Scream (1996)

Rating 18

Length 1Hr 51

Release 2.5.1997

About Wes Craven re-invented and revitalised the slasher-horror genre with this modern horror classic, which manages to be funny, clever and scary, as a fright-masked knife maniac stalks high-school students in middle-class suburbia. Craven is happy to provide both tension and self-parody as the body count mounts – but the victims aren’t always the ones you’d expect.


First Thoughts

I saw the sequel before I saw this one. Watching it while playing Cluedo. So when I came to watching the film that started the franchise, I thought perhaps the suspense would be ruined.

Treat

  • It’s a meta horror feast complete with Easter egg visuals and references, but it does also work as a movie in its own right. By that, I mean that I watched it back in 1998 which minimal knowledge of the genre and it didn’t hinder my enjoyment. There’s the obvious (Halloween) and there’s the subtle (Billy’s surname being Loomis).
  • There’s a clear victim that becomes the focus, but this is very much an ensemble movie which allows this film to be more than your typical slasher. After all, everyone’s a suspect.
  • Skeet Urlrich must have been cast for his resemblance of Depp in Nightmare. It’s scary how much he looks like Johnny Depp and it certainly helps the audience believe that he’s innocent. Until of course he goes all psycho on us in the final act.
  • The opening scene and its Psycho connection is a multi layered reference. The film opens up to child star Drew Barrymore, a relatively known name at the time. She appears on the promotional material, making you think that she’s a lead in Scream. However, taking her last scream in the first 12 minutes is not dissimilar to Janet Leigh’s role in Psycho. A well used tactic like this would undoubtedly put the audience on edge from the start.
  • Neve Campbell’s Sidney is a Scream Queen hybrid; she’s the wholesome youngster with that innocent vibe, however, she’s traumatised and holds her own to almost stand apart from the Queens of Halloween and Elm Street. Having her call Ghostface’s bluff upon receiving her first phone call is something an audience would like to think they would do when faced with a situation like this and it’s Sidney’s seemingly unrelated back story that allows the audience to believe that she is just that tired of this kind of shit.
  • The music and score are on point. From Red Right Hand, School’s Out and Drop Dead Gorgeous to the incorporation of Halloween’s score and it’s own original score, the film uses music to foreshadow and further support the subversion of the genre.

Trick

  • Dewey ruins a lot of the scenes he’s in. There’s a comedic element to the film and there’s no doubt about that. However, Arquette really does make me wonder how Dewey graduated from high school, let alone gained his police badge.
  • The film’s success gave birth to a resurgence of the spoof movie, starting with Scary Movie. The problem with these types of films is that they take it a million steps too far and root the narrative in current culture that ensures the references lose all impact by the time they reach dvd sales. They are the Primark or movies: disposable fashion that falls apart not too long after you bought it. Yeah, thanks Scream for Epic/ Date/ Disaster Movie, we really needed those in our lives.
  • While Courtney Cox gives a surprise, and solid, performance as bitch reporter Gail Weathers, it’s a character that suffers in hindsight by the sequels. Much like her face, Cox’s performances because ridged and tiresome. The woman Cox portrays here is a character, whereas when we meet her in Scream 3, she’s a caricature that has melded into Cox’s shouty Monica performance. It makes this encore viewing a little bitter.

Final Thoughts

A film that can be watched on many levels and is ageing much better than its sequels.

The Frighteners (1996)

Rating: 15

Length: 1Hr 50

Release: 24.1.1997

About: Once an architect, Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) now passes himself off as an exorcist of evil spirits. To bolster his facade, he claims his “special” gift is the result of a car accident that killed his wife. But what he does not count on is more people dying in the small town where he lives. As he tries to piece together the supernatural mystery of these killings, he falls in love with the wife (Trini Alvarado) of one of the victims and deals with a crazy FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs).


Treat

  • Michael J Fox and Jeffery Combs are perfectly cast. Fox’s role is a little bittersweet knowing that it’s his last as a Hollywood leading man and a career cut way too short. It’s a character that allows Fox to show give a much more layered performance.
  • Combs looks like he’s having the best time playing the messed up FBI agent. There’s nothing I’ve seen where he doesn’t bring his a-game and this is no exception.
  • The feel of this film not only recalls Back to the Future, but Goonies, Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters as well. I went into the film knowing it was directed by Peter Jackson however it really does have the tone of a Zemeckis film.
  • I quite like the romantic sub plot of Frank and Lucy. Perhaps a little in bad taste, what with him still being at the table and all, but their chemistry works and her dead husband was a dick.
  • The cameo of R Lee Ermey as a loud and shouty sergeant Is a subtle stroke of genius. I haven’t seen Full Metal Jacket, but I’ve seen enough clips to get the reference. If it had been someone else doing it, it would have been a lovely nod. To get the original actor on board is awesome.

