By Tim Barlow
Do you like scary movies? Nope. But really, any “scary” things would be more accurate: haunted houses, haunted hayrides, ghost stories, my dog barking at nothing in the middle of the room (probably ghosts), etc… I have what doctors call an active imagination, which means that after the act of being scared should be finished, my brain takes over and makes life infinitely more shitty for years to come. For example, when I was in 5th grade, someone just told me about the movie, It, just the basic plot, and I haven’t looked at a sewer the same way since. Don’t even get me started on the trailer I accidentally saw for Paranormal Activity; shit in heaven, that movie looks horrifying!
But we’re here to talk about Scream, which came out in theaters when I was in High School. I remember everyone going to see it in groups and detailing who was most scared or screamed the loudest in the hallways on Monday morning. But I did not plan on accurately participating in those conversations, ever. Ever. And that’s where Scream posed a problem, it wasn’t just another scary movie playing one boring Friday night at a friend’s house, that I could safely parry away by acting like I spontaneously fell asleep, or feigning a sudden illness or going upstairs to make extended small talk with parents. No, the thing I remember most about Scream is that it didn’t just go away – it’s popularity only seemed to build, and my regrets-only tally was growing. Until Scream, I could safely avoid scary movies without much trouble, but Scream was different, it was sharp and clever and self aware and funny and scary, and worst of all, popular.
Slowly, as only it can during High School, time passed, and I valiantly maintained my hold out. Scream moved from the cineplex to the dollar theater and eventually to VHS, and the cause for my alarm seemed to move with it. But High School is cruel, especially for late bloomers, and when my first girlfriend arrived, wouldn’t you know it, she just lovvvveeed scary movies. Well damnit the time for being a chicken shit (at least in front of her) was over. I watched more scary movies during that season of life than all the therapy sessions and all the night lights in the world could ever erase, and Scream was one of them. Did I enjoy that first watching? Of course not. But I couldn’t really hate it either. Yes, it was scary, but it was also hilarious; graciously cutting tension with witty dialogue in one scene and then violently slashing High School students in the next. Yes, it was predictable, but it was also ingeniously self-aware, as in the way Wes Craven toys with established scary movie tricks like closing doors to a sudden build of music, only to have no killer there at all…the first time. It was nasty, with dark, disturbing character histories, but also light-hearted and silly, like when actor Jamie Kennedy is drunkenly watching the movie, Halloween, calling out for “Jamie…” (Lee Curtis, acting in Halloween) to “…turn around!”, as a killer also simultaneously sneaks up behind him.
I suspect it’s this duality, adding depth and layers to an often stale and tired genre, that also resonates with Craig. The ability for the two sides, the nasty and the playful to not just coexist, but to push the other beyond where either could go alone. The give and take that allows the playfulness to first instill a sense of comfort which in turn makes the nasty all the more nasty, which in turn makes the playful all the more welcome again the next round, taking the viewer on an endless rolling torture. Leaving me both enjoying the movie, and desperately praying the VCR would just spontaneously break, forever. No, I absolutely don’t like scary movies, but I guess I don’t mind Scream.