There are three sounds a viewer hears when watching the opening scene to the film “Scream:” a heartbeat – a ringing telephone – and the screams of an unknown woman. The telephone is answered by Casey Becker, who is played by Golden Globe winner, Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens). Her initial exchange, which follows, with the person on the other end of the line is harmless:
Caller: Who is this?
Casey: Who are you trying to reach?
Caller: What number is this?
Casey: Well, what number are you trying to reach?
Caller: I don’t know.
Casey: I think you have the wrong number.
Caller: Do I?
Casey: It happens. Take it easy.
No sooner does Casey hang up the phone, then it rings again. The same mysterious caller is on the other end of the line. Casey hangs up after some playful banter, and walks to the kitchen to make herself popcorn on the stove, in preparation of sitting down to watch a movie. The phone rings once more, the same caller’s voice can be heard. The conversation of the phone call is innocent enough, revolving around what Casey is doing, and talking about horror movies, but when the following exchange takes place between Casey and the caller, it scares her:
Casey: Why do you want to know my name?
Caller: Because I want to know who I am looking at.
Casey: What did you say?
Caller: I want to know who I am talking to.
Casey: That’s not what you said.
The conversation from that point forward takes a sinister turn, and in the end will result in the grisly murders of Casey, and her boyfriend Steve (Kevin Patrick Walls), who had the misfortune of deciding to come spend time with her that evening. The knife wielding killer’s face is not revealed; he or she, is dressed in a black robe, and opts to hide behind a mask that is a takeoff of the face in Norwegian painter and printmaker, Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting “The Scream.” The killer, in time, will come to be known as “Ghostface.” The opener, in my opinion, provides a well executed, tension filled scene, that should capture a viewer’s attention for the duration of the 111 minute movie which combines the genres of horror and mystery. (As an aside: It is the actor, Roger Jackson (Scream 2), who provided the voice of the person whom Barrymore is speaking to during the scene – Jackson is not the person who will later be revealed as the killer).
Casey and Steve are, in fact, not the main target, that unwanted honor goes to Sydney Prescott. She is a high school girl, portrayed by Neve Campbell (The Craft), who has already had tragedy strike her young life, due to the rape and murder of her mother. The next day at school, Principal Arthur Himbry, played by Henry Winkler (unaccredited) is attempting to soothe the worry of the student body. Sydney finds herself dwelling on everything; the death of Casey and Steve has taken place almost a year to the day since her mother was killed by Cotton Weary, who is played by Emmy & Golden Globe nominee, Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan). Weary has maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest through his conviction and sentencing. (As an aside: Two other actresses were offered the role of Sydney Prescott. Golden Globe nominee Molly Ringwald (The Tempest), a favorite of the screenwriter, turned the part down because she was 27 and didn’t want to play, at her age, a character that was in high school. In addition, Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) turned down the role after it was offered to her. Neve Campbell was not a sure thing to receive the part, even with Ringwald and Witherspoon passing on the role. Melinda Clarke, Melissa Joan Hart, Melanie Lynskey, Brittany Murphy and Alicia Witt all auditioned for the role before Campbell secured the part).
Sadly for Sydney, it doesn’t take long before someone tries to snuff out her life. Fortunately, luck is on her side, and she manages to keep the killer at bay long enough for the authorities to arrive. Among the members of the Woodsboro Sheriff’s Department is Deputy Dewey (David Arquette). He is the older brother of Sydney’s best friend Tatum, a role acted by Rose McGowan (Charmed). Making matters exponentially worse, Sydney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), even though he professes his innocence to Sydney claiming that he could never hurt her, is ruled by the Sheriff’s office to be the prime suspect, and has been arrested for attempted murder. In addition, adding to the already overwhelming emotional situation Sydney is contending with is the arrival of Golden Globe nominee Courteney Cox’s (Cougar Town) character, tabloid reporter, Gale Weathers. She had already cashed in on Sydney’s tragedy by writing a tell all book pertaining to the murder of Sydney’s mother, and is the last person Sydney wants to deal with at the moment. A point Sydney drives home, after Gale asks too many questions, and she turns around and punches her in the face.
Due to a lack of evidence, Billy is let go, and will eventually reunite with Sydney. The murders of Casey and Steve, and the attempted killing of Sydney, are just the beginning. Ghostface strikes a number of times, and despite efforts on the part of the Sheriff’s Department to determine things such as where the mask the killer wears was purchased (every local variety store in the state sells it), and going through phone records, nothing is leading them closer to the killer or killers. In addition to several others who had brief moments of screen time, rounding out the cast of the film is: Joseph Whipp, who played Woodsboro, Sheriff Burke; Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo), portraying Billy’s best friend Stu; and video store clerk and move trivia master, Randy, who is played by Jamie Kennedy.
Trivia buffs take note: In the interest of full disclosure, an entire post could be written on all the trivia pertaining to the “Scream” film. The following are pieces of information I thought the horror film lovers might find the most interesting. The special effects team that worked on “Scream” estimates that they used approximately fifty gallons of corn syrup as a blood substitute during the production. “Scream” is the only film series – four at the writing of this post – that belong to the slasher sub-genre of horror, that has been directed by the same person, Wes Craven. Sadly, since Craven passed away on August 30, 2015, the streak will have to stay at four if a fifth film in the series is produced. Two cameos should be of particular interest to horror film fans: Wes Craven has a brief moment of screen time, playing a janitor named Fred, who is wearing a fedora, as well as a red and green sweater. Linda Blair, known the world over for the classic horror film “The Exorcist,” worked with Wes Craven on the 1978 television film “Stranger in Our House.” She has a few moments of screen time in “Scream” as a reporter who says to Sydney, “People want to know, they have a right to know.”
Who will turn out to be the killer? Is there more than just one? What is the motivation behind the killings? Will the killer triumph in the end or will Sydney and some of her friends get to live on? All of those questions and more, will be answered by the conclusion of the first film in a series that has so far produced three sequels, as well as a television series on MTV.
“Scream” first arrived in movie theaters almost twenty years ago, after premiering on December 18, 1996 in Los Angeles, California. The film was directed by Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes) and written for the screen by Kevin Williamson (The Following), and it came along at the perfect time. Slasher films had become too over-the-top or cerebral for their own good; Craven and Williamson revitalized the genre by bringing it back to basics. Their decision, in the long run, paid huge dividends financially, and in terms of longevity of the franchise. Pop culture references are mentioned throughout “Scream.” For example, everything from modern day horror classics such as the films “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Halloween” (1978); to BAFTA & Golden Globe winning actress Jaime Lee Curtis’s involvement in genre films; as well as the line where someone confuses directors Wes Craven and John Carpenter by combining their names. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and very Happy Halloween.