Raphael Georg Klopper’s review published on Letterboxd:
The horror genre has its comes and goes in different eras, taking different formats to survive the creative maelstrom to trace something unique, memorable and of course, profitable. That could’ve be tried to reach by different methods, creating an new original antagonistic horror force, its tone and main goal play out; but this is the sort of genre where countless of subgenres inhabit it, so anything being spooky enough, can already launch you into it, so the challenge increases!
Well, you can’t always be a visionary, so often having to look back to the past to create the future. When Carpenter made Halloween he wasn’t set in creating the slasher genre, he was looking at Argento and Hitchock and tried to evoke that feel of thrills and execution to the horror he was trying to conjure up, making suspense thriller with a touch of the supernatural, packing eerie tension and dark psychological layers;
You can say Argento did the very same thing when he was making The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, he wasn’t creating what became known as the Italian Giallo – that already had been created in literature and getting inspiration by the works of Mario Bava and Hitchcock as well, making his iconic erotic filled suspense with psychological arouseness and brutal imagery – the sort of film that made you feel abused while watching.
Speaking of feeling abused, what is Janet Leigh’s iconic shower scene in Psycho if not the epitome of the same that resulted in years of ‘copycats’, that inspired diverse several genres and subgenres who were born within this evolutionary process. And again, Hitchcock wasn’t trying to, he was trying to break conventions of his own career, diverging from the big studio productions and repeated ‘man on the run’ thriller formula and set for a small budget Noir-ish thriller taking a left turn half-way in and becoming the most iconic horror film ever made. Sticking to the simplicity of its freakish paranoia with terrifying psychological effects, that disturbs you just by existing and being what it is.
All sharing the dark psychological elements to such result beyond their well executed craft with unique identities and focus of their own and becoming legendary masters because of it. So when you arrive in Wes Craven, another legendary master of his own, he at a point in his career, later in the 90s when he was growing weary of the horror genre, its sexist tendencies, repeated basic formula, and after his The Haunting adaptation fell apart, he seemed close to retiring from it.
But when Kevin Williamson's script for Scream showed up and he saw the potential of it, seeing everyone’s interest in trying to lift off the ground, of making something especial. That’s because Craven knew, being the genius that he was, that basic Horror was all but done. It had probably reached the point of wear and tear, less than today but a wear nonetheless, where everything had already been made and originality seemed a rare feet to accomplish. That was true then as it is now! One thing was for sure, after all these years, a formula had been set in the genre, so if you’re willing to try to make something new, don’t break it, EMBRACE it! And Craven in Scream so did!
It’s not just a post-slasher, despite being its main genre focus, but rather feels something like post-horror entirely! This creative epiphany must’ve come to him while making A New Nightmare, up the point when the franchise couldn’t take it anywhere else new, so he came in to let cinema, its maker and actors talk about it, live in it. Now the same is repeated here, where the genre itself is taking the stand to talk about itself.
Craven views and places the Horror genre as a known entity within the characters' own universe, they analyze it, dissect it, talk about as if it was their common frat-students language, but also inhabit it and live it themselves, like the movie itself is doing relishing in its clichés and set rules. Not just through the self-aware meta narrative, lovingly honoring everything that came before it, but also spreading clues to its overall mystery of its plot, and Sidney (Neve Campbell)’s traumatic background element, that’s brought up more times than you have shots to count in a drinking game.
It could be a silly sappy melodramatic repetition, but basically all the relationships almost feel like that throughout it, because the film allows itself to be campy as f#ck! From the way the characters behave, act or talk about the occurring killings as casual conversation. Their dynamic feels like a teen novelty drama, where the virgin survivor girl protagonist having her innocence tested by the traumas of her past unable to accept the future, and past feuds between Sidney and the character of Courteney Cox's Gale Weathers are resolved by the punch of fists.
And of course, its ‘teenagers’ are played by a bunch of pretty face hunky twenty-year-olds with so much corny flair and over the topness spiting from guys like Matthew Lillard that it becomes poisonously delicious! But that’s also the reason why we like them, their characteristic innocence and unaware sensibility that they are all taking part of a big joke makes the drama portions feel vital as you can see the actors selling to live in it, and all the more reason we care about Sidney, the scream queen goddess who’s charming, witty, takes no shit, fights back, you care and root for her immensely.
In what it could’ve been the setting of a semi-spoof satire – which in part is, played with a straight face, while setting with its own unique take of slasher premise, about a mystery person that phones you, taunts you with movie questions, than shows up coming out of your closet wearing a black robe and a ghost mask outfit that you buy in any costume store, going loose like a knife wilding maniac chasing and slicing poor high schoolers. It’s silly as it manages to be enthrallingly engaging!
