Scream happened at the worst imaginable time
and it’s a miracle anyone saw it. But let’s back up a bit.
In 1764, The Castle of Otranto was – this is probably too far, back. I know where to
begin because I can talk about my other-other boo, George Melies. Watch the HUGO episode
if you haven’t seen it. It’s lonely. In 1896, Melies filmed The Haunted Castle, the
scariest film ever made and also the first scary film ever made. I think from there you
can put the origins of horror on anything like film studios filming circus performers,
Godzilla, War of the Worlds, Psycho, friggin’ The Blob, or Village of the Damned. Horror
definitely existed before 1968, but to the do the genre the correct amount of service,
nothing means nothing until 1968 when George Romero unleashed Night of the Living Dead
onto the world. It changed cinema. People were like holy shit, you can do that? And
according the MPAA: yeah, kind of … you can do that. The world got weird, the Beatles broke up—Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Otis Redding all
passed on–by 1970, things were scary. The 70s are wild times, my lovelies: The Exorcist,
Rosemary’s Baby, Suspiria, The Omen. Horror was an artform that could be used to comment
on society and our shared reality as a metaphor. Poltergeist brought us into the 80s, itself
a commentary on commercialization in suburban development, especially at that very specific
moment in time. You know, building a subdivision on a graveyard and only moving headstones
because you the developer didn’t give a shit in the first place. Right, Coach?
From there, the 80s were when horror went wild.
Focusing on three American franchises for one very important purpose: Halloween, A Nightmare
on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. The moment horror turned into the never-ending 1980s
cocaine waterfall. Make as much money as possible, as fast as possible—the Disney way.
By the 90s in America, the cash flying from a never-ending money tornado was drying up.
There were still horror films making money but it was more cerebral affair: Silence of
the Lambs. Se7en. Nobody in Hollywood wanted a slasher horror movie in the mid-90s.
Enter Kevin Williamson, a writer who used his clout from the movie Scream to make Dawson’s
Creek, but I get ahead of myself. Before that, Williamson was having trouble making ends
meet. One of his screenplays, what would eventually become Teaching Mrs. Tingle was floating around.
He was watching true crime documentaries on tv when it gave him an idea. And that idea
was a script called Scary Movie. Hollywood went nuts for the script so they
started calling all the horror icons they could think of: including Wes Craven, who
said no. Because they all said no, multiple times.
Then Drew Barrymore accepts the lead, Sidney Prescott, in the movie. Which made Wes say
yes. Then Drew says, what if instead of the lead—I
played the character that died in the first reel? Yeah, that was Drew Barrymore’s idea.
Pulling a Psycho on the audience. Enter Neve Campbell and a host of up and comers.
Scream was a wild success, eventually, and we’ll get to that. But Does it Hold Up? Making a successful movie is like throwing
a dart from space and hitting a bullseye. Everything has to go right. Scream was a 14
to 16 million-dollar movie, depending on your source. It opened in 4th place behind the
4th week of the 101 Dalmatians live action remake, the 2nd week of Jerry Maguire, and
… the opening weekend of Beavis and Butthead Do America.
In cinematic terms, Scream was what you’d call an earner. It made more money in its
second week of release than it did the first one. It had a single week, it’s third week
in release, where it managed to top 10,000,000 at the box office domestically. Barely. Scream
had a 23-week run, scraping and fighting and relying on word of mouth to get to its just
barely more than 100-mil haul in the United States. Word of mouth made Scream happen.
Scream is a 1996 film directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson but you already
knew that. I like underdog movies, especially movies that came out during the Tickle Me
Elmo craze. “Times are tough right now, so you gotta do what you can to survive.” Oh here’s a funny one. But did you know Scream is a christmas movie. It was released
on December 20; the logic being that teenagers and horror fans wouldn’t have anything to
watch during the Christmas break. The Christmas where Beavis and Butthead Do America came
out. Because nothing explains Hollywood like convincing a horror icon to direct your film,
despite saying no repeatedly and then releasing that horror movie on Christmas because your
name is Bob Weinstein. Throwing a dart from space.
The most iconic stuff from this movie is seemingly a mistake as well. Like, just listen to Matthew
Lillard talk about his performance in this movie after the fact. “You know it’s kind of
crazy, youth this energy and was fearless and I just kind of was bouncing off the wall.
I look back at that performance and I’m like ‘What was he letting me do?’ it was ridiculous.”
I first saw Scream on VHS at my friend’s house. It rocked my world. It somehow spoofed
and made me think about horror movies, while being the scariest thing I’d ever seen.
