Listen while you read: What else but the unofficial theme song from the Scream movies, Nick Cave‘s “Red Right Hand”
In preparation for Scream 4‘s arrival in theaters next week, I rewatched the first 3 films earlier this week for the first time in probably 10 years. I’d been meaning to rewatch them anyway for consideration on my revamped Biggie 100 list (the first time I made the list, in 2003, I placed the trilogy at #77), but I definitely wanted to refresh my memory before going into the fourth movie. I wondered if I’d still like them now as much as I did 10 years ago (it’s frightening to think the original Scream came out almost 15 years ago, in December ’96). Turns out, while I still love the first two movies, my opinion of Scream 3 took a bit of a dive. I ended up taking all 3 movies out of my top 100, and Scream 3 off my “love” list altogether. I still enjoy 3, but it doesn’t compare to the first two (no doubt due to the fact that the third one was not written by Kevin Williamson, who wrote the first two and thankfully returns for Scream 4). The first two movies did stay on the overall list, but have been demoted to section C (which covers numbers 151-250 of my all-time favorites). I know, this is fascinating to you.
Anyway, I write about this because I have a history with the Scream movies. Scream is the first horror franchise I was ever a true fan of. I was 16 when the first one came out, and even before seeing it I remember being interested in it precisely because the villain wasn’t a monster or some superhuman, precisely because it didn’t seem like a typical horror film. I’d enjoyed the Friday the 13th series growing up, but I didn’t love it for any reason other than the fact I thought Jason Voorhees was a badass. I could tell even as a kid that they weren’t any good as pieces of cinema. To this day, horror is probably my least favorite movie genre, because it produces the fewest good movies of any genre in film.
The original Scream came out during my first year as a movie theater employee, and I remember how big a deal it was at the time. It came out in December, during Christmas break, so it sold out every night that first week as word of mouth spread between every high school and college student in the area. It was not expected to be a big hit, but the power of word-of-mouth is incomparable. I’m pretty sure we opened it in one our medium-sized theaters, but by the end of its first Saturday night we had it in our biggest house. We were even running the print through multiple theaters (which was called ‘interlocking’ in projection lingo) to fit more people in and sell more tickets. I think at one point we had it running through 3 or 4 different theaters at once for the late shows. At the time I’d never seen anything like it. It was fun. It was exciting. I have this image burned into my head during one show where the whole theater was filled, and on top of that there were people sitting on the floor in the aisles, people sitting on the partition in the back of theater, and even one guy sitting on top a trash can, with his girlfriend sitting in his lap. It was hilarious.
Scream was made for around $15 million and ended up grossing $103 million in the U.S. Needless to say, this being the horror genre, a sequel was rushed into development, and they somehow got it out the very next December in 1997. Seeing Scream 2 that first Friday night was a massive social event. I went to a 7:00 primetime show with 3 or 4 other people. It was sold out, 450 people in our biggest house. It was an absolute blast. I think I saw every single person in my high school class at the theater at one point or another that weekend while I was working. I thought then (and even now after watching it again) that Scream 2 was a really good sequel, by horror movie standards or any other standard. The ending wasn’t as satisfying, but the movie was a fun ride, and there was nothing like watching it in a packed house. It also had a damned good soundtrack.
For Halloween 1998, my buddy Jason and I dressed up as GhostFace and ran around the hallways at Framingham High, scaring the shit out of all the girls. It was uncanny. The girls would be scared shitless. Not like a scare when you startle someone, but some girls would see us from down the hall and literally run away screaming in the opposite direction, like were actually going to kill them. Needless to say, we found this hilarious. That’s how much the GhostFace costume and mask had permeated popular culture at the time.
The first Scream singlehandedly reinvigorated the horror genre, which was all but dead at the time. All the old franchises from the 80’s and early 90’s had dried up, and no one had attempted to start a new horror series in years. I don’t even think Kevin Williamson envisioned Scream as a franchise, but because it was so successful, that’s exactly what it became. Williamson’s writing style (the witty dialogue, the self-awareness of the characters via the constant references to earlier horror movies, using the “rules” of past horror movies as plot points, etc.) was widely praised by critics (and yes, I nominated it for Best Original Screenplay at the Biggies that year), and he became one of hottest writers in town at the time as a result. The Drew Barrymore surprise death scene at the beginning was considered a revolutionary idea at the time, as you never saw the biggest name star in your movie killed off 10 minutes into the movie. In fact, you could make the argument that that one scene revitalized Barrymore’s career. She wasn’t a very big deal at the time, and just 2 years later she’d catapult up the ranks of leading romantic ladies when The Wedding Singer became a big hit. I think if you made a list of the 10 most influential movies of the 90’s, Scream would have to be on it.
