By Drake Vittitow
The late 90s were not a great time for horror movies.
Slasher icons like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger have been stretched so thin, that the figures have already been in several movies since their debuts in the eighties. Critics and fans alike were tired of the same formula. Horror had not totally gone astray, as movies like “Silence of the Lambs” and “Candyman” were some fresh takes on the genre; however, the slasher genre needed a new killer. Someone a new generation of moviegoers could be afraid of. Enter “Scream” and Ghostface.
“Scream” was directed by horror extraordinaire, Wes Craven (“The Hills Have Eyes,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Last House on the Left”) and tells the story of a girl who is targeted by an unknown killer. The film stars famous 90s figures such as Courtney Cox (Friends) and Drew Barrymore (Batman Forever, The Wedding Singer).
What makes this film different from the myriad of slashers is the uniqueness of its killer. With “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” everyone knew who the killer was. In fact, many tickets were sold just because of the titular characters. They were selling points that the box office ate up. But with “Scream,” moviegoers did not know who the killer was, and that makes the movie a little more unsettling upon a first watching. What makes this movie even more unique and unsettling is the fact that the killer is a human and not a supernatural entity like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. The killer cannot take multiple rounds to the face from a police officer or survive a telekinetic attack from the undead (Yes, I am looking at you Jason). The more human a killer is, the more surreal and scarier a movie is.
Above anything else, this film is meta. For those of you who are unaware, meta refers to a creative work that references itself or other common tropes in its genre. For example, a common trope in horror films is having the final survivor of the killer’s murder streak to be a woman. Not only does “Scream” reference tons of famous horror movies, but it also takes shots at them too. In the unforgettable opening scene, Barrymore comments that all the sequels to the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie sucked right after the killer tells her that it is his favorite. Craven directed the original Freddy Krueger flick but was not involved in any of its sequels, thus serving as a clever nod to fans of horror movies. Not only does this line bring a sense of comedy to this scary movie, but it also sets the tone for the film as well. This funny moment is only topped by Craven appearing in the movie as a janitor that is dressed as Freddy Krueger since it is Halloween. This movie defined what meta-horror masterpieces were supposed to look like.
Even though I do not consider “Silence of the Lambs” a straight-up horror movie, I would argue that “Scream” is one of the top original horror movies in the 90s, only to be topped by “The Blair Witch Project” which would be released two years later. Even though the latter would revolutionize the term “Found-Footage Films,” “Scream” revitalized a sub-genre of horror movies.
Not only did the movie deliver on its story, but the killer was fresh and unique as well. In fact, I would easily put Ghostface on my Mount Rushmore of slashers along with Krueger, Voorhees and Myers. “Scream” not only delivers on the scares, but it also will have you second-guessing every single Ghostface you see trick-or-treating during the Halloween season. Not bad for a movie that revitalized the slasher series in a decade where the genre was slowly dying out.