Content warning: This movie deals with sexual assault and sexual coercion.
Here we are. The movie I’ve been referencing throughout this series. Because 1996’s Scream was truly a savior of the slasher genre. Yes, even though it inadvertently created shit like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, Scream is a high point in horror movie history.
Horror remains a genre struggling to get the recognition it deserves. But by the 90s, anything less than Silence of the Lambs-level nuance and ‘grown up’ was guaranteed to struggle financially and among critics. Lots of horror movies were skipping the cinema completely going straight to video sales/rentals. Actual theater releases were reserved for an established franchise like yet-another Amityville Horror movie, or maybe a Stephen King property (and some of the absolute WORST ones were from the 90s. Perhaps a series to come in the future).
But then in 1996, Scream entered the scene with an established horror director (Wes Craven) but completely new everything else.
The script was novel for the time: it was ‘meta’, as we say today. The characters in the horror movie know about horror movies and respond accordingly. As Roger Ebert says in his contemporary review, “Scream is not about the plot. It is about itself.” But I slightly disagree—this movie has a WAY better plot than the successors already reviewed in this series. It’s smart, it makes sense, it has well-rounded characters. Yes, it’s a slasher and a satire. But it’s also a genuine murder mystery with intelligent, innovative twists.
The script, by the by, was written by Kevin Williamson over a 3-day weekend along with the spec-scripts for the next 2 sequels. It took me, no joke, 5 days to write this stupid article about just WATCHING the movie. Also a little trivia, what was the original title for the Scream franchise? Scary Movie.
Scream’s cast was new in that it largely wasn’t new. At the time, horror movies usually cast unknowns to save money. But Scream had a cast that was better known to its target audience (teenagers who also watch horror movies just like the teenagers in the film who watch horror movies: META). Neve Campbell already had a career on Party of Five (which I have never seen but every media from the 90s agrees it was A Thing). Courteney Cox was on her 2nd year on Friends. Skeet Ulrich and Jamie Kennedy were in other major films that same year (The Craft and Romeo + Juliet respectively. Yes, Jamie Kennedy is in a Shakespeare production. Sit in that for a moment).
Even the music was ‘fresh.’ This was the composer’s first time scoring a feature film. He knew shit about anything horror. So ya know what he did? He treated the movie like he was scoring a western! And people loved it! The score remains so unique and well-executed that it’s remained the score throughout the sequels.
Scream was something truly original for the time. And although Hollywood knows ‘familiar and lazy’ will make a quick buck, history tells us that ‘different and creative’ will pay off most in the long run. And that holds true with Scream: it remains the highest-grossing slasher film TO THIS DAY. It’s still in the top 20 of highest-grossing horror films.
So let’s take a walk through a film I encourage all horror and non-horror fans alike to watch (provided you can take a little blood and guts…).
We jump right in with a cold open. … after the opening title sequence, which looks like an indie horror PC game gone VERY wrong.
A quick word about what is to follow: I watch a lot of scary movies (hence this blog). But this opening sequence, in this comedic teen slasher, ends in one of the most sadistic kill sequences I’ve ever seen.
Due to his overly-used Freddy Krueger franchise, it’s easy to forget that Wes Craven was an influential pioneer in horror film.
See, Craven made his first mark back in the 70s with a little film called The Last House on the Left. Last House on the Left contains some of the most sadistic, violent sequences in the history of film. It couldn’t legally be distributed in the UK until 2003. And they let Margaret Thatcher roam around freely for decades!
Scream was Craven getting back to the taste of Last House on the Left-type directing. And by that, I mean he was getting back to subjecting the audience to whatever he could get away with.
Now with that context are you: Disgusted? Intrigued? Intimidated? All three but still ready and willing to check this out?
Then strap in.
We see our opening victim, Casey, home alone. She is played by Drew Barrymore in a terrible wig. Seriously, it’s horrendous.
She starts getting harassing phone calls, very à la “The Babysitter” urban legend. Casey humors the creepy-voiced caller for reasons that escape me. After call 3 or 4, can’t you let the machine get it? It’s 1996!
This scene made me crave some popcorn, as Casey puts some JiffyPop on the stove while humoring the creepy caller. ProTip: Never settle for microwave popcorn. Much like Nerf, it’s stove top or nothin’.
The creepy caller drops the now-classic line: “You like scary movies? What’s your favorite?”
So begins the NEVER ENDING scary movie title name drops. There are at least 17 of them (and that’s letting IMDB trivia do the work for me). Now, I hated this during the Urban Legend review. But in Scream, the name-drops make me a happy little horror nerd. Because Scream did it first, is being deconstructive on purpose, and is paying homage to ‘where it came from.’
If you want to be a brave little soldier and play a drinking game for every scary movie reference in Scream, godspeed. But Your Intrepid Host isn’t pointing out every single one of them (that is reserved for annoying my friends when we watch it together).
In fact, here is the whole list of references, which I recommend you read along with this music:
• The Bad Seed (1956)
• The Howling (1981)
• Terror Train (1980)
• Prom Night (1980)
• The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
• A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
• A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Sequels
• The Evil Dead (1981)
• The Exorcist (1973)
• Friday the 13th (1980)
• Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
• Halloween (1978)
• Carrie (1976)
• The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
• Psycho (1960)
• Hellraiser (1987)
• The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
• Black Christmas (1974)
• Suspiria (1977)
• When a Stranger Calls (1979)
• The Shining (1980)
• Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
• I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
• Tenebrae (1982)
• Candyman (1992)
• Basic Instinct (1992)
And yeah, it’s silly. But that’s okay because unlike every other film in our slasher series, Scream is comedic on purpose.
Oh yeah– back to the tense scene which is not that funny at all.
The caller reveals that he or she is watching Casey. Casey anxiously looks outside, only to see clouds of dry ice drifting across the driveway. That damn 80s glam band from next door is at it again!
There’s more back and forth of Casey hanging up the phone, the caller calling again, her picking it up, him threatening her, hang up, pick up, etc. Just say NO, Casey!
Quick point: no one had ever used cellphones in this way in a horror movie before. It was a very new idea, that someone talking to you on the phone could literally be anywhere.
