Review: Scream (1997)


I’ve been meaning to write about the Scream series for a while. And now with the upcoming Scream VI less than a month away, there’s no better time to revisit the famed horror franchise. In covering the movies, I hope to cement my opinion on the slasher films, as I’ve never particularly had firm thoughts on them. Have you seen Scream? And in keeping with the movie’s antagonist, “What’s your favourite scary movie?” Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like my ramblings on the horror genre, then you can find more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. One of my recent pieces was about the film’s full trailer that promises a Ghostface unlike any other.


Looking back, it’s almost too easy to remember Scream as the cinematic equivalent of an annoying audience member who bellows out every cliché, problem and general grumbling annoyance with the horror genre at large. In returning to the film several years later, Scream plays like a refined and upmarket slasher film, one in which the genre conventions are acknowledged and affectionally used to fuel its meta-commentary.

After a pair of gruesome murders, the quiet and small town of Woodsborough is shaken to the core. None of its residents is more affected than Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) whose mother was recently raped and murdered. As the number of murders grows and intense media scrutiny increases, Sidney must battle for survival and attempt to keep her relationships in check.

The appeal of Scream comes from two elements it takes from the slasher sub-genre of horror. The first is the notion of the Final Girl. Typically, these characters are defined by their innocence, singledom, and virginal status. The last quality, in particular, is something that’s become so ingrained, it’s become a subconscious association with the genre at large. It can be argued that Scream popularised this last quality.

While the movie demonstrably calls this aspect out as a cliché, Scream also gives the concept a credible emotional context. Aside from surviving various reprisals from the central killer, Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson). Sidney also has to contend with her relationship with her boyfriend. There’s an inherent fear of her being sexually intimate because she does not want to turn out like her mother, whose she’s still grief-stricken about. This contention and Sidney’s choice to express herself sexually is an excellent way of bucking the Final Girl trend insofar as unshackling from its partial virginal definition by showing a considerable amount of agency.

The second aspect that Scream takes from the slasher sub-genre of horror is the convention of the murder mystery. While a few slashers have flirted with the conventions of the long-standing genre, the execution has often left a lot to be desired. Scream not only plays with the standard aspects of the genre, but some of its characters are acutely aware of their place in the chopping order (namely Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy).

This sense of characters who know they’re in a horror movie or frequently referencing other ones in everyday conversation would prove to be a staple of 90s horror. This comes courtesy of screenwriter Kevin Williamson whose arguably the closest the genre would come to the screenwriter trumping the director insofar as auteurist vision is concerned.

On the whole, the screenplay is fun and loose with the referencing. It can also be a double-edged sword. Some of the dialogue in the tail end where characters talk about their place in the story and endings can be a little trite. This is compounded by a thread of the older generation denouncing the younger generation. As a theme, it feels shallow and reactionary. It also pales in comparison to Wes Craven’s much more personal and salient reflections on the genre and its effect on people in New Nightmare (1994).

From the hypnotic use of Dutch angles to a medium shot depicting Ghostface in someone’s eye, Wes Craven directs the film with a dreamy European flair that understands tension and uses it as savage punctuation marks.

There’s also an operatic quality to some of the performances in Scream. In particular, the largeness of Kennedy and Matthew Lillard stands out, not only from physicality but also from facial expressions and vocals too. Skeet Ulrich bears a striking resemblance to Andrew Robinson in the tail end of Hellraiser. Much like that character, Ulrich is effective in portraying a sense of contained rage that threatens to bubble to the surface. Neve Campbell strikes a chord with her vulnerability and fierce determinism (particularly evident in the third act). David Arquette is a sweet and endearing presence as hapless cop, Dewey. And Courteney Cox is formidable as the go getting television reporter Gale Weathers.


About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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