For all of Halloween-themed October, ComicsVerse is creating magic. By magic, we mean analyses of Halloween films, shows, music, and anything else we can find. If you want to keep posted on the newest and greatest content in this particular series, you can check it out here. Stay tuned for more ComicsVerse series coming your way, Spoopy Ghostoween and beyond! Now, let’s talk about SCREAM!


BEWARE: Spoilers abound here for the 1996 film SCREAM!

Wes Craven is one of the most prominent horror film directors of all time. He is often noted for his creation of the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise, but his filmography features a unique 1996 feature that subverts the conventional formulas of films within the horror genre. The narrative of Wes Craven’s SCREAM maintains satirical and humorous elements among all the jump scares and horrific killings.

The events of the film were inspired by a real-life crime spree. Danny Rolling aka the Gainesville Ripper murdered multiple college students from Santa Fe College and the University of Florida in 1990. These events, along with the 1978 slasher HALLOWEEN, ultimately served as major influences on the 1996 feature.

Since its release, SCREAM has established quite a loyal following. From a plethora of sequels to an MTV series, the legacy of the original film has yet to falter. Let’s talk about why.

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Courtney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, and Neve Campbell in SCREAM (1996)

It’s All Fun and Games

The opening sequence of the film begins with a mysterious phone call from the killer to Casey Becker. Her conversation with the killer exemplifies her interaction with the intangible despite the fact that the killer is indeed a human being.

As the conversation grows more alarming, Casey clearly expresses more fear. The killer is aware of her address, her identity, and the identity of her boyfriend. She becomes afraid of the unknown, the entity that is seemingly omnipresent.

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Due to the killer’s hyperawareness of those they target, they are ultimately in control of the film’s narrative. The plot circles around his actions and choices. Much like the Michael Haneke film FUNNY GAMES that came out a year after SCREAM, many of the characters appear as though they are aware of their presence in a film. They are aware of the clichés of the horror film genre. With this, the filmmakers behind SCREAM implement plenty of ironies as the narrative unfolds and reveals the identity of the culprit.

Red herring after red herring is thrown around, particularly when Principal Himbry is presented as a possible suspect. He expresses disgust towards a generation that has grown desensitized to what he perceives as immoral activity. Of course, it is eventually revealed that the principal is certainly not the killer. Despite this, the killer is not some random, omniscient entity that lurks in the shadows, despite initially appearing to do so. Rather, the killer walks among every character in the film in broad daylight.

A Murder Most Foul

SCREAM continuously blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Sure, comments such as, “Don’t you watch scary movies?” and, “The first [movie] was good, the rest sucked,” definitely enhance the satirical and humorous aspects of the film. Perhaps they suspend audiences from the scarier elements of the film and remind audiences that this is indeed a fictional work.

However, these elements also suggest that the world these characters live in is very much like our own. We are aware of horror clichés because we are aware of the genre and its tropes. Perhaps the world of SCREAM is an interpretation of how the common individual would act in a horrific situation such as that of the film.

In another parallel to FUNNY GAMES, the killer appears to maintain control of the film’s narrative. They play games with their victims, seemingly providing them with a chance to save their life when in reality, the killer had no intention of sparing them. Interestingly though, the climax of SCREAM presents an inversion of this narrative authority.

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Sidney Prescott, the main protagonist played by Neve Campbell, subverts the killer’s control of the film’s narrative as she foils their final plans. This subversion takes place after Sidney no longer expresses fear regarding death. She faces it head on and feels responsible for whether or not she comes out of this evil game alive.

Sidney acknowledges that the only reason the killers have been successful thus far is because they have maintained a false sense of authority. They established the game and its rules and were arrogant enough to believe this gave them control. Little did they know though that all it took to overtake the rules was one individual who could learn to play the game just as well.

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SPOILER ALERT

Whodunnit?

Did I forget to mention there were two killers? Yes, that is quite the twist in this film. What is even more twist-worthy is that Sidney Prescott’s boyfriend is one of the killers. Well, maybe that revelation was not exactly surprising. At any rate though, upon learning the identities of the killers, we come to discover that the two don’t have a concrete motive.

They simply feel empowered by the act of killing, perceiving it as mere entertainment rather than totally malicious. Of course, this perspective is ultimately what contributed to their arrogance and belief that they could control the narrative of other people’s lives.

Courtney Cox’s character, journalist Gale Weathers, seems to parallel this perception of murder subtly. Sidney expresses a disdain towards the journalist since Weathers published a book detailing the events of Sidney’s mother’s murder prior to the events of the film. With this, Weathers seems to enjoy translating true crime into a form of entertainment and gossip.

Weathers maintains an element of desensitization, an aspect of this youthful generation Principal Himbry detested. Weathers experiences desensitization because she does not experience the tangibility of Sidney’s mother’s murder or the current murders by the two killers since those acts are only real to her when sensationalized.

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Of course, Gale Weathers is not a killer in this film. However, when she does find herself in the crosshairs of the killers, she appears to engage in the experience. One would expect for her perspective on killing to darken. On the contrary, the closing sequence of the film depicts Weathers maintaining the same excited demeanor as she narrates the events of the film as well as the discovery of the killers.

So, her experience with murder did not frighten her; rather it enhanced her motives. Though this may be an unexpected manner in confronting the killers, the conquering of fear is what provides the protagonists with the ability to take control of the narrative.

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Billy and Sidney

…And Then Came Peace

The legacy of SCREAM has persisted into the 21st century for a variety of reasons. It balances humor, horror, and entertainment in a way that many modern horror films struggle to do. With this, it is an inherently clever film. Its characters are not as one-dimensional as they appear. They are self-aware individuals who maintain unconventional and unexpected perceptions of murder that counter those audiences are familiar with.

What’s the matter Sidney? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. – Billy the Killer

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