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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Scream

Starring: Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich
Director: Wes Craven
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Courteney Cox, David Arquette, W. Earl Brown, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Liev Schreiber, Henry Winkler, Drew Barrymore

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Wes Craven's career as a director is starting to get more interesting - he seems to be finally exploring the mysteries of horror as he did in the classic 1984 film "A Nightmare On Elm Street." His subsequent films didn't match that one's genuine power or mystery as witnessed by the horribly misguided "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" or the jarring horror-comedy "Vampire in Brooklyn." "Scream" is a visually impressive movie and it attempts to revise and transcend the typical slasher flick with mixed results. At the very least, it tries.

"Scream" is set in a typical L.A. suburb where the local high school teenagers worship the torpid slasher flicks of the 80's, including the Jamie Lee Curtis screaming roles from "Halloween" to "Prom Night." They know all the formulas and cliches by heart, and they worship them with unmitigated glee. Neve Campbell, from TV's "Party of Five," stars as Sidney, a virginal teenager who is receiving strange calls from a stalker; he keeps quizzing her on slasher movies. Sidney's mother was killed by a stalker, and she is torn (pardon the pun) by how he mentions intimate details of her. Enter Sidney's pals, which include her anxious boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and her best friend (Rose McGowan from "The Doom Generation"). I will omit the other cast members for now because part of the fun of this thriller is that we don't know who the killer is, it could be any of Sidney's clique of friends.

Strange murders start occurring at the high school and Billy is a prime suspect. Feeling that her life is in danger, Sidney attends an all-night slasher video party with her pals. Although not as naive as her friends, Sidney should know better than to go to her friend's house (after all, she watches those dumb movies, too). No medals for anyone who guesses that the killer may be there. And if these teenagers are so clever, why do they make the same mistakes as the cartoonish teens in those movies?

"Scream" is a smart, very entertaining satiric thriller in the first three-quarters. It is only until the last quarter that the movie opts to be as bloodily nauseating and predictably stupid as any of the slasher flicks it pretends to mock. Instead of throwing us surprising thrills and chills, it goes for nonstop gore and an avalanche of stabbings and pointless cruelty - blood filling up the screen is not scary. Craven takes the easy route rather than enthralling us in our seats with unimaginable horror as he does in roughly the first hour and ten minutes.

The pleasures in "Scream," though, are many. The electrifyingly intense and scary opening sequence with Drew Barrymore is one of the most thrilling sequences in any thriller I've ever seen. Another plus is the killer who wears a black cape, and a mask that resembles Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, thus making the killer a monstrous figure of pain. The performances by the actors set the right tone for this material. Neve Campbell makes Sidney into an effective heroine; a girl tortured by the painful memory of her mother's death, and with the sad notion that her boyfriend could be the killer. Rose McGowan is beguiling to watch with her huge eyes and Betty Boop lips as Sidney's no-nonsense pal, and there's the brooding Skeet Ulrich who resembles Johnny Depp from the original Elm Street. There's also a pointed jab at the media with a "To Die For" news reporter (Courteney Cox) who wants to find this stalker by any means necessary. There are also numerous in-jokes and cameos, including Wes Craven himself as a janitor named Fred and, if you're quick, Linda Blair as a reporter.

"Scream" is scary, effective and sometimes haunting, and balances elements of comedy, horror and satire with ease. But when the typical stalker-in-the-house routine ending comes in making Sidney less stronger than she was previously, it's all blood and guts with no imagination or real sense of terror. Craven's idea was to make a film that would transcend all the cliches of the slasher film genre, invent some new ones, and bring a creepy sense of menace to the proceedings. By the end, it's Craven wallowing in the bloody thrills rather than poking fun at them, and reinventing them.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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