When Scream came out in 1996, it basically re-invented the all-but-dead horror genre with it's witty sarcasm and many homages to classic horror. Wes Craven had his finger on the pulse of pop culture with this dandy, and with Kevin Williamson of Dawson's Creek fame writing the screenplay, its references to modern culture and snappy dialogue were enough to catapult it to box-office success, as well as giving critics and audiences alike a reason to head back to the theater after a boring dry spell.
I saw Scream at the theater. I loved it. I still love it. Its alt rock soundtrack was the first I ever bought on CD. It is an extremely clever film, throwing the characters into the very same situations that anyone watching a horror film yells at the people on screen not to do. Don't go up the stairs. Don't trust the brooding boyfriend. Don't answer the phone. Don't talk to strangers. Ect, ect, etc.
I find it exceeding difficult to critique this film, so it's really going to be more of a play by play, and beware - spoilers ensue.
The first ten minutes? They start the film off in a brilliant fashion.
Casey Beckett's (Drew Barrymore) phone rings. It's a wrong number, or so she thinks. When he calls back several times he insists she stay on the line and give him her name, eventually uttering the chilling line: "I want to know who I'm looking at". When Casey catches the slip-up, she asks him what he said and he says "I want to know who I'm talking to." Casey gets increasingly nervous and says she's hanging up and for him not to call again. "Don't hang up on me!" the voice says. When he calls back, he says he just wants to talk. She hangs up again. When he calls back yet again she yells, "Listen asshole!" to which he replies menacingly that he'll gut her like a fish if she hangs up again. What did I say? Don't talk to strangers.
Turns out he just wants to play a game (shades of Jigsaw!?) He claims the police would never get there in time and that he only wants to know what her insides look like. He teases her about her knowledge of scary movies then goes on to let her know he has her boyfriend bound and gagged on the porch. He says he'll kill her if she doesn't answer his movie trivia questions. First question, who's the killer in Halloween?.....she gets that one right, thank heavens. Seriously though, who wouldn't know that one? But when the voice asks who the killer is in Friday the 13th, she screams Jason! Um, no. Wrong answer. She argues she's seen the movie 20 god damned times! To which he says "Then you should know that Mrs. Voorhees is the original killer. Jason doesn't show up till the sequel!" For her stupidity, she loses a boyfriend. At least I can safely say my boyfriend/husband would not have been gutted on my patio if I were asked this (and many other) questions.
Menacing Voice Man claims there's a bonus round, asking her ...what door am I at? She runs around the house trying to avoid being killed. She gazes in the window from the outside and sees the killer (whom we are now calling Ghost Face) run through the house. Just as she thinks she's home free because her parents are driving up the lane, Ghost Face catches up to her, stabs her several times then crushes her windpipe so she cannot yell for help. Needless to say, her parents come home and after searching the house, decide to call the police. They can't though, because the phone is occupied...by Casey.
Casey's dad then makes a pretty cool Halloween reference by telling his wife to go down to the MacKenzie's house to call the police. But when Mom leaves the house, she finds her daughter strung up in the tree outside in the back yard, insides on the outside.
Same time, different place. Sidney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) house, where she is on her computer. Her boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich, in semi-Johnny Depp look-alike mode) comes in through her window and they chat a few minutes before he has to hide cause Dad pops in to check on her because he's going out of town. Billy coming in the window is shades of another Craven film, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sid gets rid of Dad and Billy comes back in. He starts to complain about their relationship going from an R rating to "edited for television" - while Gus's toned-down version of Don't Fear the Reaper plays in the background (yet another Halloween homage- the original plays in Annie's car when they are heading to their babysitting jobs). Sid and Billy make out on the bed but she doesn't let it get very far, though she does flash him her boobs when he leaves, hoping he'll go for a PG-13 relationship.
The next day, Woodsboro High School is reeling from the death of Casey and Steve. The kids are being called in to the principal's office one by one to be questioned by the police about maybe having knowledge of the crimes. Deputy Riley (Dewey, David Arquette) turns out to be Sid's BFF Tatum's (Rose 'so-shouldn't-be-a blonde' McGowan) brother, and low and behold - The Fonz (Henry Winkler) is Principal Himbry! Yay!
Sidney, Billy, Stu (Matthew Lilliard), Tatum, and Randy (Jamie Kennedy) are sitting outside in the schoolyard, chatting about the murder. None of them can believe something like that happened in their hometown, even though something not so different happened just about a year ago, to Sid's mom. The quintet exchange snarky comments and then head home, Sidney rather shaken up by all the talk.
Oh yeah, Sidney's house - really effing nice. Dad's salary is awesome, apparently.
Sid is making plans to stay at Tatum's cause dad's going out of town. She watches TV, turning to the station that sleazy tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette) works at, who is reiterating the story of Sid's mom, how she was raped and murdered. Disgusted, Sid turns off the television and falls asleep on the couch while waiting for Tatum. When she wakes up it's well past dark.
