Back in early 1997 I was a 12-year-old kid who really only liked comedy films and Disney films. I didn’t really know what I truly liked, but there was one thing I knew I did not like and that was horror films. At that time a new movie was out that everyone was talking about, a little film called Scream. Everyone I knew was talking about it and eventually it got to the point where it felt like I was the only one who hadn’t seen it yet. Finally, I gave into peer pressure and watched the movie. I remember having seen the end of the film before because my older brother had really enjoyed it too, but I paid no attention at the time because I swore up and down I was not going to watch this stupid horror film. But, I finally borrowed his VHS copy and watched it one night. By the time the end of the film came I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Little did I know that this “stupid horror film” that I had been avoiding was going to change my life.
As dumb as it may sound to say that Scream changed my life, it is absolutely true. After seeing Scream I became obsessed with not only the film itself, but the references to other films they made in this movie. I vowed that I would see all the films mentioned so I could fully understand all the references. As we approach the 20th anniversary this year I feel it is a good time to look back and reflect on the film and how it impacted my life. So buckle in, it’s going to get a little bit emotional.
To fully analyze the film, I need to give some background starting all the way back in 1960. The term “slasher film” was not really a term used until the late 1970s but the first slasher film is arguably the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (some might say 1960s Peeping Tom was the first slasher film, but this is arguable at best. Peeping Tom did come out a few months before Psycho). Psycho was something the moviegoing audience had never seen before and featured a killer with a knife (brilliantly played by the late Anthony Perkins). But after Psycho was released the slasher film lied dormant until the 1970s when films like The Last House on the Left, Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came about. But in 1978 that would all change when director John Carpenter unleashed Halloween on the world and thus began the “slasher” era. There would be countless copycats of Halloween that would follow like Prom Night, Terror Train, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 1980s exploded with these films all over the place. You couldn’t turn around without seeing another slasher film or another film with “massacre” in the title. But by the mid 1980s the slasher film had burned out quicker than it had begun and by the early 1990s the slasher film was dead and horror in general was on life support.
Everything changed in 1996 when an unknown screenwriter by the name of Kevin Williamson sold his script for “Scary Movie” to Dimension Films. The title was changed to Scream and released in December of 1996. Directed by the late, great master of suspense Wes Craven and starring a cast of young and beautiful stars. The film follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her group of friends as they are picked off one by one by a masked killer. Sound familiar? It should, it’s not unlike any slasher film you might take from the 1980s. So what makes Scream so different? Very simple, the movie is aware it is a slasher film. Many things throughout the film make reference to other slasher films. With scenes where the main characters are trying to figure out who the killer is by watching horror films or making reference to “if this was a movie this is how everything would play out”; and the infamous scene of the “rules to successfully survive a horror film”.
The film went on to gross over $100 million at the US box office and gave birth to a second era of slasher films. Almost immediately we began getting “rip offs” of Scream: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend and Valentine to name a few. The film was such a major success that we got the sequel, Scream 2, a little less than a year later and a 3rd film Scream 3 a little over a year after that. But the revival of the slasher era did not last long and was already pretty much dead by 2001. The three films worked very well together as a trilogy and the story ended very well, but in 2011 the producers decided we needed to return to Woodsboro and Scream 4 was released to a very quiet box office compared to the previous three films. It would seem that the Scream franchise was really a product of its time but in 2015 MTV produced a Scream TV series. Though not connected or really related to the original films, it does involve a group of teens being stalked and killed by a masked (though not the Scream mask) killer. Personally I did not care for the series, it has its moments but overall it’s just not for me. However, the series has two completed seasons and a third on the way, so maybe the Scream franchise isn’t quite dead yet.
That being said, here comes the emotional part of this article. As I mentioned earlier Scream changed my life, I pursued writing extensively because of Scream. I pursued writing in college because of this film and I became a pretty hardcore horror fan because of this film. I also because a very hardcore fan of the film’s director, Wes Craven. After seeing this film I made it a mission in my life to see every film that he directed and over the years I have done that. From the very good to the very bad, I’ve seen them all. It was also a mission in my life to meet this man and tell him how much he changed my life. Sadly, I failed on that mission in August 2015 when Wes Craven passed away. Most celebrity deaths don’t affect me, but this one felt like I lost a family member. He provided me with hours of entertainment but mostly he, without even knowing it, put me on the path that I had no idea I needed to be on. Scream is a very important film to me, I enjoy it immensely even to this day 20 years after seeing it for the first time, and after having seen it probably 100 times or more, I still enjoy it. The movie was a milestone in horror film history, it revitalized not only the slasher genre but the horror genre as well. By the time Scream had come out all we were getting was very subpar sequels to once great 80s slasher films like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. After Scream we started getting original horror films again and because of Scream we got one of the greatest Halloween sequels, Halloween H20.
So, let’s celebrate the 20th anniversary of Scream and go out and rent it or watch it digitally or whatever, it’s a film that will stand the test of time and has earned its spot among the other heavyweights of horror.