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…