CBR’s 31 Days of Halloween is a daily feature highlighting our staff’s favorite horror movies to watch during the month of October. Reader, beware – you’re in for a scare!
The slasher subgenre is one of the most popular to indulge in during Halloween. Films like Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre helped kick off the slasher craze in the ’70s, and it powered through the ’80s with films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. However, like most genres, the slasher trend started to feel overplayed, needing a fresh take in order for this subgenre to stay alive, and 1996 delivered just that with Scream.
Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, Scream is both a horror movie and satire of the genre, and the impact on pop culture can still be felt today. For instance, Scream lead to four sequels, with the latest one having been released in early 2022. With a clever script, unique vision, love for the genre and stand-out characters, Scream is a must-watch this Halloween.
One year ago, Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) mother was raped and murdered. While still dealing with the trauma of this nightmare, Sidney and co. — Tatum (Rose McGowan), Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Stu (Matthew Lillard), Dewey (David Arquette), Gale (Courtney Cox), Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Casey (Drew Barrymore) — go through a new hell, as a serial killer — Ghostface — hunts down those in Sidney’s circle, with these killings sharing a dark connection to her mother’s death. Along with that, Ghostface is someone close to Sidney, leading to a bloody mystery about who the killer is, as well as an iconic reveal.
There is a lot to love about Scream, especially for first-time viewers; however, for the sake of this article, spoilers are ahead in regard to those twists. The opening scene alone acts as a short film, and back in the day, it took audiences by surprise as Casey was advertised as the final girl, but that was far from the case. This cemented that no one was safe, regardless of the « rules » of horror movies, something Scream constantly calls out. Case in point, Casey is far from the typical woman who is killed off in a slasher film, at least according to Randy’s rules. However, Sidney survives despite breaking the rules.
Along with that, Sidney is one of the best final girls to this day. What makes her so unique is how Sidney already went through her worst nightmare, losing her mother. Because of this, Scream explores a woman’s trauma in a relatable way while maintaining her agency and letting her feel her pain. She is the hero of this narrative, and even when characters like Billy and Stu try to exploit her trauma, she reminds them and viewers this is her movie.
On top of that, Scream’s representation of women at large is remarkable. Instead of one woman surviving, Gale is another non-traditional final girl in Scream. Far from the « virginal » or « bookish » final girl many associate the trope with, Gale is a stubborn, selfish reporter — one who wants to profit off the Woodsboro killings. However, she also seems dedicated to finding the truth and is not one to be walked over. Like Sidney, she has immense agency. Along with her, Tatum is one of the best ride-or-die friends in horror, and while she does not make it to the end of the film, she’s unapologetic, hilarious and gives Sidney the support she deserves. All three characters give a more complex representation of gender in horror at large, proving Scream’s point that characters can’t always be restricted to cinematic rules and archetypes.
These archetypes and rules are constantly being inverted and played with in Scream, which is another reason why this is a much-watch for Halloween. Unlike the spoof films of the 2000s, like Scary Movie, Scream is still a horror film while also making fun of the genre. It’s an excellent example of satire, as it respects horror at large while also calling it out in a fun way, as opposed to treating everything like a joke. However, the humor is still there, and major props to Williamson and Craven for finding a perfect balance of comedy and horror. When things need to be taken seriously, they are, as is the case for the reveal behind Ghostface.
Stu and Billy become some of the cruelest and most sadistic killers of the slasher genre. Unlike Michael, Leatherface or Jason, they have clear motives that are incredibly dark. On top of that, these are two high school students — not some supernatural force — however, they do the unthinkable and take genuine joy in it. Lillard, in particular, delivers an unhinged performance. Despite the fun of Lillard’s performance, this scene is not a joke. This is a great example of how Scream is able to be an entertaining satire, as well as a genuine horror film with complex characters that are fun to watch, even when they are monsters.
Scream is a great movie to watch again and again, especially with friends. Even when one knows the twists, the entertainment value and nuances are not lost. Plus, one can feel like they are part of Stu’s party, watching along with Randy and co. as they revel in the horror and humor of Scream. This is made for long-time fans of the genre, as well as those who are looking for something different from the slasher subgenre. Decades later, Scream is still a fresh take on slashers, and for these reasons and many more, Scream is a must-watch this Halloween.
For those in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Scream can be seen this October in select outdoor cinemas. Meanwhile, for those at home, Scream is available on Paramount+ for those with a subscription. One can also rent or buy Scream digitally on Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV+.