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“What’s the Point?”

A look at Scream 25 years later.

I used to watch Party of Five pretty regularly. The mid 90s family drama on Fox launched the careers of its stars, the “Salinger” siblings: Charlie Salinger (Matthew Fox), Bailey (Scott Wolf), and finally, Julia, (played by Neve Campbell). (Precocious Claudia Salinger, aka Lacey Chabert, would grow up and try to make “fetch” happen in Mean Girls, but that’s an article for another day). Neve Campbell: a sweet Canadian girl with wispy bangs and an awkward head tilt (no, not Joey Potter, Dawson’s Creek fans). Neve portrayed Julia Salinger as a shy girl, often looking for love, and then went on to play another shy girl as Bonnie in The Craft. Bonnie joins forces with her fellow outcast friends to form their own coven, using magic to heal the burn scars that make her so self-conscious. She transforms herself into a boisterous mean girl, ready to tackle her fellow high school boys. Both of these characters help shape the one that Neve is seemingly best known for portraying: Sidney Prescott, from Wes Craven’s 1996 hit, Scream. So how did the first film in this popular horror franchise come to be? And why is Sidney’s character special? Let’s take a look at the people that made it all happen.

The story goes that writer Kevin Williamson was an aspiring actor and screenwriter, who while house-sitting for a friend, watched a segment on the news about the “Gainesville Ripper,“ and was then inspired to write the script for Scream. Williamson would go on to write three Scream sequels, and to create or produce several more popular teen horror films and tv shows including The Faculty, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Dawson's Creek, The Following, The Vampire Diaries … the list goes on!

Wes Craven, on the other hand, was already a legend, known for being a film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and editor. He is best known for his A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but the Scream franchise is a close second. He also directed such cult classic films as: The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and The People Under The Stairs. Craven directed the first four Scream films in the franchise. With each Scream film, Craven honed his craft, keeping his violence graphic while referencing other horror film tropes using humor and satire. His characters in Scream are all teenagers who admittedly enjoy and watch horror movies. This knowledge and awareness of the genre get played with throughout the film as each character faces the film’s villain, a masked ghoul in a black cloak like Death personified: Ghostface.

As Sidney in Scream, Neve Campbell plays a high school girl grieving for her mother. She has physically lost her mother only a year prior to the start of the film, but Sidney also suffers the loss of the identity of the person she knew and loved. She is faced with more and more rumors about her mother’s promiscuity and varying alternate theories about her murder. This shapes Sidney’s character. It tempers her. She’s not the giggling bubbly high school student portrayed in many other teen horror flicks. She’s serious, contemplative. When two of her fellow classmates are murdered (one of which is played by Drew Barrymore in the film’s opening act), Sidney is suspicious of reporter Gale Weathers’ intentions while covering the event. The murders are on the eve of the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death, and Gale, played by Courteney Cox, turned her investigation of that event into a best-selling book that may have painted Sidney’s mom as less than loyal to her father.

The murder of her mother has also made Sidney more hesitant to move forward with her high school boyfriend. Once ready to get “hot and heavy,” as described by her greasy-haired beau, Billy (played creepily by Skeet Ulrich), Sidney now only wishes to make out a bit before sending him packing. Billy labels her a “tease,” and this is when we are first introduced to the theme of sex within Scream (and as part of horror as a genre on the whole). It’s a theme that returns throughout the film, as Randy (Jamie Kennedy) later explains the “rules” of horror movies to a group of friends at a party. Sex is a big no-no in horror films. Our surviving heroines (nod to Jamie Lee Curtis) are usually virgins. The women who have sex in horror movies usually always end up dying. *Cough,* thanks for that guys.

While Sidney may not be your average bubbly high school girl, her best bud, Tatum (Rose McGowan), seems to fit the stereotypical bill. She’s busty, loud, and frequently found teasing or kissing her dopey boyfriend, Stuart (Matthew Lillard, in another fantastic performance). Tatum is a faithful friend to Sidney, and also the younger sister of Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) who helps protect Sidney after she is attacked by the film’s masked villain. While most of the town does not take young Dewey seriously, his motives are honorable; he wants to protect Sidney and find the killer. Despite the attention he gets from the less altruistic Gale Weathers, Dewey tries his best to do the right thing throughout the film. Last but not least there’s Randy, the sidekick friend who works at a video store and has watched a ton of horror movies. As Randy explains to Stuart in the video store scene, the police are not paying attention to horror films: “There’s a formula to it! A VERY SIMPLE FORMULA! EVERYBODY’S A SUSPECT!” At the aforementioned party, Randy explains the “rules” for surviving a horror movie:

1) Sex equals death.

2) You can never drink or do drugs. (An extension of number one’s “sin factor”).

3) Never say, “I’ll be right back.” Cuz you won’t be back.

In one of the killer’s attempts to harass and toy with Sidney over the phone, he asks her why she doesn’t like scary movies. Her reply is one for the ages:

What's the point? They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted

girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out

the front door. It's insulting.

What sets Sidney apart from other horror movie heroines is that she calls the killer’s bluff. She steps outside onto her porch, challenging his taunts that he is there to harm her. For a moment, brave Sidney (picking her nose) is triumphant. Too bad Ghostface shows up to kill her only moments later.

One of the great things about Scream is that pretty early on we don’t trust Sidney’s greasy-haired bu, Billy. But then midway through the film, Billy is seemingly cleared of all previous suspicions. Randy doesn’t totally trust him, but he likes Sidney, making his opinion a biased one. But something does seem off about Billy. Later, Sidney basically talks herself into having sex with Billy to prove that she has “forgiven” him and no longer suspects him of being the murderer. I have to remind myself when I rewatch Scream that Sidney. Is. In. High. School. It’s a lot more believable that she’d let herself be peer pressured into sex by a creepy dude with long greasy bangs when we remember she is supposed to be a teenager. When Billy is finally stabbed after they have sex we have a moment to think, “maybe he didn’t do it after all?” before we realize, nope, he did it, but he had help: Stuart. That’s when Scream really shines. Revealing that dopey boozing Stuart (Matthew Lillard with a supporting role played by his crazy tongue) is actually the other half of the dynamic murderous duo makes it really impressive. While Sidney has a hard time figuring out who the killers really are she does take action to defend herself. She doesn’t just cry and give up. But it seems like she might actually be trapped. Can two angry teens really get away with murder? Maybe. At least that’s what we are led to believe up until our dark horse comes through in the clutch. That’s right friends, Gale Weathers comes to the rescue.

Wes Craven takes some of the best (or worst, depending on your opinion) horror tropes in the film genre and uses humor and a talented cast to make Scream a delight to watch and rewatch. While its subsequent sequels vary in the quality of their entertainment, they always feature Sidney, a strong fighter and survivor, ready to tackle whatever comes next. She’s a final “girl” alright, and I look forward to seeing her kick some ass in the latest Scream installment next year.


Diana DiMuro

Associate Editor

Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro




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