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Scream
Director: Wes Craven
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
Dimension Films – 1996

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**Caution SPOILERS – but if you haven’t seen it by now??**

The fifteen seconds between the flashing of the Dimension Films logo and “SCREAM” landing hard on the screen perfectly sums up what to expect in the following hour and fifty-one minutes of this film – an eery screech, a telephone, a scream, a slicing knife. Within the first twelve minutes, we have the introduction of our masked killer on a murderous rampage and two of the seven shocking deaths. The simplicity of it all is profound and screenwriter Kevin Williamson is a master. He crafts interesting characters that we root for, or against, while providing a plethora of juicy reveals, cheeky charm, and a venerable wit to create a film that reinvented a struggling genre. Maybe most importantly for a notoriously devoted audience, his reverence for horror movies past is clear.

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Pairing Williamson with director Wes Craven proved to be a perfect fit. Craven’s seminal works were legendary in the horror genre. From Last House on the Left to A Nightmare on Elm Street, he helped define the slasher film and his no fear approach brought a freshness to the production. As indicated by Steve’s death in the first minutes (where prominent are the sounds of cutting flesh and the sight of his insides being torn out), we instantly know that Craven is not going to be afraid to highlight the blood and guts of horror.

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© Dimension Films

Scream presents a wonderfully dysfunctional group of friends to remind us that atypical is much cooler than being clinically popular. Much credit goes to each of the actors who gave these characters life, in performances that must have made Jamie Lee proud. There is Drew Barrymore who realistically conveys the horrific emotion and breathless disbelief without a twinge of falseness and Neve Campbell, the perfect combination of innocence and badassery. Skeet Ulrich expertly portrays Billy as the dreamy, but emotionally clueless bad boy and we are heartbroken once his psychopathic tendencies emerge. In Dewey, David Arquette offers the right mix of naivety and unsuspecting charm and Courtney Cox shines as the narcissistic and self-absorbed newswoman that we love to hate. Add to die for cameos (pun intended) from Linda Blair, Henry Winkler, and Wes Craven, and it is a dream cast.

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Me and ‘Deputy Dewey’

Originally entitled Scary Movie, Williamson included treatments for two sequels in hopes of piquing interest in the franchise. In the film that would come to be known as Scream, he writes smart characters wrapped around a perfectly crafted whodunnit story line that transformed the historical one dimensional victim in horror films and modernized what had by then become a stale and formulaic movie experience. And for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

“Don’t blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative.” Billy Loomis

 

Fun facts that helped make this movie a classic:
The reverence for horror movies past — The following films are mentioned in some form throughout — The Exorcist, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, Prom Night, Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Terror Train, Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, The Bad Seed, I Spit on Your Grave, The Howling, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Friday the 13th, Carrie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Fun Facts:

  • In Scream, with Casey nowhere to be found and her parents realizing the gravity of the situation, Casey’s father tells her mother to “go to the McKenzie’s.” In Halloween, after finding her friends dead and Michael pursuing her, Laurie tells the children she is babysitting, Tommy and Lindsey, to “go to the McKenzie’s.”
  • Wes Craven plays Fred the Janitor. The sweater may look familiar, because it was an original used for A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • Joseph Whipp who played Sheriff Burke, also played a police officer in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • Casey Becker’s thoughts on A Nightmare on Elm Street: “The first one was scary but the rest sucked.” Fun fact: Wes Craven sold the rights to the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels and had no hand in their production. He disliked most of them. 

The rules Without a trace of contempt, Williamson shrewdly and cleverly turns his admiration for the genre into a succinct formula when he lays out the rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. Horror fans can relate and he has simply put to paper what a good many of us have inevitably screamed at the screen. It is here when we know that he is one of us, and that he respects us.

1) You can never have sex. Sex equals death.
2) You can never drink or do drugs. It’s the sin factor, it’s an extension of number one.
3) Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.” Because you won’t be. See you push the laws and you end up dead.

