‘Horror Hour’: How Wes Craven’s “Scream” brought spoof horror to the big screen

(Sasha Matthews • The Student Life)

As Halloween approaches, Hollywood is releasing its annual slew of uninspired horror sequels and reboots like “Saw X” and “The Nun II.” As a self-proclaimed scary movie fanatic, I believe that many of these recent films fail to capture the gore-tastic and absurd nature of their predecessors in the classic slasher genre.

One genre stands as a revolutionary middle ground between the bloody slashers of the 80s and this new-wave of franchise horror: the spoof. Produced in 1996, Wes Craven’s “Scream” employs elements of parody while preserving the same graphic content that former audiences enjoyed. In doing so, “Scream” shifted spoof horror into the mainstream and set the standard for a new era of the scary movie.

Set in the fictional town of Woodsboro, the film follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her eclectic group of friends. A year after the gruesome murder of her mother, the masked killer “Ghostface” begins to target Sidney and residents of the town.

A key distinction to be made when we consider “Scream” within the horror genre is its unique refusal to take itself seriously. Instead, the film wholeheartedly embraces the absurdity that earlier slashers intended to ignore or portray as sincere. Actors like Matthew Lillard (Stu) often heighten their characters’ reactions and even avoid seriousness in some of the film’s gravest scenes. However, Craven more specifically accomplishes this commitment to the absurd by satirizing the cliché tropes that slashers relied on for their formulaic plots.

Craven utilizes the character of Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), an avid conspiracist and horror movie enthusiast, to initiate a dialogue about these clichés. Throughout the film, Randy makes several remarks on what ‘rules’ the surrounding characters should follow to increase their chances of survival. For instance, he says that “you can never have sex,” “you can never drink or do drugs” and never say “I’ll be right back.” At the film’s conclusion, the surviving characters even joke that “this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life for one last scare.”

Yet the most significant satirical commentary in “Scream” lies in its critique of the misogynistic convention present in nearly all psychosexual slashers: “The Final Girl.” Unlike her female counterparts, the final girl is boyish, virginal and multi-dimensional. She takes on an almost asexual role and endures as the last surviving character who outsmarts the killer.

Yet the most significant satirical commentary in “Scream” lies in its critique of the misogynistic convention present in nearly all psychosexual slashers: “The Final Girl.” Unlike her female counterparts, the final girl is boyish, virginal and multi-dimensional. She takes on an almost asexual role and endures as the last surviving character who outsmarts the killer.

This trope emphasizes that only women who adhere to the constraints of purity and even adopt ‘masculine’ traits will make it out alive, while those who embrace their sexual liberation will fall victim. As the friends gather around the television to watch Jamie Lee Curtis’ infamous “Halloween,” Randy even points out that she “was always the virgin in horror movies.”

“Scream” mocks this idea, subverting the concept of the final girl. Leading up to the film’s conclusion, Craven splices scenes of Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween” with scenes of Sidney losing her virginity. Ultimately, despite her loss of purity and deviation from the cliché, Craven still suggests that Sidney will be the movie’s final girl.

It would be unfair to talk about “Scream” without acknowledging the casting, marketing and continued influence that the film plays in popular culture. The official poster for “Scream” showcased a fearful and already well-known Drew Barrymore with striking blue eyes. Audiences were led to believe that Barrymore would have a larger role in the film, despite her character (Casey) getting killed off in the first fifteen minutes. Craven drew audiences in with the prospect of her performance and took the daring cinematic gamble to either shock or disappoint viewers with the early death. As with standard slashers, I thought it was more provocative and true to the genre that “Scream” casted lesser-known or emerging actors to play lead roles. With future stars like Rose McGowan, Courtney Cox and Skeet Ulrich, this film served as a platform for immense talent and propelled many of these young actors into their careers in Hollywood.

Today, “Scream” continues to have a lasting impact on the horror genre and popular culture. Following its release in 1996, a wave of more focused horror spoofs like “Scary Movie” and “A Haunted House” began to pop up in mainstream media. Lines like McGowan’s “Oh, you wanna play psycho killer? Can I be the helpless victim?” and “No, please don’t kill me Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel” have even become iconic sounds on TikTok.

Unfortunately, “Scream” has followed in the foot-steps of franchises like “Friday The 13th,” “The Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Purge” with its constant production of modern reboots. These movies have continued to deviate further from the comedic elements in the original and rely too heavily on shock factor to draw audiences in. Instead, directors should integrate the iconic spoof horror in “Scream” into new content that addresses tropes in contemporary horror.

“Scream” marks a groundbreaking milestone in horror cinema at the turn of the millennium. If you’re interested in a simultaneously scary, hilarious and untraditional horror movie, “Scream” might be your go-to for this Halloween.

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