I Realize I’m Late to the Party, But I Just Want to Say One Thing: ‘Scream’ Is Awesome
I don’t think I can name a classic slasher movie I’ve actually seen.
Growing up, I couldn’t do horror — actually, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was too scary until well into high school. Childhood anxiety will do that. But as the horrors of cenobites and bloodsuckers began to pale in comparison to the horrors of adult life, I grew a taste for the genre. Well, at least, a certain genre, one that includes Nosferatu and The Witch.
But I never felt the call to slashers, never had an inch of curiosity about Mr. Hockey Mask or ol’ Knives-for-Hands. To me, the killer in Halloween was the other Mike Myers; I’d rather spend the holiday with a nice syndicated viewing of So I Married an Ax Murderer. I suppose I half-slept through Texas Chainsaw Massacre at some point in college, but all I retain from it is that it is, contrary to what had previously I believed, actually possible to make cannibalism boring.
That said, I come from the irony generation; though I lack experience with the shameless thrills of the classic slasher, I can itemize and categorize every trope it runs on. Scary Movie and, when humor later outgrew Wayans Brothers, Cabin in the Woods were my entres into the genre. (This may sound backward to you, but have you seen any of the 70s airline thrillers that inspired Airplane!?).
Why am I talking about this? Well, I love Halloween. I love the Addams family and Beetlejuice and black cats and fantasy horror. And recently, as I lean further into my prescribed social role as a black-clad, skull-toting weirdo, I’ve had the gaps in my pop culture education pointed out to me.
All this to say: this week, a friend decided to assist with my education, and Scream was on Netflix.
I was five years old when the movie originally came out, and though I was frightened by the cave scene in Aladdin at that age, somebody was letting their kids watch Scream. I know this because of the Halloween costumes. Until well into middle school, most boys’ favored costume was the Scream robe and mask, and bonus points if the mask had those little tubes through which you could pump fake blood. No merchandise could possibly have turned my princess-dressed, fairy tale-guzzling self off the series more.
Of course, now I know that my disdain was mistaken. I realize that everyone else was saying this twenty years ago, but I’m saying it now: Scream is awesome.
I expected the fun, inventive scares (though Drew Barrymore in brown lipstick was a surprise). What I didn’t expect was to discover that my backward introduction into the slasher genre was continuing in chronological order. Where I grew up on horror parodies, Scream was the birth of the self-aware horror movie, constantly lampshading the conventions of its own genre.
Arch self-awareness is so common in genre movies nowadays that it has come right back around to being unironic, but 1996 was a different time, friends. In 1996, you could have your teenage victims discuss the tropes of the slasher genre at length — even, in some cases, showing nearly full awareness that they were living in that genre — and still let the audience feast their eyes on the fulfillment of all those tropes. The killer could be comically inept and still viscerally terrifying. You could have your Courtney Cox and your bloodbath, too. Eat your heart out, Frozen.
I think I’m going to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street now. I’ve been drawn down the path, and who knows; enough patience, and I might finally reach the vanishing point with a first-ever viewing of Psycho (American Psycho being, as is natural, already a part of my repertoire). But I don’t know what the journey will be like; I may be too well-armed to learn much.
After all, what can possibly compare to Neve Campbell standing vigilantly over the killer’s body, waiting to shoot him in the head when he, as the script so earnestly warns us, “comes back for one last scare”?