The Legacy of the Scream Films: A Fan’s Opinion
When Wes Craven’s original Scream motion picture was released in the winter of 1996, I was still too young to see the film in theaters unaccompanied by an adult. In fact, this was still true in 1997 for Scream 2, and also for the release of Scream 3 in 2000. However, despite the ardent efforts of my parents, the Motion Picture Association of America, and several very strict ushers, I still managed to see each installment a minimum of one hundred times apiece.
Fifteen years after the opening of Scream, the film that revitalized and redefined the slasher genre, Scream 4 opens in theaters April 15th 2011. Now, for the first time, I have the chance, along with the rest of my generation, to see a Scream film in the theater. Legally! Finally, I have the chance to enjoy a new addition to a film series that began a decade and a half ago! Scream 4 has all the elements in place crucial to its success, such as the return of original director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, as well as stars Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, and David Arquette as Dewey Riley. On top of that, much of Scream 4 was filmed in my own hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The anticipation is almost too much. However, there is something about the very hype and anticipation surrounding the film that even gives even this self-proclaimed Scream fanatic pause. Can the film series maintain its delicate balance of campy, self-conscious horror for which it became famous? Can the series continue to intrigue an audience that has changed and grown in the fifteen years since Drew Barrymore answered that first fatal phone call? Or has too much changed with time?
One of the things that made Scream stand out from its numerous successors and spin-offs, such as the Scary Movie series, was its success as a film that utilized multiple genres and styles. For example, Scream is at once both funny and scary – and aware that it is so. The appearance of Jay and Silent Bob in Scream 3 is convincing evidence that Scream is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. Yet there are moments in the films that are genuinely scary as well. Think back to that climactic scene in the first Scream film, in which Sidney comes face to face with the killers inside the family kitchen – a large, beautiful kitchen in an enormous “farmhouse” with a considerable amount of property. Remember how Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), waved that knife in Sidney’s face inside that beautiful kitchen, and explained that “it’s much scarier without a motive”? The juxtaposition of Billy’s casual violence and the calm surroundings of the suburbs were – at least for me – truly frightening in a decade that saw the horror of the Columbine shootings. It’s rare to find a film series that can fill more than one entertainment niche.
Scream is also one of the only examples (if not the only) of metafiction in a horror film, in that Scream is self-referential and aware of its status as a film in the horror genre. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), a character in Scream and Scream 2 (with a cameo in Scream 3), even outlines the horror film survival rules he has learned from working in a video store. Another scene in which Scream emphasizes the nature of horror films is that scene when Randy is watching a horror film and shouting, the killer is behind you! – as the killer indeed creeps up behind an unsuspecting Randy curled up on the couch. It is rare to see a horror film, much less a horror film that can be so silly, comment on techniques employed in its own genre, as well as on the nature of the genre and medium itself.
The synopsis of Scream 4, which continues the series after an eleven-year hiatus, suggests that the film will follow the same who-done-it plot line, set again in Sidney Prescott’s hometown of Woodsboro. Sidney, now an author of a self-help book, returns to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour, and reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale Weathers (who are now married). However, Sidney’s return is less than joyous, as it also signals the return of Ghostface, putting the whole town of Woodsboro in danger. A few new notable, and hopeful, additions to the Scream world are Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, and Anna Paquin. Hopefully, Scream 4 will retain the successful elements of the original three films, as well as expand upon the saga.
But the question is – can Scream 4 outdo, or even compete, with its predecessors? Wes Craven admits, in a recent press release, that “[Scream is] addressing a generation of young fans, but also the generation that has gone with you for three, as well as a decade worth of other films. You have to be as good as or better than all those films.” Can Scream 4 be as suspenseful as the Paranormal Activity movies or as deranged as any of the Saw films? I have to admit that Wes Craven has my hopes up, as he notes, “You have to come back with something worthy of coming back.” Let’s just hope that it really is worth it.