Wes Craven’s Scream is arguably the most 90s movie that you can come up with. It also just so happens to be a horror movie, so I guess we won that decade. Good work, everyone. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of music, and a lot of red corn syrup in this one as a gaggle of beautiful 20 somethings pretending to be high school students are systematically hunted down by a masked killer. It may not have defined the genre, but it’s still a major player. Keep reading to find out how well it stands up 20 years on. Spoilers abound in our review, so if you haven’t already seen it go give it a watch.
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Mark: Scream. How bout this one, eh boys? I was tasked with picking something from the 90s… I think I did pretty well. Could you tell this thing was from that era? A bit of a cultural chameleon this one.
Jake: You’re right Mark. It really fits in with any generation. Because that’s what classics do… Wait, you hear that?
Still Jake: Oh, well nevermind then. It’s about the most 90’s thing I can think of outside of anything done by Nickelodeon. Everyone and their stonewashed overalls wearing, shark-toothed necklace donning, frosted tips rocking, Mmmbop listening whore of a friend were running around wearing Ghostface Killer masks for several an October at the end of the millennium because of this movie.
Mark: You know what’s funny? For the magnitude of pop culture shockwave this thing produced, I had never actually seen this movie in full before now. It was just timed poorly in my life - it came out when I was 8 so I couldn’t see it in theaters or rent it, and by the time it was on TV I had lost interest. Also, who would want to watch the dumbed down TV version, anyway? Prior to this time around I had only seen the very first scene and the very last scene. What I found out on this viewing was that that’s all you really need to see in this movie.
Jake: How is that even possible? You didn’t see this on a date? I suppose you’ve never had Trix yogurt or listened to Waterfalls, either. Did you ever chug on some Bawls? Did you even 90’s, bro?
Mark: I’ll have you know that the second CD I ever purchased with my own allowance money was CrazySexyCool by TLC. For the record, the first was Pump by Aerosmith. Love In An Elevator, nah mean? But no, I didn’t see this on a date. When it came out I was more interested in Power Rangers than in girls, but in fairness that is still true so...
Jake: I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul... But to get this back on track after you so rudely interrupted with your fucking bullshit, you sort of aren’t wrong. Scream really is the beginning and end of the movie. Go ahead and talk to someone about it and see if they mention anything that doesn’t involve Drew Barrymore and the Friday the 13th gag or something from the party that closes out the movie.
Mark: Yeah there’s a few filler attacks here and there, and pour one out for Principal Fonzarelli, but 95% of the meat of this movie is in the first and last 10 minutes.
Jake: As if, Mark. You’re being pretty aggressive in your definition of “very last scene”. The party scene is like 45 mins of film, the vast majority of which is classic. I’ll agree that the points between the opening sequence and that really just serve to set up some loose scaffolding used to tie in the first scene to a new set of characters and deliver us to said party as efficiently as possible.
Mark: Semantics, Jake. Last 10 minutes, last 45 minutes… it’s all the same. Before we get to that scene though, let’s discuss that opening. Dude, people’s tits got all flipped with the first scene. As far as I recall the marketing for the movie made it seem like Drew Barrymore was going to be much more of a player in the film. So when she got eviscerated in the opening scene it threw people for a loop. The sheer gore of it probably helped too.
Jake: No doubt. With an opening like that, you definitely don’t expect the recognizable actress to be stabbed repeatedly and hanged from a tree with her own entrails before even getting a chance to get into the plot. It was wicked.
Mark: Natch. Totally wicked, dude. The one thing that did irk me a bit about these scenes with the killer is for some reason there is a very slight fisheye effect at play, seemingly to imply that we’re seeing things through the killer’s perspective. I’m sure it played great on CRTs back in the day, but on my TV it basically just gave me a headache. Cloverfield didn’t even do that, and that movie was basically engineered to be one long motion sickness clinic.
Jake: I didn’t notice that but I’ll take your word for it. It could also just be a visual extension of the general over-the-toppedness of the whole damn movie. It’s all kind of one big gag on Halloween so if it’s going to do the pov shot, why not blow it out?
