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Audiences had come to expect no less than a thrilling, terrifying ride from Wes Craven. Now, the creator of such chilling films as A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow was moving into a new genre -- the thriller. With Scream, Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson ambitiously crafted their own personal valentine to suspense, taking the classic elements of the genre they know inside and out and reinventing them with new substance and a clever, smart, sophisticated spin.
Sidney (NEVE CAMPBELL) has more than her share of teenage angst to cope with. Her mom was murdered a year ago, her dad is perpetually away on business, and her boyfriend Billy (SKEET ULRICH) is pressuring her to go all the way. As if that weren't enough, a brilliant serial killer has begun to terrorize Sidney's quiet hometown, including her high school classmate Casey Becker (DREW BARRYMORE). With the calculated genius of a perfect predator, the killer is using his love of scary movies to turn the town upside down -- taking everything he knows about the genre to trick his victims, outwit the police and throw his pursuers off base. Now, no one is safe -- and everyone is suspect.
Sidney's best friend Tatum (ROSE McGOWAN), Tatum's boyfriend Stu (MATTHEW LILLARD) and class clown Randy (JAMIE KENNEDY) see the mayhem as just another excuse to party and rent scary movies. But Sidney is further disturbed by the arrival of relentless TV tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (COURTENEY COX), who cashed in on her mother's murder by writing a tell-all book. The local deputy, Tatum's naive older brother Dewey (DAVID ARQUETTE) sets out to investigate the crimes, but can't help being a little distracted by the alluring Weathers. It'll be up to Sidney to stop the killer from killing again. Solving this mystery is going to be murder.
Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, Scream was produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Marianne Maddalena. The film was released by Dimension Films on December 20, 1996.
"I make movies about fear," Craven said. "But Scream confirms my long-standing belief that thrillers can also be great character pieces that can get deep under the skin of human psychology. Scary movies have such a strange elegance to them, because they confront our very real, primal fears. Scream works on that level, but also examines the questions of loyalty and perception of truth. That makes Scream a scary movie, but a scary movie of real substance and ambition." The odyssey of Scream began long ago in the young mind of its writer, Kevin Williamson. "I can remember seeing Halloween over and over again when I was ten years old," Williamson recalled. "It scared the living hell out of me. When I saw Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was so scared my leg got a cramp, and I couldn't leave the theater until the movie ended."
Williamson's love for such classic genre films as When A Stranger Calls, Prom Night and Terror Train continued into adulthood, when he decided to set his love for the genre down on paper -- the beginning of the script for Scream. Using all he had learned, Williamson set about crafting his own vision -- a thriller populated by clever, intelligent characters that would stand as his own smart, original take on the suspense genre.
Once the completed script was circulated around, the writer's enthusiasm spread to just about every studio in Hollywood. Most of the major studios went after the script with relish; movie heavyweights from Oliver Stone to Sharon Stone entered into the Scream derby. Dimension Films and director Wes Craven ultimately walked away with the prize.
"The script was hot," said Craven. "It was just one of those scripts that you read and say 'My God! This is really shocking!'"
"The first thirty pages of the script were probably the most exciting thirty pages that I'd ever read," said Cox. "It was so action-packed, and there was so much stuff going on. I just thought it was really, really good."
Rising young actor Skeet Ulrich agreed, describing Scream as "the first suspense movie script I've ever read that had really well-drawn characters rather than just a lot of blood and guts." The Scream production, which began filming in northern California in the spring of 1996, chose a number of Sonoma County locations to create innocent, familiar backdrops for the film's most terrifying moments. A house in the isolated mountains of Sonoma served as the scene of the edge-of-your-seat opening sequence with Casey Becker (DREW BARRYMORE) that thrusts the audience into the heart of Scream's madness. The small town of Healdsburg was, likewise, the center of much Scream activity. The town's police station made the ideal setting for the fictional Woodsboro lockup, while the Healdsburg town square became the embattled teens' afterschool hangout.
An abandoned mansion in the picturesque town of Tomales -- where, rumor had it, actual deaths had taken place earlier in the year -- became the scene of the final, thrilling confrontation that moves from the redecorated main house out onto much of the surrounding 200-acre ranch. As filming progressed, both director Craven and his actors had formulated their gut impressions about the project, as well as each other.
"Until I met Wes Craven, I was scared of him," said David Arquette. "Wes Craven was the only reason I had a night light on in my room at all times. But once I got on the set, he was great to work with, and very easygoing and professional in his approach. Once I got to work with him, I saw he wasn't the monster I had imagined him to be."
Skeet Ulrich found Craven's attention to detail amazing. "He works very deep and very specific. He knows what we want out of these characters, and he's quick to do and say things that will help get that out of us."
Craven, at the other end of the camera, had universal praise for his charges, and offered particularly high marks to Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox. "Neve is the kind of girl you would have been lucky to grow up with. She has tremendous discipline as an actress, and is able to sustain very difficult and emotional moods in a flawless manner. Courteney was real good at playing off the special effects. She was outstanding when it came to reacting to the killer's work. She could scream, believably, at the top of her lungs as if she were looking at dead bodies while she was, in fact, only looking into the camera."
Craven's cinematic dreams and nightmares have always done more than scare. They've been primers on the human psyche. And, ultimately, Courteney Cox feels Scream is the latest in the creator's growing lexicon of fear.
"There are places where people go with their emotions," she said. "Being frightened is one of the best emotions you can have. So is laughing. Getting all wrapped up in those emotions and going nuts is such a rush. Scream is that kind of rush."
"People have asked for years if horror movies can make a comeback. They can as long as they're good. But lately, they haven't been." -Wes Craven to Entertainment Weekly