Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Halloween Horror, Day 1: Scream

Horror movies are a touchy subject amongst cinephiles. These films tend to be some of the most sexist, derivative, repetitive, and exploitative of all genres. However, the truly great horror movies touch a part of the human condition that few others can. They elicit a physical reaction: faster breathing, increased pulse, jumping, even screaming. They directly confront our most basic human fear: death.

As a celebration of fear, I'm endeavoring to watch a horror movie every day of October. Some will be classics, and some will be new-to-me. For me, there's no better place to start than Scream (1996, directed by Wes Craven).

Upon its release, Scream did more than just revitalize Drew Barrymore's career; it reinvented a genre that was losing steam. Wes Craven, a veteran of the horror movie, rewards viewers for their film knowledge. The more you know about horror movies, the more you can enjoy Scream. Instead of just being another movie about some crazy high schoolers who go on a killing spree, it questions why we watch horror movies. In this way, Craven inverts the traditional trappings of genre movies.


There's an even bigger perk for cinephiles: several of the main characters are movie buffs themselves, dropping references to Basic Instinct, Halloween, and Silence of the Lambs with the best of them. They've outlined the rules of how to survive a horror movie, and they're determined to execute them by whatever means necessary. This adds an element of interactivity to the film as the viewer plays along and guesses which clich├ęs will appear or be subverted.

This isn't to say that the movie doesn't take the metaphor a little too far at times. The film-obsessed teen boys carry their love of film into all aspects of their lives, including their relationships. In an early scene, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) complains about the development of his relationship to Sidney (Neve Campbell): "We started off hot and heavy, a nice, solid R-rating, on our way to an NC-17...but now, things have changed, and lately we're just sort of edited for television." Such moments disrupt the flow of the film, but they don't derail the overall pace.

Even with its flaws, Scream is my favorite way to start the month of October. It reminds me of all the things I love about amazing horror movies: strong women, dark humor, self-awareness, and Henry Winkler.

Scream - Henry Winkler

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