The Classics of Horror #18 – Scream (1996)

In the mid-90s, slasher flicks started to lose impact in a market oversaturated with 7th or 8th installation of franchises soaked in 80s vibe. Yes, they kept giving mass audiences some mindless entertainment, but they completely and utterly gave up on originality and unconventional plots and characters.

Thus, Wes Craven, who contributed to the slasher era with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), decided to spoof the entire sub-genre and its tropes by making Scream, a film so clever that it works both as a parody of slashers and an intense ride nonetheless.

Scream 1When the quiet town of Woodsboro is shocked by a mysterious killer of teenagers known as Ghostface, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) – who’s dealing with post-traumatic syndrome due to the rape and murder of her mother one year prior – and her friends try to figure out who the killer is with the help of a nosey journalist and an incompetent police deputy.

Craven’s umpteenth success shows the constant usage of horror tropes and clichés to criticise their formulaic presence in horror cinema, particularly in the slasher sub-genre. References to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises are all over the place in this smart meta-slasher.

However, it’s John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) that plays a primary role, with Craven and Kevin Williamson (Scream screenwriter) paying homage to the movie that started it all. Scream even utilises part of the Halloween iconic soundtrack to raise tension in certain sequences and winks to the audience in others.

As he’s done successfully with Nightmare (1984), Wes Craven is able to create a context in which the suspension of disbelief is unnecessary: as opposed to the Jason Voorhees’ movies – which you really can’t overthink about in order to enjoy – or even the first Halloween – great film, but engulfed with unbelievable physics – in Scream universe everything is believable and makes sense within the story. Upon fourth viewing, I still couldn’t find any plot hole! Which is something that never occurs in slasher movies, to be honest.

Scream 2.jpgBesides, Scream benefits from a perfectly balanced combination between “whodunit” mystery and black comedy – obviously, the reveal of Ghostface’s identity toward the end looks silly (as it is in most of the slasher flicks), but the movie gives the audience hints throughout so that the final surprise doesn’t come entirely unexpected. And, above all, makes sense. Craven never lies to its audience in Scream, so that if you paid attention to the story development you’d know why the ending unfolded in that specific way.

As per comedy, the director shows once again his black humour in this film: Craven, to my knowledge, was the first horror director to include comic relief in one of his earliest flicks (The Last House on the Left, 1972) and, although in that case it didn’t quite work, in Scream these aspects blend perfectly with the crime/mystery one.

Scream 3Besides, Scream benefits from a perfectly spot-on casting: there isn’t a standout actor among them, but they all fit perfectly the roles they’ve been assigned with. Mostly, though, the characters they portray are incredibly amusing and entertaining. Sidney, deputy Dewey (David Arquette), unscrupulous news reporter Gale Weather (Courtney Cox), Billy and Stu (Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard) are compelling, entertaining and quotable. Plus, some fun cameos (such as Drew Barrymore, Live Schreiber, Henry Winkler and, of course, Craven himself) make for an extra layer of enjoyment in the movie.

Yet, Wes Craven’s film deserves to be among the horror classics for two main reason: firstly, it made impossible to overlook tiresome clichés in horror flicks ever since Scream came out. In other words, this film deconstructed formulas that made our beloved genre boring and conventional, to the point of being considered almost dead following an influx of direct-to-video titles and numerous sequels to established horror franchises of the 1970s and 1980s.

Which is my second point: thanks to Craven’s masterpiece the horror genre has reborn from its ashes and found new ways to tell scary stories. Surely, the late 90s and early 00s have been quite stingy in terms of good horror films (at least around Hollywood), but the blast of the 2010s is, more or less, indirectly tied to Scream.

All in all, I love the movie and I can only appreciate how much Craven has done for the horror genre. Although Scream is probably less immune to the aging process than other genre classics, it has a special place in my heart and every horror fan should recognise praise that.

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The Classics of Horror #6 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is a very sad week for the world of arts and entertainment.

Two highly inspiring figures have passed away: Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, committed suicide last night and George Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre in cinema, had died in last Sunday.

I can’t stress enough how much the sudden death of a singer who accompanied me with his melodies throughout my whole life shocked me. However, I’m not entitled to talk about it in this blog, although I wish I could express my grief in a better way.

Instead, I hope to make the brilliant director justice by reviewing, unbiasedly, the film that made him famous and gave us the basis for each single zombie movie that came out from 1968 to this day.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the first independent horror flicks, which grossed more than $30 million world-wide on a budget of only £114.000.

Last black and white entrance on this list, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group of people gathered in an abandoned house trying to survive the return to life of the dead. This supernatural occurrence has been caused by radiation leaks that turn on the brains of corpses, basically resuscitating and turning them into flesh eaters.

Night of 2As this brief plot summary might suggest, the flick establishes the rules for each and every zombie movie (especially those involving slow ghouls): they feed upon human and animal flesh, they can’t be killed unless their head gets smashed, their bite is contagious and so on.

Romero has set the rules basing them on centuries of literature, dark fairy tales and bonfire stories, creating a fertile ground for one of the most successful sub-genres in cinema history.

With a small budget to his disposal, the director has also been able to confine the story within a narrow location – although news reports keep showing, throughout the movie, the consequences of the phenomenon on a larger scale, the focus of action is a small house with thin walls and, virtually, a few chances of survival.

Night of 1Even though today Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t scare a child, when I came out it’s been perceived as gory and unsettling. For example, the scene where the zombies eat the flesh of their victims must have been a massive shock for the 60s audience.

The film wasn’t ballsy only in terms of gore and violence, though. It’s then-daring employment of an African-American hero as the lead and its ubiquitous availability on television and video thanks to a lack of copyright all played roles in Night’s success. The racial component was, indeed, more shocking than the bloody sequences: “Everyone was sort of noticing the film was talking about the racial issue”, Romero said in a recent interview. “To us, it wasn’t a racial message at all”, he added, “in fact, when we cast Duane Jones (as the lead) – when Duane Jones agreed to do it – we didn’t change the script” to make it more suitable for a black character.

Night of 4.jpgNevertheless, the director himself claimed his flick to be more than just a zombie movie: “Our point was more the disintegration of society, the inability to communicate, the disintegration of the family unit. That’s the stuff that we were interested in”.

However, the social commentary doesn’t quite emerge in the film.

In my honest opinion, Night of the Living Dead is a rather weak film. Regardless its historic impact and influence, the movie lacks a sense of urgency and inevitability, which is what should emerge in a good zombie flick.

Furthermore, with the exception of Jones, every cast member gives an amateur performance, often over-the-top and laughable when it’s trying to be dramatic.

Night of 3Some of them are plainly annoying, for instance the girl who loses her brother in the first sequence involving the living dead. She’s so pathetic and nerve-wracking throughout the all movie and her contribution to the survival attempts is below nil.

Overall, the main issue with Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn’t hold up anymore.

It’s probably the least watchable out of Romero’s film and, also, in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby – which was released the same year – it looks extremely dated.

In all fairness, I wouldn’t suggest to watch Night of the Living Dead, unless you are a die-hard Romero’s fan or particularly interested in the zombie sub-genre. Instead, I recommend Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Dark Half (1993) by George Romero, because in my opinion they are its best works. Cheers!