by Paul Morrone – @life_of_paul
December 20, 1996.
I remember the day well. I had just finished my last final exam of my first semester in college. I was exhausted and ready for my two week break from it all. A few months earlier, my family had upgraded to a 14.4 (or was it 28.8?) modem, which was just the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was a movie trailer watching fool and I came across a link to a movie named “Scream.” I watched this trailer more times than I could count. I was a huge fan of Drew Barrymore (and to be fair, of Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox as well), and the thought of Drew being the “it” girl in a scary movie was too much to take…so the countdown began.
Every showing at my small local theater was sold out, except for the final midnight screening. It was cold and windy, but my friends and I stood in line and couldn’t wait to get in. What unfolded over the next 111 minutes was one of the best times I had watching a movie in a long, long time.
I do admit that after the first 11 or 12 minutes, I wanted to get up and walk out. What I had just seen had really never been seen before. Here you had someone who was arguably the biggest celebrity name in the entire cast and she was alone in the house, at night, in the middle of nowhere and she was going head to head with one of the scariest villains to not be seen on screen. It was truly terrifying. Drew’s demise was a huge adrenaline rush and one of the more shocking things I had seen on screen up to that point. It was also and still remains, in my humble opinion, one of the best performances of Drew Barrymore’s career (and one of the best of 1996, but I’ll leave it at that before I have critics jumping down my throat).
After Casey and Steve met their maker, I knew that all bets were off and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it or not, but I stuck it out and thanks to the humor that was so brilliantly injected into Kevin Williamson’s script, and thanks to the tenacity and survival skills of Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, and the slick direction of Wes Craven, I managed to avoid a complete breakdown. I’m glad I stuck it through. It certainly made me believe in the power of entertainment again, in the ability of ordinary people to be kick-ass when the situation called for it. Through the efforts of the cast and crew, I saw that you could take something that no one would ever give full credit to or view as art and make it valid and relevant. It also made my inner nerd happy to finally see a reflection of my generation on screen that was witty, intellectual and strong. I remember thinking to myself “Yes! Finally! THAT is how people my age speak and act!”
“Scream’s” timing was golden. First and foremost, it was great entertainment and delivered the goods in spades. It was fresh, smart, funny, boiling over with social commentary. I think it truly legitimized the genre. Prior to its release, the 90’s were filled with one schlock fest after another, 99% of which were filled with cast and crew members with little to no experience on their resumes, who portrayed characters that were as forgettable as the overpriced popcorn you purchased before the lights went down. Here was a project with a pedigree crew, a veteran director aiming to reinvent himself and a cast of some of the hottest and most acclaimed young talent in the business. This is an accomplishment the film can definitely claim: A cast and crew with actual talent. Thanks to their gifts, an entire cast of memorable characters were created and etched into the echelon of Hollywood history.
I think it also marked the end of an era, so to speak. Its arrival came before the end of youthful innocence as we would know it. It was almost a last hoorah, a final catharsis before the scary movie known as real life began. A few short years later, we’d witness the Columbine massacre and countless other acts of violence enacted by the young boys and girls of the country. The movie may have flipped the script on the genre itself, but it also was a razor sharp commentary on our society and what was to come. It rubbed it in our faces that we were (and in many cases still are) a violence-loving people. The characters of “Scream” knew the death scenes, they knew the killer’s patterns, they knew the “rules,” all because they spent countless hours in front of the TV and in the movie theater watching witless characters get off’d one by one. It was as reflective as movies get, which is why I think it’s stood the test of time by tapping into our primal instincts but showing us that in the end, it is the good that should triumph.
So, in closing, here you had a searing social commentary, a smartly written story, a well executed satire, and thanks to stellar and unexpected star turns from Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and truly memorably supporting performances from Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard, you had at its most basic level, one hell of a good time at the movies! 14 years later…who’d have thunk it? How will we be skewered by what’s the come? I guess we’ll find out!