Scream (1996)

★★★★★

Scream PosterDirector: Wes Craven

Release Date: December 20th, 1996 (US); May 2nd, 1997 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Mystery

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette

Within minutes, it asks us to consider our “favourite scary movie”. Characters relentlessly quote or refer to other characters from other films, such Pyscho’s Norman Bates or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. Wes Craven’s Scream is both a love letter to horror cinema and a skilfully rammed knife in the genre’s back. It is vibrant and arrogant and brash. Kevin Williamson pens a screenplay that inverts commonality, and does so for two reasons: to offer fans something new, and to prove that you still can offer fans something new.

Take the bloody prologue as an example. One of the greatest bait and switch openings to ever grace the silver screen, it suddenly manoeuvres from harmless small talk between Drew Barrymore’s unsuspecting teen and an anonymous caller, to effervescent morbidity. “Turn on the patio lights,” orders the unidentified voice, and from then convention is flipped: our proverbial heroine dies in an instant, despite almost escaping, almost alerting her parents, almost relaying the correct answer. You need to know your horror history or else bad things will happen. If that’s not an advert for the genre, what is?

Scream’s role in revitalising the slasher genre ought to be celebrated. Diverting tonally from the superbly mean-spirited Texas Chain Saw Massacres and Exorcists of the 1970s, this embraced the madness and subsequently recaptured the imagination of viewers with self-reflective normalisation. Whereas earlier audiences sought out squeals and yelps (as seen in this recording of a 70s Halloween screening), cinemagoers in the 90s were clearly after something different. Craven obliged, combining wit with exhilarating chills to create an atmosphere that encouraged knowledgeable grins.

More recently, Final Destination and Saw have built entire franchises atop Scream’s perceptive hallmarks, and filmmakers such as Ti West and Adam Wingard likely fostered their own brand of creative horror having gazed upon Craven’s work. Edgar Wright published a touching tribute to the late director, noting the visceral influence Craven’s portfolio had on him in his younger years, an influence that once again reared during the production of Shaun of the Dead (you can read that tribute here).

The story is straightforward: a rampaging killer is loose in Woodsboro, a small Californian community seemingly dominated by obnoxious teens and roving reporters. Still living with the demons brought on by her mother’s murder, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell, who wholly endears) unwittingly gets caught up in the knife-wielding drama. Knowing the killer’s identity before seeing the film doesn’t undo its value, which is sort of the point; though guessing is part of the fun, horror doesn’t have to be about who is under the hood. The preceding thrill is worth its weight in gold.

Speaking of said killer, the villain here is a maniacal conglomeration of humour and fear. The way Ghostface runs is both funny and scary, as is the way his/her mask droops. Ghostface appears anywhere and everywhere: reflected in the eye of a deceased victim; scampering through neighbourhood forests; hiding behind school closets. It could be anybody under the black cloak and as such a prevailing air of bubbling uncertainty exists (“There’s a formula to it, a very simple formula. Everybody’s a suspect!”). Characters act erratically around each other, but no more erratically than normal teenagers act, which helps to harnesses any disengaging silliness.

Famous for breaking the fourth wall and openly discussing the rules of horror, Scream’s meta ambience still holds up almost two decades on. Perhaps this is indicative of a lack of evolution in the genre, or perhaps it is simply because Wes Craven had a penchant for predicting and challenging the future Zeitgeist. Regarding scary movies, Sydney lays it out for us: “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.” And normally it is insulting, but not this time.

Patrick Lussier’s snappy editing feeds the edgy (and also comedic) aura, as do Marco Beltrami’s brassy convulsions. Mark Irwin’s camera often shows us what Sydney does not see — for example, the killer’s feet and costume descending into view beneath a bathroom stall door that our protagonist checked only moments prior. Scream is not, incidentally, an out-and-out comedy. We laugh when the film acknowledges absurdity, a trait familiar to the genre that is often ignored in favour of a more serious approach.

