Scream – An Introduction

Here is the transcript for Darrell Buxton’s great introduction to Friday’s Fright Club screening of the Wes Craven classic Scream.

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Hello and welcome to QUAD, for another movie in our current ‘Teens Rule OK!’ season, once again tonight in conjunction with our regular ‘Fright Club’ horror slot. This evening we’re offering you Wes Craven’s modern horror classic, SCREAM. I’ll start with a trivia question, worthy of the film’s killer Ghostface himself. What was the title of the fourth SCREAM movie? Answer to be revealed at the end.

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Wes Craven As Fred the Janitor in Scream.

 

It’s odd that director Wes Craven has never really made a film on a Jekyll and Hyde theme, since his own life and career contain tendencies towards the schizophrenic. Not only does Wes look like a mild mannered university professor, he was one, teaching humanities at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York, and yet somehow found his way into the wild world of horror movies. Within the genre too, his filmography falls into two distinct halves. You rarely get an average, ordinary Craven shocker. His films either change the entire face of screen terror, something he’s arguably achieved on at least four occasions, or are complete disasters, rushed, unfinished, laden with tales of on-set conflict. He also diverts away from horror occasionally, but again goes to extremes when he does. Where most errant horror directors stray no further than making violent thrillers or moving towards dark science fiction or fantasy territory, Craven’s work away from the genre has included a children’s film for Disney, 1986’s CASE BUSTERS, and the violin-based Meryl Streep drama MUSIC OF THE HEART.

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He’s also skipped between horror for the big and small screens, being one of the few movie directors to have also dabbled in the realm of the made for TV feature, with films like SUMMER OF FEAR and INVITATION TO HELL. And even when he does sequels, you can never be certain of the quality. THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II, a film funded by British video distributors in the wake of overwhelming demand from U.K. rental store patrons, is a travesty, apparently released in an incomplete rough cut; the further entries in the SCREAM franchise are variable and not a patch on the original that we’re presenting tonight. Just because a film knows and tells you that it is a cash-in, doesn’t make it any less of a cash-in!

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Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 – Horror ‘Classic’.

 

And yet Craven’s return to the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise with WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE was perhaps the best of the Freddy Krueger series, an incisively clever examination of the horror movie marketplace and the demands of the sequel conveyor belt.

As mentioned earlier, it’s likely that Craven shifted the boundaries of horror several times during his career, something that even the best of his contemporaries probably only managed once each. 1973’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT set new benchmarks for attitudes towards screen violence, with a middle class couple being driven to outdo the sleazy tormentors of their daughter in terms of depravity; THE HILLS HAVE EYES continued and developed these social issues, pitting a mutant family against a so-called ‘normal’ one; A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is like the Beatles of the horror film, turned down by studio after studio over a five year period before finally emerging and reigniting horror for a post E.T. generation that had almost forgotten how to be frightened, proving influential on both an instant and a lasting basis  – hard to believe in the tabloid times we live in, this series turned a loathsome paedophile into a wisecracking hero for the Fangoria crowd.

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Which brings us to Craven’s fourth gamechanger, tonight’s movie SCREAM. Now there had been self referential scary in the past. The British movie HAND OF DEATH PART 25: JACKSON’S BACK, and our favourite ‘Friday the 13th’ flick here at QUAD, JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI, were among a handful of titles whose characters seemed aware that they were part of a fiction, or referenced cliches and traits of the horror genre throughout. And don’t forget that there had even been a film titled SCREAM before, in 1981, though that is considered by slasher movie connoisseurs to be one of the worst body count movies of the era. But in 1996, a screenplay by Kevin Williamson, penned as ‘Scary Movie’, became the basis for Wes Craven’s next foray into fear; and SCREAM became the surprise hit of that year, temporarily reviving the fortunes of the somewhat unfashionable slasher subgenre and making masked killers wielding huge carving knives trendy once again.

Williamson’s constantly inventive script takes the basic one-by-one murder procession of the traditional early 80s psycho movie but SCREAM introduces four elements that are new. Firstly, the cast includes major stars, people who can actually act a bit. Secondly, Williamson’s characters are slightly more knowing than your regular victims-in-waiting, with a mature air about their words and deeds  – a teen audience would, he recognised, identify with these people all the more if they came across as intelligent and rounded. Thirdly, the movie adopts all the standard elements of post-HALLOWEEN fare yet somehow does so with skill and originality  – take the ‘Ghostface’ mask worn by its killer as an example, or the twist ending which manages to catch the viewer off guard here despite similar ideas having been used on previous occasions elsewhere  – it’s a very skilful use of cliche to create something fresh and exciting, and possibly paved the way for THE SIXTH SENSE and 28 DAYS LATER… to do something similar in rebooting old worn-out horror concepts for a generation that hadn’t experienced them before. And finally, perhaps most important of all to SCREAM’s critical success was Williamson’s archness, the manner in which he has his characters constantly commenting on the action, almost as if they are watching the movie rather than participating in it. The writer clearly understood the nature of the horror audience, and you can tell he must have sat among many cinema crowds previously and listened to paying customers yelling at dumb cypher characters to not go into that darkened cellar, not walk home alone, not ignore the advice of the local crazy drunk. SCREAM works on additional levels if you really know your horror minutiae, too  – the opening device whereby the killer telephones potential prey and tests them with trivia questions is one that must have made every geek fanboy budding scriptwriter in Hollywood wish they’d thought of it first.

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Speaking of which, back to that trivia question I posed to you at the start of this intro. The first film is called SCREAM, the second SCREAM 2, the third SCREAM 3. But the fourth is entitled SCRE4M. And here’s our disclaimer, QUAD takes no responsibility for what might happen to you at home if you gave the wrong answer…

 

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