Time to Get Meta: Scream and the Deconstruction of the Slasher Movie

*Major Spoilers Ahead!*

Jason. Michael Myers. Freddy. Even if you have zero interest in horror you’ve heard at least one of these names, even after 40 years. Heck, ‘ol Mike Myers was in theaters again a couple years back. These are names that won’t go away quietly into the night. 

The slasher movie didn’t begin with these names, but this was the golden era, where the ‘rules’ of the slasher movie were solidified. Of course with anything that sees spiking popularity in Hollywood, the cashing in starts. First with a glut of low budget slasher movies in the ‘80s that were trying to get a sweet,  sweet slice of the money pie. 

Then came the sequels. As a kid this is what I remember the most. I didn’t see any of the original movies until my 20’s and it felt like everyone was already in the club. By 1996 we were at the sixth or seventh sequel of some of these slashers. 

It is still strange to me that one of the first slashers I ever saw was Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). Most of the references went over my head, but I still loved it. I rewatched it for the first time this year and I was overwhelmed by the emotion the cold open brought up. I nearly cried over Drew Barrymore’s death. The utter brutality of it.

After this we follow Sidney, as the killer Ghostface narrows in on her and those in her circle. All the ‘teen’ characters reference old slasher movies throughout, knowing the different rules and tropes themselves. Through them Wes Craven (of Nightmare on Elm Street fame) is able to make his own commentary and show how much the slasher movies have impacted the kids of the ‘90s. 

Sidney herself hates scary movies because to her they are all about a “stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.” It isn’t lost on me that when Ghostface attacks her after this conversation she ends up running up the stairs. This is not to shit on Sidney as a character, I think she’s great, and she’s actually able to fight back and keep a moderate clear head in the face of danger. But fear is a powerful chemical that sometimes can make you do stupid things. 

Like poor Tatum, poor poor Tatum. 

Sidney’s friend Tatum makes a similar mistake to the aforementioned girls in scary movies. She’s cornered in a garage with no escape, and her flight mode kicks into gear and she tries going through a doggie door that’s attached to the garage door. There’s a small moment when you think “maaaaybe.” But poor Tatum was doomed as soon as she was halfway through, completely stuck. 

What I caught this time around was Craven playing with the ‘red herring’ boyfriend trope. There’s usually one dude that is a little suspicious, and that’s Billy (Skeet Ulrich), the one with a shaky alibi and Sidney’s longtime boyfriend. And right when you’re rolling your eyes and go ‘of course it’s him’, the f-in’ murderer comes blasting through the door and bye bye Billy. This really shook 13 year old Tasheena. 

But as we know now it’s all smoke and mirrors. Billy is a student of the slasher film and enlisted the help of Stu, his homicidal bestie, to play tag team killers (played beautifully by Matthew Lillard). Billy knew he would be a prime suspect and did everything he could to throw suspicion off himself and onto Sidney’s father. 

When all is revealed Sidney says, “You sick fucks. You’ve seen one too many movies,” and Billy boy gives us the best line:

“Now Sid, don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”

Man, I know Craven, along with many directors of slasher and gory horror movies get scapegoated alot for the ‘what’s wrong with the kids’ these days. But movies, and video games, and other forms of entertainment don’t create sick fucks. Seeing horror movies as a kid didn’t put a homicidal demon in me. There are other reasons why small kiddos shouldn’t watch horror movies, but it isn’t because they might wake up with a desire for blood one day. 

I wanted to revisit Scream because of late, probably after its 20th anniversary, I feel like there’s been a backlash. I think this is due to its popularity, because in discussions about people’s favorite scary movies (especially horror-comedy) when someone brings up Scream I feel like they get eye rolls as a response. Saying it’s not that funny or clever. 

And it’s definitely not the first to get meta. Craven even made a movie two years prior that was in a similar vein, like New Nightmare, where Freddy comes into our world and stalks the dreams of the actress who played Nancy (Heather Langenkamp). Craven, Robert England, and John Saxon even play themselves in the movie!

Scream is just one of those ‘the right movie at the right time’ moments in film history. I don’t know if it’s my favorite but it’s definitely high on my list, and I understand the love for it and why it continues to come up in conversation. Setting aside the commentary, this is still an amazing slasher movie, and I think it’s rare when someone can dive into the meta but also make a solid movie in the process.

I forgot to mention Courtney Cox and David Arquette above, but trust when I say they are a delight and these are my favorite roles from them (sorry Monica).

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