Scream (1996)

[8.5]

Wes Craven’s self-referential teenaged slasher flick soars on the strengths of Kevin Williamson’s clever screenplay and its charismatic cast. Anyone who loves slasher movies will revel in the in-jokes and homages, but the film isn’t all satire — it’s a fine little thriller in its own right.

Neve Campbell (TV’s Party of Five) picks up the mantle of ‘scream queen’ admirably and the supporting cast each shine in roles that would typically be throw-aways. Courtney Cox is probably my favorite of the lot, playing a cut-throat news reporter who isn’t quite the cast-iron bitch she pretends to be. David Arquette is endearing as the oafish deputy who takes fancy to her. Relative newcomers Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Jamie Kennedy are dependable for comic relief, while Drew Barrymore carries the brutal opening prelude all by herself. These kind of performances don’t get enough credit. Aside from acting in a perpetual state of heightened emotion, the entire cast succeeds in making everyone a bonafide suspect. They do it with little eye movements, tiny gestures, careful inflections, and of course, the help of a director and a screenwriter who are up there on the high wire with them, balancing the comedy with the terror, the direction with the mis-direction. Composer Marco Beltrami contributes a hell of a finishing touch with his dynamic score, a trend-setter that is at turns crashing and elegiac.

It’s not hard to parody horror films, especially slasher movies — the genre begs for it (cue Rose McGowan’s garage scene titty hard-on). But there’s a lot of love behind the satirical jabs in Scream. It’s Craven’s Valentine to the genre and its enthusiastic fans.

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