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For a film that's well made, clever and thrilled with its own cheesiness, try Scream

There comes a time each fall when Hollywood loses its sense of humor, and mindless movies give way to the ambitious, meaningful films of Oscar season. By December, a few happy holiday flicks are all that stand between the moviegoer and one relentlessly self-serious Best Picture candidate after another. So how the heck did a silly slasher movie featuring Drew Barrymore and a posse of up-and-coming Gen-Xers clean up at the box office last December? Well, after your psyche had been battered by The Crucible and The Portrait of a Lady, after you'd sat through four hours of Hamlet, after you'd been aggressively uplifted by Shine, Breaking the Waves and The English Patient, didn't you want to Scream?

Director Wes Craven, a past purveyor of cheese, surprised everyone by orchestrating a clever, punchy and even frightening thriller, and was duly rewarded by cineplexers desperate for a little year-end levity. Scream succeeds because it confidently walks the dangerous line between parodying a particular form of idiot cinema and becoming what it parodies. There are plenty of jabs at celebs like Sharon Stone and Alicia Silverstone thrown in with all the other pop references, but ultimately the story works on its own terms as a thriller. Craven had Kevin Williamson's witty homage of a script for starters, and he tossed in a dash of Drew, a splash of Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich (both borrowed appropriately from The Craft), and a pinch of perky Courteney Cox to pull it off. Who better than Craven to deal with the script's basic riff-- that the vicious slasher and his potential victims have all spent too much time in Blockbuster's horror aisle and all know that horror flicks follow rules. You don't, for example, ever utter the words "I'll be right back" if you want to live through the next five minutes.

"Please don't kill me. . .I want to be in the sequel!"

Moviegoers schooled in Jamie Lee Curtis frightfests from the early '80s know the rules, too-- and are sitting ducks for a self-referential, funny, scary story. How can you resist a movie in which Henry "The Fonz" Winkler shows up as the school principal, bad-movie vet Linda Blair is unearthed for a cameo, and yet you're saved from wallowing in camp because you really do wonder who the murderer is? The movie's funniest bits involve smart-ass remarks from the teens. When pseudo-slut Rose McGowan is cornered in the garage by the masked fiend, she begs, "Please don't kill me, Mr. Ghost Face, I want to be in the sequel!" Campbell, who turns out to be the primary obsession of the butcher, sees her own life as a movie, and deputy David Arquette tells her he imagines Meg Ryan playing her role in a movie of her life. "With my luck they would cast Tori Spelling," says Campbell. Craven, perhaps sensing an unconscious need in all of us to punch out someone from "Friends," even thoughtfully allows Campbell to deck reporter Cox as pal McGowan eggs her on, yelling "Bam! Bitch went down!"

A number of December releases "went down" thanks to Scream, and Miramax went to the bank. Screenwriter Williamson has now been given the green light to write two sequels. Craven will be back on board for at least the first one, and we can only hope the boogeyman has a few fun spooks left up his sleeve for next Oscar season.

By Robert B. DeSalvo, MovieLine Magazine, July 1997

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