Mark: Because it induces motion sickness? That seems like a good reason not to do it. Irregardless, that more or less takes us to the introduction of the intrepid band of 20-somethings-pretending-to-be-high-schoolers-who-are-about-to-get-their-shit-murdered. All in all there are a few things that don’t stand up well in the movie, but they’re generally forgivable based on the time frame and the resources they had available. The casting is not forgivable in general, but Matthew Lillard is chief among my complaints. He is literally not believable as a human. How the fuck did he get that job?
Jake: He was great, man. What the fuck are you talking about? The whole thing is ridiculous. That in mind, I have a couple squabbles about why this is a hard movie to review:
Beef #1: Lillard can no longer exist in a reality where he isn’t just Shaggy. I mean, there are certain things in life that are fated by the gods. One of these is that this man was born to be the Shag-man. However, that renders me incapable of watching this movie without just seeing an out of character Shaggy. It’s a hard life.
Beef #2: This shit is so over the top and winking for the vast majority of its runtime that any complaint you stage could conceivably see some blowhard fuckwad come back at you with the phrase “That’s what they were going foooorrrr” in the harshest vocal fry imaginable.
Mark: If they were going for immersion breaking lunacy, then they achieved it. Good for them. Spoiler, it doesn’t make the movie more immersive. One funny thing about this movie, though, is it seems like this was the last major hurrah for horror before cellphones became ubiquitous. There’s a bit in the middle where the cops are questioning the main heartthrob teenager boy, and they’re giving him the third degree on why he would have a cell phone tucked away in his pocket like a goddamn murder psycho.
Jake: Ok man, if you’re going to talk about the characters, you’ve gotta start using their names. Said “heartthrob boy” is the discount Johnny Depp lookin’ mother fucker. His name is Skeet in real life. Think about that for a moment. His parents named their son Skeet. Get it straight. But to your point, it does put a pretty tidy timestamp on the movie. And is basically the only thing that happens between Barrymore getting ripped from tit to twat and party time, aside from the Fonz berating students, cancelling class and getting killed. The whole thing is basically just a crash course on establishing some main characters who are teenagers.
Mark: ...and when their classes get cancelled they do exactly what you would expect a bunch of teenagers to do when two of their classmates have been brutally slaughtered and they are all being hunted. They throw a kegger. That sounds like a blasé sarcastic analysis of the unbelievability of the situation, but that is, in fact, exactly what teens would do in this situation. Why? Because teens are idiots. For the record, Matthew Lillard is still too idiotic to be believable at anything.
Jake: NONE OF THEM ARE BELIEVABLE, MARK. Is Randy believable in his constant paranoid film connection expositional vomit? Is Tatum believable in her clear desperate urge to have people look directly at her nipples? Is Dewey believable with his weird man-boy demeanor and sad attempt at a porn-stache? NO!
Mark: Disagree. All of those folks are somewhat believable (aside from the clearly mismatched age of character and actor). Randy is just trying to deal with the situation, man. We can’t all have perfect coping mechanisms like you. To fully cope with the situation he puts on Halloween at the party, which the film basically just uses as an excuse to comment on itself. We’ve seen self-referential scares and commentary in horror ever since so it’s a bit banal by comparison, but this shit was revolutionary 20 years ago. The scene where he’s yelling at the TV because the killer is standing behind Jamie Lee Curtis while Ghostface himself is standing behind him has to be the exact scene that was pitched to the movie execs to get funding.
Jake: It’s definitely great. It had to be that and the Barrymore phone call from the beginning of the movie. Which is probably why people only remember he start and end but hey, I don’t blame them. There’s a lot going on at the party so to spare a ton of plot summation, our main girl, Sidney, makes up with Billy… I mean Skeet… after thinking he was the killer the whole movie. Skeet is then stabbed about fifteen times as Ghostface barges in, sending the whole place into mayhem. There’s a lot of slicing and dicing, and eventually Sidney is left amongst the carnage.
Mark: At this point you get the grand reveal. Discount Johnny Depp stumbles back downstairs pretending to be all injured and shit, but wouldn’t you know it, that fucker has been faking this whole time. What a phony.
Jake: Turns out Skeet and Shaggy have been a psychotic tag team this whole time. They killed Sidney’s mom a year ago and have been running diversion for each other to keep their tracks covered and to cover more ground. They explain their motives. Skeet is disturbed because family issues and Shaggy is just insane, kind of like the Joker. They spout exposition and discuss how they will frame this one by putting it on Sidney and her dad.
