By Craig Joseph
At the risk of causing Tim to go fetal, whimpering in a corner, I elected to put one horror film on my list. Try as I might to maintain an air of elitism about my choices, I must confess: I love slasher-bimbo blood and gore fests. I will turn off a legit film if the cinematography or script is bad (or if Andie MacDowell makes a cameo), but I will put up with all kinds of garbage from a B-movie with chainsaws and ax-wielding psychopaths.
I blame Scream. When it was released in 1996, I was not a horror film buff. But something clicked for me after watching a promiscuous high school girl go to her death, stuck in a doggy door because of her ample breasts, crushed as the killer raises the garage door with her in it. It’s a fitting way for her to die; she’s been shaking those sisters in all the guys’ faces, and now they are responsible for her demise. Apologies, but that’s just funny.
And that’s the brilliance of Scream. No other movie is as successful at recognizing the relationship between terror and amusement, fear and laughter, and then marrying them for a couple of hours. It’s the same stuff that Aristotle was talking about in ancient Greece: empathy, purgation, catharsis. Sometimes, it just feels great to be scared out of your mind and scream your head off. At other times, a solid bout of laughter helps cleanse the palate of a crummy week. And when you can do both at the same time? Perfection.
One could make the argument that this happens in every horror film. The genre is known for ridiculous plot lines, awful acting, lame special effects and predictability. Most are not scary and we laugh at them derisively, even when that’s not what they’re after. But Scream was a new beast – a smart horror film intentionally seeking laughs through self-referential humor and by calling attention to the rules of the genre, all the while subverting those rules and scaring the pants off viewers. I have watched Drew Barrymore’s star turn at least 15 times, and I still suck my thumb (see earlier Robin Hood post for my resonances with Prince John).
Against those who accuse the genre of gratuity, consider this: Scream and its descendants are some of the most “moral” movies out there. Victims go to their death – punished for premarital sex, coquettish behavior, drunkenness and just being jerks. Evil is evil – and it gets punished in the end; none of this “we’re all shades of gray” psychobabble. Those who survive are the ones that follow the rules. And those who vanquish the killers and monsters do so because they are able to conceive of an invisible world where angels and demons occasionally use humanity as pawns in a larger comic battle. Believe in God and talk to Jesus regularly – and you have a better chance of making it through the movie alive.
Until the sequel.