Horror is a wide, vast genre with subgenres and classic plots hidden away under the surface. A horror movie can terrify or delight, and that’s the beauty of it. Some movies can have a plot so rich, and a twist so shocking, that it still has fans reeling after 20 years...

Drew Barrymore in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

Drew Barrymore in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

Scream was released in 1996 (1997 in the UK), and was an instant classic. Its simplistic plot allowed the characters to shine and show their personalities, and of course, it let Ghostface’s presence scream a little louder.

The film is inspired by the murders committed by Danny Rolling in 1990; Rolling would stalk young students and then murder them, a horrific tale that would become the backbone to Scream.

The film centres on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered a year before the movie begins. While she is still struggling to come to terms with her mom’s brutal murder, a new line of killings begin...

Sidney, after reeling from the recent murders of two of her school’s students, tries to piece together who could’ve done it, and stars to suspect everyone; even her boyfriend.

As the bodies begin to pile up, Sidney must face her fears, confront the killer, and figure out who would commit such gruesome crimes.

The opening to Scream is perhaps the most brilliant and iconic scenes in horror history. We open up on Casey (Drew Barrymore), who is getting ready to watch a scary movie. When she answers the phone, an unfamiliar voice talks back to her.

Ghostface himself / Picture Credit: Dimension Films
Ghostface himself / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

Despite being initially intrigued by the mystery man on the phone asking her what her “favourite scary movie” is (to which she replies Halloween), she becomes increasingly concerned about the voice and who it belongs to; especially when it asks her name so he knows “who I’m looking at”.

This scene will always be something to admire, as the lack of music creates a genuinely cold atmosphere as Casey slowly walks around her house, locking doors as she goes. The dialogue is perfect, and can be recounted by almost everyone who has seen it. It is the perfect, harrowing beginning to what will be an incredible movie.

Following this outstanding opening, we’re introduced to Sidney, a nervous and compassionate student who misses her mother. Once her school is swarmed with press and she is confronted by headstrong (and rather rude) journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who insists she put an innocent man in jail for killing her mother, her paranoia surfaces.

Neve Campbell in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films
Neve Campbell in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

As the threat of Ghostface looms, Sidney becomes less trustworthy, and even suspects her own boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), who, to be fair, does have an aura of ‘serial killer’ hanging about him like a bad smell.

What Scream does really well, among other things, is place the blame upon Billy and cement the idea that he’s the killer in your mind; then the movie throws reasons at you as to why it can’t possibly be him. This is such a clever way to play things out, because you’re in two minds, questioning your own judgement and that of others throughout the whole film.

Another aspect to this outstanding horror movie, is the references and slight fourth-wall breaks. Stu (Matthew Lillard) and Randy (Jamie Kennedy) are horror fanatics, and discuss the rules and traits of the genre a few times within Scream.

Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films
Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

This was a genuinely brilliant choice by the creators of the film, as talks of final girls, don’t look behind you, how if you have sex you’re now on the kill list, and how you should never say “be right back” are all tropes of classic horror movies, including this one.

Scream knows its audience well; it recognises (very tastefully) that films such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were still popular at the time, so rather than copy and pasting plot points or character models, it shouts out those films as testaments of horror, while becoming one itself – ingenious.

Scream is immensely self-aware, and makes not only references to the fact that “this isn’t a movie”, when of course it is, but to other classics that were (and still are) beloved, which doesn’t spoil the illusion; it only emphasises the enjoyment and is a nod to fans that know the rules of horror, and recognise the subtle jokes within.

For example, when Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is alone in the school and believes there to be someone else in the building, he pokes his head out of his office door and sees a janitor dressed exactly like Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is a short, subtle recognition of another horror classic.

Neve Campbell in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films
Neve Campbell in Scream / Picture Credit: Dimension Films

The score for this movie is also fantastic; many horror films today utilise music as little as possible to let the fear do the speaking. However, Scream places music at almost every turn, some of it rather cheesy by today’s standards; but despite this, you can still imagine what that music did back in 1990 – caused panic.

Sidney is, despite her somewhat soft appearance and jittery demeanour, a stunning female protagonist. From Casey at the start of the movie who screamed and cried (a normal response to being chased by a killer), to Tatum (Rose McGowan), putting up a fight, to Sidney who, throughout the movie, begins to get angry and has had enough of Ghostface’s games, we see an arc of resistance from the film’s female characters.

Sidney fights back more and more every time the killer corners her, showing that she isn’t someone who can be put down so easily.

Scream is an outstanding horror classic. The twist is done beautifully and the set up for it lingers through the whole movie, the characters are incredibly written and cast, and the self-awareness was a genius touch; this feature has more than earned its place as an iconic masterpiece.

Watch the trailer for Scream below:

Written by Melissa, who you can follow on Twitter @melissajournal

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