Craven’s ‘Scream’ a Bravura Sendup of Horror Pictures
There’s something about Wes Craven’s sensational “Scream” popping up in a thicket of year-end prestige releases and holiday pictures that’s as subversive as the movie itself.
It’s sensational in both senses of the word: a bravura, provocative sendup of horror pictures that’s also scary and gruesome yet too swift-moving to lapse into morbidity. It risks going way over the top, deliberately generating considerable laughter in the process. It ends up a terrific entertainment that also explores the relationship between movies and their audiences, specifically--but hardly exclusively--teenagers who love the kind of horror pictures Craven specializes in.
In essence it’s the familiar tale of a serial killer terrorizing an affluent, picturesque small town, the epitome of nostalgic Americana. In this instance the unknown killer wears a black shroud and a white mask whose pained expression recalls that of the tormented face in Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” This murderer, who loves to call up young women to terrify them before killing them, is especially savage and elusive. He--or she--is so busy that the corpses start piling up before local authorities are aware of all of them. “Scream” and its villain move faster than a wildfire.
Although the film has alphabetical billing, its star is Neve Campbell, whose Sidney barely escapes with her life when the killer invades her home, almost a year to the day that her mother was raped and killed. Sidney identified the murderer, now on death row, but feisty tabloid TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), quickly arriving on the scene, starts Sidney thinking that she may have made a mistake.
As suspense builds, young horror movie-nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy) remarks that the police ought to look at some horror pictures, “Prom Night,” an early and potent Jamie Lee Curtis flick in particular, to understand that everyone should be considered a suspect. Writer Kevin Williamson, who clearly knows the genre inside out, and Craven succeed in keeping us guessing the identity of the killer and suspecting literally everyone, even Sidney, at one time or another.
Craven and Williamson are a dynamic duo and they give their largely youthful cast a thorough workout. Campbell and Skeet Ulrich, who plays Sidney’s boyfriend, both made an impression in the effective and popular supernatural thriller “The Craft” earlier this year and are clearly gifted and resourceful actors, an observation that applies to all their young colleagues.
Cox and David Arquette, as a naive local cop, also register strongly and so do Drew Barrymore (as Sidney’s best friend) and Henry Winkler (as the local high school’s principal). Key to “Scream’s” success are endlessly resourceful cinematographer Mark Irwin and Patrick Lussier’s razor-sharp, no pun intended, editing. Loaded with insider references and jokes, “Scream” is deftly summed up by the villain: “Movies don’t create psychopaths, movies make psychopaths more creative.”
* MPAA rating: R, for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language. Times guidelines: The film is entirely unsuitable for children.
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Neve Campbell: Sidney
Skeet Ulrich: Billy
Courteney Cox: Gale Weathers
David Arquette: Dewey
A Dimension Films presentation of a Woods Entertainment production. Director Wes Craven. Producers Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein and Marianne Maddalena. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor Patrick Lussier. Music Marcus Marco Beltrami. Production designer Bruce Alan Miller. Art director David Lubin. Set designer Nanci Noblett. Set decorator Michele Poulik. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.