When it comes to horror movies, we tend to see trends.
For example, there was the Paranormal Activity phenomenon in 2009. Not only did it bring about a series of sequels and spin-offs, but a wave of other films that followed the same route of ‘found footage’ and ’real life people’ experiencing paranormal entities. Think Grave Encounters, The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside.
These trends often find themselves correlating with what’s happening in the real world. In the ‘70s, movies about animals attacking – paired with economic horror – were released, which was put down to a newfound public awareness of environmental issues; take Days of the Animals, or Grizzly as examples. Jump forward to the 2000s and we were given a host of ghost stories coming out of Japan – The Ring, The Grudge – in response to urban alienation and perceived ideas of the familial collapse in the country. Currently, we find ourselves very much in a new age – smart, or woke. For example, Get Out, famously tackles racism in liberal America, The Babadook grief and parental exhaustion, It Follows sexual shame, and The Purge: Election Year, that hones in on the last American political campaign.
In a way, this is what makes the Horror genre unique because directors, producers, and screenplay writers follow these trends believing that this is what we want to see. They think, “the public loved that one movie, let’s see if we can do it better.” From exorcisms to dolls that can talk, they’ve kept up with all of them. However, after a while, the trend is almost always overdone. With the original Chucky movies, for example, I couldn’t find one creepy doll movie that followed that did it like they did.
One film series, in particular, beat this stigma of overdoing a trend in their sub-horror category. Back in the ‘90s, after the slasher movie trend had just about dwindled, director Wes Craven came out with Scream. In a nutshell, Scream could be considered a cliche slasher movie series, but in actuality, it’s a slasher movie series about those very cliches – it’s meta. However, unlike Scream’s predecessors, the film does it in a way that is unique. The entire series is satirical, bringing in references from Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Nightmare on Elm Street, and others alike. Scream honours all these films, talking about the brilliance and key points in each, but it also overtly brings out their flaws, trying to avoid those same mistakes. The series, in its self-awareness, revitalised the slasher trend; by pointing how just how ridiculous the concept was, it made it, well, cool.
The opening scene from the first movie is very much a mission statement. Drew Barrymore’s character, Casey, is home alone when she gets a call from the killer, who starts sweet talking her and quizzing her on slasher movies. Eventually, the killer gets to her and Casey meets a typically gruesome end. The most gleefully awful part comes in the form of the body discovery – but we won’t spoil that for you. From the get-go, Scream demonstrates what it’s about; twisted, gory and funny.
Unlike previous slasher movies, Scream consistently had different killers each film. They left the audience on the edge of their seat, wondering who it was going to be this time. With films like Halloween, Michael Myers was always the man you looked out for, which made it a little stale. But not with Scream. Even with the sequels, they kept up with their satire and meta-like plot and dialogue. The first movie owned their influence from famous slasher films, while the sequels took from the original Scream. In fact, Scream 2, 3, and 4 all refer to a film series within its own film series. After the events of the original, fictional movie makers responded with Stab, a film-within-a-film chronicling what went down in Woodsboro, their fictional town in California.
While there have been meta films like Scream that took the genre and made it new again, there haven’t been any slashers that did it like they did – though many attempted. Scream had set down rules that defined the slasher genre, making it difficult for its followers. It had the ability to laugh at itself while also take itself very seriously, understanding that the audience was smart enough to know that. Granted, it fell into the franchise business with three sequels as well as a TV adaptation, but those were, in their own way, enjoyable too. Much more than, say, the eleventh Halloween movie or Freddy vs. Jason.
Scream is, frankly, slept on. It has a well developed plot, funny dialogue, authentic murder scenes, and that hip ‘90s aesthetic that everyone misses so much right now. I mean, people still wear the costume for Halloween. And while it’s known that Horror routinely isn’t given the praise it deserves in critical circles, more people should watch and appreciate what Craven did with the franchise.