Wes Craven: The Scream Years Part 8 – Scream (2010)
As I rounded out the final retrospective, looking back on Wes Craven’s latter movies, which I have dubbed ‘The Scream Years’, I had a moment where I thought that I had criminally missed out on watching what was then the last instalment of the Scream franchise, Scream 4.
I admitted as much to a friend online, as the film unfolded, only to realise that I had seen it, and my recollection came flooding back. So why this absence of memory, regarding the movie?
Was it so bad that I had blocked it from my mind?
Or had the franchise run the gauntlet and exhausted any further possibilities to keep Ghostface and his multiple personalities to haunt Sidney Prescott and those who survived the original Woodsboro Murders?
For Scream 4, Craven would once again reunite with writer Kevin Williamson, suggesting that the old formula was still ripe for the making. Set fifteen years after the initial murders, the premise was to look at the impact that this had on the wider circle of friends and family, including Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). When a double murder occurs once more involving high school students in Woodsboro, Sidney becomes prime suspect (laughably) as a way to promote her new book. She is forced to stay until the murders are solved, but when Jill gets a threatening phone call from Ol’ Ghostface himself, things start to heat up again and the body count starts to pile up.
Meanwhile, Dewey (David Arquette), who is now the town sheriff tries to restore order, but struggles to contain his wife Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) from doing her usual undercover sleuthing.
There are the typical traits that we had now become accustomed to from the franchise with film geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen) who annually throw the Stabathon festival in Woodsboro; the ex-boyfriend of Jill, Trevor (Nico Tortorella); the snooty, highly opinionated character, Rebecca (Alison Brie) as Sidney’s publicist; and the best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere); and that’s not to mention some of the early cameos from the Stab movie series snippets including Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell among them.
As the sands sift through Sidney’s serial turmoil, and the audience weaves their way between numerous whodunnit style investigations, we’re left with a film that boasts some sharp dialogue and humour to match, plus some pretty decent kills that are delivered by the hands of a highly experienced craftsman in Craven. What it lacks though is any satisfactory scares as we’re swallowed up by some typical horror tropes; a surprise considering Craven had once re-invented the genre with the original movie. The final reveal also feels tired and weak considering the twists and turns we take to get there. Having said that, there are some elements that the impact of social media can have on people, which shows just how cutting edge and forward thinking Craven could be in his film-making; a testament to how fundamental and important he was for the horror genre.
Wes Craven: The Scream years part 4 – Scream 3 (2000)
There would have been a three year hiatus for Ghostface to reappear again on screens following the successful sequel. This time around Wes Craven returning as director without his writing collaborator Kevin Williamson, (those duties now fell to relative newcomer Ehren Kruger who had previously worked on Arlington Road) would thrust Sidney Prescott further down the rabbithole and dreamland to create his slasher trilogy. And what better place to set their playground in, than the place where ‘dreams are made’, Hollywood. It’s a great choice and plays nicely into the metaverse that was initially set up in the original and its sequel with the Hollywood version of the Woodsboro murders film series, Stab.
Once again the film hits hard by writing off a previous character, Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) still capitalising on his fifteen minutes of fame and about to cameo in the next feature in the Stab series before succumbing to the return of Ghostface’s killing frenzy.
Here we are introduced to a new character in Detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) who calls on Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) to aid him in his query into the murder and its possible relation to the previous murders. When Gail arrives on set, she discovers that Dewey (David Arquette) has been working on the film as an advisor and once again their on/off relationship sparks off. It’s not until another Stab 3 cast member is killed that they realise that a possible serial copycat killer is in their midst. Time to call on Sidney Prescott once more, who has become a recluse since we last saw her and helping abused women via a phone helpline, turning the instrument that fuelled her trauma into something good.
The charm of this movie is through the way Craven and Kruger play with the hollywood versions of the Scream characters and the way that their larger than life selves search for their own gain in the midst of the killings. It is inevitable that they will meet their maker at some point along the way. The casting of these characters is also on point, notably Parker Posey as the fictional Gail and Emily Mortimer as the fictional Sidney. A mention should also go to Lance Henriksen as the Director of the movie John Milton, who is always stoic in his performance.
Along with this was the return from the grave of fan favourite Randy Meeks, albeit by the genius of a home movie, from which he spits the lores of film trilogies to the survivors. Sorry to wax lyrical about Randy. What can I say? I guess for some reason, I identify with the guy 😛
Once more though, it is in the final act and the reveal that things get a little lost on me with the reveal of a characters’ plan that they were behind the whole thing from the very beginning. A little far-fetched, yes, but the fun is in the journey, the number of kills, Dewey getting brutally wiped out and left for dead again, and both Sidney and Gail kicking ass along the way.
