddom. Nerds have been portrayed in media as anti-social and unloved. They have been the lovable victims of tropes throughout storytelling. But Scream would usher in the rise of the cool nerd. Gone were the days of pocket-protectors and broken black-framed glasses. There would be a time with the rise of the hipster and the cultural savant. I mean, I have a blog where I write about movies. I know my people. But the film savant would devolve into something that very much would look like Stu Macher. Randy and Stu are the two sides of the same coin. Portrayed as friends in Scream, they have these obsessive personalities that would mock each other's almost Olympian attempts to out-nerd each other. But it wouldn't take much for Randy to become Stu. Randy is working class. He works at a video store and has been fired multiple times. What's stopping him from going full on Otaku is the fact that he's forced to interact with people of all social classes. Randy even kind of has a disdain for that group of people. Contrast him with Stu and that's incel culture all the way.
I wish I didn't split up the writing on this because I could write about this for a long time. This is the most I've written for a while because, oddly enough, Scream has been inspirational. Because so much thought went into making a horror movie, it created its own subgenre. It evolved horror movies into this whole other category and it's oddly smart. We have smart horror movies because Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven really invested in what they were making. It's fantastic. Even though I had seen this movie a gazillion times, it caught me off-guard and I gained a whole new appreciation for it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.