 

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Peeping Tom
1960
Director: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks

 

Voyeur: a person who enjoys seeing the pain or distress of others

It is the beginning scene of Peeping Tom that sets the feel for the rest of the film. A man approaches a sex worker who stands in front of a store window. It is night on the deserted street, and it feels like we are in an Edward Hopper painting. The light is strategic, bold against the shadows. It illuminates our soon-to-be victim, but strategically plunges much of the rest into stillness, as the silhouettes obscure the danger lurking close by. The man hides a camera in his coat as he films his approach, and we see his point of view. It is we who are now the voyeurs, but at a safe distance, away from harm. From unassuming to vivid and shocking terror, the beginning captures the audience and it is here where we see signs of future horror films like Suspiria, Jaws, and Carrie, and future horror masters like Wes Craven, who made it a trademark of their work.

 

 

Serial killer, Mark Lewis, played by Carl Boehm, is the type of serial killer we would become too well acquainted with. He is Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ed Edwards. He is clean cut, the boy next door who harbors a deep, sinister, and morbid secret. Throughout and to great affect, screenwriter Leo Marks and director Michael Powell explore the seedy side of humanity. They expose Mark’s childhood and the abuse he endured from his sadistic father. They leave subtle clues that Mark might not be the gentle, awkward introvert those around him think he is, such as his tendency to avoid eye contact, the way he embraces deformity because he connects to it, his darkroom and what he hides in it.

Peeping Tom is an exploration into the mind, its obsessions, and the formation of a serial killer. Mark’s father viewed him as a subject and his continuous filming is evidence of that detachment. Sadly, for as much as father studied son, it appears he never really knew him or cared to know him. Mark feels forever alone and has taken on his father’s voyeuristic tendencies. Mark knows he is ill, and his feelings of alienation spur his continued quest to destroy that part of himself he sees as disfigured. He is desperate for others to feel his pain.

Powell uses vibrant and saturated color juxtaposed against black and white and shadows, to convey his cinematic approach to the theme. Shadows hide the evil that lurks all around while the colors illuminate it. Throughout, the music is dynamic and the often dizzy furor of piano increases the tension as it strikes our senses.

Not to be outdone by its cinematic elements, is the screenplay. Marks shines when he portrays Helen’s distrusting mother as she suspects a dark side of Mark’s character:

Helen: “Don’t you like Mark?”
Mother: “Haven’t met him.”
Helen: “You don’t like him. Why not?”
Mother: “I don’t trust a man who walks quietly.”
Helen: “But he’s shy.”
Mother: “His footsteps aren’t. They’re stealthy.”

Called the British Psycho, the parallels are well-founded, but in subject matter only. Released two months after Peeping Tom, Psycho was based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name. Bloch said that his novel was influenced by the idea of murder in a small town committed by an unsuspecting member of the community, much like the crimes of Ed Gein who lived near Bloch in Wisconsin.⁠1 The well-deserved critical praise heaped on Psycho, though, should not diminish the achievements of Peeping Tom. Powell’s vision was more intellectually curious and visually artistic against Hitchcock’s stark realism, unique cinematography, and shocking moments. Unfortunately, the reception Peeping Tom received could not have been more different, as the controversial film effectively destroyed the until then notable career of director Michael Powell. It would not be until a cult following gave new life to the film and then Martin Scorsese’s restoration and rerelease of the film in 1979, that Powell’s reputation would be partially restored. In 1996, “Entertainment Weekly” would rank Powell 22nd in a poll of the Greatest Directors of all time.⁠2

 

Footnotes:

1 “The Backstory to Robert Bloch’s Psycho.” https://galaxypress.com/backstory-to-psycho/

2 “The 50 Greatest Directors and Their 100 Best Movies.” Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 1996. https://ew.com/article/1996/04/19/50-greatest-directors-and-their-100-best-movies/

 

References:

Gritten, David. “Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’: the film that killed a career.” The Telegraph. August 27, 2010. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/7967407/Michael-Powells-Peeping-Tom-the-film-that-killed-a-career.html

Martin Scorsese: ‘The movie that plays in my heart’. The Independent. May 15, 2009. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/martin-scorsese-the-movie-that-plays-in-my-heart-1685003.html