How ‘Scream’ Revitalized The Slasher-Horror Genre

By Julia Wilson, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Scream has become one of those classic horror franchises along with others such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. However, Scream differs from the latter three in the sense that part of its purpose is to parody them.

In short, Scream is about a masked murderer who goes on a killing spree that is interspersed with creepy phone calls and centers around the murderer’s main target, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). As the series progresses you find out why Sidney is always targeted and more of the backstory.

The first Scream movie came out in 1996 and it proved to be a pivotal point for the horror genre. In the early 90’s the genre seemed to have hit a little bit of a lull, unable to find itself after the massive successes of the 70’s and 80’s including Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. After those three the slasher genre seemed to be done with until the release and massive critical and financial success of Scream, which is still currently the highest grossing slasher film of all time.

Scream was able to revitalize slasher movies and bring the horror genre back to life due in part to its self awareness. Throughout the film – and every film in the series – the characters use common horror cliches to try and figure out who the killer (or killers) is and how to survive the killing spree. This includes the character Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy)  infamous three rules on how to survive a horror movie: don’t have sex, don’t drink, and never say “you’ll be right back”. The final scene of Halloween is even playing in the background of the last part of the film as though guiding the progression of it.

The film also was able to revitalize the slasher genre by doing something that the originals hadn’t – make it realistic. In Scream, Ghostface, as the killer is dubbed, isn’t superhuman, he doesn’t appear in your dreams, he’s just a real person going around killing people with a knife and playing with their emotions through phone calls. A premise based in reality as screenwriter Kevin Williamson was inspired by the real killings of the Gainesville Ripper.

The other thing this franchise did right is it knew when to stop, as there are only four films, which is much less than other big horror franchises, and each film had a distinct purpose.

The first film of course was just touching on horror cliches in general. Scream 2 talked specifically about the rules of horror sequels, and Scream 3 showed how horror trilogies often go off the rails and give you a “preponderance of backstory” as Randy says. Then, after the many horror remakes of the late 2000’s, they made one last movie, Scream 4, featuring a lot of new characters and touching on all the common trends seen in horror remakes.

The films were directed by Wes Craven, who also created the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and wow did he do an amazing job. The dialogue in the film, written by Williamson, was also brilliantly done. It felt so real with the way the characters spoke and how they used what they knew, horror cliches, to try to figure out what was happening in their little town.

The combined use of self-aware humor and a killer that could actually exist, not only made this movie scarier, but gave the slasher genre the refreshment it needed to continue. Scream remains one of the most well done horror franchises and is still referenced and talked about even over 20 years after the first film was released.

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One thought on “How ‘Scream’ Revitalized The Slasher-Horror Genre”

  1. Self awareness is the perfect word. Scream revolutionized the slasher genre because it is smart and indicates all of the visible issues in horrors that came before it while still being cutting edge and innovative. Also they did not saturate the franchise by calculating each release and making sure they had a good story not just issuing irrelevant movies just for a profit. Nice write up!

    Liked by 1 person

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