Yes, Scream (1996) is Still That Good – Retro Review

Justice for Matthew Lillard, as I always say. His performance in Scream (1996) is so dedicated, he’s drooling all over the place in the final confrontation scene. Forever in my heart, he is still my favorite horror villain. Spoiler alert if you somehow haven’t seen this movie yet, even though I just did last year.

I was incredibly afraid of horror until the release of Us (2019) in theaters and following that I still needed someone to hold my hand while I got acquainted with the genre. My dear best friend Emily stayed with me for a week last year and showed me a bunch of horror that I had never seen, including Wes Craven’s notorious Scream. The first scene scared me so much that I made her stand outside my bathroom door just in case Lillard decided to crawl through my apartment with very little windows, but I still had a great time.

I have been thinking about the opening scene a lot lately and I don’t think I will ever get over how perfectly it is crafted, with the rest of the film that is just as perfect to follow. If you didn’t know, Scream opens on a young Drew Barrymore as Casey who has a blonde bob with bangs as she answers the phone to a mysterious caller while home alone. The caller begins to get invasive until he is standing outside on her back porch in the infamous Ghostface costume with her bloody boyfriend Steve tied to a chair. The tension continues to build, and what we thought was going to be a fun campy scene turns into a genuinely scary set-up for this film that blends satire flawlessly with actual horror. The caller tests Casey’s knowledge of “scary movies,” but when she gets the answer to “who is the killer in Friday the 13th?” wrong (it’s Jason’s mom, not Jason), Ghostface kills her boyfriend right in front of her. He then chases her and brutally kills her and ties her up in a tree for her parents to find when they get home. Thus begins Scream.

Wes Craven manages to introduce us to the tone of the movie perfectly, setting us up to understand that horror media exists in this world, but it is still not exempt to the terror of the world. It’s just like our world: we can predict events based on tropes we see in movies all we want, but if it’s happening in real life, we still probably will not follow the formula. As the caller, Ghostface is funny and charming and uses this power to comfort Casey so once he leans into his true intentions, she is shocked, and so scared that she does not know what to do. She really is frozen in fear, unable to escape the killer, who ends up being one of her classmates and former lovers.

Which brings us to the perfect villain: acquaintances in a party of two. Billy (Skeet Ulrich) is the boyfriend of protagonist and absolute 90s babe Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Stu (Matthew Lillard) is one of the boys in their friend group who talks like a surfer even though he never once does that. Together they make up Ghostface, terrorizing the town together in disguise. Craven goes to show that the killer in our real-life world is not always a stranger who has escaped from a dangerous place, or a demon who comes from a dream world; most of the time the slasher is someone close to you. Sidney needing to fight off her own boyfriend and their fellow best friend makes Scream ever relevant to our world: he is not Michael Myers, he is sitting right next to us. Though the film is satire, this premise makes Scream even scarier than its slasher predecessors. 

When you revisit the film, or if you have not seen it yet, take it all in, and I hope it still gives you the ride of your life. Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have given us the perfect slasher: one that will live in horror history as one of the greats, and it has the conventions to prove it. 

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