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Empire List #482: Scream

In the late 1990s the American movie machine was producing movies aimed at the MTV generation starring the latest crop of young actors in their 20s who were playing characters in their late teens. Such movies included “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “American Pie,” and “Scream.” I missed most of these movies because at the time I was either too young, too shy to have any friends with whom I could go out with, or I just thought they didn’t look good enough. Back then I was living in South America and I was a long way from the United-States so there was somewhat of a disconnect between the MTV generation and I.

Still, when you’re spending your summer at your mom’s place while waiting for your next college semester and you’re saving every dollar you have just like I was last summer in Quebec City, if Wes Craven’s “Scream” is playing on TV, you may as well enjoy it while you have access to a movie channel. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the movie is actually quite good at what it tries to be.

I didn’t know much about the franchise except that it was supposed to be a parody/homage to classic slasher movies with characters that are expert in horror films and are almost winking at the camera when something bad happens as though they were in on the joke. I found it strange that there should be a trilogy of these movies since it makes little sense for there to be two copycats of the same killer (three if you count the upcoming “Scream 4”). So it stands to reason that the very first movie in the franchise would be the best one. I would have to say it is.

The movie begins with a teenager (Drew Barrymore) answering the telephone and listening to a creepy voice asking her trivia questions about slasher films. An incorrect response incurs the wrath of the killer who wears a white ghost mask and a black cloak. The fact that Barrymore the movie star is killed so early on in the film is reminiscent of another horror classic, “Psycho” which also features a knife-wielding maniac.

There are plenty of references like that peppered throughout the film. One character’s last name is Loomis, as in Dr. Loomis from the “Halloween” franchise, Skeet Ulrich is made to look like Johnny Depp whose debut film was “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Linda Blair from “The Exorcist” has a cameo as a reporter, and Wes Craven the director has his own cameo as a janitor that looks like Freddy Krueger. This is all good fun for horror fans, but what about the uninitiated? The good news is that “Scream” is also a good mystery film.

Who is the killer? Why is he/she doing this? Is it Randy (Jamie Kennedy) the video store clerk who knows so much about these movies? Could it be reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) who hopes to make her career with this story? Why not put your money on Deputy Dwight “Dewey” Riley (David Arquette)? When the killer’s identity is revealed it reminded of a trick not from a slasher franchise or any horror movie, but actually from an Agatha Christie book. (Hint: just because a suspect has a rock-hard alibi, it doesn’t mean said suspect should be off the list.)

Overall, “Scream” makes for a good time on a dark knight, preferably around Halloween. When the killer strike there is appropriate tension, when the violence becomes ridiculous there is humour, and the main character Sidney Prescott follows the tradition set by John Carpenter of a strong female heroine who becomes a survivor. Maybe it would have been more fun if I had seen in a packed room back in the late 1990s and watched each of the sequels on the big screen, but sometimes its actually scarier if you’re alone. As for the sequels, I believe that it is not the hero who kills the murderer in a horror franchise, but an excess of sequels. Do people honestly think Freddy Krueger was still scary after the ninth sequel?

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