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Scream

Scream

By Patrick Samuel • July 10th, 2013
DECONSTRUCTING CINEMA, PART 45: SCREAM
Dimension Films

Original release: December 20th, 1996
Running time: 111 minutes

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Composer: Marco Beltrami

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, David Arquette

Opening scene 00:00:00 to 00:12:22

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

Scream

Fade in on a ringing telephone.

My hand reaches for it, bringing the receiver up to my face and speaking into it.

“Hello?”

A raspy voice on the other end replies back with a question.

“What’s your favourite scary movie?”

If my life were a sasher movie and I’d be at home, all alone, when the phone rings suddenly, I’m pretty sure I’d know the answer to this question right away.

Since the moment I first heard about it on Entertainment Tonight, back in 1995 when it was titled Scary Movie, I knew Scream was going to be something special, yet I had no idea just how far up it would go on my list of all-time favourite horror movies based on one scene alone.

From what I’d read up on it in the months after that broadcast, Scream seemed to have everything I could ask for; the perfect cast picked from a line-up of the hottest young actors and actresses at the time, a director whose body of work was the reason why I was such an avid horror fan, a writer who knew how to write smart dialogue for young people and a story which read like a killer hit.

Set in the fictional Californian town of Woodsboro, it introduces us to high-schooler Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who’s trying to move on with her life after the brutal murder of her mother five years previously. A new spate of killings however puts her both in the killer’s path and in the media spotlight.

Scream

As Sidney and her friends try to work out who the knife wielding masked killer is they also use the rules established in the countless horror films they’ve watched over the years to try to survive, including Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th. But with this clever killer taunting them with phone calls and horror movie trivia questions, one by one those around Sidney realise they won’t make the final cut, at least not in the way they might’ve hoped.

After what seemed like an excruciating wait for it to reach cinemas, I remember excitedly purchasing my ticket on the day of release. It was an early afternoon showing, the earliest I could find. I took to my seat and I was about to finally see Scream for the first time.

Fading in from black we see and hear a ringing telephone. We’re inside Casey Becker’s (Drew Barrymore) house and she answers the call.

CASEY
Hello.

MAN’S VOICE
Hello.

CASEY
Yes.

MAN
Who is this?

CASEY
Who are you trying to reach?

MAN
What number is this?

CASEY
What number are you trying to reach?

MAN
I don’t know.

CASEY
I think you have the wrong number.

MAN
Do I?

CASEY
It happens. Take it easy.

Scream

Many of us have had this experience before, and for many of us, that’s usually the end of it. The caller usually doesn’t call back and try to strike up another conversation. This caller though is different. He does call back, and Casey once again answers, this time from the portable phone.

CASEY
Hello.

MAN
I’m sorry. I guess I dialled the wrong number.

CASEY
So why did you dial it again?

MAN
To apologize.

CASEY
You’re forgiven. Bye now.

MAN
Wait, wait, don’t hang up.

CASEY
What?

MAN
I want to talk to you for a second.

CASEY
They’ve got 900 numbers for that. See ya.

It’s at this point I remember starting to feel a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen next, but it didn’t feel good. Casey was all alone in the house and we could see it was pitch black outside. We can hear a dog barking somewhere in the distance and crickets chirping. This, together with there not being another house in Screamsight, didn’t seem like it was going to be a good for Casey, but what’s about to happen can’t be that bad, after all, Drew’s the star of the movie and has top billing – so she’ll come out of this fighting.

I remembered two of Wes Craven’s other movies, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which both contained scenes where Heather Langenkamp is terrorised by phone calls. Yet she survives those incidents.

The phone rings again as the popcorn sizzles in a pot on the stove. Casey reaches for the phone a third time. As the voice on the other end flirts with her, she plays along.

MAN
What’s your favourite scary movie?

CASEY
I don’t know.

MAN
You have to have a favourite.

CASEY
Uh… Halloween. You know, the one with the guy with the white mask who just sorta walks around and stalks the baby sitters. What’s yours?

MAN
Guess.

CASEY
Uh…Nightmare on Elm Street.

MAN
Is that the one where the guy had knives for fingers?

CASEY
Yeah…Freddy Krueger.