The mystery that’s used to sell all of this is thin as any horror junkie expert like Randy would crack half-way into it, and so he does and the movie along with it, but almost immediately it fools you time and time again by how it keeps giving false leads and turns so keep guessing you stay. Teasing you with a constantly wink-eye provocative attitude and truck-load of red herrings; it throws at you the obvious answers but makes you keep guessing if it will really go that route or that one, you can’t outflank it with arguments of plot-holes or clichéd obviousness because it’s fully aware of all itself.
The movie actually at a point makes you suspect the sweet dork like Dewey could be the killer so that’s must be the sign of a job well done! Up until the finale that is…and it all makes sense! Where the true reveal is in fact how the movie so snarkly was spelling it out right at your face all its obvious factors and reveals with such an acid irreverence that it becomes utterly priceless to watch every minute of it with an open smile unfold.
Finding the balance between its shocking thrills because it passionately commits to them just as much as to its meta-textual narrative. While many before and after were mostly solely focusing on the supernatural horror flicks, Scream wasn’t, it was a return to basics stripped down horror slasher, lining back to the Norman Bates and serial killers from Giallo films era, in that dynamic where the killer can be (and will be) anyone around you! Not just as a tool of actual built mystery, but as a way to bring a real feel of unease.
The brilliant iconic intro with Drew Barrymore supposed main star echoes Psycho to evoke its same feeling where everything is off the table once she is brutally murdered right in front of our eyes. Is not a graphic movie, but it doesn’t spare the audience afraid of stylize its violence as some modern directors seem to do because they don't want to offend anyone other than their progressist politics – Scream is mean, it shows a bloody fest and open wounds, being perverse and bloody without feeling guilty about it.
The deaths feel part of a Italian Giallo; the often epic score from Marco Beltrami feel part of a Carpenter movie, but its setting plays with the community horror feel of Halloween, while playing with the serial-killer psychosis and paranoia inducing set up, that Craven takes from When a Stranger Calls ‘phone-call from evil’ set up and expands it to something of its own!
Ghostface is iconic not just because of its unique outlook and Roger L. Jackson arresting voice, but also behaving like a clumsy buffoon that gets kicked around easy as if he was in a slapstick comedy, but also being a very sarcastic funny bastard that you fear as you love thanks to Roger Jackson delicious voice. Whose identity here hides two deranged wanabe serial killers whose motivations are either caused by trauma, past grudges or just pure nothing; it all works as its own well written bullshit excuse to jump into the horrific stuff. If well made, we will buy it anyway, Scream goes for it all. Doesn’t try to be complex, is just is, after all…“Motives are incidental”.
Its’ vital essential pure stripped down horror, where narrative motivations are well blunt excuses, with a operating logic behind them to make its thrills and characters being sold to us. Treating its audience with respect of not separating casual moviegoers and normal audience apart, it lets everyone in as part of its fun. It embraces us by giving everything everyone then and now love and know about the genre everyone takes a kick of pure sadistic entertainment that, by luck, have real meat behind it; Scream is all of that!
Then once we reach its climax – the epitome of all slashers, a house party being invaded by death, feels like a celebratory event of generations of horror meeting together. A love letter to Halloween’s masterful harrowing climax even using its own soundtrack as part of the non diegetic action here met with the melodramatic character reckoning of Giallo and suspense thrillers, carefully built and staged to timing perfection.
The film’s last shot is literally on a beautiful sunset, almost as if it’s showing a new horizon of hope to the genre, in a film that help revitalized the passion for it. Even in Craven himself that was growing tired of it and if New Nightmare pointed out anything, was the inherent misogyny and violence that was dominating the genre. But he takes the same violence and usual misogynistic motivations and not only pokes fun of it, but makes it all meaningful in context, as a genre, as a film narrative.
How? Simple, horror is the coordination of evil upon its preys. The fear is not much of its scary looks or violent nature, but of how unstoppable he can be and the motivations that leads it. Scream plays to perfection with this because our two monsters are aware of all the tricks, codes and storytelling traces that covered horror movies for years, stitching their plan together like it was their own horror movie plot, drawing on their knowledge of the genre and the obviousness of its clichés and tropes.
And assuming their roles on it, just by being what they are: two psychotic scumbags abusing the soul and life of our female protagonist towards grim levels. Where Sidney’s suffering, her traumas and pains are a vital poignant part, not just of the character, but the plot, and when you have a horror movie that commits to that, here’s the answer as to why is still so compelling all these years later! Making a logical instance of character growth for its protagonist uniting all of us in the thrill of the horror, the action and the drama, and where Craven finds his happy ending of renewal, while rocking you in the cradle like a well served satisfied baby.
The sequels might never reached what made this special, but provided the permission to have fun and be experimental with the formula having learned to be proud of it from this unmatched original classic!
P.S: This movie alone should’ve been shown in modern film schools, or spread it on Twitter’s no man’s land teach HOW to make an actual feminist movie without having to resort to pandering or gender/race politics.