Is it more or less scary how ubiquitous that idea is today, in 2020?
Well, while we let that terror of ever-present, irreversible invasive communication and surveillance sink in…
Angry and scared, Casey threatens the caller that her boyfriend will be over soon. He’s big and plays football and yadda yadda yadda.
But the caller tells Casey to turn on the patio lights. She does, to reveal: her boyfriend Steve has already been cap-tured!
The caller then says, “I wanna play a game…”
That’s right: Saw ripped off Scream. Another reason to hate that franchise.
The caller proposes playing scary movie trivia for Steve’s life. For the record, I would be SO READY if I ever got this call. I would save the FUCK out of my football boyfriend with my amaze-balls knowledge and would send creepy caller away in SHAME.
Unfortunately, Casey gets the question wrong. Steve pays the price. He’s disemboweled—which weirdly is a style of murder Wes Craven seems to specialize in…
Casey gets one last chance to save herself. The caller asks, “What door am I at?”
She won’t answer. Fair, because it’s actually a trick question (SPOILERS!).
The unseen killer smashes through the patio door. Casey runs down a hall past the now-burning popcorn. By the way, I think the smell of burning popcorn would deter 95% of intruders and murderers. They should patent some kind of home-protection air-freshener with that.
We don’t get a good look at the caller/killer yet, just glimpses of a cloaked figure prowling the house. Casey manages to carefully sneak outside. Through the window, she can see a figure in a billowing cloak and the now-iconic mask.
Honestly? It’s a bizarre image even for a slasher movie. While a killer may have a notorious mask or a simple gimmick like a rainslicker, the villain of Scream is impressively over-the-top. The flowing cowl, the large rubber mask, the exaggerated expression of the mask. It’s all A Bit Much. It’s unnerving. And that’s why the design weirdly works: it’s a perfect image to show that this movie is both terrifying and funny.
So a brief discussion about the Scream mask:
It’s one of the dumbest-looking movie props ever, yet has become iconic. And since its inception, it’s had a stupid name.
Believe it or not, that mask was created for Halloween stores in 1991. It was called ‘The Peanut-Eyed Ghost.’ Why that’s as scary as ‘The Popcorn Fiend’ and ‘The Lollipop Ghoul!’ Certainly explains how they had boxes and boxes of ‘em to use for this franchise.
Now, the canonical franchise term for the mask is ‘Ghostface.’ That’s only a few notches less-stupid than ‘Peanut-Eyed Ghost.’
In-universe, the mask is a commonly sold Halloween mask called ‘Father Death.’
And that is why, from here on in, I am referring to this mask/villain as ‘Daddy Death.’
Casey tries to sneak away from the house with the phone to call for help, but gets grabbed by Daddy Death. She gets stabbed and grapples with the figure for her life.
Meanwhile, her parents are driving up to the house.
Here’s where things start to get bad, folks.
Casey’s throat gets slashed by Daddy Death. But she manages to briefly get away. She sees her parents arrive. She tries calling out to them but she can’t—she barely manages a hoarse whisper for help.
The masked killer catches up to her and delivers more stabs.
Drew Barrymore was having a bit of a rough patch in her career at this point (oh god have ya seen her in Batman Forever?). But she carries this sequence well. You feel her horror and despair as she realizes she will never see her parents again after this moment.
Daddy Death starts to drag Casey away. And Casey still has the phone from the house.
As the parents enter the house, they see the broken glass and burning popcorn. Casey’s mom picks up the phone to call 911, but Casey is still on the other phone. So not only can the mom not make a call, but she can hear Casey’s last desperate, dying breaths. Knowing Casey must be close, the parents go outside.
…for any of you too young to know how house landlines work, this all must be so confusing for you.
The parents find Casey, slaughtered and trussed up in the tree-swing outside their home. Gibbeted like a freshly caught animal.
Yeah, it’s a LOT for the first 12 minutes of a movie.
But hey, let’s jump forward to Pretty White People With Problems Vol. 4!
We cut to our protagonist Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell. She’s on a computer in her room—and if you got to have a computer in your room as a teen, you were too rich even by 90s standards.
Her boyfriend, Billy, pulls a ‘Sam from Clarissa Explains It All’ and ladders himself into her bedroom. Remember when that was seen as charming, rather than a total violation of boundaries? Ah, 90s nostalgia.
Billy is played by Skeet Ulrich. Have you seen him in Riverdale as Jughead’s dad? He’s a bit DILF-y in a grizzled way. Never seen Riverdale? Good! Stay away! Stay far, far away.
Skeet Ulrich stands out in this performance for me. He has the kind of face where you can’t decide if he’s hot or creepy. Creepy in a hot way? Hot in a creepy way? Either way, if you do wind up banging him, you’ll feel better with protection—and by protection, I mean a taser stashed in your purse.
Billy says that he was just watching The Exorcist and ‘it made me think of you.’ See what I mean?
Apparently, Billy and Sidney have been together for 2 years, but the more ‘intimate’ parts of their relationship have slowed down. Sidney says that her dad is going to an expo over the weekend. Maybe they could use the alone time to get more physical? But she’s clearly a little reluctant.
Billy’s all “I’m not trying to rush you at all.” UM. Dude. You popped into her bedroom unannounced in the middle of the night just to whine about how you haven’t gotten to third base yet. That’s rushing your girlfriend. AKA being an asshole. AKA being sexually coercive.
The next day, it’s a bright and sunny morning in this quiet little mountain town. This is Woodsboro, with quaint oozing out of its pores, down to its town square gazebo. But the quaintness has been interrupted by the murders of Casey and her boyfriend. Police and news crews are gathered at the local high school.
We see the media speculating that the murders were by kids on drugs or involved in the occult. Adorably speculative in retrospect, but lest we forget—this was a mere 3 years after the wrongful conviction of the West Memphis Three. Any local kids wearing so much as a Slayer shirt better ditch that and quick.
Among the newscasters is Gale Weathers, played by Courteney Cox. You can’t miss her: she’s decked out in a dayglow yellow suit. Ah, the 90s: when ‘fashion’ meant ‘blinding anyone who dared gaze upon you.’ As concerning as the color choice, her skirt is also at about midthigh (and that’s being generous). Why did Gale wear something that short to talk to bunches of teenagers today?