Mark: This is basically the only redeeming scene that Shaggy puts in all movie. As they go back and forth stabbing each as part of their hair-brained scheme he actually delivers a decent performance… which is to say he basically goes from an unbelievable human to a semi-believable psychopath.
Jake: It’s a real Shyamalan-level twist that explains all the erratic behavior to this point. Unfortunately for the duo, the self-stabbing aspect of the plan gets a little out of hand and they lose control of the situation.
Mark: Classic serial killer mistake, stabbing yourself too much. The temptation is to just always be stabbing, but the real trick is to refrain from stabbing your allies too much. This is why not everyone can be a serial killer, and why it’s totally not an amateur’s game anymore. Support your local serial killer union today.
Jake: Fuck, man. I can’t really continue with this shit so... ratings.
For 1 - Think of how George Bluth Sr. would rate his attorneys.
For 10 - Think of Orson Welles would rate the quality of French champagne.
Jake: 7 - Simple things are good. This is a simple story. Syllogism rules tell me the story is therefore good. Seriously though, this does a great job of having a simple story and layering in a ton of great nods to the genre. It’s intelligent and stupid all at the same time, and it’s a beautiful tightrope-walk.
Mark: 8 - You’re right about the simplicity here. This is just a straightforward tale of a bunch of irresponsible teens getting hunted by a psychopathic killer. What that allows is the writers to hang a few interesting nuances on it, and set up a solid twist that doesn’t feel overwhelming or unbelievable. Very solid story.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jake: 4 - In being such a self aware movie that is going for such a high degree of humor, the resultant world is very unbelievable and the immersion is similarly low. You can’t really do what Scream did and have the viewer not be acutely aware they are watching a movie. It’s fun, so it doesn’t get an awful score, but it’s not an immersive film. That’s what they were going fffooorrrrr.
Mark: 2 - The execution is miserable in this movie. You could call it a product of the 90s or the fact that it’s supposed to have its tongue firmly planted in cheek, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s really fucking hard to get into the movie. Shitty acting and casting aside, the fisheye thing alone was enough to knock this down pretty significantly.
Jake: 3 - There really isn’t anything that happens in this movie that isn’t done for a laugh. There are a few good sequences where there is tension (particularly early on), but any fright is quickly raped from existence with a gag or general piece of meta. This particular score is tied to my immersion score pretty heavily.
Mark: 6 - This is probably being generous, but I’m adjusting it upward based on its age. As we mentioned multiple times in the podcast review, this is a really hard movie to get into the same headspace scare-wise as would have been appropriate at this movie’s release. I do recall there being a whole hullabaloo about the Drew Barrymore scene when this first came out, and there are still some solid moments of tension and jumpscares mixed in with solid gore effects so I feel like this at least deserves a slightly better than average rating.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jake: 6 - There is some good gore in this flick but it’s accompanied by some strange sequences of things that look like shit, and the overall score (licensed and original) works against the tide of the movie a lot of the time.
Mark: 6 - See above note about the effective gore. The practical work in this movie is what really makes it work. The things that hold it back are the choice to use the fisheye (which is probably really only loosely an effect, but still deserves a mention), and the ridiculous omnipresence of the score. 1990s pop-rock is happening in the background of almost every scene and it does not serve the movie as a whole.
Jake: 5.5 - I want to like this movie more than a 5.5 would suggest because of what it did for the genre in a total shitheap of a period. That revitalization aside, there is still some fun to be had here, but it’s so precise in its 90’s-ness that I find I have to be in a very specific mood to want to watch it. High scores are reserved for movies I want to watch all the time. Plus, there were no boobies.
Mark: 5 - I don’t really like giving movies a 5 because I feel like it’s a cop out and that I should come down on it either being good or bad. That being said, I just can’t make up my mind on this one. It’s not great because of how insanely 90s it is and because of the associated lack of immersion. It is great because it’s a horror classic that revitalized the slasher genre, more or less introduced meta commentary into the genre, and spawned a horde of other classic 90s horror films. It’s not an average movie because it’s bland, it’s average because it is an equal mixture of interesting good things and pure unadulterated crap.