MAN
Freddy-that’s right. I liked that movie. It was scary.

CASEY
The first one was, but the rest sucked.

MAN
So, you gotta boyfriend?

CASEY
Why? You wanna ask me out?

MAN
Maybe. Do you have a boyfriend?

CASEY
No.

MAN
You never told me your name.

CASEY
Why do you want to know my name?

MAN
Because I want to know who I’m looking at.

It’s at this point the penny drops, for Casey, me and possibly everyone else watching Scream for the first time. Within Screamjust a few minutes the film has cranked up the atmosphere to boiling point and it doesn’t stop there. What happens next had my heart racing to the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep watching, but I couldn’t move or tear my eyes away from the screen.

As the voice proceeds to terrorise Casey, first by letting her know he’s watching her every move and then by getting her to play his sick game of horror movie trivia to save her boyfriend’s life, Scream has already referenced a handful of horror movies it’s using to play on our own knowledge of them before going on to effectively break the rules established by them.

Although she’s unable to save her boyfriend and has to watch him get gutted like a fish, Casey still has a chance to save herself with one final question her mysterious caller has for her.

MAN
Final question. Are you ready?

CASEY
..leave me alone..please…

MAN
Answer the question and I will.

MAN
What door am I at?

CASEY
What?

At this point I still had some vague hope that Drew’s character would make it to the end of the movie, but as the next few minutes followed I stared in frozen disbelief as those hopes disappeared.

It’s a harrowing scene, made all the more so when Casey manages to break free from her assailant and sees her parents coming up the driveway. She still has a fighting chance if she can scream for help but no sound comes out of her mouth. Marco Beltrami score helps to burn this tragic moment into out memories as the parents enter their home and immediately realise something’s wrong. It’s only when they pick up the phone to call the police that they hear their daughter on the other end, still clutching the cordless and gargling through a mouthful of blood for help. Her parents hear Caesy being stabbed and dragged along the lawn of their home.

The sequence ends with Casey’s mother’s screams as she runs out of the house to see her daughter’s eviscerated body gruesomely hanging from a tree.

In these opening minutes alone, Scream throws out the guidebook for horror films and leaves us Screamgasping for breath and wanting to know how the rest of the story plays out – especially now that all bets were off. Adam Rockoff points out in Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film:

The film’s first, and most famous scene, which Williamson describes as homage to When A Stranger Calls, was shot over the course of five days at a private residence in the mountains of Sonoma. For this scene, in which Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is terrorized by a series of threatening phone calls, Williamson thought it would be important to get a known star for the role. This way, when she is killed at the beginning of the film, the audience understands that all bets are off. Barrymore is perfect as the fresh-faced Casey, but to ensure a completely authentic performance, Craven reminded the animal lover of a story he had heard about a dog being burned by its owner.”

Craven’s story must’ve worked because Drew gives a powerful and credible performance as the teenager who was never meant to get out of her house alive. With the story then moving on to introducing us to characters such as Tatum (Rose McGowan), tabloid news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Sidney, Scream became the film that was credited for breathing life back into the horror genre.

Yet for all its edginess, Scream’s self-referentialism wasn’t an entirely new phenomenon in cinema, as George Ochoa notes in Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films .

“Consistent with its postmodern style, there is little genuine originally in Scream. Even the idea of having characters be familiar with horror movies had been done before. In Halloween, Laurie and the children she is babysitting are watching The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet, and in Fright Night, the teenage hero’s familiarity with vampire movies gives him an edge over actual vampires. The “surprise” ending of the double murderer is at least as old as Sei donne per l’assassino (Blood and Black Lace; 1964), a Mario Bava film that influenced the slasher subgenre. What was new in Scream was to bring self-referentiality to the slasher film in such a thoroughgoing and playful way.”

Without it out we might not have had I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legends, The Faculty or Final Destination, which all featured smarter kids than the ones we saw in the 80s slasher movies. To some extent, they recognised certain rules and did their best to abide by them in order to stay alive, but like Casey, there’s one thing they never banked on – the rules won’t save them.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Scream and gone to pieces watching this opening sequence over the years, but there’s one rule I always abide by – I turn off my phone.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

You can find his music on Soundcloud .

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