Rose McGowan arrives, playing Tatum Riley, Sidney’s best friend. And I’m kinda obsessed with her hair throughout this movie.
Anyways, the best the Woodsboro PD can do to crack this case is to literally interview every student at the high school for clues. Yep. That sure doesn’t sound like a colossal waste of time.
Sidney is eventually called into the principal’s office for routine questioning. The principal, amazingly, is played by Henry Winkler. We also meet Tatum’s older brother Deputy Dewey Riley, played by David Arquette. And if Deputy Dewey is an accurate representation of Woodsboro law enforcement, rest assured: this murder investigation is doomed.
Sidney is treated particularly gently in the interview—for reasons To Be Revealed!
After school, students depart campus as the loudspeaker helpfully declares: “Remember! Your principal loves you!”
Moments like that, where the line is played straight but the script is being scathingly sarcastic, are a part of what I love about this movie.
Sidney and Tatum meet up with the rest of their cohorts. Billy, of course. But also our Over Actors: Stu, Tatum’s boyfriend, and Randy, the 5th wheel.
Randy is played by Jamie Kennedy. Now your instinctive reaction might be to shudder, but it’s really not that bad. Randy is the nerdy in-house horror movie expert who works at the local video rental store. In another life, I was Randy. Hell, if video stores were still a thing I would be Randy right now.
Stu is played by Matthew Lillard. And with him, this 90s Slasher series has nearly completed the Live-Action Scooby Doo cast. Now, brace yourself: in this movie, when it’s between Lillard and Kennedy in scenes, Lillard takes the scene every time. And I think that works out. Lillard plays Stu very realistically as the ‘really funny to like 5 people and annoying to everyone else’ guy.
What’s funny is that while this movie set up a lot of the bland, stereotype-filled casts of other slashers, this central teen gang doesn’t have those clichés. No one plays the roid-rage Mr. Stability. No one plays the ‘the mall gives my life meaning’ blonde. Everyone appears somewhat normal and realistic.
The teens speculate about the local killer, swapping horror movie clichés. The only connection any of them has to the victims is that Stu used to date Casey, but dumped her and got with Tatum instead.
Wait. Let me get this straight. Stu, the guy who uses his tongue as the punchline to 2/3 of his ‘jokes’? He got to START with Drew Barrymore, and transition straight to Rose McGowan? WHAT.
There is truly something wrong and nefarious afoot in this town.
Later, Sidney is at home in her inexplicably GIANT house. She watches a news report on the recent murders. We then get the convenient exposition that one year ago, Sidney’s mother was raped and murdered.
A neighbor named Cotton Weary (was he a grizzled prospector from the Old West?) has been convicted and sentenced to death for that crime. Arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced in less than 12 months? Does the justice center have an Express Special going on?
Also, you may have noticed: the Woodsboro PD doesn’t seem very good at solving crimes. Weird how they solved this one so quickly and neatly. Hmm….
Tragically: Cotton Weary is played by the great Liev Schreiber, but he gets NO lines in this movie. For shame!
Sidney turns off the TV in disgust, but soon gets a phone call. It is of course The Voice of Daddy Death.
“Do you like scary movies?”
Assuming it’s Randy, Sidney teases about the voice, saying it’s “sexy.” I don’t know what’s more cringe-worthy to be called “sexy”: the vicious killer or Jamie Kennedy…
Sidney is snide about how all horror movies are ‘the same’ and decries stupid girls in those movies who run up the stairs when they should run out the front door. “It’s insulting,” she says.
If I may: (Captain Barbosa voice), “You best start liking scary movies, Miss Prescott. You’re IN one!”
And indeed, that call takes a turn when The Voice of Daddy Death says he or she is on Sidney’s front porch. “That’s the original part,” the caller says.
Which, if you’re picking up on it, is actually the script insisting how original it is. And don’t get me wrong: the script is correct. Meta!
Sidney checks the porch, still skeptical. And no one’s there. Really over this schtick, she says she’s gonna hang up.
“If you hang up on me, you’ll DIE just like your mother!”
And that’s when we find out that the ol’ “I’m on the porch” bit was a ruse so that the killer could sneak into the house from elsewhere and hide in a fucking closet.
Daddy Death bursts out to attack Sidney and I choke on my popcorn because I’m a sucker for jump-scares.
Sidney runs for the front door, but—because this script finds irony delicious—she doesn’t have time to undo the chain latch. So what can she do? Run upstairs. I see you, script.
Sidney gets to her bedroom and manages to jam the door with her closet door. Is that why bedroom and closet doors are setup that way? Not to get stuck and ruin your day for 5 seconds, but to act as burglar security?
Sidney discovers that the phone lines are now cut. She gets on her fan-cy bedroom computer and uses a TTY (used for deaf persons) to call 911.
Daddy Death backs off.
Suddenly, Billy is back with that stupid ladder, Romeo’ing his way into Sidney’s bedroom. A cellphone falls out of his pocket.
Sidney, not being an idiot, suspects him immediately. She runs to get away from him and finally reaches that front door. Sidney runs right into the killer’s mask! …being held by Deputy Dewey, who screams like a girl when Sidney runs into him.
The Woodsboro PD, also not being complete idiots, do the math of mask + cellphone + boyfriend and arrest Billy.
Later at the station, Billy’s in the hot seat with the sheriff.
“What are you doin’ with a cellular telephone, son?”
You know what year we’re in when it’s called a ‘cellular telephone.’
To which Billy responds, “Everybody’s got one, sheriff.”
LOL LOL LOL.
Bullshit, Billy. Only 16% of the US had a cellular phone plan in 1996. Maybe—MAYBE you would believe that circa 1996, provided you also believed the earth began and ended between BelAir and the Sunset strip.
Try again, Billy!
In the hall, the sheriff and Dewey discuss the mask found at Sidney’s house. It’s too common to be traced back to any particular person or place. Not that he actually checked, of course. The Woodsboro PD has zero room in the budget for actual investigation.
