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Why the ‘Scream’ Movies Are a Great First Franchise for New Horror Fans
If you are, or know of someone, who is just being introduced to the horror genre, the Scream movies are a great place to start. The original Scream was the first R-rated horror movie that I ever saw, and not only did it help me to understand the genre, but it also made me seek out other horror franchises to watch, particularly in the slasher sub-genre of horror.
My first Slasher Movie Experience
The first Scream was released in 1996, though I didn’t see it until over a year after it was released in theaters (I convinced my family to rent it from our local video store – remember those?). Not only did it introduce me to the gore and scares that horror movies offer, but it also educated me about how slasher movies follow specific rules. This is not so much redundant as it is formulaic. Like a good recipe, a good slasher movie will have you coming back for more, and the Scream franchise is a great place to work up an appetite.
A Brief History of Slasher Movies
It is said that the slasher movie was born upon the release of 1960’s Psycho. Since then, the masked killer murdering innocent people with sharp objects story has been retold over and over throughout the years. By the 1990’s, Hollywood had many slasher movie franchises under its belt. The first Scream movie used this history to its advantage. The characters in Scream are different from their previous counterparts in that they have seen these previous slasher movie franchises and reference them throughout the four films. The “killer” in the opening scene of the first film makes the viewer aware of this fact right away, spouting trivia from the movies Halloween (1978), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Friday the 13th (1980), all iconic franchises that my 11-year-old self had heard of but had never seen.
After I had recovered from my experience in viewing my first horror movie, I came to appreciate the rollercoaster thrills that Scream offered as well as the education that it gave me in terms of learning “the rules” of the genre. Intact virginity, abstaining from drug use and never uttering the phrase, “I’ll be right back!” are mentioned as the three main rules required to survive a horror movie. However, we see all of these rules broken throughout the first film, creating an entirely new set of rules which carried over into the slasher films that followed, such as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Urban Legend (1998). Horror movies nowadays are continuing to push the envelope in an attempt reinvent the genre just as Scream did. However, in viewing other pre-Scream slasher movies, we see just how true these rules were in shaping the plot of the earlier slasher movies.
The first Scream prompted me to explore the other slasher movies referenced throughout the movie. So, I gave Halloween (1978) a try. It less frightening to watch after viewing the more gruesomely modern kills in Scream, but it was just as tonally thrilling and iconic. I also liked catching the references that were mentioned and even duplicated in Scream: the haunting score, Laurie Strode’s discovery of her friends’ bodies and the famous closet trashing scene in the film’s climax.
Appealing to Teens
By then, I was hooked on the genre and at just the right time. The horror genre appeals particularly to teenagers for many reasons. It makes them feel grown up to know that they can handle the scares and the blood, and the films often focus on teenagers and teenage themes. The “bad” teenagers in the movies are punished for their rebellious behavior with the do-gooders coming out as survivors. (Note: If you want to learn more about the hidden meanings in horror movies, watch the documentary, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue.)
The films age gracefully with each sequel, only to come full circle and reintroduce a younger cast of characters in the latest installment, Scream 4. Each film comments on the slasher genre and how it fits into this category of films. The theme of the first film can be best described with the quote spoke in the climax of the movie, “Movies don’t create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!” It asks the audience not to blame the entertainment industry for the real world actions of others.
The Scream sequels follow in this tradition by naming and then breaking the rules. For instance, Scream 2, contains a scene in a film class where characters discuss the best and worst sequels of all time and later, explains how to narrow down the suspects in a mystery/horror sequel (From the trailer of Scream 2 via IMDB: “Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate - more blood, more gore - *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead”). Scream 3 highlights the power of a trilogy: how no character is safe, the villain is superhuman and the past will come back to haunt the characters. Scream 4 focuses on the remake, a very popular horror concept at the time of the film’s release. In a classroom scene, a new set of characters educate the original surviving cast about the power and reinvention of remakes and how the killer would adopt these practices in their quest to become the next Scream killer.
The Scream storyline is also interesting in that it contains an ongoing mystery aspect. Without giving away spoilers (despite the fact that the franchise is almost 20 years old, but I’m assuming that some readers haven’t seen these movies, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for them), there is a mystery surrounding the main character, Sydney Prescott. Why is she the target? Who would want to kill her? Who would go around killing people in order to create their own horror movie? The killers in a slasher movie often have a motive behind their kills, but Scream is different in that the films’ killers are not superhuman and are in some way connected to Sydney and her backstory.
It’s a very clever plotline that stretches throughout the four films that does not forget to take itself seriously despite being a series stuck in a genre that is rarely taken seriously by anyone but its fans. Every great movie killer has a motive, but Scream’s killers all serve a real purpose: whether it be a killer who wants to use scary movies as a way to get revenge on Sydney for one reason or another (even when she is not directly responsible for the events that had driven them to kill in the first place), attempt to get away with murder by blaming it on the entertainment industry or just trying to get their 15 minutes of fame in today’s media-driven world by becoming the focus of the next big news tragedy. The franchise is very aware of its audience and its era and makes their very human, though deranged killers the kind of people whose motivations mirror the average person’s, just in an exaggerated way.
The tone of these films is very useful to a first time viewer as well. Aside from learning to stomach large amounts of blood and guts, possibly for the first time, a new viewer (especially younger viewer) must deal with a very frightening and tragic tone, aided by a very somber score with a great deal of focus put on the main characters to allow the audiences to connect with them and ensure that they will root for them by each film’s end. The intensity tightens more and more as each film progresses.
The movies successfully offset this heavy tone by throwing in bits of humor, even at the most tense, climactic moments. There are comic relief characters (hitting their jokes at just the right moment), some slapstick humor (such as the killer getting knocked to the ground with a punch or by one of the heroes throwing something at their head) or a spoof remark at the film industry (example: When one character in Scream 2 is asked by the killer, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” He wryly answers, “Showgirls”). The movies take themselves seriously but not too seriously, helping audiences through the tough moments by interlacing them with tension-releasing humor.
Testing Your Gag Reflex
There is plenty of blood in these films along with some slit throats and even spilled guts. The victims are generally young, sometimes even as young as high school students. In real life, this is very tragic. In the movies, it’s what turns otherwise mild-mannered people into homicidal enthusiasts. The younger and the more gruesomely they die, the better. The special effects are arguably just as realistic as today’s and can be tough to stomach, though by today’s standards, is not as shocking as some of the gory effects that have been introduced in more recent films. Still, the opening scene of Scream is a very intense and gory. If a viewer cannot handle the first 10 minutes, it is a good indication that they should not continue watching, at least not right away.
Go For It!
Ultimately, slasher movies can be a very fun and addictive genre of films, and in my opinion, the Scream movies are the ideal place to start an obsession with this film genre. Teens will find the humor and violence reminiscent of their own teenage experiences in a more exaggerated form. For older audience members just discovering horror films, Scream is a very good introductory horror series due to its sophisticated storylines and social commentary. Hopefully, audiences will continue to be both thrilled and horrified by these films and as a result, seek out other slasher movies to enjoy. More importantly, it should at least give them a thrilling movie-watching experience, even if that’s as far as they want to take it.
What is the first slasher movie that you ever saw? How old were you? Is it now your favorite slasher movie? If not, what is? Leave your answers in the comments below.