Tatum calls to say she's on her way, but then Sid gets a call from 'the voice', who starts with "Hello... Sidney" and goes through a line of questioning, including mentioning the murders. At first, Sid thinks it's Randy. The voice on the other end states simply that he's not Randy. He follows up by saying he's on her front porch. Shaken, but determined to call the caller's bluff, she steps out onto the porch and taunts him into telling her where he is. Matter of fact, he's inside her house when she comes back in. A chase around the house ensues, with Ghost Face eventually chasing her into her bedroom. He's trying to gain access and Sid, attempting to call the police, finds the phone dead (of course). She moves to her computer and dials 911 online. Hmm... she must have cable or satellite link, because if my phone lines were down, I'd be offline. Just saying...
Just as 911 answers, she turns and Ghost Face is gone. Almost directly afterward Billy comes through her window. As he's comforting her, a phone drops out of his pocket - causing Sid to think it was him trying to kill her. She flies out her bedroom door and down the steps, only to whip open the door and see Ghost Face there. Thankfully, it's only
Billy is arrested on suspicion of murder just as Gale Weathers shows up to get the scoop.
At the police station Sid is making a statement to Dewey. They are also processing Billy at the same time, who is swearing his innocence.
Gale is trying DAMN hard to get a statement from Sidney and accosts her right outside. Apparently Gale has written a tell-all about Sidney's mother's murder and when Sid sarcastically asks how the book is coming Gale says she'll send her a copy. Sidney replies by punching her right in the face.
Later at Tatum's they are reviewing the evening. Sid gets a phone call, and it just happens to be Ghost Face. He tells her she fingered the wrong guy... again.
Before school the next day the news is elaborating on Sidney's mother's rape and murder on television, stating that Sid was the key witness in the case against her alleged killer, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). Her testimony put him on death row.
At school, the place is crawling with reporters, (including a crazed Linda Blair in a wacky cameo). Noticing Gale, Sid approaches her. They have a little chat about the suspicion that Cotton was framed. Doubt creeps into Sid's brain as to the thought that maybe Cotton wasn't the killer... which of course means the killer is still out there.
As students race through the halls wearing Ghost Face masks, Sid gets upset and runs off, slamming into Billy. She admits she was wrong to accuse him, but Billy is insensitive about her mother's murder, telling her she should get over it and move on (preferably with him in his bed, but he doesn't actually voice that opinion). He tells her that his mother left him, too. Sid has a shit fit about his insensitivity and rudeness and stalks off.
Fonzie gets really pissed about the dudes running around wearing the masks, and expels them. He has a little freak out on them, using a big honking pair of scissors to make pretend cuts on them, which kind of makes our Fonz look guilty.
Sid, meanwhile, overhears two girls calling her mom a slut, saying maybe Sid is so messed up about that that she is the homicidal maniac. This leads Sid to some well deserved tears, which she doesn't have much time for once Ghost Face shows up in the bathroom. He gives chase, but Sidney is able to escape.
Gale meets up with Dewey at the school and tries to charm him into giving her information. As this occurs, the principal announces school is out until further notice and that the police have issued a mandatory curfew. Can I get a whoop whoop?
Sid, Tatum, and Stu are walking home from early dismissal and Stu decides it's the right time to have a party at his house due to school being out. A celebration of sorts. The girls grudgingly agree they will attend.
Mr. Himbry (principal) is in his office trying on the Ghost Face mask....dude is really pushing it, making himself seem entirely guilty again. But wait...what's that noise? He checks in the hallway but only sees the janitor, Fred (Wes Craven himself dressed as Freddy Krueger...awesome!) is there, mopping the floors. But then Ghost Face does appear, stabbing the Fonz several times. What a bummer.
Sid and Tatum are hanging out at Sid's house, discussing the possibility that Cotton really may have been having an affair with Sid's mom. Sid realizes if the killer isn't Cotton, then there is the very real possibility that the killer is indeed still out there. Tatum says she's starting to sound like a Wes Carpenter flick. Love the reference.
At the same time, while Randy works at the video store, he and Stu are discussing the merits of horror movies and what there is to learn from them. Randy is more than just a little bit looney, at times practically yelling about the formulas to horror movies. He gets a fair amount of attention by screaming, "Everybody's a suspect!!" This, in turn, makes him not only look like the fool he is, but makes you think about his possible guilt.
Sid and Tatum are trying to buy their party goods before the own is all closed up for curfew. Dewey has dropped them off and checks in with the sheriff, who tells him the calls placed to Sidney came from her dad's phone, and it just happens to be the anniversary of Sid's mom's death. But they still can't locate him. And yet someone else to wonder about...
Party time. Dewey drops the girls off and then runs into Gale again. When she asks why on earth he is there, he tells her he's trying to keep an eye on the kids. Of course she's always after her angle, so she grabs a video camera, secretly puts it in her purse, and offers to go with him. They head into the house and she strategically places the camera in a place so it catches all the action.
