Scream – Self-referential as hell

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When I first saw that Scream was playing at the cinema again (one night only!), I had two thoughts; one was that I needed to get my ticket straight away and the second was that damn, time is moving too fast when ‘90s movies are now 20 years old!  Being only six years old in 1996, I never got to see Scream on the big screen.  In fact, when my older sister described to me the brutal death of Drew Barrymore in that very first scene, I refused to watch it until only years ago.  Now that scene is one of my favourite horror scenes ever.

The thing about Scream is that 20 years later, it still holds up.

Now, if you’re one of these people who have only seen the TV show… Well, you need to see the movie.  The show is fine, I know people who love it, but what some people don’t realise is that Scream was not only just a really good ‘90s movie; it actually revived the horror scene.  You see, in the ‘90s, horror, particularly the slasher genre, was in a slump after a long-running success through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Success stories of the ‘80s like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play were all on their umpteenth sequels which, for the most part weakened with every one (bar perhaps Child’s Play!)  The slasher genre was wearing pretty threadbare.  There’s only so much you can do with a bunch of kids stalked by a masked killer, right?  Wrong.

That’s where Scream comes in and offers the freshness the genre was in dire need of.

The really fun thing about Scream is it’s awareness of its own genre and audience, and what postmodern film theory wonks like to call ‘intertextual references.’  This is best summed up in Randy’s speech about the rules of surviving a horror movie; 1) You won’t survive if you have sex, 2) You won’t survive if you drink or do drugs and 3) You won’t survive if you say ‘I’ll be right back.’  Poking fun at the entire genre, it then goes on to defy each and every one of these rules.

This is not the only time Scream is self-referential and makes fun of itself.  My favourite scene is when protagonist Sydney (the brilliant Neve Campbell) says ‘They’re all the same… some girl running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.’  Better yet, in not only this movie but every Scream movie following, a girl is seen running up the stairs instead of out the front door.

Adding to that is, of course, the iconic Ghostface.  At times he seems terrifying, at others hilarious.  He is probably the clumsiest masked killer to grace the screen.  Wearing a mask might produce a frightening aesthetic but in itself doesn’t introduce any particular killer skills to Ghostface—the person behind the mask is still just a human being (or two).


It is this awareness of itself that allows Scream to flourish.  Never has a horror movie or its characters been so aware of the genre.  The film has a constant needling at the tropes and countless horror movie references (you’ve got to love when the director can make fun of himself – ‘You’re beginning to sound like one of those Wes Carpenter films’ – Wes Craven often had his named meshed with Halloween director John Carpenter), emphasising the social commentary on how desensitised youth had become after sitting through the ‘80s slasher craze.  But as Billy (Sydney’s boyfriend) says ‘Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!’

Scream paved the way for horror to be reclaimed by the youth.  Sure, there were great ‘90s horrors such as Silence of the Lambs, Candyman, Se7en, Misery, Interview with the Vampire, The Sixth Sense and so on.  However, it was Scream that refocused horror on the teen audience giving way to movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Final Destination, The Faculty, Disturbing Behaviour and many more, albeit often repetitive.

This is a film that will remain a classic.  To this day, there has not been a horror film that has referred to and so wilfully poked fun at the conventions of its own genre.  If anything, slashers’ have reverted back to the days of Halloween.  Most modern slashers seem to be sequels/reboots of the popular ‘80s movies – Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sorority Row, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and countless more, with few really hitting the mark but many following Randy’s traditional rules of surviving a horror film.

This makes viewing Scream, even twenty years later, just as refreshing as ever.


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