After Scream, for the next several years you saw a bunch of subpar horror movies with young, hip casts, all trying to become the next big franchise. Perhaps you remember I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legends, Idle Hands, The Faculty, or the first Final Destination (which may be the dumbest horror franchise in history). They even brought back Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween: H20 in 1998 (which I thought was actually pretty solid). Scream was the most influential horror movie until The Blair Witch Project in 1999, followed by Saw in 2004 (which started the whole torture porn trend) and from then til now we’ve had virtually every horror movie from the 70’s and 80’s remade. Now we’ve come full circle, as the 80’s remakes are starting to bomb, and Scream 4 will be a big test to see if the genre can get another kick in the ass. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Hell, you can make the argument that Scream also rebirthed the whole spoof genre. Spoofs hadn’t been a big deal since The Naked Gun and Hot Shots! movies in the early 90’s. After Scary Movie (a Scream spoof first and foremost) took off in 2000, we got 3 more entries into that franchise, which then spawned the atrocious Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans and Vampires Suck. It is truly amazing how wide Scream‘s tentacles reach. The only surprising thing is that it didn’t really spawn any true movie stars. Of course, everyone involved got career bumps and chances at bigger stardom, but who from that original cast is a big name now? Courteney Cox was already big because of Friends, but Scream didn’t make her a movie star, and she still does mostly TV. Neve Campbell never really capitalized despite playing the main character of the series, and can you tell me off the top of your head anything David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan or Jamie Kennedy have done in the past 5 years? I couldn’t. Even Wes Craven didn’t really turn it into anything bigger than what he’d been doing his whole career. He directed both Scream sequels, tried his hand once at drama (Music of the Heart), did another couple of horror movies that had no impact (Cursed, My Soul to Take) and a thriller (Red Eye) that also landed with a thud. Really, it was Kevin Williamson himself who enjoyed the biggest career bump after the first Scream. Pretty much anything he wrote for the next 5 years got made (even though none if it was any good), he got a chance at directing (Teaching Mrs. Tingle, which was awful) and he ended up creating Dawson’s Creek (which lasted 6 seasons) and The Vampire Diaries.
It’s that last paragraph that has me nervous going into Scream 4. Because what else can this be, after all this time (Scream 3 came out in 2000), other than a money grab for everyone involved? As recent history has shown, franchises that attempt to come back after 10+ years tend to not fare well creatively (the Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones 4 come to mind). They’re not making this now because they suddenly came up with an irresistible story idea. I can assure you of that.
The Weinstein Company has said that they would like Scream 4 to be the start of a new trilogy. That’s all well and good, but first part 4 has to be both good and make a lot of money. Or, really, just make a lot of money. But I firmly believe it won’t do that unless it’s actually good. The Scream brand itself is not enough to sell this movie. It’s simply been too long since Scream 3. Many of the young people they want to turn out for this did not grow up with the Scream movies (they grew up with Saw), so this new one has to both feature some of the old characters (and hopefully transition them out of the series) and introduce new ones that would continue into a potential Scream 5 and 6. I dunno how to feel about it. I’m not totally opposed to Scream 4 and beyond, but it has to be done right. They can’t use the same formula in this one as they did the first 3. A big star dying at the beginning isn’t going to surprise anyone. I think the key is what they’ve done with Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott character. She either has to die or BE the killer in this one for it to have any shock value.
I don’t have a sense of good Scream 4 is going to be (after watching the all too revealing trailer, I’ve avoided all of the advertising for it that I can), but I can say one thing…because of my history with the franchise, and the fact that the core creative team is back, I’m genuinely rooting for it. Unfortunately though, my current mood is probably no better than one of cautious optimism. I’d rather not be disappointed if it’s terrible. However, my only expectation is that it be better than Scream 3. In that regard, I think it has a chance. We’ll find out next Friday.
I dig this poster, I know that.