Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 16: Scream (1996)
The saying goes, “History repeats itself: First as tragedy, then as farce.”
Though the saying first originated from Karl Marx in a letter to Napoleon after assuming dictorial powers, the phrase has gone on in the decades since to apply to so much more—even in this instance, we can apply it to the average horror film.
As long as there’s been film, there have been filmmakers trying their hardest to scare the hell out of their audience. Through mood, atmosphere, tension, suspense, blood and guts, or some otherworldly combination of all of them, horror is one of the trickiest balancing acts in all of cinema. Now take that and try to add humor to it.
One of Scream’s many calling cards is how well the film deftly mixes horror and comedy, and it’s remembered as a genre staple for that very reason. Directed by Wes Craven of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame, the film never lets up. From its impressive tone-setting introduction to its exciting, unpredictable climax, Scream is an endlessly enjoyable slasher-comedy that’s earned its place among the top of the horror totem pole.
I mean, there’s a reason we decided to use it for our trailer for 31 Days Of Halloween.
The film opens with a sensational setup involving a home-alone Drew Barrymore, a bag of Jiffy Pop, and a mysterious phone call. What begins as an innocent conversation about favorite horror movies quickly turns into a game of life and death as Barrymore and the film’s antagonist square off. As Barrymore loses a game of film trivia, resulting in the death of her boyfriend, she fears for her life, running aimlessly around her parents’ house as the killer chases her, leaving her mangled in one of the film’s most indelible images.
We then meet the film’s hero, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who learns of her classmates’ murders the next day at school—all occurring roughly one year after the rape and murder of her own mother. As we learn more about Sidney, we then begin to meet the film’s other characters as they slowly trickle into her life: Her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), his obnoxious friend Stu
(Matthew Lillard), his ditsy girlfriend Tatum (Rose McGowan), and their movie-obsessed friend Randy (Jamie Kennedy). However, it isn’t just Sidney’s friends who are introduced; we also meet Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), a local news reporter who actively supported the man convicted of murdering Sidney’s mom.
As more and more of Sidney’s friends and classmates begin to die off—as well as being attacked herself several times—the film grows in suspense as the body count begins to rise. Surprisingly, however, the film never goes soft, by being both consistently funny throughout, as well as uncomfortably brutal and frightening.
The film knows how to find effective uses through both of the genres. Its funniest moments stem from being self-referential; Randy’s three rules for surviving a horror flick and Craven’s familiar winks to the camera with references to the Elm Street franchise (including a fun cameo for horror nerds), and other horror directors (check all of the characters’ last names). However, it employs a lot of effective scares through interesting setups and devices; a 30-second delay used later in the film is one of the film’s strongest, as well as an ironic homage to the genre’s more stereotypical kills when Randy shouts “Behind you!” while watching one of the Halloween films… not knowing he’s about to be sliced himself.
Scream is equally effective as a murder mystery, too, with a riveting final 30 minutes that wraps up everything in a neat bow, while also flowing into the horror movie awareness it sets up without feeling obvious or annoyingly referential, as many films would go on to do.
Overall, Scream is an incredibly entertaining film. In a decade where great horror only came in bursts (The Sixth Sense, The Silence Of The Lambs, The Blair Witch Project), Scream arrived on the scene as a breath of fresh air, going on to inspire three more franchise films (a fantastic sequel, a dreadful third installment, and a mediocre fourth) and the currently running MTV series, as well as many other teen-centered slasher flicks. However, few would ever go on to be as smart, slick, or savvy as Scream.