At one point the song lyrics “say a prayer for the youth of America” ring out before the view instantly cuts to a house party. The insinuation could be anything. That youngsters lack focus and are too materialistic. That the teens in this film are in grave danger. It could even be a nod towards the social plight of kids in the real world — 1996, after all, continued to play host to the consumerist, ratings-gorging MTV Generation.

The outing even manages to appraise the media in between its scary movie satire. It is tough on said industry, embodied by journalist Gale Weathers’ constant need to invade the teens’ privacy as well as her less than admirable moral motivations (“Do you know what that could do for my book sales?”). But there is a blunt nod towards the media’s role in serving justice too.

It all culminates in an intense, enjoyable and smartly executed wild goose chase with so many well-earned twists and turns. And, like in all great horror flicks, you really want the innocent lot to make it through the bloodbath unscathed. Well, maybe a little scathed. Those are the rules after all.

Scream - Ghostface

Images credit: IMP AwardsPopcorn Horror

Images copyright (©): Dimension Films

Myths at the Movies

Myths don’t necessarily have to be true. In fact, more often than not they are false. The attraction of a myth, at least for me, is not that it is true, but rather the mystery surrounding its authenticity. The sort of ‘imagine if that actually happened?’ feeling. Some are scary, others funny, and many just plain stupid.

Recently, I have found myself traversing across the internet in search of popular movie myths (I have a lot of spare time on my hands). The myths in question range from the unnervingly accurate, to the outright preposterous. For something a bit different, I am going to write about a few of these wacky myths. You may have already heard of some of them, but hopefully there’ll be a few new ones for you to absorb.

The Wizard of Flaws

One of the most popular film myths, and one that has been around for years, is the Munchkin suicide myth from The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Apparently, if you look closely enough, at the point during the film where Dorothy and her companions are skipping along the road you can see a Munchkin’s silhouette hanging from a tree. I know what you are thinking: why start off by writing about something so horrible? Fear not. The suicidal Munchkin actually turned out to be a rather large bird stretching its rather large wings. As a matter of fact, the Munchkin actors had yet to arrive on set for filming by that point. This myth garnered so much momentum that BBC News picked up the story back in 2006. Here’s the scene on YouTube, along with a user’s attempt to debunk the myth completely.

It is all a little confusing, but I think it’s safe to say that this myth is nothing more than just that — a myth.

Exorcising The Exorcist

Up next we have a whole host of myths associated with just the one film (and a scary one at that), The Exorcist (1973). Some of these are not really myths at all — the vast majority of them are true.

“It looks colder in there than out here.”

Stories from the set claim that director William Friedkin went to abnormal lengths to create an organic scare-factor: he kept the room that Regan (the daughter at the centre of the film, played by Linda Blair) slept in — and where a large percentage of the film was shot — at freezing cold temperatures, inviting icicles to form around the girl’s face. Friedkin also fired live ammunition behind priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller) in order to get a sufficient fright out of him. The director even slapped Father William O’Malley (a real life priest who also played one) in the face right before an emotional scene. I’ve heard of method acting, but method directing? Sheesh.

That ain’t all from the set of The Exorcist as far as myths go. Remember the freezing room? Friedkin ought to have invoked even lower temperatures; after filming finished, a studio fire caused the whole house to burn down — only, Regan’s bedroom remained unscathed. There are even those — evangelist Billy Graham — who believe the celluloid rolls of film still harbour evil. The final, and most unfortunate, myth aligned with The Exorcist suggests that any person involved in production will be cursed for life. Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, who played a film director and a mother respectively, sadly passed away before The Exorcist was released in cinemas. Eerily, both actors’ characters die in the film too.

Weird, right? Perhaps a mixture of truth and exaggeration, but The Exorcist remains one of the most mythical films in existence.

In The Jungle

On to something a bit more cheery then, as we take a trip to Africa where some unsuitable hidden messages can be found loitering in The Lion King (1994), or so it may seem.

