Thursday, April 9, 2015

Film Appreciation - B.S. Reasons to Kill Your Girlfriend

Jay Burleson returns to take things from a whisper to a Scream for Film Appreciation.

"There's always some stupid, bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend." - Randy

Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, W. Earl Brown, and Roger Jackson

This 1996 slasher film not only reinvigorated an entire genre, but it completely changed the landscape of modern horror. The 1990s started with the "big three" of the '80s slasher films still churning out at least a film per series, with Friday the 13th seeing Jason off to Hell in another entry marketed as his last, and A Nightmare on Elm Street doing the same with Freddy's Dead, while Halloween made a mid-'90s appearance with The Curse of Michael Myers.

The early 1990s were a time of change in the horror industry as the slasher fad came to a screeching halt. None of the aforementioned films drummed up business like in years past and horror was headed in a different direction. It wouldn't be hard to argue that, at the time, the direction was unclear. While good horror films were still being made (Candyman comes to mind, and while not an out and out genre film, Silence of the Lambs fits too) there was still no definite cash cow or obvious tentpole for the money makers to hang their hats on. Scream would eventually change that.

In 1994, the A Nightmare on Elm Street series went in a different direction with New Nightmare, a post-modern take by original creator Wes Craven. The film took the Nightmare films and put them into the "real" world, a place where Freddy Krueger was just a movie character and  Heather Langenkamp, the star of Nightmares 1 and 3, played herself as she geared up to return to the Nightmare series. It's one of my favorite modern horror films, a welcome addition to the horror landscape that obviously serves as a jumping off point for what Craven would bring to the director table with Scream.

I feel mentioning New Nightmare is important because Scream is such a great companion piece to what Craven was doing with stories in the '90s. While Craven didn't write Scream, it certainty matches seamlessly with his abilities and thought process at the time, and the result was not only a great horror film but a game changer for horror as a whole. The writing credit for Scream falls to Kevin Williamson, and he is every bit as important to the success of Scream as Wes Craven. Williamson molded a hip, meta, self-referential script that not only poked fun at the horror classics of the '80s, but that paid tribute to them as well. At the core though, Williamson's script tells a really character driven murder mystery that revolves around our lead heroine, Sidney Prescott, and the murder of Sidney's mother a year earlier.

Scream is a great mixture of horror and comedy, but really changed the game with the post-modern approach to the genre. These teenagers know about horror films, they watch the classics, make witty references about them, and understand the rules as well as the the dos and donts of surviving a horror film. When I write that now it seems so cliche and boring. Today it is, but in 1996 it was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre and put everything on its head.

In my life, Scream came out at the perfect time, because I was still a kid, but a kid that had grown up on the '80s horror films and could understand the references. I had just discovered films like Halloween and Friday the 13th a few years before, and here was Scream, openly talking about those films and showcasing the original Halloween on TV again and again.  The way Craven and Williamson line up certain music ques and scenes from Halloween with the story in Scream is truly perfection and a very nice touch.

The performances here are on point across the board, from Neve Campbell as our heroine to Jamie Kennedy as the over-the-top horror film enthusiast. One of my personal favorite characters is a TV news cameraman named Kenny, played by W. Earl Brown. He's lovable and enjoyable even with a small amount of screen time, and his character is a good example of how rich the material is from top to bottom. His death in Scream is pretty bittersweet because he is the perfect sidekick for TV reporter Gale Weathers, and none of her crew sidekicks in the sequels ever live up to the chemistry that she shares with Kenny in Scream 1. The chemistry is somewhat replicated by Gale's cameraman in Scream 2 (played by Duane Martin) but he sadly (though wisely) leaves town when he sees that people are being murdered all around him.

To me, the film holds up after many repeat viewings, but I wonder how far off the mark it is to people who have never stepped foot in an actual video store. Randy's character working at a video store and one big scene taking place there must feel completely strange to people who will watch the film for the first time and have no experience of actually visiting a video store in real life. I hope that future Scream installments (perhaps even the upcoming TV series) can find a way to work that into their post modern approach. Maybe there is a good opening death scene that can be set around a Redbox. I say that in jest, but sooner or later there will be another breakthrough like Scream, a good horror film that is also able to comment on the past and future of the genre itself. Until then, us old timers still have Scream and its sequels to hold us over.

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