Still Screaming: 25 Years Later

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Vaught has worked in the entertainment industry for several years. Nick currently serves as an Associate Producer on the upcoming horror documentary In Search of Darkness: Part III. Nick also worked on the long-running CW series Supernatural. In 2019 he co-wrote the well-received episode “Don’t Go in the Woods.” In addition, Nick has written punch up jokes on multiple TV pilots and teamed with actor Jason Mewes to help write his biography.

Seemingly no movie genre lives and dies more than horror and in the mid 90’s, the horror genre was as dead as the asshole jock character that populates these movies.  Popular franchises such as Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street had run out of steam with both critics and fans alike. Let’s face it, sequels had killed our beloved franchises. The genre was in much need of an originality boost and that’s where ironically, Dimension Films came in. I say ironically because Dimension Films was part of the sequel-itis that was plaguing horror films. The Bob Weinstein-led subsidiary of Miramax was primarily known for its horror and sci-fi films. They scooped up the rights to Children of the Corn, Hellraiser and Halloween and began producing subpar (putting it mildly) sequels to the once-powerful franchises. 

Then, in 1995, they optioned a script by an unknown writer named Kevin Williamson. The script was called Scary Movie (before it was changed to Scream) and it was strong enough to attract the attention of horror master Wes Craven, who was in desperate need of a hit.  The script focused on a masked killer terrorizing a group of high school friends. The cast was comprised of a lot of up-and-coming actors: David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard; as well as tv stars, Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox. The biggest name in the cast was Drew Barrymore, who played “Casey Becker.” Barrymore was initially offered the role of “Sidney Prescott,” which would ultimately be played by Campbell. 

It didn’t take long after cameras began to roll for issues to begin to rise. Weinstein was incredibly unhappy with the first round of footage that came in; the footage of the opening scene with Barrymore. Editor Patrick Lussier scrambled to put together the scene in its entirety and get it to Weinstein, who was pleased enough with what he saw to spare Craven’s job.

After filming was completed, Dimension Films made an odd choice by giving the film a December 20th release date in 1996. Horror films simply weren’t released during the holidays; only blockbusters and feel-good comedies were. I suppose Weinstein was hoping for Scream to end up as counter programming Well, it didn’t work and Scream only made around $6 million in its opening weekend; it was dead, or so it seemed. Something almost unheard of happened the next weekend, the gross went up and up and up until the movie topped out at a whopping $103 million at the end of its run. How did this happen?

Word of mouth happened. The people that did see it on that opening weekend loved it and told others. The before mentioned opening scene became one of the most iconic opening scenes not only in horror history, but cinema history. Barrymore’s character finds herself alone in her parent’s house in the middle of nowhere making Jiffy Pop. She gets a call from what she assumes is a wrong number, but is actually a deranged killer with a cell phone and a penchant for horror movie trivia. The Jiffy Pop begins to rise as the tension does; a master stroke by Craven. Shockingly, Barrymore’s character is killed off and the movie never lets up after that. From that point, Scream focuses on Campbell’s “Sidney Prescott,” who gives a strong, grounded performance as the movie’s final girl.

Personally, I had only gotten into horror the year before and when I saw Scream for the first time it cemented my love of horror. Even though I was relatively new to the genre I had never seen anything like this. The filmmakers invited us to be part of the movie; we were watching ourselves onscreen. We were screaming the answers to “Ghostface’s” questions during Drew Barrymore’s scenes. We were yelling at Jamie Kennedy’s character “Randy” to turn around as he was saying the same thing to Jamie Lee Curtis’ character while he was watching Halloween. The characters were well aware that their situation mirrored that of a slasher movie; in fact, they would mock their predicament. The movie also introduces the rules of surviving a horror movie, some which hold true, but then subverts one of the biggest rules by taking Campbell’s virgin character, having her have sex and still outwitting the killers in the end. It was meta before the term would enter our cultural zeitgeist.

Metaness aside there was plenty else to like about the movie. For starters, the movie was a well-crafted whodunit with elaborate death scenes. There were several red herrings throughout the movie and while many in the audience may have guessed that the character of “Billy” was a killer, nobody in the audience could’ve guessed that there were two killers. I can still remember the audible gasps in the theater when Matthew Lillard’s “Stu,” the lovable, goofy sidekick was revealed as the second killer. The character of “Stu” was so popular that there’s still clamoring to bring him back, despite you know, him being a murderer.

Speaking of the lovable “Stu”, strong, three-dimensional supporting characters is another area where Scream excels. Most scary movies just throw a bunch of thinly written characters in the middle of the woods just for the sake of adding to the body count; you usually don’t even care whether they live or die. Scream gave us fully realized, grounded, characters that we had a vested interest in their fate. Rose McGowan’s death scene is a highlight of the movie, but we’re generally disappointed when her strong-willed, character bites the dust. 

And let us not forget the now iconic “Ghostface” mask. Every villain needs a killer look, pun intended. The Scream mask was instantly terrifying the first time we saw it and it gave the killers a sense of personality as well. I think it’s safe to say that people who haven’t even seen the movies know where the mask is from. 

Scream turned 25 years old on December 20th and not only are we still talking about it, but a new Scream movie is due to be released on January 14th of this year, which will give us a Scream movie in four straight decades. For many of us, Scream is a pinnacle entry in the horror genre and if you’re like me, it’s a major reason you have a diehard love for horror. Thanks to this franchise for keeping me screaming a quarter of a century later. 

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