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Autor: anton 31 October 2010
Words: 3011 | Pages: 13
10 March 1998
Scream: Not Your Typical Horror Movie
Dracula. Frankenstein. Godzilla. These monsters no longer strike fear into the hearts of viewers as they once did. Formerly the villains of the classic "monster movie," these relics, who now represent all that is archaic in horror film history, move aside to make room for the newcomers. The monster movie of the past makes way for the thriller or slasher movie of the present, while the monster villain gives its role to the deranged psycho/serial killer. The Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and more recently Copycat and Seven, have become the new classics in the genre of the horror film. With films like The People Under the Stairs, Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Nightmare, Wes Craven has proven himself to be a master of the creation of modern horror films.
With his recent masterpiece Scream, Craven shows his audience that he is not restricted by the typical conventions of the horror film. In most of these films, the background is set up before the killer does any actual slashing. However in Scream, Drew Barrymore's character is tormented by the killer from the film's very beginning and both she and her boyfriend are dead less than ten minutes after the opening credits. Craven manages to make Scream a film of less"fluff" and more substance than most thrillers. Recurring themes in the film, such as the lack of teens' seriousness, the callous nature of today's younger generation, the crossover and confusion between reality and movies, and the negative representation of television media not only add to the film's entertainment value, but also often portray a fairly accurate picture of twentieth century America.
Despite all the film's blood and gore, Craven creates a comedic tone so successfully that at times the audience wonders whether Scream might be a comedy after all. Even though the safety of their small town has been shattered by a deranged serial killer, the characters do not seem to take the situation very seriously. The main characters are eating lunch at school the day after the first murders and, as might be expected, the killings make up the topic of their conversation. At one point, the character Randy turns to Tatem, and in a convincing imitation of Billy Crystal, he asks her, "Did they really find her liver in the mailbox? Because I heard they found her liver in the mailbox." Tatem and Sidney, the other female present and the movie's main character, cringe at this tasteless remark. Tatem's boyfriend Stu puts his arm around her protectively and says, "Liver alone." He then bursts out laughing and continues, "Get it? Liver alone?!" When none of the others laugh, Stu's smile fades and he remarks in an incredulous tone, "Liver alone. It was a joke." While Stu's friends may not be able to see past the joke's tactless nature to its humor, I laugh each time Isee the film again.
Not only do the characters not take themselves seriously, they also don't take horror movies seriously. A day after the first murders take place, Sidney Prescott receives a cryptic phone call. However, she is not frightened because she believes the caller to be one of her own friends Randy, a movie lover, calling to harass her. The mysterious caller asks her why she doesn't like horror films and she replies, "What's the point? They're all the same: some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act and is always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It's insulting." As an audience member, I realize that this skeptical"and often accurate"view of horror movies is a message directly from the film's writer and director (Riptov 86).
Later in the film, when Sidney suggests that the killer might still be on the loose, her best friend Tatem replies, "Don't go there, Sid. You're starting to sound like one of those Wes Carpenter flicks." As the audience, we get a laugh out of this statement because not only do we know that Tatem has misnamed Wes Craven, we also know this is a"Wes Craven flick." These scenes are like inside jokes for the viewers; they take on the effect of an actor who "breaks the fourth wall" to make a joke to the audience, a joke that his fellow characters would not appreciate or even understand. We can see the humor in the situations because a little bit of the world we consider reality is projected into the film.
Though the film's tone is often humorous, the characters' lack of seriousness is not always shown in a comedic light. In fact, characters' thoughtless actions often border on callousness and cruelty. One example of this callousness involves an incident that occurs in Woodsboro High School and relates to an event that took place the night after the first murders. This night the killer goes to Sidney's house and attempts to kill her. However, on this occasion, she outsmarts the killer and calls the police who retrieve the Grim Reaper-type costume that the killer discarded. The setting for the film, Woodsboro, is a small town, which is significant for two reasons.
For the viewers, the fact that these atrocities take place in a small town reflects on our collective fear of the degradation of society. In the viewers' minds, if crimes like these take place in Woodsboro, they can happen anywhere. Secondly, this point is important to the plot. Because the town is so small, the next day at school, everyone knows what has happened to Sidney. As Sidney and her friends are standing in the hall by their lockers, two students dressed in costumes identical to the killer's run past them, screaming and making threatening motions. These students are brought into the office of Mr. Himbry, the ever kind and caring principal of Woodsboro High. Once the boys are in his office, he rips off their masks and exclaims, "You make me sick! Your entire havoc-inducing, thieving, whoring generation disgusts me." He then promptly tells the boys that they are expelled. When they cry out that he is being unfair, Himbry strongly replies, "You're right. Fairness would be to rip your insides out, hang you from a tree [the killer's method], and expose you for the heartless, desensitized little shits that you are." Principal Himbry's expulsion of the two students may seem harsh, but in doing so he is upholding his own moral standards.