If you’ve seen how Scream ends, you know how how wild it gets. “YOU HIT ME WITH THE
PHONE, DICK!” It was so dismissive of horror tropes while actively taking part in them.
And it not only points them out, it disrupts them. “There are certain rules one must abide by
in order to survive a horror movie. You can never have sex. Okay number two, you can never
drink or do drugs. Number three, never ever under any circumstances say ‘I’ll be right
back.’ “It’s a scream, baby! Hold on a sec… I’ll
be right back.” Sydney Prescott: rule breaker “Careful. This is the part where the supposedly dead killer comes back to life.”
“Not in my movie.” Nothing says throwing a dart from space quite
like when you see what was going on with the design of the mask in this film. “I know that they had a lot of people drawing
pictures of scary things. You know, witches, goblins, monsters. And they would send them
to Wes either Wes liked them or didn’t like them.” “Just none of them, to me, looked like the
right mask.” Not until a little painting by Edvard Munch
came around in 1893, did they have their answer and title. You see, while scouting their locations,
it was just on a bed post in the house. Wow, it looks just like Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting
The Scream, they said. Anyway, let’s get back to making our movie called Scary Movie.
What an unlikely and on the nose source of inspiration to just come along, What? Aren’t
all your favorite horror films insprired by Norweigan Expressionist paintings too?
What’s funny is that Scream’s contribution to cinema is really interesting: What if you
made a movie where the characters had all actually seen other movies? “I’m gonna swing
by the video store. I was thinking Tom Cruise and All The Right Moves. You know, if you
pause it just right you can see his penis.” A movie born out of the disaffected 90s.
This movie had every reason to just die on the vine and yet a number of unplanned and
in some cases, entirely accidental factors led to it being a success. I don’t say this
enough especially in an age where people routinely believe that single person makes every decision
on a movie which is 1000% not how movies are made. Here’s a funny way to look at it and
how I think about movies all the time: Movies are a miracle. Getting to release a
film is about the hardest thing you can do and by the time you get there, you will have
made 1001 compromises with everyone from the actors, to the costume department, to the
notes a studio gives you on a daily basis that might be as simple as: “Yeah hey Greg.
There’s not enough people eating sandwiches in the movie. Our data shows movies with sandwiches
in them track well in the 14-19 demo. But like mayonaaise actually tracks really bad with
kids under 15 so we’re thinking like ham and cheese might be the simplest option here.
Let me know what you’re gonna do.” Movies are a miracle.
They’re like throwing a dart from space. The biggest movies of 1996 in America were
Independence Day and Twister. Scream, in a year where R-rated movies did quite well,
arrived in a fitting 13th place for the year. Eraser was 14, a movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger
shoots a crocodile in the face before uttering “You’re luggage.” 1996 was weird, y’all.
Yes, obviously the question in the thumbnail is rhetorical to get people to click the video
and hopefully the audience is met with a bunch of stuff about a film maybe they didn’t
know in the first place. Scream is a movie that very much shouldn’t have happened.
23 weeks at the box office is almost six months! BUT DID YOU KNOW. This one’s pretty cool
so I’m gonna play it twice. BUT DID YOU KNOW
Scream came out on December 20. It showed you can release a solid movie in that window
and basically eat up the box office through the beginning of the year all the way up to
the summer because people don’t have anything else to watch.
Guess who was paying attention to that experiment? Titanic wasn’t done for its original summer
release so it was delayed. But it was released on December 19. Titanic is often lauded for
its clever release schedule but I see you, James. I SEE YOUUUUU
But does it hold up? Yes. Scream in 2019 is almost too relevant. A pair of cis boys blame
powerful women for all of their problems. Women wreck their shit anyway. YOU GOT KILLED
WITH THE TV The tone of this movie is unapologetically
1996. Name a single goal or wish any character has. I’ll wait. Sidney, I guess, wants to
be an actor for at least part of Scream 2. But can you name any goals? Randy? Tatum?
Stu? Billy? Principal Fonzie? We know Sidney very much doesn’t want to be Gayle Weathers
but by movie four, has completed her transformation into becoming Gayle Weathers. I told you Scream
has an arc! I guess slasher films are good at that. You
never get too attached. But that isn’t true either. If your series is about deconstructing
horror films while inside of them, maybe don’t kill the character that literally serves that
purpose in only the second movie. Halloween is really the movie series that
Scream goes after the hardest. It’s pretty hard to watch the first Halloween with the
rules in mind. Maybe Wes Craven was just airing his goofy grievances with John Carpenter.
