Scream is more of a mystery flick than a horror movie. Granted it has its share of blood and gore, but the identity of the actual serial killer is what held my interest throughout, and it is what makes this movie worth watching.
In slash and gore movies, it's generally clear right from the outset who the killer is, even if their name is not divulged. Not so in Scream. Here, even though the killer may be someone you have correctly identified, your suspicions will be erased by incidents that seemingly prove his/her innocence.
The plot is more complicated than it looks on the surface: a serial killer is stalking the town of Santa Rosa, CA, claiming two kills right in the opening sequence while playing horror-movie Jeopardy with the victims. We then focus on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine of the story, whose mother was viciously raped and killed almost a year before. Sidney's testimony helped put away her mother's killer behind bars. But when she is stalked by the serial killer who alludes that she may be wrong, she begins questioning herself. While Sidney is still in the process of resolving her dilemma, the killer goes on the loose in the town.
Sidney is surrounded by a host of characters: her best friend Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), her boyfriend, and initial suspect, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), Tatum's loony boyfriend Stuart, (Matthew Lillard), the local expert on horror movies Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Sidney's dad (Lawrence Hecht), Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and an annoying reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), all of whom are potential suspects (and potential fodder).
Scream transcends the horror/mystery genre by being somewhat of a self-parody, and paying homage to slash/gore movies that have come before it. Director Wes Craven has taken a worn-out genre and produced a movie that self-references itself and others of its ilk, which makes for engaging viewing if you possess any knowledge about horror movies.
There are some amazing moments in the film, primarily because of its self-referential nature. In one classic moment (not new, but still done brilliantly), we see Jamie-Lee Curtis' character being stalked in Halloween, playing on the VCR. The viewer (Randy) is yelling at her to turn around, unaware that he is behind the lens of another camera, and also being stalked, with the second viewer yelling at him to turn around. And both of these characters are behind the camera which we get to see. I also liked the ending where Sidney finally confronts the killer: the situation fluctuates between the comic and tragic aspects of the plot, humourous and scary at the same time. It's hard to say much without giving the plot away, but the psychopathic behaviour displayed would be grounds to make you question the sanity of any acquaintance who acts in a similar manner.
There's also quite a bit of philosophising in Scream, after all the killings are done in standard Hollywood style. We are told here that horror movies don't cause people to kill, but they give killers creative ways to go about their business. Consider this quote: "Life is like a movie. You just can't pick your genre."
Scream is a statement about an important aspect of pop-culture (an oxymoron?). It's more suspenseful than scary, and definitely worth watching if you can deal with the gore.
There's a bigger body count this time, and the deaths are a bit more elaborate, but that's not all that makes Scream 2 such a great movie. It's amazing to me how director Wes Craven could take such a cliche-filled genre and use self-referential parody to churn out a money-making film, but also manage to get some socio-political commentary across.
Two years after the murders at Woodsboro High, news reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) has spawned a lucrative side career by writing a book about the murders, which has been turned into a feature film called Stab. Stab is the story depicted in Scream with Heather Graham playing the Casey Becker character originally played by Drew Barrymore, and Tori Spelling playing the character of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), as prophesied in Scream.
A young couple (Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps) find themselves at the sneak preview of Stab, surrounding by hundreds of audience members wearing the same strangely-sad mask that signified terror in Scream. As they watch the scenes where the Casey Decker character is hacked to death, they themselves become the first victims of an apparent copy cat killer who is bent on finishing what was started two years ago: killing Sidney Prescott.
Once again, Prescott proves to be a difficult opponent. The killer slashes through a horde of victims (which in this case truly eliminate suspects) and we're put through a similar "whodunit" scenario as in the original (returning characters include David Arquette as Dewey Riley and Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks). Even the Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar as "Cici" Cooper) is no match for the killer, being the second victim to go. Finally the killer gets to Prescott, and the true motivations for the murders are revealed.
There is some social commentary about news manipulation by the media and the relationship between violence seen in movies and violence in real life. But more importantly, I think Scream 2 best illustrates the tendency of society today to shift responsibility for people's actions elsewhere (to failed relationships, bad parenting, and the visual arts). Also, with the character of Cotton Weary (Leiv Schreiber), writer Kevin Williamson shows that there's a fine line between a psychotic killer and, well, a psycho.
One of the things I found lacking is that the references to Scream, in the form of Stab are only minimal. There could've been a better juxtaposition of events in the original movie and the sequel, using Stab as a reference (this was done to some degree in Scream using events in other horror films), but perhaps that will happen in another sequel.
Scream 3 doesn't quite live up to the mark of the innovative first film in the series, but is much better than the second.
Once again, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is stalked by a psychopathic masked killer (with an expression that's hauntingly melancholic). Once again, the plot parallels that of a film being made within the film, Stab 3. And yet again, the actors do the most ridiculous things before falling prey to the killer's slashes.
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger does a fine job of working with former writer Kevin Williamson's characters, and teams up with Director Wes Craven to deliver a witty, amusing, and suspense-filled script with fast-paced action. In this final part of the trilogy, we slowly learn that the killers in the first two Scream films were just puppets in the hands of the real mastermind killer. And between the slashes, there's even some character development when we uncover the true nature of Sidney's mother's life. The movie also nicely juxtaposes with the scenes in Stab 3, something that was missing in Scream 2.
The most frustrating aspect of the film, of course, has to do with the stupidity of the characters who get themselves killed. But that's all done intentionally and in line with many many classic horror films. There is no "horror" expert here who telegraphs what the killer is going to do next but suspense/horror aficionados will be able to do a better job.
The acting is decent. Campbell is as sexy as ever. The supporting cast do a decent job. The score does well to serve the suspense. The sprinkling of interesting characters and actors (such Kevin Smith staples Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), Carrier Fisher, and Lance Henrikson of Millenium fame) is a nice touch. Fans of the first two Scream films will love this one---both for its tongue-in-cheek irreverence and for its suspense.