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Classic Movie Review: 'Scream' My Summer of Classics

by Sean Patrick 15 days ago in movie review
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Continuing my look back at classic movies, I went back to a classic horror movie that's still relevant today.

Scream was a flashpoint in the horror genre of the mid to late 1990s. Some credit a smart marketing campaign, the film was distributed by Dimension Films, a branch of then indie powerhouse Miramax. Putting aside all that we know about Harvey Weinstein and his company, they made Scream a phenomenon through incredible word of mouth at a time when the horror genre was at the lowest of lows.

In the previous year to the release of Scream, the highest grossing horror movie of 1995 ranked 82nd overall in theatrical gross and brought in just $21 million dollars in worldwide sales. That movie was Tales From the Crypt: Demon Night. Now, in terms of business, that movie did make money and there was a strong business model in terms of low budget horror and $20 million dollars in revenue. But, the genre was truly at its lowest in terms of reputation and cultural impact until Scream came along.

And, even Scream wasn’t an immediate success, the film actually grossed less than the opening weekend of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night, just over $6 million dollars versus more than $10 million for the Tales from the Crypt sequel. Some of that disparity however is explained by Dimension opening Scream on December 20th, 1996, a less than prime spot for a horror movie at that time, especially since it was chasing the same demographic that turned Beavis and Butthead Do America the number 1 movie at the box office that weekend.

Where Scream succeeded was in cultural impact. Director Wes Craven’s decision to cast Drew Barrymore and then kill off her character before the opening credits rolled in gory and graphic fashion created a sensation that built word of mouth. The strong trailer that seemed to make Barrymore the star of the film, despite her early exit, was another marketing master stroke, risky in seeming to bait and switch audiences but worth it in the end because the shock factor turned into buzz that gave the film legs at the box office that carried to more than $106 million dollars in worldwide box office revenue.

Why am I talking about box office in a movie review? I find it fascinating. But I am also bringing it up because, as much as clever marketing may have helped foster a legend around Scream, I feel that the real reason Scream became the phenomenon that it did is because Scream is a legitimately good movie. Director Wes Craven may have been a lifer in the genre but he was smart enough to recognize that the genre, the tropes, the overly familiar aspects of the genre were in need of a refresher and in writer Kevin Williamson he found a talent that could deliver that breath of fresh Generation X air into the genre.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is still recovering from the brutal murder of her mother and the aftermath in which a man named Cotton Weary was convicted despite sketchy evidence of his guilt. The recovery process has affected every aspect of her life. This includes her romance with Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) which has quite reasonably taken a backseat to her grief. An early scene in Scream finds Sidney and Billy directly addressing the slow progress of their relationship in a rather sweet and well conceived scene. Coy and funny, this brief scene is a terrific way to establish the status quo of the Scream universe.

Unbeknownst to Sidney, at the same time she and Billy are having their heart to heart, two of their classmates have been brutally murdered. No one knows the motive behind the killing and the only real evidence is the absolute brutality of the killing, something the dead inside Gen-X teens of Woodsboro appear eager to discuss, even in front of the clearly traumatized Sidney. When Sidney is subsequently attacked and survives, the nature of the killers takes on an extra dimension with the revelation that the killer wears a distinctive mask to hide their identity.

Another highlight of Scream is the amount of information that Craven and Williamson deliver with expository dialogue that doesn’t sound like expository dialogue. Williamson’s strong ear for the way Gen-X talks helps to keep the exposition dumps fresh and clever. The layers of irony, cynicism and borderline sociopathic dedication to remaining unfazed by anything are classic traits of my generation. Williamson writes the way Gen-X thinks, We are still being spoon fed information needed for the plot but the characters and the way they talk helps mask that.

My favorite aspect of Scream is the dynamic between news reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Woodsboro Deputy Dewey (David Arquette). The subtle turn that Courtney Cox employs to take Gale from cynically trying to use Dewey to get more information for her story to her genuinely developing feelings for him is happening almost entirely in the background of the movie. The two have these two significant moments, Gale’s insincere flirting outside Woodsboro High School and a scene near the start of the third act where they bond a little and Dewey saves Gale from being hit by a car demonstrate the talent and chemistry of Cox and Arquette which becomes part of the franchise going forward.

Scream isn’t perfect but it is wildly clever, genuinely scary, and one very entertaining horror flick. The smart ways in which Scream skewers horror tropes while using those same tropes was refreshing. It felt like someone was finally calling out horror movies, especially slasher movies, for the sameness that ran the genre into the ground. Scream was also a rebuke to the studio system that had rendered the genre a toothless parody of itself with endless sequels to familiar brands.


With its return to blood and guts splatter and its sharp wit, Scream brought the horror genre back to life. It was just the right kick in the pants for the genre at a time when it was drifting back to being the geek show of the movie world. We can thank Scream creator Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson for giving us back the horror genre that was slowly slipping into the past until Scream made it a viable choice for studios seeking blockbusters.

Find my archive of the past 20 years of my movie reviews online at seanatthemovies.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @podcastsean for all of my movie reviews.

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About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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