I’m sure that, as a person, Wes Craven is a lovely human being. I’ve never heard him tooting his own horn about any of his movies, and I’ll even admit that I’m a big fan of some of his lesser known titles. But there are 3 in particular that I just can’t deal with, first because I don’t think they’re that great, and second because I’ve grown pretty damn sick of hearing about how great they are.
So what are The Big 3? Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Scream. Now, lemme make short work of the first two because it’s Scream, admittedly through no fault of its own, that’s managed to get on my absolute last nerve today. Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if, I dunno, maybe it’s me. I am the common denominator in the following equation. But surely I can’t be that wrong about all of these. Right?
I’ve stated elsewhere that Last House On The Left is just not a great movie. It has a frequently ill-fitting score and comes off as graphic and gross just for the sake of being graphic and gross. I’ve never understood how Roger Ebert was able to praise this movie only to later turn around and condemn the equally bleak and depressing I Spit On Your Grave.
A Nightmare On Elm Street, I’ve also mentioned before, is just off-putting and dumb. The wise-cracking Freddy comes off as cutesy and annoying, and it should be far more troubling than it is to remember that he was killed for murdering children. This is disappointingly overshadowed by his banter and trademark one-liners.
And that leaves Scream. Really the main reason Scream is even on my radar today is because of a Vox article by Aja Romano sent me by a lovely and talented friend/fellow blogger over at fifty-two whose intentions were, I’m sure, benevolent not malevolent and not meant to take an opener to such a sizeable can o’ worms.
The piece itself, starting with its very title (linked in case anyone is curious), Scream Broke All The Rules Of Horror—Then Rewrote Them Forever, raises a number of things I gotta take issue with. Now, I will concede that ” it’s important to recognize the role Scream played in the genre’s evolution,” but that hardly makes it the horror genre’s be-all and end-all.
Hang on. Y’know what? Now that I think about it, maybe it really isn’t all that important to recognize this since it’s been yammered about for 25 fucking years.
And that’s the first problem. For most of us, “This ain’t,” to quote Penn Jillette, “our first goat-fuck.” We’ve heard all this before, so expounding yet again on the supposed importance and influence of Scream is, frankly, some seriously low-hangin’ fruit. But that’s not the most egregious flaw. Let’s talk about the term “meta.”
Scream is constantly touted for its self-referential metanarrative (a word I cringe to type). Well, “meta” is A) not new by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “That’s soo meta” swung about like a pretentious cudgel with which to bludgeon the hapless schmoe who has the misfortune of talking to some hipster cinephile or testosterone-addled filmbro. The only thing worse is the insufferable overuse of the word “trope.”
And 2) Scream’s use of metanarrative (*eyeroll*) was nowhere close to being the first, never mind the best. Don’t believe me? Here’s a wee list.
- In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)- Lovecraftian metafiction a year before Scream
- Popcorn (1991)- Slasher movie that hinges in part on the constructedness of movies
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)- Frequently breaks the 4th wall with pop culture references
- Monster Squad (1986)- Dracula is real and assembles other classic monsters who are in reality also real in a bid for world domination
- Fade To Black (1980)- If we’re gonna talk about movies that refer back to other movies, this is a fine place to start. Movie nerd Eric Binford starts killing people while made up as his favorite classic film characters
- Psycho (1960)- If you watch Hitchcock’s promo spots for the movie, you can’t get any more self-referential than that, plus there’s Norman’s 4th wall break at the very end
Then there’s the relationship, tenuous at best, that Romano suggests Scream has with Get Out:
Get Out followed Scream’s example in that it, too, explicitly used its audiences’ understanding of the genre to further its narrative goals. Where Scream’s aim was to use the horror genre against itself, Get Out used horror to illustrate and explain aspects of modern racism.
Uh, I’m not seeing it, Peele’s claim of Scream’s influence notwithstanding. I fail to see how Scream is somehow instrumental in let alone partly responsible for Get Out’s commentary on race. Chronology doesn’t imply cause and effect. Just because Thing A precedes Thing B in time doesn’t mean Thing A caused of influenced Thing B. That’s just a standard post hoc fallacy.
But what stands out as the article’s weakest claim is that “After Scream, movies were free to examine the role horror plays in the real, post-9/11 world.” Huh? What does that even mean? And how does an overrated 1996 movie become a lens through which to view horror in a real post 2001 world? And how “real world” is this if it’s a slasher movie couched in the language, plot devices, and mythos of other slasher movies? This makes zero sense.
My point is, Scream didn’t do much of anything first, better, differently, or really even all that cleverly. Nor did it do much to further, as Romano posits, “the audience’s genre awareness.” As features like Fade To Black and Monster Squad would suggest, this awareness dates back to at least the 80s.
So, without marginally entertaining Scream, would we have movies like Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil or Cabin In The Woods? Probably. I hate to hafta say it (okay really I don’t hate to say it all), but ulitmately Scream just isn’t that original.
Streaming/Rent- don’t care