I Finally Watched: Scream


Among the things I am getting rid of, per my New Year’s resolution to discard stuff I don’t want/use/need, are the movies that have languished unwatched on my DVR, some for as long as two years.

While one or two are favorites that I don’t own, most of the movies are modern classics that I have never seen and feel the need to watch. Some are highly regarded masterpieces while others are cult classics or endearing time capsules of an era. All of them are movies I feel everyone has watched, except me.

Slowly but surely, though, I’m now watching them — and freeing up much needed space on the DVR.

Having written a post way back when I finally watched Napoleon Dynamite, I thought it would be fun to make a series out of these modern classic viewings. Thus, I give you “I Finally Watched.”

First up is a movie I finally watched a while ago: Scream.

I did not have the balls to watch Scream for a long time. I’m not a scary movie guy — I don’t like being scared or watching people being mutilated — so I avoided Scream like all other horror movies. However, over time I began to feel like I was missing out on something, especially since Scream became such a cultural hallmark of my adolescence. Plus, the movie has been referenced and mocked for years and the allusions were mostly over my head. Clearly, a viewing was long overdue so I recorded and watched it while living with Mervgotti five years ago.

Scream is a whodunit slasher film that is credited with revitalizing the horror genre in the mid-nineties. I don’t remember exactly what the story is but it involves a dude, wearing the now-iconic Ghostface mask, killing teenagers for one reason or another. (Great synopsis, huh?) There’s obviously a lot more to the plot, including a back story about the main character’s mother being killed one year earlier, but the finer details have obviously faded from memory. A number of twists and turns do an excellent job of keeping the killer’s identity a mystery until the end, when everything is wrapped up nicely and everyone — except the unfortunate characters who met their bloody end, of course — goes home relieved and safe.

Case closed. End of story. No need for any sequels, right?

Not!

Though my memory of the movie is very fuzzy (perhaps it’s not the best movie to launch this series with), I do recall my initial impression: underwhelmed. “That’s it?” I thought as the closing credits began to roll. “That’s what all the fuss was about? That’s what I avoided for years?” Scream felt hurried and cheesy, and was not as scary as I thought it would be. It did not live up to my preconceived notion based on all the hype and hysteria.

A couple factors probably influenced that impression: (1) all of the references and mockery I had seen spoiled my experience of the real McCoy, and (2) the repulsive movies BO forced me to watch in college have set my horror bar pretty high. (Though some of the movies BO showed me were stylish, thoughtful, and enjoyable, others were so macabre and disgusting that they left me depressed and disturbed for days. Needless to say, that is not how I want to feel after watching a movie.) After all the attention and parodies, I felt like I had already seen Scream; after all the sick stuff BO showed me, it was not very scary, either — or at least it did not sicken me for days (thank God!). In that sense, I felt disappointed. However, I will admit that watching it 15 years or so after it was released, after it revived and influenced an entire genre, is no doubt very different than what movie-goers probably experienced in 1996.

However, that is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching the movie. In the end, it was a worthwhile experience and I am finally able to appreciate all the references in the Scary Movie franchise, at least in the first couple movies (I doubt I have seen any past the second).

A couple other impressions have stayed with me:

• I remember everyone making a big deal about Drew Barrymore’s appearance. Why was it a big deal? I don’t know. Perhaps people found it disturbing that the cute little girl from E.T. gets killed. E.T. is another movie I have never seen beginning to end so I didn’t care. However, if that is the reason, a lot of people must not have seen Drew Barrymore setting people on fire and blowing shit up in Firestarter.

• I expected the meta quality to be much more pronounced. A self-awareness of the genre’s conventions was, I thought, a hallmark of the Scream franchise. Instead, this first movie is not overly self-referential until the end. Though another viewing is probably in order, I felt the self-references came out of nowhere. I suppose many elements and scenes are inspired by past slasher films but I did not get the sense that the movie is overtly satirical. Again, it’s been a while and I should probably watch the movie again.

• Horror movies are often set in tranquil, ideal-looking communities — mostly, I assume, to serve as a contrast to the carnage and heighten the sense of fear. Scream is no different. Throughout the movie I found myself thinking, “Where the hell is that? It looks like a nice place to live.” According to Wikipedia, Scream was filmed in cities in Sonoma County, California.

• Henry Winkler is the high school principal. Fonzie. It seemed odd but I played along. It now makes sense why Squiggy is the high school principal in Scary Movie.

I wish I had more to write about Scream but I honestly don’t. Like I said, it’s been forever since I saw it. However, I do want to write about the concept of movies as time capsules.

Movies set in their contemporary present, like Scream, eventually become time capsules for that era. The clothing, hair styles, technology, music, slang — all of it reflects pop culture at that time. Or at least it does to a certain extent. Movies are not 100 percent realistic when it comes to portraying contemporary life or the people in it — artistic exaggeration and convenient idealism are used for the sake of the story, and product placement may also play a role — so the portrayals should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, many movie characters are overly fashionable, have top-notch computers and gadgets, and the décor and design of their homes tend to reflect the latest styles — none of which probably fit the description of anyone you know, the things they have, or the places they live. But the depictions are close enough and over time one will forget the ways in which one does not perfectly match the other. Basically, movies can be 120-minute snapshots in time.

That is one way I approached Scream — as a 111-minute time capsule of 1996. It added an enjoyable element to my first viewing experience; it was fun to see old brand logos and packaging and roll my eyes at the way the characters are dressed. It was a pleasant, but bloody, trip back in time.

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