Himbry refuses to let this insensitive behavior go unnoticed; he cannot allow students to think that it is acceptable to make light of other people's suffering. As the principal makes clear in his first words to the boys in his office, he is worried about their generation. By punishing these particular students for their callous behavior, he is trying to do his small part to save the youth of America. Certainly this portrayal of youth's thoughtlessness has not been pulled out of thin air, but is at least a partial representation of his own experience with the teen generation.
Another predominant theme in Scream is the crossover and confusion between reality and the movies. In this confusion, the film has a sort of meta-theatricality: the movie seems to know it is a movie. In the film, characters compare events happening in their lives to the plot points of a horror movie. When Tatem tells Sidney about the murders of two of their classmates, she describes them as follows: "We're not just talking killed, we're talking splatter-movie killed, ripped open from end to end." Events like these grisly murders seem out of place for Tatem and Sidney because the movie we are watching is supposedly their reality and not a movie. When Tatem compares the crime to the events in a slasher movie, she addresses our secret fears of those same horrors somehow finding their way into our own lives.
Often this mix-up of real life and the movies involves Randy and the video store where he works. After the first two murders and the attack against Sidney, school is cancelled (until further notice). So, students flock to the local video store to rent (what else?) horror movies. Randy's friend Stu shows up and comments that the video store is especially busy. Randy replies in an approving tone, "Yeah. We had a run in the mass murder section." So instead of traumatizing and scaring the students, these murders just seem to whet their appetites for more blood and gore. As he is shelving videos, Randy gives his friend Stu his explanation as to why the police have not caught the killer yet. He says matter-of-factly, "Obviously they don't watch enough movies.
This is standard horror movie stuff." Randy, a connoisseur of the thriller movie, realizes the conventions of this genre and recognizes their appearance in his life. When Stu asks where he thinks Sidney's father is, Randy continues the movie metaphor by saying, "He'll probably pop up in the last reel somewhere." In realistic terms, Randy means that Mr. Prescott will resurface after the murderer is captured and everything is put to right, but instead he uses movie terminology to explain the situation. In this scene, youth is once again depicted as insensitive and truly desensitized. These students can certainly differentiate between reality and the movies; however, they are so desensitized by horror movies that they are unable to recognize the gravity of the situation when "splatter-movie" killings take place in their reality.
A few minutes later in the same scene, Billy Loomis (Sidney's boyfriend and a friend to Stu and Randy) overhears Randy talking about horror movies and then hears him saying that he thinks Billy is the killer. At this point, Billy breaks angrily into the conversation, saying, "Maybe your movie-freaked mind just lost its reality button." Fearing for his own life, Randy assents, "I'm the first to admit it. If this were a scary movie, I'd be the prime suspect." Here is an intentional breach of this genre's conventions, as given by Randy, our film expert. We know that Scream is a scary movie, yet we do not consider Randy to be the prime suspect. In terms of the movie, Randy is a sort of guide figure. He seems to know what is going on when the others do not, because he is looking at the situation as if it were occurring in a horror film. However, to Randy's friends, the advice he has to give does not seem practical. In fact, Billy, an arguably typical horror movie character, seems to find RandyÐ²s knowledge suspect. So, when Billy wants to discredit and insult Randy, he says that he has a "movie-freaked mind, " a condition undoubtedly caused by watching too many movies and therefore losing touch with reality.
So, perhaps Craven wants us to know that his surprises, confusion, and suspense, along with his other exceptional directorial techniques, make this movie transcend the typical horror film. In an interview on National Public Radio, Craven discussed his reasons for making a film that bypasses many of the genre's conventions. Essentially, Craven knows that filmgoers know the formula for the basic horror movie plot so it has, in his words, "reached the point of ennui." People usually know what to expect when they start watching a horror film, so Craven added deeper characterizations, more suspense, plot twists, and satire to add variety to a tired genre (Craven np).
Whatever his goal, Craven does an excellent job confusing the audience members by leaving them wondering what is real and what is not. In the party scene near the end of the movie, the teens are watching horror movies. However, they are unaware that Gale Weathers, a seedy tabloid journalist, has placed a hidden camera in the room and is watching their every move. And finally, the audience is watching the whole thing take place. This sort of layered narrative is an indirect way to make us question our reality. And in a last attempt to confuse the audience, Billy says to Sidney, "It's all a movie, it's all one great big movie. But you can't pick your genre." This statement leaves us wondering if our reality is not reality after all. But more importantly, Craven uses the series of "watchers" to point out our society's voyeuristic tendencies. Though we may initially cringe at blood and gore, the fear inevitably turns to excitement and interest.
