Editor’s Note: This is a new series to the Matrix. Any time we want to wax nostalgic–fan favorites or cult classics–this may be a great place for us to ask you, “Remember When?” And since we’ll do it on a Wednesday…well, you get it. Last month was horror everywhere, which got our Marsellus Durden thinking…
“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Most of us were asked that question last month. If you were, what was your answer? Do you remember? If you did the asking among your inner circles, you may or may not have received a response.
However, if you heard that statement back in the late ’90s, you had to be living under a rock to not understand the reference. One of the most iconic lines in movie history was first chillingly uttered back on December 20, 1996 as Scream took the world by storm. Aside from revitalizing a stagnant horror genre from more fantastical and lackluster escapades, its cinematic significance is still felt to this day.
Spicing Up the Formula
Acclaimed horror maestro Wes Craven didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with the first Scream but what he and Kevin Williamson so masterfully did was repackage the “slasher” formula.
They took a young group of actors that could actually act and gave them a meta, murder-mystery script that playfully poked fun at all the slasher films that came before. Wes has a cameo, but if you blink, you’ll miss it as “Fred the Janitor” is purposefully outfitted like horror icon Freddy Krueger (above).
Protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) makes fun of dumb girls in horror movies who run up the stairs instead of the front door and then proceeds to do the exact same thing due to unfortunate, but hilariously ironic circumstances. Randy (Jamie Kennedy) steals the show as the virgin film nerd who literally spells out the rules of surviving a horror film in an unforgettable, over the top rant.
It’s this type of fearless creative energy that quite frankly made horror (and the Scream franchise in general) fun again.
Bringing Back the Scares
The slasher genre reigned supreme in the ’80s as horror icons Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger filled cinemas with their seemingly never-ending onslaught of sequels. Eventually these classic franchises started to slowly fade in terms of quality. To make matters worse, these films simply stopped being scary, especially the aforementioned “final” entries that hit theaters in the early ’90s.
Aside from all the fun and cleverness the script entailed, Wes Craven expertly made Scream genuinely scary as well. He provided edge-of-your-seat chases and tense, squirm-inducing scenes that silently cranked up the fear to 11.
In one of the best introductions in horror film history (and much to the dismay of the audience), popular star Drew Barrymore was painfully harassed and brutally tormented for a grueling 13 minutes. The “Slasher Film” was officially back.
The Slasher Revolution
Scream ended up grossing a whopping $173 million worldwide while making about $103M domestically, which is about seven times its original budget (est. $14M).
Like any other film trend, the tremendous success of this one film single-handedly kickstarted an avalanche of clones, ripoffs, or needlessly “Scream-ified” versions of classics. Fun, but obviously Scream-influenced thrillers like I Know What You Did Last Summer, straight-to-DVD gems like Ripper or uninspired cash grabs like Valentine flooded cinemas and stores across the globe.
Even the original slasher himself, Michael Myers, experienced a bit of a revival with his underrated 1998 installment Halloween: H20; a film that probably doesn’t get greenlit without Scream and its winning formula.
A Lasting Impact
Meanwhile, the actual Scream franchise itself lived on to produce three more sequels (most recently in 2011) and a live-action TV series still currently airing on MTV. Thanks to Netflix, the original trilogy is now currently accessible to a whole new generation of viewers 23 years later.
The incredible effect Scream had on the horror genre was like putting a fresh pair of sneakers on an Olympic marathon runner. It was simultaneously refreshing, funny, scary, and it represented one hell of a comeback for Wes Craven, who built his career on classics like A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes. His epic return rang in a whole new era of horror that wouldn’t be topped nor duplicated for at least another decade.