Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’ (1996) Is Still A Scary Movie Staple – Retro Review

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

It’s been 25 years since this oh-so-simple yet blood-chilling line was posed over the phone to the blonde-bobbed Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore: Firestarter 1984) in the original Scream, which was released to the world on December 20, 1996. Casey, who just wanted to enjoy some Jiffy Pop while her parents were away, was the first brutally-murdered victim of Ghostface, the white-mask-sporting psycho who, in 2021, continues to be a fan favorite among some of the top horror movie slashers. As the original Scream, directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, celebrates its quarter-century anniversary, PopHorror takes a look at what makes it such a staple in the genre.

For those who need a refresher, Scream largely focuses on teen Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who is struggling to come to terms with the murder of her mother, Maureen Prescott. Though Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber: The Omen 2006) is in prison for the crime, news reporter and author Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox: Friends TV series), who has been following the story closely, is convinced they have the wrong man. Gail’s belief in Cotton’s innocence grows stronger as a string of violent killings (and several attempts at ending Sidney’s life) start taking place in Woodsboro exactly one year after Maureen’s death. No one—teens, teachers, cameramen—are safe from the mysterious Ghostface.

In the end, two killers are revealed: Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich: Riverdale TV series), and his sidekick, Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard: Thir13en Ghosts 2001). This dynamic duo reveals how they teamed up to frame Cotton for murdering Maureen, who had an affair with Billy’s married father. Billy ultimately blamed Maureen for the demise of his parents’ marriage.

One of the best things about Scream is that, despite some extremely gory scenes, it actually has some funny moments. Unlike other slasher flicks like HalloweenFriday the 13th and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which are exclusively dark and deadly, many moments in Scream give off a comedic air. A prime example is in the final moments of the movie when Sidney learns the truth about Billy and Stu. While covered in his own blood and basically dying, Stu is on the phone with Sidney, who asks him to explain his motive. He responds, “Peer pressure. I’m far too sensitive.” Stu is also only worried about one thing: “My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!” Lillard’s delivery is a perfect mixture of demented and hilarious, bringing a light-heartedness to what would otherwise be a pretty nasty scene.
A brilliant aspect of Scream is the characters’ awareness that they’re living out a typical horror movie plotline. Based on knowledge gathered from Halloween and other classics, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy: Ghost Whisperer TV series) outlines the “rules” in an effort to prevent more deaths. These include abstaining from sex, never drinking or doing drugs, and most importantly, “Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances say, ‘I’ll be right back,’ because you won’t be back.” It’s a nice change of pace from the classics, which mainly feature clueless teens who have no idea how to avoid getting slaughtered.
Finally, we have to talk about the brilliance of Ghostface himself. In franchises like Halloween or Texas Chain Saw Massacre, audiences immediately know who the killer is and why they’re so angry. As for Ghostface, this is far from the case. Throughout Scream, new viewers are likely to change their mind numerous times on who they think is behind the mask. Is it Billy, the brooding boyfriend who enjoys sneaking into Sidney’s bedroom? What about Randy, who knows a little too much about the ins and outs of horror movies? How about Sidney’s father, Neil Prescott (Lawrence Hecht: A Christmas Carol 1981), who no one can get in touch with? The uncertainty adds a great sense of suspense. Ghostface’s weapon of choice—a knife for good ol’ fashioned stabbing—must also be praised for its simplicity.
With the fifth Scream installment slated for release in 2022, the franchise should be hailed for its lasting success. In some cases, filmmakers should call it quits after a sequel or trilogy. But Scream boasts a story that can keep on evolving. It seems the forthcoming release will stay true to the timeline, according to the official synopsis:
Twenty-five years after the original series of murders in Woodsboro, a new killer emerges, and Sidney Prescott must return to uncover the truth.
The trio of Campbell, Cox, and David Arquette, who portrays Dwight “Dewey” Riley, are back, and we can’t wait to see how they take on the latest individual(s) to don the infamous mask of Ghostface.

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