So, it has finally come to this… Although, I don’t think this is an actual horror comedy, but we’ll get to that.
Sidney’s mother was murdered a year ago and now more killing are happening. While the murderer seems to have a costume that’s mostly a parody of slashers, otherwise there’s a certain adherence to the “rules” of how slashers work.
The rules are probably the most memorable thing about the movie. They are laid out within the movie by Randy, one of the characters, who is thus immediately a suspect. There’s a pretty clear message here: We should be retiring these clichés. We should be done with them right now. We’ve seen enough of them. Has this happened? Not really. Not that there have been major hits since then, even if there have been dozens of slashers. Not that any of them are very memorable (except maybe Behind the Mask, but that’s another subversion) or have been any sort of hits.
The rules are also the most tonally comedic element of the movie, but I don’t think there’s enough of then to push this into the comedy territory. However, I do think the movie has a place in the history of such movies. I don’t know how much influence there was, but it would seem the aforementioned Behind the Mask or The Cabin in the Woods are spiritual sequels to this movie.
There is also the kind of self-examination often only comedy can do. I’m not going to tread this ground again, but why are slashers so interested in virginity? Why the costumes? Wes Craven was a pivotal figure in the history and formation of the slasher genre, so there’s value for us in him going back and reflecting on what had been done within the genre. Granted, his biggest contribution, A Nightmare on Elm Street, is already on the more creative side of the subgenre, so either he was aware of certain things already and wanted to avoid them, or the subgenre was still a little rough around the edges and had room for such different takes.
Scream does go into the genre subversions deeper than the rules spoken on the film. Billy is very rapey, just like many boyfriends in these movies tend to be. Most of the time those boyfriends are the early victims. So, when we find out that Billy is the killer (or one of them) Craven is sort of calling out this behavior way before it was common. And that rapey feel was accepted in many movies, especially from nerdy characters. I watched Fight Night recently as well (decided not to write about it, because I just didn’t really feel like it, even with Roddy McDowell in it) and it starts with a scene where the main protagonist is pushing his girlfriend into sex, even though she is reluctant. This doesn’t leave anywhere and becomes a sort of recurring joke in the movie (how the main character, who didn’t even make it into the front of the DVD cover with three other actors overshadowing him, including Amanda Bearse, who played the girlfriend, is constantly being distracted from his girlfriend by the neighbor). Still, his behavior isn’t condemned. Same thing happens in straight-comedies as well. Often nerds are seen as having a weird privilege to act this way. I’ve never seen a full episode of Big Bang Theory (I’ve seen roughly 10 minutes of it and was enough to know that the whole thing was pretty much the worst thing ever), but apparently that’s a major theme in it.
So, when it does turn out that the creepy boyfriend is the killer, that’s actually good. On the other hand, it does raise the question on why these two were actually a couple and apparently had been for a while. If we are to believe Sidney is this strong female character, why didn’t she just get rid of Billy ages ago? He is not only creepy, but he is very manipulative and seems otherwise untrustworthy. Of course, this would also mean that the story wouldn’t happen, which is the reason why many, many things happen in movies. The question is whether you are immersed enough to notice. I didn’t before this last time I watched it, which of course partly because cultural shifts, but also because I was watching with an agenda of finding things to write about. A good director is able to divert my attention enough for me not pay any attention to details like this.
But again, this was probably my fourth viewing of the film and it took me this much time to notice this and it was – again – for a specific outside motivation, so I would commend Craven on his ability as a director to make this happen. Not that he needs it, especially as he hasn’t been around for a while now.