The Tomb of Terror – Scream (1996)
Every Saturday night The Tomb of Terror opens, unleashing reviews of the obscure and the classic in horror cinema.
The early 90s were possibly the worst time ever to be a horror fan. The genre’s success throughout the 80s was carried by the popularity of the slasher film, most notably the Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street series. By the time 1990 rolled around, those series were all near the bottom of the barrel and the entire genre seemed to die with them. There were still good horror films to be had in the first six years of the decade, but they weren’t very successful commercially. This all changed in 1996 with the release of Scream. The film reinvented the horror genre, and the slasher subgenre, specifically. It did so with a great admiration for films of the past and a great sense of fun throughout.
The film opens with one of the best horror scenes of all time. Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko) is home alone one night when the phone rings. She doesn’t recognize the person on the phone. The mysterious stranger asks her about her night. The two flirt a little and Casey says that she’s preparing to watch a scary movie. The two then begin talking about actual horror films, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street. This self-reflexivity was a big part of Scream’s charm when it was first released. The characters in An American Werewolf in London had discussed actual horror movies 15 years before, but Scream popularized the practice. Having the characters be genre fans themselves made them instantly relatable to the film’s core audience.
After the audience is made aware that the characters exist in the “real world” where all other horror movies exist, they are treated to some carnage. The caller reveals to Casey that he’s watching her from outside and plans to kill her unless she positively answers some horror trivia. Unfortunately, she incorrectly identifies the killer in the original Friday the 13th (which probably wouldn’t happen in this IMDb day and age) and witnesses her boyfriend being gutted. The killer then makes an appearance, in a black robe and ghostly Halloween mask. Casey is chased through her house and into the front yard. As her parent’s car comes round the bend and it seems she will be saved, ghostface jams a knife into her chest. This moment was a huge shock when the film was originally released, because Drew Barrymore was front and center in the ad campaign. She was the biggest star of the film and as an audience we are trained to think that the biggest stars will play main characters. It’s a credit to director Wes Craven that he saw the potential to make a better film by pulling a bait and switch out of the Psycho handbook.
Some films wouldn’t be able to live up to an opening scene as good as what we’ve just seen. Scream’s greatness is that it keeps the momentum going for its entire runtime. When we are introduced to the main cast of characters, their dialogue and how the scenes are laid out keep us very entertained even when there isn’t any bloodshed onscreen. The first characters we are introduced to are Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, The Craft) and her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich, As Good As It Gets). The movie and pop culture references continue to fly in this sequence, where Sid’s hang-ups about sex lead Billy to say they have a PG-13 relationship. The film’s sense of horror history also extends to the music selection in this scene: a romantic, melodic version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” The original version of the song played in the background of a car scene in Halloween (1978).
This scene then leads us to school, where we meet Sid and Billy’s group of friends. Sid’s best friend is the spunky Tatum (Rose McGowan, Grindhouse) who is dating the annoying joker of the group, Stu (Matthew Lillard, Scooby-Doo). Video store employee Randy (Jamie Kennedy, Three Kings) doesn’t have a romantic connection to anyone in the group, but unrequitedly pines for Sid. As the group talks about the death of Casey and her boyfriend the night before, they start to question the identity of the killer. This sets the film apart from the big slasher series, which had a specific killer with a history that the characters were all aware of. Instead. this film is a whodunit slasher a la My Bloody Valentine (1981) or The Prowler (1981), where one of the characters is revealed to be the killer in a grand finale.
The suspects keep piling up as we meet characters with ties to our main group as well as agendas of their own. These include the comic relief deputy (and Tatum’s brother) Dewey (David Arquette, Eight Legged Freaks) and bitchy reporter Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox, TV’s Friends). Gail is anxious to get the scoop on the recent murders because of their similarity to a murder in town the year before, the murder of Sidney’s mother by Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber, Phantoms). She has turned the story of that murder into a book that is soon to be released that Sidney isn’t too happy about. It claims that Sidney wrongly incriminated Cotton for her mother’s murder and that the killer is still at large. Soon all of these characters’ fates will intersect as possible suspects or victims of the ghostface killer.