This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Richard L. Haas III’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“Do you like scary movies?”
It’s crazy that many people don’t realize that this is satire. I forget who said it, but I once heard someone refer to Scream as a film that satirizes it’s content so well that it also kind of become indistinguishable from said content. You can see that as a negative for sure, but I think that’s part of its charm. It’s a film that you can easily watch as a teen slasher popcorn flick as well as a film with commentary that you can dig deeper into. Sufficed to say, the writers of Scary Movie didn’t quite get this irony. Or maybe they did, since Scream’s original title was actually Scary Movie.
Any film with a big twist or mystery can fall victim to the rewatch factor where once you know the twist, it doesn’t work on the rewatch (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, etc.). Fortunately, this evades that fate and it works wonderfully on a rewatch. That being said, SPOILERS ahead.
There’s a lot of fantastic fake outs in the film. The most famous of which is with Drew Barrymore where many thought she would be the main character. I mean she was legit on the poster so the marking was just brilliant. Even knowing that she doesn’t make it, the scene is just crafted so beautifully. Many other directors would have condensed that sequence to only a few minutes. Wes Craven was a master in his craft and let it play out naturally. The tension and buildup is amazing and so is the payoff with the parents. I’m also a sucker for the dialogue. Being a big movie buff I just loved the Friday the 13th question.
Now, the Drew Barrymore fake out works brilliantly when you’re first watching because when Neve Campbell gets attacked you no longer thing she is safe. All the other fake outs are towards the mystery of who the killer(s) are and aren’t. There’s a few with Henry Winkler (wait— Henry Winkler is in this? I’ve seen this a thousand times, how come I don’t remember him) who actually puts on a great performance here, but a great one is when Sydney gets a phone call while Billy is in jail. You almost don’t suspect him any more (or even at first) because Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street taught you not too with Johnny Depp’s character.
Knowing that Billy and Stuart are the killers definitely changes the viewing perspective namely where dialogue and actions could suggest different things that what you assume they mean. Upon this rewatch, I think my favorite example of this is when Stuart is talking with Randy in the video rental store. Randy is obviously freaked out by the killings but associates them with slasher flicks and Stuart asks him questions and pokes the bear. Knowing that he is one of the killers makes this scene so incredible on a rewatch because he’s toying with Randy and is getting a sick satisfaction out of it. The extra cherry on top for me is how nearly everything Randy says about Billy being the killer is correct (he just didn’t think there could be an accomplice). He goes on saying things like “There's a formula to it. A very simple formula!” or Simplicity! [Because] if it gets too complicated, you lose your target audience.” Both quotes end up being truthful, as well as his statement later to Stuart, ”See, you push the laws and you end up dead. Okay, I'll see you in the kitchen with a knife,” which, of course, happens as well. It’s beautiful foreshadowing.The same goes with Sydney on the phone making fun of chicks in horror movies ”running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door,” which is exactly what she does… although, I will say, it makes sense in context here.
Kevin Williamson wrote the script here and his writing in the first film is just brilliant. As I’ve mentioned above the satire is just brilliant and even if it goes over your head, it certainly works as a really good “teen” horror. It’s no wonder the dude eventually found his calling in television with shows like Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries— among others. He cracked the genre’s formula. A few highlights for this script for me would be the “PG-13” talk between Sydney and Billy towards the beginning, the Richard Gere gerbil analogy, the tension from the camera’s time delay, flipping the script on sex in horror films by having Sydney lose it to Billy (sad that her first time was through manipulation), commentary on how slasher rentals will skyrocket after a public tragedy, and how what happened to her mother wasn’t said outright at first but instead you had to wait for a few news segments later on to tell you. We also get tons of iconic lines. My favorites are actually at the end with “Movies don’t create psychos,” and “My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me,” which is played off as a humorous joke but in reality it really underlines the notion of how young these kids are and how detached from the adult and horrific nature of their actions.
Also, can we thank Williamson for writing my spirit animal into this film. Jamie Kennedy’s Randy is me all the way. I just love him. Courtney Cox is fabulous in her role as well and showcases talent past Friends. I’d like to complicate David Arquette for being likable, but honestly Dewey is a bit much in the first one. It saddens me that the Scary Movie parody of him, Doofy, wasn’t far off. Sure it’s fun for the first watch, but this is really the one area that doesn’t work for the rewatch because he has such great character development in the other films. Although I do like the symmetry of that scene with him eating ice cream on a come and the sherif smoking a cigarette symbolizing child vs. man… setting aside the glorification of smoking, of course.
There’s just so much to talk about here but I’ll start rambling if I go any further. Instead here’s a bunch of things I enjoyed:
• It’s really well shot. The anamorphic widescreen and framing works brilliantly.
• Having now rewatched this after seeing Riverdale it’s unbelievable how well Cole Sprouse was able to basically emulate Skeet Ulrich’s acting from this. Makes sense since Ulrich plays his dad on the show.
• Liev Schreiber had an early roll in this. I remember him from the sequels but apparently it’s because he was in this film and got his start because of it. That’s pretty awesome.
• The bathroom scene is very underrated. Not only do you get some fucked up commentary on how popular kids behave, but you get a great scene of tension following it.
• Honestly I just love how Ghostface is clumsy. It’s an aspect you rarely see in slashers however it’s a very honest one. Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees simply get up slowly or avoid massive falls. Ghostface audibly gasps and falls a lot. It’s refreshing and also hints to “his” youthful identities.
• There’s a Freddy Krueger Easter Egg with the janitor that is everything. Can’t believe I never noticed it.
• Crazy how big seeing nipples through shirts was a big thing in the 90s.
• I’m glad garage doors have sensors.
• Music is great too. Like when the phone call talking about the principal and how music is utilized diegetically with Halloween’s score (Look behind you!”).
• “No Thanks Whatsoever to the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board” in the credits.
Okay. This film rocks and so do the sequels. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Probably one of the few horror franchises that maintains smart concepts and produces banger after banger. Can’t wait to see the fifth one to see if that remains true.