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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Final Destination meets Jacob’s Ladder. Camera Obscura – movie review

A war photographer affected by severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) picks up the camera again after more than one year of inactivity due to the terrible things he’s seen and photographed in war zones (presumably Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria).

Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham), the titular character of Camera Obscura, is given an old camera from his fiancé Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), who desperately wants him back on track.

camera Obscura 1.jpgHowever, the photos Jack takes are black-and-white – despite the rolls being coloured – and, mostly, show dead bodies that lay in the locations he shot.

What started off quite premising, with a first half hour that features non-linear storyline and good character development obtained without exposition scenes, soon enough turns into a bloody mess that doesn’t know what’s aiming for.

Although rather original, Camera Obscura tries too hard to resemble the Final Destination movies and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) in its themes and development.

Unfortunately for the director Aaron B. Koontz, the film falls short in its attempts: the campiness of Final Destination is replaced by an unnecessary seriousness, whereas the social commentary on the horrors of war are completely avoided. What a missed opportunity!

The overall movie is quite confusing.

Camera Obscura 3More or less 40 minutes into Camera Obscura, the main character is convinced he has to do something extreme to protect his fiancé from an impending doom. The decision to include this sudden change of tone in the script, makes Jack less compelling (he was rather relatable up to this point) and the plot take a convoluting route involving paranormal elements.

Yet, an initially psychological thriller/horror begins to include supernatural features and a good dose of laughable gore that adds up to the general confusion.

The ending, which I’m not going to give away, is probably the pinnacle of frustration in Camera Obscura, since it doesn’t resolve any question or sub-plot brought up throughout the runtime.

Camera Obscura 2.jpgAgain, the characters are overall formulaic: we have the main character (fairly portrayed by Denham), his screaming and confused fiancé, a police officer who knew everything before the audience, another one who couldn’t figure out the simplest clues and the junkie, silly protagonist’s best friend who is helpful like a toothbrush on a desert island.

Especially Walt, Jack’s best friend, is highly disappointing. He represents my biggest disappointment with the direction: Walt is, in fact, portrayed by Noah Segan, a more than decent actor who proved himself in the past to be able to pull off complex roles.

Seemingly, Koontz has no idea what to do with him, since he randomly throws Segan in many scenes without developing the character’s arc or purpose.

Nevertheless, this is the only mistake made by Koontz. Besides that, his direction is really good for an indie horror. The cinematography is impressive and the editing cleverly resembles a sequence of photos projected on a wall.

Entirely shot on location (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA), Camera Obscura makes good use of the environment, whilst the bright colours are toned down to make the atmosphere gloomy and sumber.

On a side note, Koontz’s direction avoids silly jump-scares and futile loud music to mark a moment of tension. Instead, the soundtrack is persistently earing and purposely irksome.

Since the direction is, overall, pretty decent, I’d say that the script is what scales down the film. It simply doesn’t make any sense and hides the redeeming qualities of Camera Obscura.

If you ask me, Camera Obscura is not a completely shipwreck, but the script for it is plain awful nonetheless.

Quoting directly from the movie: “this seems one of those weird episodes of Goosebumps!”. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend to watch it, but neither I’d say it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Cheers!