Meanwhile, the media is swarming the sheriff’s station. Siblings Dewey and Tatum usher Sidney out a backdoor to avoid the reporters, but are thwarted by clever “bitch goddess” Gale Weathers (look: the movie gives her the moniker, not me).
Gale ambushes Sidney with her camera guy, Kenny (played by W. Earle Brown who had a good stint in Deadwood). It’s revealed that Gale has written a soon-to-be-released book on the murder of Sidney’s mother. And Sidney isn’t totally keen on having a mic shoved in her face by the person exploiting her mother’s horrible death. She punches Gale in the face and it’s pretty awesome.
Sidney stays at the Riley residence for her safety. For some reason, they can’t reach her father at the Expo. He isn’t at the hotel he said he’d be staying at. Hmm….
Sidney stays in Tatum’s room—which for no reason has twin beds. Convenient?
In response to Billy maybe being a FUCKING MURDERER, Tatum laments, “I knew he was too perfect. He was destined to have a flaw.”
UM it’s not like you found out he wipes Cheeto dust on the couch or loves Dave Matthews Band. Perspective, Tatum: get you some.
But a call comes into the Riley’s for Sidney. Dewey just gives her the phone rather than being suspicious that it’s a) the media harassing her or b) the killer guy who loves making phone calls.
And it is option B!
“Looks like you fingered the wrong guy-again!” the voice of Daddy Death mocks.
Now you might think “really weird how the killer isn’t letting the innocent guy take the fall…”
But, I can roll with that. It’s been a year since the killer (probably) murdered Sidney’s mother and watched someone else get not just the blame but the ‘glory’ for it. Maybe he or she wants to see his/her face on Maniacal Killer collectible baseball cards (which I certainly don’t own…).
With the call being made while Billy’s in lockup and his cellphone coming back clean, he’s released. And don’t worry, that Very Awkward reunion with the girlfriend who accused him of murder will be coming shortly.
We see another morning beginning in Woodsboro and the quirky soundtrack starts back up. The soundtrack tells us the real ‘mood’ of this movie. No movie with this much synthesizer could be too bleak and ominous.
Sidney spots Gale Weathers among the media and approaches her. Careful Sid, you might have a restraining order out against you by now. But she manages to have a semi-civil talk with Gale about the murders.
A brief pause to say: I love Courteney Cox in this role, and I love this role. Gale Weathers is good comic relief, a good antagonist, but she’s also a well-rounded character.
Gale’s upcoming book casts doubt on if Cotton Weary really killed Sidney’s mom. Did he have an alibi, perhaps panning for gold in the crick?
Sidney insists that Weary is guilty, but Gale makes some good points about his probable innocence. Cotton may not have assaulted Sidney’s mom—Gale thinks it’s more likely that Cotton and Sidney’s mom had a consensual but adulterous affair. The day of the murder, it may have been coincidence or set up that the two of them had sex. Meaning the real killer could still be out there.
Based on current events, Gale may have been partially right. Oh but she DID also call Sidney a ‘liar.’ What a treat.
“If I’m right, I could save a man’s life,” Gale declares, “Do you know what that could do for my book sales?!”
The character is bit a cliché, but I think Courteney Cox’s delivery helps pull it off.
Sidney goes into the school aaaand bumps into that boyfriend she got arrested on murder charges last night. How awkward. *munches popcorn*
Billy has an…interesting take on current events. “I have a girlfriend who would rather think I’m a psychopath killer than touch me.”
Dude. PER-SPECT-IVE. This is so NOT about Little Billy getting some playtime! There’s a murderer on the loose!
Sidney makes a good point that, at the time, she was still pretty hung up on the whole nearly getting killed thing. And Billy is all, “What about us?!”
You can see how Billy sets the mold for Freddie Prinze Jr. in Last Summer and Jared Leto in Urban Legend. The male love interest easily mistaken for the killer who has seriously fucked up priorities (his student newspaper, sex, fish, etc.). But unlike those that follow him, Billy doesn’t come off as a dope (and he has the BEST hair out of them all). There is something in his gaze that really holds you. Again: Hot? Creepy? Both?
Billy then goes full-on WTF DUDE ARE YOU SERIOUS?!? He compares his parents’ divorce to Sidney’s mom being, ya know, MURDERED. “It’s been a year… I think it’s time you got over that.”
Yep, Billy says that.
Does Sidney punch HIM now?
But to be fair, I could see a shitty hormone-driven teenager saying shit like that. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s a thing that occurs in the world.
Sidney does not punch Billy but does run off…into what looks like an empty room. Seriously, it’s just this big empty room down the hall, like they ran out of directions for her to go when the scene wrapped.
Meanwhile, looks like more Daddy Death masks have been snatched up by the local delinquents. Kids are running through the school halls in the mask like it’s the new Dab or whatever the kids are doing these days.
Principal Fonz is none too amused! None too amused at all! With two Daddy Death-wearing hooligans in his office, he declares his hatred of their ‘whoring generation.’ …But I thought he loved them?
Principal Fonz expels the little fucks, who respond that it isn’t fair! To which Principal Fonz growls, “Fairness would be to rip your insides out!” as he brandishes a pair of scissors.
Geez. Buddy. Are you having a PTSD flashback from that shark incident?
Yes, it’s supposed to set him up as a suspect, but he’s about to get all slashy-slashed, so I won’t even try to keep that red herring going.
Sidney is taking refuge in the girls’ room after that disastrous talk with her boyfriend. Been there, hon. Been there a time or ten. …not the murder thing, but definitely the other stuff.
But her sanctuary is shattered by the ever-present danger of the girls’ room: an overheard mean girls’ convo. The mean girls discuss that maybe Sidney is the killer because of how ‘messed up’ she is over her mom’s murder. They also discuss how Sidney’s mom was very, uh, recreationally active with lots of local men in town.
I dunno, seems another opening for the Sidney Sucker Punch!
Instead, Sidney just waits until the girls leave before emerging from her stall to look herself in the mirror and give a Lizzo-level pep talk.
