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Its a Scream, baby: 11 years after the first box-office killing

By Arielle Kaplan

Section: Arts

March 2, 2007

A phone rings and a blonde girl picks it up. Hello? she asks the caller. Twelve chaotic minutes later, she is bloody and hanging from a tree. This shocking scene opens the somewhat scary, wildly madcap, and much loved Scream trilogy, which in 1996, was director Wes Cravens gift to horror movie junkies and college students on sugar highs alike.

Scream, the first of the three cult classics, was groundbreaking in its own right. For starters, its the original Scary Movie (that was the first title) in that it parodies and openly confronts the horror genre and many famous films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Suspira. Im not generally one for horror flicks, but these I will watch over and over again because in reality, the trilogy is as much comedy and murder mystery as it is slasher.

Theres something about these films that I cant explain;

they have appeal on many different levels. You may just laugh them off as blood-and-gore silliness, but after you have seen the first one, you feel driven to see the other two (its the strangest thing, but this actually happened to my friends!). It even worked on me: I only saw the first one because Patrick Dempsey (more commonly known as Dr. Derek Shepherd on Greys Anatomy) is in the third and I felt it would be best to watch them in order. A week later, I bought all three.

In addition to Scream being both addicting and extremely entertaining, it also has a great ensemble cast which includes actors such as Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, and Liev Schreiber. Each character (though they drop like flies) evokes empathy from the audience in some way. Even the killers remain somewhat likeable, or at least highly amusing. Cox-Arquette, Lillard, and Kennedy give particularly standout performances as the hard-nosed journalist, Gale Weathers (so unlike her alter-ego of Monica Geller on Friends), the oddball and somewhat dim friend, Stu Macher, and the movie freak who knows all the rules of horror, Randy Meeks, respectively.

The beauty of the plotline is in its simplicity. What is easier to make then your own horror movie? People do it all the time and post them on YouTube. Thats exactly what the killers do to a group of friends in a sleepy California town. The actual plot isnt really the most interesting part of the movie, either. Of course theres a high school heroine, Sydney Prescott, (Campbell) and a bumbling cop, Dewey Riley (Arquette) and all the other usual players in a slasher flick, but whats most interesting is the way that the characters accept the insanity going on around them as fact and then openly exploit the very movie clichs which they complain about. Many of these clichs are already in the plot, such as the virgin being the heroine, killers wearing masks, excess ive blood, and of course, never saying Ill be right back, because no one ever comes back.

So then what does classify Scream as a horror movie? Well, the thing that makes Scream scary in the first place is of course the graphic scenes of violence (and do I mean violence), but what really makes viewers shiver is the music. Helpful hint: it always gets much louder and more sinister before someone jumps out from behind a door so you know something is going to happen. Dont believe me? Watch it without sound and see if you get half as nervous.

After the (okay, somewhat run-of-the-mill) story supposedly ends in Scream, it continues for another two movies, Scream 2 and Scream 3. Its a little unclear how much time passes between each movie, but by what a character gives for a timeline in the third movie, all three are within two years of each other (which doesnt make a lot of sense if you put the plots in real time, but I digress). Screams 2 and 3 both begin with long slasher scenes like the first one, but in my opinion, nothing compares to the original. With each successive movie, the body count grows and, in the words of Randy, the death scenes are always much more elaborate, more blood, more gorecarnage candy. This is true, which saves the trilogy from falling into the trap of repeating itself, like in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

In Scream 2, viewers are reunited with a considerably reduced number of returning characters and are introduced to new ones. Sydney and Randy are now in college, where the killings begin again. In addition to the surviving characters from the first movie, there is a whole new group of characters to kill off in creative ways, including Jerry OConnell, Laurie Metcalf, Sarah Michelle Geller, and Jada Pinkett-Smith. For all you Dawsons Creek fans, Joshua Jackson even makes a cameo appearance in the film class scene.

Scream 2 actually does continue the plot of Scream, but only through the motive of the new killers. Its interesting to see how the whole story comes together in the end (but to see that, you have to watch all three). Writer Kevin Williamson actually did a very good job with making all the ties plausible (even if the timeline is skewed!) and the characters grow from movie to movie. If youre just in it for the gore, dont worry, Scream 2 has just as much, if not more, to offer then the first movie, including someone being thrown off of a balcony.

Rules of a trilogy: chapter one sets the rules, chapter two bends the rules, but in the finale, forget the rules. How true when it comes to this trilogy. In Scream 3, all hell breaks loose. The returning cast is even smaller, the new characters die even faster, and up until the very end, the outlook doesnt look too promising for the good guys. The most notable new cast members in Scream 3 are Scott Foley, Patrick Dempsey, and Parker Posey as director Roman Bridger, detective Mark Kincaid and actress Jennifer Jolie. Each gives star performances (and ladies, Foley and Dempsey arent too hard on the eyes either!) while blending seamlessly into the cast of veteran and new characters. Foley especially plays his dual-natured character to perfection, sane one moment, and losing his cool the next.

In Scream 3, the mystery is finally solved and everything is neatly tied up at the end of the movie. Theres even some lasting romance. Its all a little too nicely packaged and clich (isnt that the point though?) for me at the end, but I suppose Kevin Williamson thought he had beat up his survivors enough. Speaking of survivors, I should mention that Campbell as Sydney Prescott does an incredible job throughout all three movies. Her character grows from a scared girl to a real fighter who has gone to hell and back several times. The growth and maturity that she is able to portray from the first movie to the last is excellent and makes her unquestionably deserving of the role.

Though the Scream trilogy is already considered retro by some in our constantly changing cinematic world, it is still a major milestone in movie history (it gave rise to the Scary Movie franchise!) and definitely worth watching. I even have a very simple breakdown of the three movies for you: Scream: without a doubt, the scariest, Scream 2: the most entertaining (think singing and dancing on tables), and Scream 3: the most psychologically disturbing (I still have wtf? moments with that one). All three movies are a lot of fun to watch with friends and great for parties or just hanging out. If youre like me and dont love the horror genre, give these a shot. Give this campy classic a chance and see what happens when someone takes their love of horror movies one step too far.

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