The third instalment may not have been as well received compared with its predecessors, falling victim to the last instalment curse, but it still reaped its fair share at the box office, hinting that Ghostface wasn’t down and out yet. In fact, it would be a decade before the masked killer would rise again, bringing with him the director that launched his profile for what would be the last time for Craven.
Wes Craven: The Scream years part 3 – Scream 2 (1997)
The original Scream released one year prior would prove to be a financial success, capturing $85 million at the Box Office, and prove to be a critical success for Wes Craven and Dimension Films so that it was inevitable that a follow up would be in the making.
Part of its lure in attaining Craven back into the director’s chair would be the offer of a three picture deal. Two of the pictures would be the proposed sequel and a possible third film of the Scream franchise (dependent on success, of course), but for Craven it would be the the movie sandwiched between the two slasher films, and a step away from the genre that was the dangling carrot. That film would turn out to be Music From The Heart, starring Meryl Streep.
Writer Kevin Williamson would also be enticed back into the fold for his penmanship with a lucrative seven figure deal, along with returning actors Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, and Liev Schrieber in their respective roles. The former trio in this group would be given some decent chances to flesh out their characters with a strong continuous arc that would serve well throughout the entire franchise. Supposedly the actors would only find out who the killer/s would be in the final two weeks of filming when they were provided the last 20 pages of the script.
Despite being so closely guarded though, the production team would have to suffer under the wake of the internet when the first 40 pages of the script were leaked online, albeit just the first draft. This would tighten security on set, and raise both intrigue and the profile of the movie ahead of its release.
Part of the sequels’ appeal would be the meta-infused dialogue that was so prominent in its predecessor, none more so than the killer opening scene; set in a cinema screening and introduction to the film with a film moment called Stab, where we witness Heather Graham taking on the Drew Barrymore role from Scream. The audience are placed in the shoes of a Black American couple played by Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett. They are quick to point out the foils of ‘White Americans’ and their actions whilst being pursued by Ghostface, only to be subject to a horror trope of their own, where the non-white person rarely survives the movie, in this case they only last for the pre-credit sequence. Pinketts role is particularly harrowing as she is stabbed in front of a full auditorium, many of whom wear the infamous ghostface mask, hiding her killer in plain sight, and with it, the notion that…
Everybody’s a suspect.
Forever banked in my memory though was the demise of the person who quoted that line, Randy Meeks. He was the horror film guru, and some of the fans favourite character, so his death was received with mixed opinions. What it did set out though, was a recurring theme for the franchise. That no one was safe, and just because you might know the rules, doesn’t mean that it would save you from meeting your maker by the film’s conclusion.
The other cool component was in giving Liev Schriieber a beefed up part as the wrongfully accused Cotton Weary from the original movie. Schrieber is a phenomenal actor and he shines here as a character wishing for his own 15 minutes of fame, stopping at nothing and in doing so, throwing him once more into the limelight as a potential suspect. Let’s not forget Jerry O’Connell too who plays Sidney Prescott’s love interest and also falls prey to suspect territory thanks to Sidney’s last boyfriend/killer scenario, Billy. Trust will always be an issue for our heroine.
If there is a let down here, it’s in the climax and ultimate reveal that proves to be something of a Scooby Doo moment and a half-baked attempt at revenge. This could also be a ramification for the fast turn around in getting this from page to screen.
Despite this, Scream 2 would bank over $172 million at the box office, more than double than the first film, and with it open the doors further to at the time a third and final instalment in the trilogy.
Wes Craven: The Scream years part 2 – Scream (1996)
It’s hard to no where to begin with what is arguably the last significant changer for slasher films, such is the iconic status that Wes Craven’s Scream brought to the sub-genre. What is apparent is that the infamous director who had been the mastermind behind two previous horror franchises in The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street initially turned down the option to direct, having his eyes set on crafting a remake of The Haunting based on the Shirley Jackson novel. History would tell a different story with that movie falling into the hands of Jan De Bont, starring Liam Neeson and Lily Taylor. Craven would actually turn Scream down for a second time before being enticed into the directors’ chair. That light bulb moment to pull him in came through the notion of a dark and violent beginning that hadn’t been done before. It’s still to this day one of the most harrowing and surprising starts to a film, doubled up by that cameo from Drew Barrymore.
