As times change, so do people. New events alter the course of people’s lives. They live in different places, gain new friends, have new family members, and get new jobs. And as a result, perceptions of certain things may change. Movies are no exception. The things that I enjoyed about The Fox and the Hound in 1981 are not the same as the things I’d enjoy about it today. Today, I’m starting a new series called “Re-Watchterpiece Theater”. The focus is on the way films are seen after you watch them a second time, a third time, or more.
My most recent re-watch was the 1996 slasher classic, Scream, which is fresh on everyone’s mind right now with Scream 4 hitting theaters in recent weeks. How did my opinion of the first Scream change upon a second viewing?
Warning: Spoilers ahead
The First Viewing
To see where my opinion changed, we must first know where it started. I first saw Scream as a college junior in 1996. Five young British ladies with a boatload of crappy lyrics were starting to bloom into beautiful flowers under the “Spice Girls” moniker, ready to take the place of Ace of Base atop the throne of horrible meaningless era-specific pop musicians. Jerry Seinfeld dominated television and movie fans were all atwitter about a great new young director named Quentin Tarantino. One of my friends had seen Scream and insisted that a group of friends watch it with him to see who would first identify the murderer. An added bonus to the experience: Skeet Ulrich’s character’s name is Billy Loomis, and one member of our gang was also named Loomis. I was 20 years old and not much of a movie-watcher at the time. I’d seen my fair share of films but certainly no more than the average college student looking to duck out on studies. I certainly enjoyed Scream a great deal when I first watched it. I thought it was entertaining and had a lot of fun trying to guess who the killer was. But as I said, I wasn’t a movie geek at the time. I didn’t pick up on the little nuances that let us know who the killer was. I also found “Ghostface”, the murderer’s mask which seemed to be a fusion of Macauly Culkin from Home Alone and the famous Edvard Munch painting, to be sufficiently eerie. When it came time to rate it on Netflix, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on sheer memory.
I chose to re-watch Scream because I’ve learned to appreciate the nuance of referencing other films. It’s not even (always) nuance. Sometimes, it beats you over the head. But the first time I watched Scream, there wasn’t much of mental encyclopedia for me to draw upon. I knew the first time that they were referencing lots of older horror and slasher films but really didn’t know which horror and slasher films they were referencing, and in what way. This time when I heard Billy Loomis’ name again, it clicked with me that it was in reference to Dr. Sam Loomis from Halloween. This time when I heard the trivia question posed to Drew Barrymore, “Who is the killer in Friday the 13th?”, I knew the answer wasn’t Jason.
Also, I had a lot more fun with the self-referential way that the film’s plot played with horror conventions, even occasionally breaking them with a wink and a grin. A virgin, they say, can’t die in a film. So when Sidney (Neve Campbell) finally loses her virginity, surely she’ll die. Or not. Stuart (Matthew Lillard) lives by the sword- uttering one horror convention after another- and dies by the sword, literally beneath a TV smashing his head as the screen showed Halloween. Who’s the killer? Well, they have to have a motive, right? In the middle of the film, several characters- including Stuart and Billy, the two killers- discuss and attempt to dismiss who the killers are based on motive.
One of the more clever horror scenes you’ll ever see happens when Sidney and Kenny, the cameraman for Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), watches an actual horror/murder scene take place in his van, on a TV. In short, he’s in the same position that all of us viewers are, watching murder from afar, distant and physically detached while still psychologically involved. For a brief moment, the characters in the film and the movie watchers become one and the same.
And then there’s the message. I suppose I’m in a unique position because I was reaching adulthood when this film came out in the 90’s. I remember the odd furor and speculation that existed in the era about film and television violence leading to actual violence. Wes Craven makes a playful wink at this notion by using it as some sort of perverse, pop culture-run-amok motive for his murderers.
My eyes were truly opened by the re-watch. I’d known that it was entertaining and that I enjoyed it. However, I didn’t realize the full depth of the movie’s cleverness. I hate to use hyperbole but I have to say that it’s one of the better, more intelligent horror films around, deserving of all of the praise it received at the time. I have no problems putting it on mantle next to other cinematic horror triumphs like the original Dawn of the Dead or The Changeling.
Me Alistair Cookie, thank you for reading Re-Watchterpiece Theater.