Scream still holds the horror crown

Scream is known for capitalizing on horror tropes. Illustration: Amber Malom · The Sentry

Fans are still screaming

Scream is known for capitalizing on horror tropes.
Illustration: Amber Malom · The Sentry

When studying the horror genre of film, there are many features that could be considered the greatest horror film of all time. The first few that come to mind are classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979), and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). All these films helped establish different vital tropes to the horror genre and deserve love and fanfare, but none of them are as satisfying as Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). This film entered popular culture at a time that the horror genre was considered to be on life support due to years of direct-tovideo duds.

Scream is a scary movie for fans of scary movies and written by the masterminds of scary movies about teenagers who love scary movies. Every aspect of this thrill ride was calculated to play fan service, poke fun, and turn what was expected of a horror film on its head. Even the tag line of the film is brilliant: “Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far.”

Craven keeps the thematic core of Scream the same as many other horror films. A group of teenagers: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), and Randy Meeks (Jaime Kennedy), are terrorized by a masked assailant known as Ghostface, who is quickly established to be a horror film aficionado. The bumbling cop, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is two steps behind the crimes and is helped along by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), the reporter trying to break the case. The acknowledgment and discussion of real-life established horror films in Scream brings a level of meta humor and connection that masterpieces like Halloween were incapable of doing. That extra layer of familiarity is what makes this movie stand out in the genre. The film wastes no time with this by having Ghostface quiz Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) on who was the killer in the original Friday the Thirteenth. Hint: it wasn’t Jason.

In conjunction with this acknowledgment of real-life horror films, Scream touches on how to survive a horror film by establishing the ‘rules’ of these scenarios. If a person finds themselves inside a scary movie, they should never have sex, drink alcohol, consume drugs, or call out idiot phrases like, “I’ll be right back,” or “Hello? Is there anyone there?” It is so tongue-in-check that the writers even go out of their way to tell the audience who the killer is, but it’s presented in such a way that it appears to be a red herring.

Barrymore, despite being featured on the promotional material, is killed within the first ten minutes, a direct reference to Psycho. That opening sequence weaved itself into the hearts of horror fans and propelled Ghostface to become one of the most recognizable villains in cinema. Then the viewer is gifted a short uncredited cameo from horror legend Linda Blair, and that isn’t even the best cameo in the film. That is reserved for the horror master himself, Wes Craven, who can be seen wearing an iconic red and green sweater playing a school janitor named Fred. These moments in film that fill the viewer with glee are scrumptious to the soul. In all media, an apprentice should become better than the master that taught them. Scream learned from all the masters that came before and perfected the formula into the greatest horror movie of all time.

This is a selection of the Sept. 23 issue. To view the full issue, visit:

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