That reawakening of a stale genre combined with my own deep immersion into horror as it fell into my late teens. The meta dialogue provided by Dawson Creek’s Kevin Williamson hooking the generation of the time with a delicate balance of D&Ms (deep and meaningfuls) with the lead characters and genuine scares infused with a whodunnit mystery. It was this latter element that Craven liked to play with on screen and in truth, despite being labelled as a horror director, his dalliance with the thriller component was where he played best.
It was also imperative to work with bright and upcoming talent to serve as the teen victims, who are strong enough to ground the movie in the own right, leading the charge was Neve Campbell (as this generations’ scream queen through the role of Sidney Prescott), who would go on to great success following the movie. Equally though her supporting cast of Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy more than bring their A-game.
That’s not to mention the other leads in David Arquette as deputy Dewey and bringing some star appeal with the success of Friends was Courtney Cox as the cold-hearted journalist, Gail Weathers. Part of the strength is that no one is painted as they first appear, adding to the intrigue and mystery on show.
It helps that the masked villain uses a cool guise in Ghostface, repeated on numerous occasions and parodied in the comical Scary Movie franchise, the name for which is borrowed from Scream’s working title.
The success though would speak volumes through the box office with $85 million in takings, marking Dimension Films with their first real win, opening the door for a sequel already being discussed 3 months after the films release.
Watching it back now, 25 years after it came out on the big screen, still triggers the nostalgia vibes, a significant indicator that it has resonance with its audience and with the recent Scream sequel hitting screens at the time of writing, will no doubt resurrect a whole new audience into the fold.
25 years ago, before Scream would reawaken the horror genre and generate a plethora of like minded movies came a film that tapped wholly into my adolescent brain. I’ll let you decide which part of the brain from which I am referring. Needless to say, Fairuza Balk’s Nancy stirred something inside me that yearned for and connected with females who drifted outside the mainstream of what was considered “normal”.
Recently, The Craftwas given new life in the public eye thanks to its sequel of sorts, The Craft: Legacyreleased by Blumhouse last year, but somehow it failed to ignite the same passion as the original.
Some of this could easily be put down to its strong, young cast with the afore-mentioned Fairuza playing the main antagonist to Robin Tunney’s white witch, Sarah in what is essentially a coming of age teen-drama. Joining these two are also Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, and Christine Taylor, who all essentially lift what comes across as a medicroe tale when reviewed through today’s eyes.
It still however holds a strong place in my heart, despite its flaws and molded my love of 90s teen horror as a result. What can I say, it’s my achilles heel.
It helps that swiftly following TheCraft came the behemoth of Teen Slasher films… Screamdirected by the great, Wes Craven. It also boasted two of the movie’s stars in Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich whose careers were rightfully projected to stardom as a result.
Scream is now the stuff of legend with its meta representation of the horror franchise and again boasted an awesome cast with Courtney Cox, David Arqette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy and let’s not forget that killer opening sequence with Drew Barrymore. Before the decade was out a sequel would also follow the following year and along with it a franchise and Ghostface’s interchangeable personna was born.
Chief among setting the tone for the decade and the success that followed in Scream’s wake was Dawson’s Creek scribe Kevin Williamson, who managed to tap into the pulse of those of my generation, eager to be understood and have those “deep and meaningful’ relationship discussions.
By 1997, Williamson was just starting to hit his stride with I Know What You Did Last Summerstarring Campbell’s fellow Party of Five alumni Jennifer Love-Hewitt.
Love-Hewitt stars as Julie James, who along with three other school friends (Ryan Philippe, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar, the latter was already on the rise thanks to a certain Buffy role) accidentally run down a stranger on the road and leave him for dead. It’s basically an elongated urban legend with the man with a hook hellbent on revenge. Like Scream it would also generate a franchise with a further two sequels to cash the cow.
Back to the Dawson’s Creek connection and another teen horror, Disturbing Behaviourthat would be released in 1998, the busiest year for the sub-genre, At the time, I more-than jumped on this band-wagon following Katie Holmes’ second feature film. This was a time when I, like Dawson, was undecided about the whole Joey/Jen thing, before realising in my case, that Michelle Williams was always the more interesting person to watch on screen, but more about her in a moment.
Disturbing Behaviour is probably the weakest in this line up of movies, but does boast James Marsden and Nick Stahl in the mix, in a tale of idyllic suburbia with a sour undertone in both its take of the American Dream and repressed teenage sexuality but it does still have the same beats and touches on the same wavelength that was being generated at the time.