Trick

  • Not the fault of the film. It was an amazing task at the time, but there is slightly too much CGI for me. I love the construction of the etherial ghosts, but the form coming out of the wall and the apparition cloaked as Death seem to lack the same quality.
  • I did not like the ghost fucking the mummy! Just weird. I am also aware, however, I could watch this another time and the exact same scene could have me pissing myself laughing.
  • It’s about 20-30 minutes too long for me. Perhaps it’s because recently all the films I’ve watched have rarely passed the 1 hr 30 mark, but I don’t think anything is gained with the added half an hour.

Final Thoughts

A film that is better than its box office suggests and a perfect watch for Halloween. It’s also a must see for fans of Jackson’s follow up films that relied heavily on the technical achievements from this movie.

The Craft (1996)

Rating: 15

Length: 1Hr 41

Release: 8.11.1996

About: After transferring to a Los Angeles high school, Sarah (Robin Tunney) finds that her telekinetic gift appeals to a group of three wannabe witches, who happen to be seeking a fourth member for their rituals. Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk), like Sarah herself, all have troubled backgrounds, which combined with their nascent powers lead to dangerous consequences. When a minor spell causes a fellow student to lose her hair, the girls grow power-mad.


Treat

  • As with many films of the 90s, this has an amazing soundtrack. From Our Lady Peace to Letters to Cleo, this is the embodiment of teen movies of the time.
  • Fairuza Baulk is incredibly, freakily good in this film. Especially when it comes to her going completely bat shit crazy. I’ve seen a few articles calling her out as the hero of the film and there’s certainly something to that, if she wasn’t a murdering psychopath.
  • The cast on the whole is solid and it took me forever to recognise Riverdale’s FP Jones (Skeet Utlrich) as the ‘heart throb’ Chris.
  • The film deals with some heavy shit and doesn’t sugar coat life in high school the way some others do; self harm, sexual assault and feminism are all dealt with fully and tastefully. However, it is the film’s exploration of racism that really has power. I’d not seen a film like it and it’s fair to say none have since.
  • The theme of witchcraft is something I’d not seen in this way before; dispelling the stereotypes allowing for the film to explore everything from sisterhood to wish fulfilment. It’s something we later see in Charmed, Buffy and Hex.
  • The effects are incredible, even now. I think that’s largely to do with using practical effects where possible. Obviously there’s the snakes and various bugs towards the end, there’s the levitation and there’s the ‘glamour’. However my favourite is when Bonnie’s skin peels away.

Trick

  • For a film that builds up a strong friendship, I struggle that there isn’t a balance by the end. I’ve never really liked that Sarah begins being isolated and alone and ends the same way.
  • As much as I love Rochelle’s storyline with her racist bully and Bonnie’s about her self image, both are sidelined and lack fully development. So often, after the invocation, the two girls seem very out of character and more extensions of Nancy. Perhaps that’s the point, but I’m not sure I like it as it leaves Sarah little room to forgive them.
  • There are two sexual assault scenes. Two! Just repeating that because it’s very important that we acknowledge both. There’s the initial Chris and Sarah scene which is bad enough. Read; he is a dick for what he does. However, there is another involving Chris as the victim. Nancy rapes Chris and it’s something that needs to be acknowledged, on and off the screen, but is lost in his death and Nancy’s unraveling. While media is getting better on screen in dealing with sexual assault, I feel as if this was glossed over a little too easily and could have been a perfect time to explore and deconstruct another misconception about gender and sexual assault.
  • Why the fuck does Nancy say ‘where are you going?’ In some really shit Jamaican accent?! I’ve always pissed myself at that choice of delivery and can ruin the tension built up in the scene.

Final thoughts

A film I enjoy watching more than I do critiquing it. You find flaws when you’re looking for them, and this is one film where I preferred ignorance.

The Cure (1996)

Length: 1Hr 37

Rating: 12

Release: 14.6.1996

About: Having just moved to a new town, Erik (Brad Renfro) is thrilled when he makes friends with his younger neighbor, Dexter (Joseph Mazzello), and his friendly mom (Annabella Sciorra). Despite the disapproval of his own neglectful mother (Diana Scarwid), Erik grows close to Dexter, who suffers from AIDS. As the disease’s impact on Dexter’s life grows more noticeable, Erik and Dexter embark on a quest to New Orleans down the Mississippi River, where hope may yet lie with a doctor there.


The Good

  • It’s a well made film that could easily sit alongside your Sunday afternoon classics; Stand By Me, My Girl and Forever Young. The two boys will draw you in, right before your heart is broken.
  • It’s a powerful look at the impact of HIV and the social misconception that surrounded the auto immune disease at the time.
  • I love the fact that Medicine Man gets a mention here. It was one of my favourite films as a kid. I do love how they initially try out candy bars as a cure, before moving on to plants.

The Bad

  • I think I needed a scene or two from the mothers while the boys were away. While there are a powerful scene or two including them, I feel as if I need to see the reaction to the letter.

The Ugly

  • You’ll cry. Fat ugly tears! There’s a reason why I referenced the films that I did. The moment of the first ‘cry wolf’, you’ll know how it’ll happen too.
  • If that bit doesn’t get you, the final scene most definitely will.