Ah, the 90s! Haven’t they aged well? No, not really, at least in the case of SCREAM. Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher was more or less the first modern horror movie I ever saw - prior to that, I had only ever been acquainted with the likes of THE OMEN and THE MEPHISTO WALTZ, and SCREAM opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me, ultimately leading me, in a very roundabout way, to the gialli of Argento, Fulci et al. SCREAM owes something of an indirect debt to these films, and can essentially be viewed as a Californian, teen-oriented giallo, with the Ghostface costume and raspy Roger Jackson voice a clear descendent of the black-coated, black-gloved killer who so often disguised his (or her) voice when making menacing phone calls to his intended victims. I’m inclined to think, however, that the better gialli were somewhat cleverer and more self-aware than SCREAM.

SCREAM, you see, has been called many things. A parody, a satire, an homage… the last of these is probably nearest the mark, although the film’s creators have muddied the waters by using all three (I forget precisely who called it what and when, but I don’t think it really matters much). The film purports to be self-aware, and this self-awareness manifests itself in the form of its entire cast having an intimate knowledge of the horror genre and repeatedly observing that the situation unfolding around them is very much like… would you believe it… a horror movie. The trouble is that I’m not quite sure what the filmmakers are trying to say. Are they mocking the genre? I don’t have a problem with that - slasher movies are ripe for mockery. SCREAM, however, attempts to both have its cake and eat it, essentially pointing out the clichés but doing nothing beyond that. There’s little real subversion of slasher movie conventions, and the few that ARE subverted - for example, Sidney commits the cardinal “sin” of having sex but lives to tell the tale - stick out like sore thumbs amid the slough that aren’t. I don’t know it Craven and writer Kevin Williamson were aware of how conventional they were being in killing off the ditzy, big-titted blonde, but frankly I don’t think it really matters whether they knew what they were doing or not - either way, no real point ends up being made.

What we’re left with, once you ignore the muddled and now decidedly uncool self-referentiality, is an admittedly well-made slasher movie that looks an awful lot like a whole bunch of other well-made horror movies from the previous decade. Craven is what I would call a very uneven director - for every NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET there’s a SCREAM 3 - but when he’s on the ball, he’s REALLY on the ball. His most recent film but one, RED EYE, was a gripping exercise in eking every last drop of tension out of a minimalist situation, and on several occasions he manages the same thing with SCREAM. The opening sequence, featuring an extended cameo by Drew Barrymore, is one such example; another is Sidney’s first phone conversation with Ghostface and her subsequent flight from him through her otherwise empty house. These sequences owe a certain debt to the segment “The Telephone” in Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, and both Barrymore and Neve Campbell make for likeable “scream queens”. It also has a genuinely effective whodunit that caught me off-guard the first time I watched it. When the tension lets up and the characters start waxing lyrical about “Wes Carpenter” (haw haw) flicks, however, you remember all too quickly how annoying the rash of self-referential slasher movies that came out in SCREAM’s wake were. SCREAM was the first, and probably also the best, but it just doesn’t have the impact it did 15 years ago.

Image quality: Ugh. I think perhaps even Universal might have had second thoughts about releasing this disc… but then again, having seen the screen captures of their recent BD of SPARTACUS, I’m not so sure. SCREAM is barely on the right side of watchable - muddy, grubby-looking and lacking in detail, it has the look of a master created some time ago with the assumption that it would be downscaled to a more forgiving resolution. It looks a lot like the various DVD releases that have surfaced over the years (many of them non-anamorphic) and offers a fairly marginal upgrade over them. If you find it cheap in a bargain bin somewhere, it might be worth a look. Otherwise, you’re better off waiting for Disney to release it… which will probably happen before too long, given that SCREAM 4 is currently in production over at the Weinstein Company. Hopefully, they’ll have the sense to retransfer it. 4/10

studio: Icon; country: Australia; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 18.1 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 23.38 Mbit/sec

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