A nighttime scene shows a sad Simba slumping down onto the mossy ground below. That slump sends various bits and pieces from the turf up into the air, only for the fragments to spell out the letters “S-E-X”. Well, well, well. Those Lion King animators sure do have dirty minds. Or perhaps they innocently intended to spell out “S-F-X” in order to pay homage to the sound department. Certainly, the mother whose child alerted her to the ambiguous wordage didn’t see the term as a friendly inter-crew acknowledgement.

This one could go either way. It is difficult to make out each letter from the video above. Hey, maybe somebody who has seen The Lion King in 3D can let us know?

The Rescuers need Rescued

Sticking with the world of animation for the time being, let’s take a look at another potentially egregious myth. If you think spelling out “sex” was bad, just wait until you see what someone managed to sneak into The Rescuers (1977).

“Don’t look, there’s something over there that hasn’t been drawn by a pencil!”

That’s correct, the innocent film about two little mice who just want to help other little mice. It just so happens that, on their way to rescuing those other mice, our two heroes unwittingly pass something not quite as animated as the rest of the film (well, it’s not animated in the literal sense at least). Hanging from a window in the background behind our furry friends is an image of a topless woman. How did it get there? I guess we’ll never know. It could be that someone in post-production slipped the image into the film. Or maybe it was simply a complete accident (yeah… right).

One thing that we can be absolutely certain about is that this myth is completely true — all you need is a pair of working eyes to see it. Though it appears even well-functioning eyes were absent back in 1977 because it took Disney until 1999 to correct their X-rated mishap. A bit late to the party if you ask me.

Ill-diana Jones

Harrison Ford is arguably most well-known for his exploits as Indiana Jones, from where our next myth emanates. This is definitely a favourite of mine.

During the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the unfortunate Ford had developed a nasty case of dysentery, making him more popular with the bathroom than the film set. Ford, required to execute an almost four-page-long fight scene with a scimitar warrior, asked director Steven Spielberg if he could film the scene a little differently. And that he did just that — take a look.

Simple. Effective. Hilarious. Spielberg enjoyed the new version so much that he ensured it made the final cut. Good old dysentery.

Slash and Burn

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The myth here is that the events depicted in the film actually happened. Eugh.

“Wait. You’re telling me some us these myths are true?”

That’s correct — a chainsaw-wielding family of cannibals who slaughtered and ate their victims, actually existed (hopefully past tense is applicable). This is also backed up by the film’s home video release synopsis which reads, “This film is an account of a tragedy which befell a group of five youths…” and, “This video cassette is based on a true incident…” The low-quality, seedy and grainy aesthetic of the movie actually backs up this myth.

The question is: was this just a ploy used by the filmmakers to darken the reputation of the film and get it noticed? Maybe. But it turns out some of the events on-screen do have connotations with a real life serial killer named Ed Gein, from Wisconsin. He was something of a mama’s boy and he did murder people, which is as far as the similarities go. The characters are fictional, the setting is fictional, and the chainsaw undertakings are probably somewhat fictional too. I hope.

Three Men, a Baby and a Ghost Boy

After all of that chainsaw stuff, I think it is best to end on a slightly more positive note. Or rather, a slightly more stupid note.

He’s behind you.

For this myth we must branch off over to the set of Three Men and a Baby (1987), and the myth of the child ghost. Spooky. Indeed, the tale goes that a young boy was killed on the set of the film and that, just for a laugh, he decided that he wanted to be a part of the final cut — positioning himself behind a curtain during this scene to the right.

See? That’s him alright. The young boy who met his untimely demise on the set of one of the biggest films of 1987, and whose death was obviously swept under the rug to avoid any backlash. Not quite. It’s actually just a cardboard cutout of actor and star of the film Ted Danson, a prop meant to be used elsewhere in the film that was accidentally left on set. Those damn tricky cardboard cut-outs; you can never predict what they might get up to in their spare time, but pretending to be a ghost boy is a new low.

I love myths in general, so when they’re combined with cinema it grants them an additional layer of intrigue. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about some film myths and — like me — spent some time laughing at the sheer idiocy of some of them. If you know of any more then please feel free to share them in the comments section below. Thanks!