But unfortunately, she senses someone else is still in the bathroom. She sees a pair of black shoes suddenly step down from the toilet of one of the stalls. And then a black cloak settles over the shoes. Uh oh! I don’t think it’s Batman!
Sidney makes a run for it just as Daddy Death emerges from the stall. She gets away.
And thanks to that harrowing prank and/or attempted murder, classes are cancelled. Also, a curfew is in place to make sure kids aren’t staying out during these dangerous times. Which if you think about it, makes zero sense. Reminder: the first killings took place while a girl was SAFE AT HOME.
The school is basically throwing up its hands and saying, “Enjoy playing Suburban Serial Killer Lord of the Flies, you sarcastic little shits.”
Naturally, our boy Stu wants to throw a party to celebrate. Because nothing like the looming specter of a bloody death to kick off a badass party.
Principal Fonz is back in his office at the now-empty school. He hears a knock at his door but no one is there. He looks down the hall to see Wes Craven doing a cameo as a janitor dressed like Freddy Krueger. I SEE YOU, meta-script.
Principal Fonz returns to his office only to get slashed by Daddy Death!
Meanwhile, Sidney and Tatum have an uncomfortable talk about how there were an aw-ful lot of rumors about Sidney’s mom. Rumors like that for her, ‘monogamy’ meant a type of wood, and she clearly preferred other kinds of wood. WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE.
And that opens the door to other suspects—obviously including Sidney’s own father. And remember how he’s been conveniently un-findable this whole time…?
We cut to Randy and Stu at the video store. Randy spots Billy in the horror movie section, talking up other girls. Billy is such a douche.
Randy clearly suspects Billy (and maybe hopes Billy is the killer so he has a shot with Sidney. ‘Cause those are healthy thoughts). Stu sticks up for Billy, “lapdog” that he is.
But Randy points out this is “classic horror movie shit,” because everybody’s a suspect. Stu counters: why would Billy attack his girlfriend? Randy, who has clearly watched every True Crime show ever, replies, “There’s always some bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend.”
Billy steps into this conversation and things get Uncomfortable. Billy says Randy, being such a horror movie freak, could be the killer. Why, based on that logic, I could be a secret vicious murderer. Ha. Ha ha. Ha. *uncomfortable grimace*
Billy and Stu somewhat bully Randy here, and you find yourself decisively not liking them. While Stu has been obnoxious for most of this movie, here you really do see him as that douchebag who beats up people for his friend. And Billy has been selfish for most of this movie, but that whiff of toxic masculinity has become a full-on stank.
Really hoping Sidney breaks up with this guy and doesn’t have sex with him due to bullshit ideas re: ‘good’ girlfriends give into pressure to have sex. … *uncomfortable grimace*
The sheriff’s department discovers that, according to phone records, Sidney’s father has been the one making the calls. So that’s obviously the end of the movie.
But it isn’t, so clearly Sidney’s dad is innocent. Also the Woodsboro PD sucks at their jobs.
This is proven by the fact that: Sidney isn’t told about her dad being Suspect #1 and only Dewey is given the job of protecting her.
But hey, Dewey will take this responsibility seriously, right? Oh, he doesn’t? He just drops Sidney and Tatum off at the ‘Woo A Slasher Cancelled School’ party?
Damn you, Deputy Dewey. Damn you.
The rest of the movie from here takes place at Stu’s party. That’s the entire 42 minutes remaining in a 95 minute film. This scene took 21 days to shoot. Literally after it wrapped, the crew all got T-shirts saying “I SURVIVED SCENE 118.”
Gale and the news van arrive to camp out by the party. I genuinely don’t get why. Or does Gale have slasher-movie instincts and understands that this teen party is a smorgasbord for any roaming killer?
Dewey comes up to the news van to chat with Gale. See he and Gale have been having this semi-flirty thing going on this entire movie, I haven’t gotten into it because I’m here for plot and stabbing.
But this is where things get weird.
Dewey invites Gale into the party.
…nah, I seriously do not understand this.
Why would Dewey be at the party? He is not a high school student and he’s a sheriff’s deputy. When he knocks on the door, everyone should turn out the lights and pretend no one’s home. Heck, knowing Dewey, he’d probably fall for it.
And hey extra WHAT: why would anyone want the local news reporter there?! No one! Nooooo one!
But instead, when they arrive, everyone is all excited and starstruck that THE Gale Weathers is there! This is like if Diane Sawyer or George Stephanopoulos showed up at your cool high school party. 1) You wouldn’t know who the hell they are. 2) You wouldn’t care. 3) You would be seriously skeezed out that this older TV reporter was spending their free time at a high school party.
Oh and Gale sneaks a hidden camera into the party, which is a good plot device but makes no sense in context. “Teens in Small Town Drink at Party!” is not jaw-dropping headline.
Deputy or not, no one cares that Dewey is there because it’s Dewey.
Tatum goes out to the garage to get a beer and MY GOD those nipples will cut a bitch.
The lights in the garage go out for a second and soon Tatum is joined by someone in a Daddy Death mask.
“Is that you, Randy?” Tatum asks. It is not. This is when she calls the figure “Ghostface” and a stupid nickname is enshrined in movie history forever.
Daddy Death (SUCH a better name!) pulls a knife and Tatum realizes that sh*t has gotten real.
Daddy Death is blocking the door back into the house and has the garage door controller.
With the garage door down, Tatum makes a break for the cat-door in the garage.
This cat door in a garage thing: why does it exist? That’s how you attract raccoons, by providing a special little entrance just for them.
And yes, 1996-era (and maybe even 2020-era) Rose McGowan could fit through a fucking pet door to escape a serial killer.
Daddy Death starts raising the garage door. Tatum gets crushed and mangled.
The raccoons lament as this will likely disrupt their plans for the trashcan raid.
Meanwhile, Gale comes back out to the news van and settles in to see what her hidden camera picks up. Seriously lady, are you trying to grossly re-live your high school days? “Oh I remember throwing Cheetos at the TV screen and puking Mountain Dew with Everclear. Those were the days…”
Kenny the Camera Guy explains that the video has a 30 second delay. Which for the 90s ain’t too bad. And certainly won’t be relevant in a later scene.