Who knows. If you like slasher movies, especially ones
that are too smart for their own good, you probably like Scream. I think it represents
a moment in time we probably won’t ever return to. I mean, the movie only works because
it treats having a cell phone like the crime that is. YA BURNT CELL PHONES. Scream is the
last breath of the disaffected 1990s. Generation X The generation before me. I was fourteen
when this came out. Basically, that meant that I went to school, played a lot of Worms
2, and wondered if Jordan Catalano liked me back.
In the previous section, I told a few stories about how much of a nightmare, pun intended
out of respect, this movie was to make and bring to market. It makes Craven’s involvement
more meaningful to me. Especially when you look at what emotions
Scream actually comes from “I think the reason that I passed on it was
my usual stupidity. Just I have this long long career long ambivalence towards doing
genre films but there is an element to the genre that is, uh can be misogynistic for
instance, and always carving up girls. And there’s a part of me that feels like ‘how
much longer do you want to do this?” Nailed it. Another breezy and light Movies with Mikey ending. I think about this moment a lot. That moment where he’s like, oh shit, it was me. Like,
you can’t point out one of those lingering shortcomings of an entire genre and not recognize
your own part in it. I practically made this entire episode about that moment. That lightning
bolt of introspection. Making this episode was a little scary because
it crosses over a lot of avenues I don’t generally enjoy exploring. Wes is no longer
with us and people age. That’s hard as an entertainer and its hard on an entertainer.
But let’s go back to the beginning for a second:
The first film Wes directed was The Last House on the Left, one of the origins of a lot of
exceptionally troublesome tropes that would linger in the horror genre for decades. And
Gene Siskel got it when this film was released, saying:
“My objection to The Last House on the Left is not an objection to the graphic representations
of violence per se, but to the fact that the movie celebrates violent acts, particularly
adult male abuse of young women … I felt a professional obligation to stick around
to see if there was any socially redeeming value in the remainder of the movie and found
none.” That’s a nuanced take on exploitation filmmaking
for 1972. And one I agree with. And again I’m back in this moment.
So, Scream happens. They make Scream 2 immediately. Like, shockingly immediately. It was written,
shot, and released less than a year later – and a week before Titanic. Small world.
Scream 2 only spent 7 weeks at the box office. Are you sitting?
Wes directed Music of the Heart next, a touch-sappy biopic about the very real and worthy of a
movie Roberta Guaspari. Streep was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe because she’s
fantastic and so very watchable in it. It also stars Angela Basset and Gloria Estefan.
It is a perfectly fine Sunday couch and cocoa movies that Wes shot the shit out of.
Next up is Scream 3. And this entire scene with Carrie Fisher makes me ignore every issue
I ever had with this movie. “You work for?” “The president.”
“The president of the studio.” “Fifty dollars? Who are you a reporter for
Woodsboro High?” And then: Cursed in 2005, a delayed release
reteaming with Kevin Williamson that would do for Werewolves what Scream did for those
masks at Spirit of Halloween—that did not go as planned. Wes was vocally not happy with
the end result and all the studio meddling. Red Eye also came out in 2005, a film I absolutely
love that totally goes Sunshine in the third act. But this is a masterclass in thriller
filmmaking for the entire segment they’re on the plane. You should definitely watch
this movie. My Soul to Take in 2010 was a rough one for
Wes. It came from the right place. His wife produced it with him for the first time. It
was also the first time Wes Wrote, Produced, and Directed a film since Wes Craven’s New
Nightmare. You know, lovable chance-taking weird Wes. It didn’t work this time.
So, In 2011, we take one last fun spin around the Scream block with Scream 4. He was 72
when this came out. It was the last film he’d make. The whole movie is worth existing just
for the Hayden Pannitiere phone gag that is 100% Scream. “Name the remake of the ground breaking
horror film in which the villan-“ [Hayden rapidly lists every horror movie ever] I just think it’s really funny that Scream said goodbye like that And then four years later, he was gone. In my head, there aren’t a lot of directors
who just embraced the chaos of the universe quite like Wes Craven—well, maybe Terry
Gillium. So much of their careers operated in Murphy’s Law. Whatever can happen will
happen. Scream carries a lot of weight with me and I think it’s a hell of a fun horror movie
if you’re into that whole brevity thing. I totally understand if it’s not your bag.
To me, it has genuinely likable characters and each film presents a compelling mystery
along with its scares. And I miss him. I miss what he did for Hollywood and I don’t
think there is another person who throws darts from space quite like Craven did. And I just
wanted to tell you a story about why I think that.