Throughout the film, there is a negative representation of the media, specifically television journalism. Reporters are depicted as cruel, insensitive, and greedy people who do not care who they hurt as long as they get their story on the air. The media as a whole is shown to be primarily interested in sensationalism. Woodsboro's gruesome murders are featured on the town's nightly news, as well as the tabloid show Top Story. Both programs try to lure their audience in with the ghastly tale, and Top Story even "presents (the) 'real-life' murders as entertainment" (Pinedo 134).
A segment for the nightly news is taped in front of Woodsboro High just after school has been let out for the day and the students are filing out of their classes. The reporter describes the murders that have been committed and ends her report by saying, "Now we can only wait and wonder who will be next." With this final statement, this reporter baits the viewers, hoping to lure them in with the event's horrifying nature. She encourages her audience to "wonder who will be next" instead of voicing fear or regret that the killer has not been caught. She attempts to incite an intense and macabre interest in her viewers rather than the concern or compassion that would be expected in such a situation. But it is not just the media that is being depicted in these portrayals, it is our society. As a society we want to hear the grisly details, to see the blood and gore. The media panders to these unacceptable desires.
In another show of blatant insensitivity, a news anchor accosts Sidney as she steps out of the police car that was her escort to school and asks, "How does it feel to be almost brutally butchered?" And when the sheriff's deputy tells the woman to back off, she yells, "People want to know. They have a right to know.' As well as illustrating journalists' insensitivity, this scene depicts the media's intrusion into, and interference with, our personal lives. This reporter seems to believe that by reporting on Sidney's reactions to being "almost brutally butchered," she is really doing the public a service. Or more likely, she simply realizes the draw of violence and will do anything possible to attract an audience.
Just as the tabloid show is the trash of television journalism, Gale Weathers, of Top Story, is the trash of television journalists. Indeed, she is the epitome of bad journalism. Greedy and manipulative, cruel and underhanded, Gale seems to be not only a bad journalist, but also a bad person, or at least a completely unfeeling one, if the two are not mutually exclusive. As soon as the first murders take place, Gale shows up at the high school with her microphone and her camera-man. Her callous nature is clearly evident when she probes Sidney--whose mother had been brutally killed a year before--without any consideration for her feelings. Obviously, Gale's ethics are either non-existent or seriously warped. When she learns that she may be able to save convicted murderer Cotton Weary from an undeserved execution, her reaction is a surprising one. "An innocent man on death row. A killer still on the loose. Tell me I'm dreaming! If I'm right about this I could save a man's life. Do you know what that would do for my book sales?" Once again, Weathers shows that she is nearly bereft of morals. Her television show, and even possibly her name, may seem ridiculous and unbelievably trashy on screen, but it exactly mirrors shows like Hard Copy. Gale Weathers, with her flashy suits and underhanded "journalism" tactics, is perhaps a slight exaggeration, but nevertheless a realistic depiction of a seedy tabloid journalist.
With Scream, Craven gives his audience a means of escape from their own reality. However, at the same time, he keeps us grounded in reality by giving an at least semi-accurate portrayal of common human behavior and emotions. But is there any true value in Scream? Should we agree with Sidney that horror movies are all the same: ridiculous, pointless, and insulting to our intelligence?
Certainly, for those who like horror movies, black comedies, or even satire, there is entertainment value in Scream. And according to Stephen King, the guru of the horror genre, horror films may also have therapeutic value. In his essay "Why We Crave Horror Movies," King puts forth his belief that we all have "anticivilization emotions," such as homicidal urges, particular sexual desires, and certain unacceptable fears. These films, he says, satisfy these urges vicariously and therefore quell them, assuring that we remain productive m mbers of society (King 500). So, perhaps if you are in need of this type of therapy, or in search of an offbeat study in American popular culture, all that you need is a good horror film. Rent Scream or go to a movie theater to see the sequel. You will probably be surprised by what you see, and you might even be impressed.
Craven, Wes. Interview. Fresh Air. National Public Radio. KQED, San Francisco. 16 February 1998.
King, Stephen. Ð³Why We Crave Horror Movies.? Common Culture.
Petracca, Michael and Madeleine Sorapure, eds. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1995.
Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Grant, Barry Keith, editor. Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1984.
Newman, Kim. Nightmare Movies. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.
Riptov, S.A. Kidnapped Corpus Whasamat Univ. Press, 1984
Scream. Dir. Wes Craven. With David Arquette, Neve Campbell,
Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, and Drew Barrymore. Dimension Films, 1997.
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