Wait a minute—how can they not see the garage? Don’t, like, all garage doors face the street/driveway? Which is right where the news van is parked? Wouldn’t they see and hear Tatum’s grisly demise?
But noooo, Gale’s eyes are fixated on this stupid hidden camera!
Back inside, Billy makes an appearance (ick) and says he wants to talk to Sidney (fuck off!).
Sidney and Billy go up to Stu’s parents’ room. Well no one would be romantic or horny in their friend’s parents’ budoir, so they’re breaking up, right? They’re definitely breaking up, right?
Well, it makes me vomit in my mouth to say, but Sidney apologizes to Billy for being self-absorbed and selfish about not having sex aaaand that is total bullshit and a real bummer.
A word about the zeitgeist of the 90s: this was when pop culture started to question the pressure put on teen girls to have sex before they feel ready to.
Strong female protagonists were displayed as torn between their own hormones, peer/partner pressure, and their own agency to choose when to start having sex. And if they started having sex with a partner ‘too soon,’ there were negative consequences. Now: is this supposed to be some kind of slut-shaming punishment or a genuine metaphor for why you should listen to yourself and not shitty abusive partners? Probably a bit of both.
This also happened in Buffy Season 2—with similar results to what follows here (HINT HINT).
If nothing else, that complexity is better compared to other depictions of teen sex where ‘seducing the virgin’ was the goal.
The script isn’t being sincere with the message Sidney is delivering. We’re supposed to cringe while Sidney gives this monologue. It is not comfortable to hear—and worse, real conversations like that happened all the time then and still do now.
The best Billy can scrounge up with this heartfelt speech from his girlfriend about her trauma and confusion is: “It’s all one great big movie. But you can’t pick your genre.”
Geezus fucking… Yeah, okay, Billy. Sure.
It’s almost like he’s not super good at human emotion or empathy….
But, um, yeah they have sex.
Trust me when I say, it gets worse. Like so much worse.
Downstairs, Stu, Randy, and some other teens are watching Halloween. This is the infamous ‘rules’ scene, where Randy just hammers out how to stay alive or get killed in a horror movie.
He only lists 3 (Don’t have Sex; Don’t Drink; Don’t say “I’ll be right back”), but there are sooooo many more. Perhaps a future article? Let us know in the comments.
But this list feels like it comes too late in the movie. We already know this is an innovative, ‘meta’ movie. This was so far back, in Roger Ebert’s review he had to define was ‘deconstructive’ meant. Today we just call that ‘the Internet.’
But the rules act like a Chekov’s gun that is revealed too late in the play. If you reveal the gun in one scene and literally within the same scene the gun goes off, you’re not using your pacing properly.
Speaking of pacing: remember that weird budding romance between Gale and Dewey?
Dewey reappears and asks Gale if she’d like to join him for a stroll down the road to check out a reported abandoned vehicle.
Let’s just take a snapshot of this moment:
-We are out in the middle of Nowhere. Stu’s house is squeezed between some cornfields and the woods.
-There is an UNKNOWN KILLER on the loose.
-“Let’s walk down this empty country road to check out an abandoned vehicle” is only romantic and not creepy to select few—Gale is not one of those few (but I might be…).
-You DO NOT know this guy, Gale.
But yeah Gale is into it. Somehow.
Dewey is a little creepy in this scene. Could he be a viable suspect? Maaaaaaybeeeeee ?
I’ll save you the time right now. No, he’s not.
They walk to the car, still being weirdly cute. The romance with Dewey does help to further humanize Gale. She is not merely a stone cold bitch.
Dewey recognizes the car—it belongs to Sidney’s conspicuously missing dad! Before you can say “Oh SHIT!”, Gale and Dewey start back for Stu’s house.
Back at the party, it’s announced that Principal Fonz has been found dead and hanging from a goal post on the football field. The teens are THRILLED and scatter to try to catch sight of the body before it’s taken down. Randy stays behind, making him the only one left with any dignity. Which is genuinely unexpected.
Upstairs, Sidney and Billy are getting re-dressed. Sidney asks Billy who his proverbial ‘one phone call’ was. You know, when he was arrested. For multiple homicide. Ha ha, what a crazy time.
Billy replies that he called his dad—but Sidney counters that she saw the sheriff call his dad.
Not quite knowing when to keep her crime-solving thoughts to herself, Sidney wonders aloud if Billy made that threatening phone call to her from jail. “If you were the killer, it would be a very clever way to throw everyone off track…”
It sure would, Sidney. And if he was the killer, maybe this would be the moment he’d decide you’re too smart to live? Hmm? Maybe?
But that awkward moment is shattered by the appearance of Daddy Death! Billy gets full-on stabbed!
Which I guess I should feel bad about, but I don’t!
Billy turns to Sidney, covered in blood. He reaches out to her for help but he collapses.
Apparently Sidney was as invested in this relationship as I was, because she wastes no time mourning. She runs with Daddy Death close behind.
She barricades herself in one of the creepiest attics I have ever seen (and that is SAYING something).
Sidney tries to escape out a window as Daddy Death busts into the attic. She grapples with Daddy Death and falls—inexplicably landing safely in a covered boat outside of the garage.
Meh, whatever works at this point. We still have 30 minutes of film to get through.
Sidney sees Tatum’s bloody corpse still hanging from the garage and shrieks.
Inside, Daddy Death comes downstairs looking for Sidney and/or more victims. And there’s Randy, still watching Halloween. Nom nom, irony, nom. Daddy Death hovers nearby, clearly contemplating how deep this irony spiral could go. But Sidney’s shrieks attract Daddy Death’s slashy attention at the last minute.
Outside, Sidney runs to the news van for help. Kenny the Camera Guy lets her in. They both see on the hidden-camera video that Daddy Death is inside the house, looming over Randy. Kenny, weirdly being down to play hero, jumps out of the van to rescue Randy.
But remember that handy 30 second delay?
Daddy Death jumps out and slashes Kenny!
Oh my god! They killed Kenny! You bastards!
There. I did it. It’s said. You happy?
Sidney gets sliced on her shoulder but gets away, running for the nearby cornfield to hide.
