Allow me to get pretentious for a moment by looking back at the first postmodern work in the Teen Slasher genre — the “Scream” trilogy. Conceived by screenwriter Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, the trilogy returned life to the stale Teen Slasher genre with its host of hip characters, irreverent dialogue, and too-cool-for-school plots. Other genres eventually took the postmodern hip of “Scream” and used it on the Teen High School movies and just about anything and everything they could get their hands on. Even the Western wasn’t spared, as “American Outlaws” can attest to.
Seven years after the film’s initial release, I don’t think I need to go over the movie’s plot, but for those who don’t know: a pair of killers go around slaughtering teens for one reason: because they can. The star of “Scream” is Neve Campbell (“Panic”), who plays Sidney, the trilogy’s Fair Hair Lead. Other recurring characters include Courteney Cox as spunky reporter Gale Weathers, David Arquette as Dewey, the Deputy most in need of some respect, and Jamie Kennedy (“The Specials”) as Randy, the video store and horror movie aficionado. The rest of the cast is unimportant because they only last long enough to get killed off.
Despite what you may have heard about “Scream”, and despite its very bloody finale, the movie itself is relatively light on the bodycount. Drew Barrymore (“Charlie’s Angels”) shows up in the film’s first 10 minutes, but is killed off early in the trilogy’s most well known sequence. From that moment on, it takes another 40 minutes or so before the next body falls. In-between the blood and gore that’s requisite in all Teen Slasher films, “Scream” offers up a host of characters that are just too damn hip for their own good. The dialogue by Williamson is quite good. Or, to be more precise, the dialogue by Williamson is so good that every would-be Teen Slasher filmmaker has attempted to copy him ever since.
“Scream” rebels against the conventions of its genre, but that doesn’t keep it from embracing the old traditions. The movie constantly winks at us, and it’s a lot smarter than its brethren, but that doesn’t stop it from also being extremely familiar. For instance, who didn’t know that the loose girl played by Rose McGowan was going to bite it, and bite it in a most brutal fashion? Or that there will be red herrings all over the place? Or the fact that Skeet Ulrich’s character keeps literally popping up at the strangest places?
“Scream” is a good movie that, although it doesn’t completely re-invent the wheel, does splash a new coat of paint on it. The starring turn by Neve Campbell is terrific, with the Sidney character showing a lot more resourcefulness than we’re used to seeing in our Fair Hair Leads. The direction by Wes Craven is slick and the director proves again that he definitely knows his stuff. The violence is very realistic, which makes the few kills that can be found in the movie resonate with greater impact.
There’s a reason why “Scream” spurned two sequels and made a lot of money, after all. It is quite good, even for a genre film. But while the movie definitely takes clever to a new level, old fans of the genre like myself can’t help but wish that some of the characters would shut up and die already. You can only stand so much goofy teens with clever dialogue before you start envisioning a masked killer ripping their guts out. But maybe that’s just me.
Wes Craven (director) / Kevin Williamson (screenplay)
CAST: David Arquette …. Dewey
Neve Campbell …. Sid
Courteney Cox …. Gale Weathers
Skeet Ulrich …. Billy
Rose McGowan …. Tatum Riley
Matthew Lillard …. Stu