Monday, November 02, 2015

Scream (1996)

When Wes Craven passed away earlier this year, and as I read several of the tributes to the director and his career, it occurred to me that -- as much as his work had been a major part of the pop cultural landscape during my childhood and teen years -- I had seen surprisingly little of his films. In fact, outside of Last House on the Left, I couldn't swear to it that I had seen any of his films at all (not even the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise).

I was 12 when Scream was released, and although I did not see it then, there were few films at that time that I recall creating more excitement among my peers, who talked endlessly about it. So by the time I finally got around to seeing the film 19 years later, there weren't too many surprises. I was already familiar with the premise (a girl is stalked by a serial killer on the anniversary of her mother's murder), its clever approach to the genre (a post-modern, self-aware take on the slasher film), its much-publicized casting gimmick (Drew Barrymore's character is killed off in the first ten minutes), and of course its now-iconic "ghost face" serial killer character.

Scream is still not the kind of film I typically care for, but Craven is clearly committed to the material and has fun with the self-aware approach to the genre that he had made such an indelible mark on, and it is to his credit that it actually works, rather than just serving as a glossary of the genre's tropes, or name-dropping famous movies or scenes for their own sake, as lesser films might have.

There's something else about this film that I enjoyed immensely, and that was the performance of Matthew Lillard. Whatever happened to him? He emerged as one of the most interesting, offbeat character actors of the 1990s, thanks to his roles in John Waters' Serial MomHackers, and a fine starring turn in the indie black comedy Dead Man's Curve, but I have not seen him in anything since 2004's Without a Paddle (an otherwise forgettable comedy). His performance in Scream was a highlight of the film for me, and reminder of just what a unique and immensely talented actor he is.

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