HOLLYWOOD—I really thought hard about this week’s column, as we wrap our month long discussion on all things spooky in the genre of horror. This week the discussion landed on the quintessential ‘whodunit’ subgenre that really destroyed horror in my opinion during the 1980s as it did its best to intertwine itself with the slasher subfield. Things became more about ‘whydunit’ versus ‘whodunit’ if you ask me. Usher in an original, clever and entertaining flick from 1996 titled “Scream” which saved the horror genre as we know it.
“Scream” was unlike anything ever seen before; it was smart, the characters were well-developed and most importantly balanced scares with wit and comedy, all along asking the audience to discover the killer or killer’s identities before the big revelation. Now, I know I’m cheating a bit here, but I honestly can’t help myself. Picking just one flick to represent the entire ‘whodunit’ subgenre is not easy. I wanted to land solely on “Scream,” but when I reflect on the first flick, one killer was so obvious it didn’t make the revelation fun in my opinion.
However, its sequel “Scream 2” not only had a shocker for the revelation of its first killer, but the second killer comes so far out of left field I remember jaws dropping and at aghast in the movie theater when the flick came out. When it comes to “Scream 3” it has flaws people, but it was still an entertaining flick that did leave fans of the franchise eager to know the identity of the killer and “Scream 4” did it’s best to reinvigorate the franchise for a short-time frame; we can only hope original scripter Kevin Williamson, sometime in the near future divulges all the juicy details of what he planned as a revitalized trilogy or takes over directing and writing duties to give fans what they want: a finale that blows their minds.
Let’s turn the focus back to “Scream.” Its premise is so simple; a girl gets a phone call in the middle of the night. At first all seems innocent, but with the blink of the eye, the revelation that she is being watched turns what seems like innocent flirting to a deadly game to survive. “Scream” did something that other horror films failed to do: utilize the advancement of technology to its advantage. We’ve always had the telephone, but now answering the phone could lead to one’s demise. Not to mention the evolution of the cell phone that makes tracing a phone call that much more difficult.
Director Wes Craven, God bless his soul, who helmed all four flicks, knows how to craft suspense and gives the audience the blood and violence they want without it being too over the top. Oh, we can’t forget our resident scream queen Neve Campbell who portrays our heroine Sidney Prescott. Yes, Sidney is naïve and innocent in the first installment, come sequel she is a badass, come trilogy time she is a recluse and with the franchise’s latest outing she is damaged goods. The character has evolved over time, and without a doubt is far from one note.
The iconic Ghostface costume has become synonymous with all things Halloween. The biggest element of the franchise is that it makes nearly everyone a suspect or potential target, and trying to pinpoint the clues and put the pieces of the puzzle together is what makes this franchise not only scary, but entertaining. I mean be honest; we all knew Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) was one of the killers. However, coming to the realization that goofy ole Stu (Matthew Lillard) was his co-conspirator was indeed a surprise.
I still hold “Scream 2” as the greatest ‘whodunit’ revelation because not in a million years did I ever, and I mean ever expect Debbie Salt aka Billy Loomis’ mother to be the mastermind working with Mickey to be a killer. The idea of her being a potential killer never crossed my mind, and even Mickey’s reveal was a shocker to some degree. He was not the obvious red herring that Billy was in the first flick. Also I might get some slack for this, but “Scream 2” is actually a sequel that surpassed the original in so many ways: smarter, scarier, bigger, bolder and the suspense was through the roof.
I mean that car sequence where Sidney and Hallie have to escape through the front window, a quintessential example of how to create unfettering suspense people. The movie loses points for allowing Dewey to live when if he would have died I would rank the flick even higher. It was almost like a cheat, and I like the notion that if you’re going to go there and knock-off a well-liked character, don’t try to pull a wool over the audience by miraculously bringing them back as the credits role.
If you are looking for a great scare and a flick with mystery and surprises, the “Scream” Franchise delivers. Note: watch “Scream” and “Scream 2” first, you can watch the others afterwards; I’d do “Scream 4” before “Scream 3” in my honest opinion though.