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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

Scream (1996) and Self-Aware Horror

In 1996, Scream hit theaters and instantly became one of the most beloved modern horror films of its time. Known for its quick wit and meta approach to horror, Scream perfectly straddles the line between horror and comedy. As our characters watch the film Halloween, we, as audience members, hear Halloween’s iconic audio queues and soundtrack layered over the terror that is unfolding on our screens. Not only that, but at one point, one of the characters in Screams lays out the “rules of horror.”

Scream (1996) was written by Kevin Williamson, known for his clever screenplays. He also went on to write I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and The Faculty (1998). And, of course, Scream was directed by one of the most prolific horror directors of all time, Wes Craven. Speaking of meta, one of the characters in the movie even mentions Wes Carpenter, a conflation of Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Craven also directed A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on The Left, just to name a few.

Despite its strong backbone, Scream is carried by its stellar cast. Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette are joined by Rose McGowan and Skeet Ulrich.

And it’s twist ending, which I will not spoil, but I will highly praise, helped to breathe new life into the slasher genre. Ghostface has gone down in history as one of the top horror villains from a franchise. At the time, the slasher genre had really only been around for two decades and some change. Halloween really kicked us off in the late 1970s, shifting the horror genre from Hitchcock, zombies, and Universal Monsters to blood and guts. Scream introduced another layer to the slasher genre, high-brow comedy. Though it may seem like another teen slasher movie on the surface, its self-awareness is perfection.

The film inspired a franchise with six films, which may seem small compared to other horror franchises (Halloween has 13 films), but it’s allowed the franchise to retain its quality for the most part. Its resurgence in 2022 was one of the strongest series re-boots I’ve seen in a long time.

I remember the first time I saw Scream, which was on a tiny TV in my parent's kitchen. It was playing on cable with commercial breaks, and I had confused it with Scary Movie. I was terrified because I wasn’t expecting it actually to be scary. Scream remains one of the best horror comedy films that is both actually funny and actually scary.

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