HiT Rewind: ‘Scream’ (1996)

The 1996 film’s opening sequence did more than scare us silly. It shook up the horror genre by roasting its hoariest cliches. That two-step became a template for the film’s sequels as well as other self-aware shockers like “The Cabin in the Woods.” What set “Scream” apart? The film delivered original scares between the wink-wink banter.

Three inferior sequels followed, not to mention the warmed over “Scary Movie” franchise. Now, MTV is revving up a TV series based on the “Scream” brand. That makes watching the original both exhilarating and a little sad.

Wouldn’t it have been better if “Scream” came, went and earned its place in the horror fall of fame rather than have its shocks watered down over time?

Drew Barrymore set her ego aside to die in spectacular fashion in “Scream’s’ opening scene, a sequence even better than you remember.

A killer is on the loose, and for poor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) it dredges up familiar memories. Her mother was raped and killed not long ago, and now the mystery killer is bending Sidney’s ear on the phone.

Sidney announces her Survivor Girl bona fides by spurning the advances of her beau (Skeet Ulrich) early on.

Director Wes Craven, whose horror resume is as inconsistent as fellow auteur John Carpenter’s, uncorks a youthful spirit with the touch of a pro. He captures middle America with a sentimental lens, all the better to ratchet up the shocks. He even summons a score that reaches back to the days of Universal monster movies.

How’s that for knowing your genre inside and out?

Kevin Williamson’s sharp dialogue pokes the audience with more than movie trivia. He’s asking why we watch these movies in the first place. When even the hard-charging principal (Henry Winkler) can’t help putting on that Scream mask you know the screenplay has more on its mind that murder.

The meta moments eventually start to wear us out, especially when Jamie Kennedy’s character starts ticking off “the rules” of the genre. Show, don’t tell, remains the rule that trumps them all. And the ending feels like the film’s sequel already started. It’s bloated and not as tasty as the first 80 minutes.

Let’s hope the folks at MTV take paper to pen while watching the source material. There’s a reason why Hollywood won’t let that ghoulish mask go.

DID YOU KNOW: David Arquette’s cop character wasn’t meant to survive the first movie. Test audiences took a shine to him, and since Craven shot alternate footage where the character lived they used that in the final cut.

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