As the party progresses, Tatum goes into the garage to grab some more beers. Ghost Face appears and corners her. She doesn't believe he's "the" murderer, so she jokes with him about not killing her cause she wants to be in the sequel, asking him "Can I be the helpless victim?" Unfortunately she doesn't get that sequel opportunity as he crushes her head like a melon when she tries to get out the pet door in the garage door. Nice one.
Just as the party is breaking up, Billy shows up wanting to speak to Sid alone. Stu offers his parent's bedroom for them to "talk". Randy appears, complaining that now he'll never have a chance with Sid. As if.
Meanwhile, Gale's camera is getting the footage she desires and her and Kenny the cameraman talk about a cheesy tabloid reporter making it big. (What they are actually hoping to capture on film at a teenage party is really beyond me.)
In the bedroom, Sid and Billy discuss how she needs to get over the grief and also to realize her mom might actually be the skank every one says she is. Billy, desperately wanting to get laid, gives her the speech about life being a movie. And right here's where he delivers the ridiculous line that "You can't pick your genre." Duh. They kiss, and she says she wants to be a Meg Ryan movie - or even a good porno. DING DING DING!! Bill's getting laid tonight! And he does.
Meanwhile, the gang that's left is watching Halloween. Randy pauses the movie to go over the rules of horror movies. Classic.
Never have sex. Never do drugs or get drunk. Never say you'll be right back....etc.
Randy gets a phone call that the principal has been killed and hung up on the goal post. Everyone else leaves with the anticipation of witnessing that sight before they take the Fonz down.
Dewey knocks on the news van door and tells Gale they've found a car over the embankment just down the road. They walk there together and discover it's Neil Prescott's car. Looks like Daddy has come home. They rush back to the party.
Sid and Billy, instead of basking in the afterglow, discuss who it was that Billy called after he was arrested. Billy gets slightly miffed about her continual misgivings where his innocence is concerned, but before they can go any further, Ghost Face suddenly the killer appears behind Billy and stabs him several times. Sid runs out of the room, the killer giving chase. She's able to block him out of an attic room long enough to crawl out the window and drop onto a covered boat below. How convenient. She dashes off, but not before seeing Tatum in the garage door. Ahhhh!
Randy is still watching Halloween, completely loaded and giving instructions to Jamie Lee Curtis as The Shape appears behind her. At the same moment, Ghost Face is behind Randy.
Sid runs to the news van and pleads with Kenny to let her in. It's only then that they notice on the camera that Randy is about to be attacked. Kenny jumps out to warn him, forgetting the camera is on a 30 second delay. Big mistake. The killer slits his throat, and Sidney runs off in fear.
As Halloween continues to play in the background, Dewey goes through the house looking for Sid. Gale rushes to the van to get the cell phone to call the police, but she steps in Kenny's blood instead. Just as she starts to drive the van off, Kenny drops from the roof onto the windshield. She gets rid of him but just about runs into Sid on the road. She wrecks the van, leaving Sid screaming for Dewey. She finds him on the porch, walking but stabbed in the back. He collapses just as Ghost Face appears to chase her. She smartly grabs Dewey's gun and rushes up into the house.
Soon both Randy and Stu show up, pleading with her that each other is the killer. She slams the door on both of them as Billy shows up at the top of the steps. He falls down them, but almost immediately stands up - apparently not as injured as once thought. He takes the gun from Sid and goes to the door, letting Randy inside, who starts screaming about Stu going mad. Billy turns, and with an evil look in his eyes, says, "We all go a little mad sometimes" (Norman Bates, you're not, Billy!) and he shoots Randy in the shoulder. It's only then that Sid discovers Billy is freaking psychotic. She tries to run but Stu stops her, speaking into the voice changing device that the killer has always used, making it obvious they are both killers. Working as a team. What did I say about not trusting the brooding boyfriend?
Billy explains how easy it was to frame Cotton last year. And why. His crazed motive is that Sid's mom slept with Billy's dad and made his mom abandon them. Out of the closet (not in that way!) comes Sid's dad, bound and gagged. The boys are framing her father for the murders. Billy then sets down the gun and he and Stu take turns stabbing each other to make it look as though they barely escaped. Stu takes one too many hits, and begins to lose a bit more blood than he should. Just as the boys are ready to shoot Sidney's dad, the notice the gun is missing.
Suddenly Gale shows up with the gun and tries to shoot Billy. However, he's not afraid because he knows she left the safety on. He reaches out and takes the gun and slugs Gale, knocking her out. When he returns his attention to Sidney, he notices she's gone.
Billy gets a phone call from Sid with the voice changer in which she tells him she called the police. Billy basically rips the house apart looking for her but is shocked when she jumps out of the closet wearing the ghost mask and stabs him with an umbrella. When Stu tries his hand at offing her, Sid ends up dumping the television on him. Billy comes to and tries to strangle Sid but a gunshot rings out. Turns out Gale remembered the safety that time.
As the three survivors stare at Billy, Randy says something cheeky about the killer coming back to life for one last scare, so Sid shoots him in the head and says "Not in my movie!"
The film ends with Gale giving an eyewitness account of the past several days, securing her place as a newscasting wonder...