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Scream: Not Your Typical Horror Movie

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Marisa Bell

Patrick McKercher

Writing 1

10 March 1998

Scream: Not Your Typical Horror Movie

Dracula. Frankenstein. Godzilla. These monsters no longer strike fear into the hearts of viewers as they once did. Formerly the villains of the classic "monster movie," these relics, who now represent all that is archaic in horror film history, move aside to make room for the newcomers. The monster movie of the past makes way for the thriller or slasher movie of the present, while the monster villain gives its role to the deranged psycho/serial killer. The Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and more recently Copycat and Seven, have become the new classics in the genre of the horror film. With films like The People Under the Stairs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Nightmare, Wes Craven has proven himself to be a master of the creation of modern horror films.

With his recent masterpiece Scream, Craven shows his audience that he is not restricted by the typical conventions of the horror film. In most of these films, the background is set up before the killer does any actual slashing. However in Scream, Drew Barrymore's character is tormented by the killer from the film's very beginning and both she and her boyfriend are dead less than ten minutes after the opening credits. Craven manages to make Scream a film of less"fluff" and more substance than most thrillers. Recurring themes in the film, such as the lack of teens' seriousness, the callous nature of today's younger generation, the crossover and confusion between reality and movies, and the negative representation of television media not only add to the film's entertainment value, but also often portray a fairly accurate picture of twentieth century America.

Despite all the film's blood and gore, Craven creates a comedic tone so successfully that at times the audience wonders whether Scream might be a comedy after all. Even though the safety of their small town has been shattered by a deranged serial killer, the characters do not seem to take the situation very seriously. The main characters are eating lunch at school the day after the first murders and, as might be expected, the killings make up the topic of their conversation. At one point, the character Randy turns to Tatem, and in a convincing imitation of Billy Crystal, he asks her, "Did they really find her liver in the mailbox? Because I heard they found her liver in the mailbox." Tatem and Sidney, the other female present and the movie's main character, cringe at this tasteless remark. Tatem's boyfriend Stu puts his arm around her protectively and says, "Liver alone." He then bursts out laughing and continues, "Get it? Liver alone?!" When none of the others laugh, Stu's smile fades and he remarks in an incredulous tone, "Liver alone. It was a joke." While Stu's friends may not be able to see past the joke's tactless nature to its humor, I laugh each time Isee the film again.

Not only do the characters not take themselves seriously, they also don't take horror movies seriously. A day after the first murders take place, Sidney Prescott receives a cryptic phone call. However, she is not frightened because she believes the caller to be one of her own friends Randy, a movie lover, calling to harass her. The mysterious caller asks her why she doesn't like horror films and she replies, "What's the point? They're all the same: some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act and is always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting." As an audience member, I realize that this skeptical"and often accurate"view of horror movies is a message directly from the film's writer and director (Riptov 86).

Later in the film, when Sidney suggests that the killer might still be on the loose, her best friend Tatem replies, "Don't go there, Sid. You're starting to sound like one of those Wes Carpenter flicks." As the audience, we get a laugh out of this statement because not only do we know that Tatem has misnamed Wes Craven, we also know this is a"Wes Craven flick." These scenes are like inside jokes for the viewers; they take on the effect of an actor who "breaks the fourth wall" to make a joke to the audience, a joke that his fellow characters would not appreciate or even understand. We can see the humor in the situations because a little bit of the world we consider reality is projected into the film.

Though the film's tone is often humorous, the characters' lack of seriousness is not always shown in a comedic light. In fact, characters' thoughtless actions often border on callousness and cruelty. One example of this callousness involves an incident that occurs in Woodsboro High School and relates to an event that took place the night after the first murders. This night the killer goes to Sidney's house and attempts to kill her. However, on this occasion, she outsmarts the killer and calls the police who retrieve the Grim Reaper-type costume that the killer discarded. The setting for the film, Woodsboro, is a small town, which is significant for two reasons.

For the viewers, the fact that these atrocities take place in a small town reflects on our collective fear of the degradation of society. In the viewers' minds, if crimes like these take place in Woodsboro, they can happen anywhere. Secondly, this point is important to the plot. Because the town is so small, the next day at school, everyone knows what has happened to Sidney. As Sidney and her friends are standing in the hall by their lockers, two students dressed in costumes identical to the killer's run past them, screaming and making threatening motions. These students are brought into the office of Mr. Himbry, the ever kind and caring principal of Woodsboro High. Once the boys are in his office, he rips off their masks and exclaims, "You make me sick! Your entire havoc-inducing, thieving, whoring generation disgusts me." He then promptly tells the boys that they are expelled. When they cry out that he is being unfair, Himbry strongly replies, "You're right. Fairness would be to rip your insides out, hang you from a tree [the killer's method], and expose you for the heartless, desensitized little shits that you are." Principal Himbry's expulsion of the two students may seem harsh, but in doing so he is upholding



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