At this point, Gale and Dewey return. On the way to the van, Dewey tells Gale to lock herself in the news van and call 911. Deputy Dewey is going to go all Dudley Do-Right and do away with the dastardly deviant.
Gale gets in the driver’s seat and discovers a VERY dead Kenny flopped over the roof of the van. She freaks out and hits the gas, nearly running over Sidney who comes out of the darkness screaming for help.
Gale swerves at the last second, the van going out of control and crashing in the woods.
And now Dewey is—
Are you guys keeping up with this? I wish I had a blueprint or one of those blackboards they use in sportsball things.
Okay so, status of various persons:
-Other local teens have left the scene.
-Gale was driving the van and she crashed. Status unknown.
-At the house, we have seen Tatum and Billy get killed.
-We briefly see that Randy has gotten outside, but status otherwise unknown.
-Stu’s status is unknown.
-Dewey was last seen approaching the house.
-Daddy Death is out of sight but was last seen killing Kenny and chasing after Sidney by the news van.
-Sidney tried getting help from the news van, but Gale is a shit driver, so now Sidney is headed back to the house looking for Dewey.
We good? Okay, moving on:
As Sidney approaches the house, Dewey stumbles out onto the porch. He falls, and we see a knife in his back.
Dewey is annoying but I don’t want to see the poor guy hurt! It’s like kicking a puppy! A puppy with a really bad mustache! He can’t help it—he doesn’t know any better!
Daddy Death appears in the doorway and is after Sidney (yet again). But wasn’t Daddy Death just outside? How do the logistics of that even work? Don’t worry about it!
Sidney makes it to Dewey’s deputy-mobile and locks the doors. But Daddy Death reveals that he has the keys.
Sidney and Daddy Death play a tense game of cat-and-mouse as Daddy Death remotely unlocks the doors and Sidney scrambles to manually keep them locked. For the record, I’ve never seen another slasher make such apt use of mechanical fobs. Garage doors, key fobs, Daddy Death knows his technology.
Daddy Death drops out of sight and Sidney uses the opportunity to call for help on the radio. As she’s calling for help, Daddy Death sneakily pops the trunk and surprise-attacks.
Which I simply must call bullshit on. Trunks don’t pop quietly, ever. This is the most silent trunk in the history of automobiles. It doesn’t exist, not then, not now.
Sidney flees back to the house, stopping by Dewey’s prone body to grab his pistol.
Daddy Death has mysteriously vanished again. This is NOT that big of an area. How the fuck do we keep losing track of the figure in a HUGE FLOWING CLOAK?! As established: this is not Batman!
Randy comes out of nowhere. Then Stu comes out of nowhere. And both are accusing the other of being the killer.
Sidney is torn, alternately pointing the pistol at one or the other.
What to do? How to decide?
And I love this: Sidney just snaps “Fuck you both!” and slams the door in their faces.
One of you may be the killer, one of you isn’t. Not my problem. Welcome to Small Town Thunder Dome, bitch!
Inside, Sidney sees a bloody Billy stumbling down the stairs. It is IMMENSELY disappointing to see that he lives.
He convinces Sidney to let him hold the gun. Yeah, sure, give it to the guy who’s been stuck like a pig. He’ll have a firm stable grip on that deadly weapon.
Billy carefully opens the door and Randy stumbles in. Huh. Really? In a Randy vs. Stu rumble, my money is on Stu. That guy has an easy 8 inches on Randy and is chock-full of that weird mega-strength douchebags have.
Randy’s unlikely victory doesn’t last long, as before you can say “DUN DUN DUN!”, Billy creepily quotes Psycho and shoots Randy.
Yep, Billy was Daddy Death the whole time! He reveals that the blood and earlier attack were all fake.
But wait, we all saw Billy get fake stabbed so who…
And Stu enters with the voice modulator used for the creepy calls. He and Billy have been working together to commit these heinous deeds!
Double DUN DUN DUN!
Death has two Daddies?
I love this twist. It plays with expectations, and the lead up isn’t too obvious. You get enough bread crumbs of ‘there is something off about these guys’ that it isn’t too out there.
It gives extra freedom to these previous killing sequences that otherwise wouldn’t make sense—Daddy Death appears too quickly in different places, he talks on the phone but never in person, etc.
After all, duo serial killers are a real thing. Otis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas; The Hillside Stranglers; The Tool Box Killers, etc. Too scared to strike out murdering and torturing people all by your lonesome? Don’t worry, your special slasher someone is out there! And that’s not terrifying at all!
Also, just saying: my ‘you killed Kenny’ joke is actually grammatically correct!
A few ghouls out there have mapped out how the other killings were carried out (if either or both of the guys were at the scene or not, who did the killing or calling, etc.)
Well, as Billy points out, “It’s a lot scarier when there’s no motive, Sid.”
Which is indeed much closer to the truth of those actual serial killer duos I listed earlier. Movie culture says, “but there has to be a reason…” just so that a plot can be filled out. That’s why Last Summer and Urban Legend are built around revenge-killings. Because that fits in a box, that’s something that can be resolved.
But as those of us who watch Mindhunter know: revenge serial killers aren’t really a thing. Unless you count really fucked up misogynistic-psychotic-violent-fantasy revenge against moms taken out on innocent women.
Except Billy lets slip that he partially had a motive—at least during his first kill. And his first kill? When he murdered Sidney’s mother last year.
Apparently Billy’s dad and Sidney’s mom were also having an affair, causing that divorce Billy whined about earlier. So for revenge, Billy murdered Sidney’s mom and set up Cotton ‘Old Prospector’ Weary.
So yeah, let’s all just sit in this horrible-ness for a hot second.
This entire movie, what we’ve actually been watching is a sick psychosexual game. This entire time Billy has been pressuring her for sex, he’s been doing it to get to this horrific moment of revelation. And when he murdered her mother, Sid and Billy were already dating.
Also if it weren’t for the murder, he and Sidney could’ve become step-siblings—which is a whole extra mind fuck.
