Final Project: Researched Synthesis of Critical Sources about the Movie Scream
In this research paper, I am going to analyze several critical sources that all deal with the movie Scream, directed by Wes Craven. This paper will show why Scream was a huge success and why it was totally different from any older slasher-movie. Even though this movie is scary and horrific, it is also a parody on older slasher-movies, it is extremely self-referential, and its characters are extremely knowledgeable about the horror-genre, which makes this movie funny and ironic and lets the audience experience a completely new kind of slasher-film. In the following, I will now summarize the critical articles that deal with Scream, after which I will discuss the relationships between these articles.
The first source I analyzed was a chapter about the movie Scream in John Kenneth Muir’s book Wes Craven – The Art of Horror. Muir starts this chapter with a quote from the Los Angeles Times, saying that Scream risks going way over the top, deliberately generating considerable laughter in the process, and that it ends up as terrific entertainment that also explores the relationship between movies and their audiences (from Kevin Thomas in The Los Angeles Times). Muir states that Scream is undeniably a horror masterpiece and that Craven achieved something extraordinary in a genre that is known neither for its intelligence nor for its wit. He thinks that Scream is exceptional because it is so intelligent, so witty, and most importantly scary. In Muir’s opinion, Scream is the ultimate tale of America’s VCR generation, which is extremely cynical and knows everything about the latest technologies (cell-phones, pagers, etc.). But it is also very referential, because the characters refer to movies or shows all the time, e.g. when two cheerleaders make up the theory that Sidney is the Woodsboro murderer – based on psychological arguments from “The Ricky Lake Show.” Muir thinks that because of the intense exposure to television and movies,
today’s teens are not only callous and cynical, they are also unbelievably smart as part of a defence mechanism to understand the modern world with all its technology.
Muir says that within the movie Scream, director Wes Craven suggests that television, movies, and the internet make young adults psychotic and that the exposure to sanitized movie violence has left them with no concept of real pain or suffering (e.g. when Stu and Billy stab each other and they are surprised that it actually hurts.) For Muir, Scream is perfect because of its self-aware attitude, which is an important reason that it is so funny in some parts. The characters in Scream are smart and constantly wonder who will play them in the movie-version of their lives. They even define their real-life relationships based on movie- terms, e.g. when Billy complains that Sidney does not want to have sex with him and says that their relationship has been “edited for TV.” Muir also states that Scream is littered with references to movies of all varieties – from Halloween to Clueless.
From Muir’s point of view, the purpose of these references is to form a picture of kids who were not really raised by their parents, but by movies and their VCRs. Another element that makes Scream a funny parody of horror-films is that Craven expresses the importance of television in teenage life throughout the movie by positioning TV sets in places of importance, e.g. the ultimate use of a TV set when Sidney drops a TV smack on Stu’s head. Muir says that Craven’s world is one of an endless circle of television watching (e.g. in the final scene the audience is watching Gale and Kenny watching the teenagers on their party watching TV…) and that virtually all characters in the movies are related to TV, which also adds a component to make it funny.
Next, Muir compares Scream to older slasher-films and states that unlike in older films in which characters were dumb and unaware of danger, the protagonists in Scream act very smart. Another element that adds to the funny component of the movie is that it spins around
clichés about horror-movies. Even though character Randy lists the “Rules of Horror Movies” (1. Never have sex; 2. Never do drugs; 3. Never say “I’ll be right back”), Scream does not follow these rules. Even though Sidney has sex, she still survives, and the smart girl, who argues that it is insulting that girls in horror-movies always run upstairs as if they were dumb, is chased by the murderer in the very next scene – and runs upstairs! Muir sees Scream putting its characters relentlessly in situations where they must act as if they were in a bad horror-movie, which is a lot of fun for the audience.
But for Muir, the parody and horror-movie references also add to Scream’s ability to scare, because Scream has an unrelenting atmosphere of uncertainty in it, which makes it unpredictable for the audience to know for sure who is acting suspicious. Muir concludes his critique of Scream saying that Scream is a beautifully written and executed “audience participation” picture, and that Craven’s idea of not playing to the lowest common denominator, but to challenge the audience instead, is his recipe for success. For Muir, Scream is a smart and self-referential movie that reanimated the horror-genre by making the movie self-aware, ironic, and funny.
The next article I analyzed for this paper is a movie review written by Dr. Harvey O’Brien. This author thinks that the entire point of Wes Craven’s post-modern movie Scream is that the audience knows all about slasher films and what happens in them, and that it has a sense of humor about to how to handle its inanities. But right after admitting this, O’Brien states that it disappointed him that the movie is still pretty inane. He thinks that the story of a killer stalking a peaceful community with a dark past and teenagers dropping off one by one until the big climax in which the killer’s identity is revealed is still just a variant of the common horror-formula.
He believes that even if Scream does reduce its audience to genuine screams, they can pretend it did not, or they can say that it was all part of the fun. Going one step further he concludes that Scream works great as a comedy but does not work at all as a horror-movie, because it is just not frightening and just way too old at this stage. O’Brien says that even though John Carpenter (in his movie Halloween) was able to play a sophisticated joke on his audience, by making use of the widescreen frame and an electronic soundtrack, this joke is not very sophisticated anymore today, but rather a cinematic pratfall.
He says that real horror is absent from a story of multiple gory murder and that this can not be right, even though he admits that Scream was a huge success and that audiences loved it. Concluding his critique, Dr. Harvey O’Brien says that he did not like Scream because it is just funny and clever on the most basic level and the script is really hackneyed. Also he thinks that the movie is too long for the constant in-jokes to remain effective and that despite the number of gory murders, Scream is not able to create real terror.
The next source on this topic I am going to summarize is a movie review by Kim Newman, published in Sight and Sound. She says that directors like Wes Craven initiated a new movement that incorporated parodies of the slasher-movies of the 80’s and early 90’s. Newman states that Craven launched this new form beyond parody into post-modernism with his movie Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was – until Scream – the most self-aware, self-reflective slasher-movie ever made. In Newman’s opinion, Scream is mostly concerned with rigorously dissecting and discussing the formula elements of its sub-genre and it offers a lot of witty parody, in-jokes like the school gardener dressed in a Freddy Krueger outfit, and it does not neglect to be genuinely scary.
Also, Newman thinks that some of the interactions between the movie-references in Scream and the actual events are very ironic and funny, e.g. when Randy yells at Jamie Lee