1996, R, 100 min. Directed by Wes Craven. Starring Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Courteney Cox.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 20, 1996
A triumphant return to form for Wes Craven, Scream is the kind of psychological slasher film for which horror fans have been waiting years. The stalk 'n' slash gorefests of the early to mid-Eighties may be a distant crimson glimmer in cinematic history, but most people who grew up with such unique also-rans as Terror Train, Happy Birthday to Me, Hell Night, and the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises will gleefully admit the role they played in their adolescence. Like a cultural watermark, those films (and many, many others) helped define teenagers in the Eighties just as surely as did Def Leppard, Stridex Pads, and pre-Jordan Nike footwear. They also prepped us for what not to do when being pursued by an axe-wielding maniac, but sadly, very few ever had the chance to put that knowledge to the test. Not so for the cast of Scream, Wes Craven's new horror film that playfully uses such movies of the past and their writ-in-stone lessons (never leave the house to check on a strange noise outside, never assume the psycho is really dead, never go in the basement if the lights have gone off, etc.) as pivot points in Craven's wonderfully self-reflexive plot. Neve Campbell plays Sidney, a young girl who, one year ago, lost her mother to a murderous maniac. Almost to the day, more body parts start popping up, but this time, it's her friends at Woodsboro High School who are the victims. The unnamed killer wears a cheap Halloween mask and queries his victims on horror-show etiquette via threatening phone calls before doing them in. It's up to Sidney and her clique of horror film buffs (among them the excellent Skeet Ulrich, looking very, very much like Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street) to stay alive long enough to ID the madman before everyone's strung up and butchered like Yuletide hogs. That's the plot in a nutshell, but the real thrill in Scream comes from Craven's gleefully over-the-top plotting and nightmare psychology. One scene featuring a pair of small-town cops discussing the case out-Lynches David Lynch, and Craven's brilliant use of film-within-film-within-film is taken to new heights in the final reel as the surviving characters watch themselves watching John Carpenter's Halloween as they're being stalked, courtesy of a hidden video camera. Scream operates on so many levels at once that you could write a dissertation on it, but the real fun lies in the director's (and cast's) obvious love of the genre. Craven is obviously having a ball here, and it's impossible not to sit back and go grinning into this dark, gory ride.