I don’t think the film gives enough gravity to that horrible reality when it comes slamming into the scene. And it’s brilliant. Is it fucking sick? Yes. But it is genuinely difficult to be dark and sick without going over the top, without getting into ridiculous territory. Hannibal Lector or the killer in Seven are very creative villains, they are dark ideas, but they don’t exist. Billy is a real villain that you could bump into in the world.
I think the best write-up I have seen on why this character’s depravity yet relevancy resonates can be found here, in an article on SyFy.
Oh and why is sidekick slasher Stu doing this?
Matthew Lillard’s improv gives a better joke than I could: “Peer pressure. *shruggy shrug*”
And Stu and Billy’s evil plans don’t end here.
It turns out, they kidnapped Sidney’s dad DAYS ago and have been holding him somewhere.
This has been the scheme all along. Set up Sidney’s father as the killer. Clone his cellphone and use that for the calls. Park his car near this party. Plant the costume and the voice modulator on him. Having brought out Sidney’s father for the big reveal, Billy and Stu will now murder Sidney as the ‘final victim.’ Then, they’ll kill the dad and make it look like a suicide.
Bada Bing Bada Boom, our psychos get away with a whole slew of murders. A whole…slaughter of murders?
And from what we’ve seen of the Woodsboro PD, I definitely believe that this would work.
Note here: we never see Stu’s parents. We have seen Billy’s dad. But we never see Stu’s family. And they’re having this big party at the house on short notice… And it almost looks like they’ve been holding Sidney’s dad in the house basement for days. The whole plan is for the party to be a scene of a massacre (and they have diligently stacking up bodies on the hour). And I gotta wonder… Did Stu kill off his parents too? Just for a murder party?
Is this also an excuse for me to drop yet another true crime reference on ya? You know it!
As a cherry on top for their schemes, Billy and Stu are going to stab each other to make them appear like lucky survivors/believable witnesses.
Now, as I write that out, that sounds fucking stupid. That’s a Jackass rip-off stunt, not a solid plan for getting away with murder. I understand these two have pulled off quite a few crimes, but there’s no way these two knuckleheads are going to stab each other without fucking it up.
But the scene, as it plays out, is so goddamn disturbing. You see these two teenage guys hype themselves up like they’re about to do the ice bucket challenge. And then they just take turns shoving knives each other. It’s seriously fucking insane.
Then Sidney and Billy have this great exchange (that is also used as a special Halloween intro for one of my favorite podcasts).
“You sick fucks, you’ve seen one too many movies.”
“Now, Sid! Don’t you blame the movies! Movies don’t create psychos—movies make psychos more creative!”
The guys are sufficiently slashed and decide it’s time to wrap up. Stu had put the gun down for all the stabbing fun and goes to retrieve it. But, well, there’s a problem as Stu announces: “The gun is missing…”
Billy’s not pleased. “Where the fuck is it?”
Gale (Motherfucking) Weathers steps into view with the gun. “Right here, asshole.”
And god fucking damn it. Gale is a badass and I love it. Damn you, script!
But, uh, awesome as Gale is, she doesn’t know what a ‘safety switch’ is. But Billy does! He overpowers Gale and takes the gun, knocking her unconscious.
During this, Sidney grabs her dad and gets away. The plan for our Death Daddies is unraveling fast.
Remember when I was all ‘these two are going to fuck up stabbing each other’ a moment ago! Well, these two fucked up stabbing each other.
By accident (or on purpose?) Billy stabbed Stu too deep. He’s bleeding heavily and is out of commission. Billy, of course, is also losing blood but not as badly. Guys, if your plan requires bleeding a few pints, maybe start that after all your necessary victims are dead?
The house phone rings. I don’t know why, but Stu picks up. This seems THE time to let the machine get it. But he does, and (neener, neener, neen-er) it’s Sidney calling using the cell phone and voice modulator they’d planted on her dad. My, how the turns have tabled!
Sidney says she’s already called the cops and that our psychokillers are fucked.
Billy goes into a full on rage temper tantrum, complete with stabbing random objects and screaming, “Bitch!” Hmm. His last name wouldn’t happen to be ‘Kavanaugh’ would it?
Billy starts stalking the house looking for Sidney, but now the stalker is being stalked! Sidney, dressed in the Daddy Death costume, pops out of a closet and impales Billy with an umbrella.
…not the most badass Final Girl weapon I’ve ever seen, but hey, it’s a closet, options are limited.
With Billy down, Stu manages to regain some strength to lunge at Sidney. She grapples with Stu but eventually takes him out by smashing his head with a TV.
1) How META.
2) Now anyone younger than, say, 28 might not understand. “How could a TV crush ANYTHING?” Well, my dear children, TVs used to be the heaviest thing in your whole fucking house. Even the refrigerator? Yes, my child, even the refrigerator.
Sidney surveys the scene, including Billy’s body. Randy re-emerges, shot but alive.
Billy jumps up and grapples with Sidney. He gets the upper hand and is about to stab her–
But NOW Gale knows how to handle the gun! She shoots Billy, who falls back to the floor, now stabbed and shot.
Randy warns that this is the moment the killer will not actually be dead and attack!
Randy is right! Because of course!
But as Billy pops up, Sidney takes the gun and delivers the final blow.
Ambulances and the rest of the sheriff’s department arrive. We see Dewey getting taken away in an ambulance. Gale has somehow already gotten replacement camera guys (Kenny DIED for you! How dare!).
But it’s a really rushed ending all things told. I don’t get why. It feels really off after all of the action we got in the last 42 minutes of the film. We needed something like a denouement or even one of those fake-out scares.
But no, we just roll credits. I don’t know if the actors threatened to quit if even 5 more seconds of film were added to this long ass scene or what.
And that’s Scream! It was a scream!
So yeah, this is a long-ass commentary compared to the other films in this series. But Scream deserved the attention. It is so much more worthy than its rip-off followers. Scream is a reminder that horror can be intense but clever, it can be brutal but creative. It’s a reminder that horror can break from expectations entertainingly.
And that’s why it’s such a shame that the post-Scream movies, such as those from our slasher series, filled theaters. What Scream was making an effort to break, it ultimately proliferated in its own version.
This is the end of our 90s Teen Slasher series. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have ideas for another themed series, let us know in the comments!
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