Onto Holmes’ counterpart, Michelle Williams, who, again in my opinion, deserves greater praise for the work that she produces each year. In 1998, Williams would be cast in the support role of Molly in one of Horrors biggest franchises, Halloween.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later would have Kevin Williamson on writing duties, so it’s no wonder that Williams would connect well with the screenplay. Aside from bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back for the first time since Halloween 2 to pit against Michael Myers, it also introduced us to the so fresh and hot right now, Josh Hartnett. Let’s not talk about that hair cut though, for in his other movie that year, The Faculty, he slipped easily into the bad boy, good heart character with a brooding presence. Oh and that guy Kevin Williamson is behind the screenplay again.
When I first watched The Faculty I had a strong negative reaction to it, as I wore my snobbery hat when I watched it and took all the homagees embedded within as rip=offs of the great films that preceded it. I was a huge fan of director Rober Rodriguez at the time, which I think added to my disappointment further.
I have since grown to love this film more though and recognise it for what it was, a love of sci fi horror and again had some great stars in Elijah Wood (pre-LOTR), Jordana Brewster, Clea Duvall (I had such a thing for her too – Apparently I have a type, just ask fellow Surgeon Antony Yee), Laura Harris, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Shawn Hatosy, Jon Stewart, and Piper Laurie. It definitely warrants repeat viewing and holds up because of the fun energy and bold direction that Rodriuez alway brings to his movies.
Rounding out the quartet of movies for 1998 is Urban Legend which is a little forgotten despite generating a franchise in its own right and another strong cast considering with Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek again), Robert Englund, and Danielle Harris into the fold. It captures the urban legend tales of horror well enough but can’t quite shake off the fact that it’s riding on the coattails of stronger movies and suffers a little with age.
My last notable film to mention however lifts the half-decade of teen horror back to higher standards with its clearly tongue in cheek tale, Idle Hands where a stoner, Anton (Devon Sawa currently seen in a cracking film, Hunter Hunter) who discovers his hands are possessed after waking up to find his parents murdered. A cool cast again with Jessica Alba and Seth Green, Idle Hands is great fun to watch and definitely not to be taken seriously.
Sawa would also go on to star in another cracking film at the turn of the next decade in Final Destination as the trend would dial down a little.
For those 5-6 years though, it would produce a number of movies, some to hold high and some probably best forgotten but for nostalgic reasons still resonate with me today. I can only blame Nancy. I should have taken the heed and bound her from harm… harm to others and harm to myself…
Spree is one of those rare treats that will surprise you. Admittedly I went into watching this film with low expectations and unfairly dismissing it for yet another commentary on the negative impact of social media.
What was presented however can be closely associated with both Taxi Driver and American Psycho as its inspiration. The former is that Eugene Kotlyarenko plays similar beats to the Martin Scorsese classic, and the later for its satirical take on the human psyche.
Where Kotlyarenko injects his own gaze into the public spectrum is through his offbeat humour and attention to detail in presenting a gonzo-infused view of social influencers on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Both director and his lead, Joe Keery (Stranger Things) researched these areas to encapsulate the personality that his character Kurt Kunkle portrays. Profiled as 23 year old in search of infamy through his social platform who will stop at nothing to reach notoriety, Keery demonstrates a believably unhinged individual, a testament to his acting abilities and the level of attention taken into bringing his character to life.
Fueled by this desire, Kurt rigs up his car with cameras and signs up for a rideshare app called Spree, where he then ventures out in his shortcut to the warped American Dream by picking up would-be victims. At first, we encourage his maniac exploits as the victims of choice are suitable ugly characters that arguably warrant their fate, but the more disturbed Kurt becomes in attaining his goal, the more chaotic and wild his antics become. Kotlyarenko’s storyline choices are further cemented with the introduction of fellow social climber, comedian Jessie Adams played by a magnificent Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live) juxtaposing Kurt’s own ascent with a seemingly genuine rise of her own. When Jessie comes across Kurt’s radar, his jealousy boils over and she becomes his new target and in doing so, furnishes the film with a riveting climax.
The film also boasts strong support roles in David Arquette (Scream franchise) as deadbeat dad Kris, Kyle Mooney, Mischa Barton, and John DeLuca. Where it does fall short is that initial trigger point that sends Kurt over the edge, plus it lags in the middle act as it struggles to build up momentum and hold the audience’s interests through the leads indecisive phase in his social lesson.
In the words of gonzo journalism creator, Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride”.
It’s a modern take into the current state of The American Dream through the eyes of a wannabe social influencer on a murderous rampage. There is much to delight in this gut-wrenching flight of fancy, highlighting just how deranged modern society has become.
Spree is currently screening at select cinemas and available on PVOD with Foxtel and Fetch until November 11.
It will also be released on digital: iTunes, Youtube Movies, Fetch, Microsoft Store, Google Play from November 25.