When I decided to include a section of the blog entitled The Vault, the intent was to explore movies that have significantly impacted horror. In the last 25 to 30 years, has any horror movie had as much impact as Wes Craven’s Scream? Released on December 20, 1996, Scream is arguably one of the most influential horror movies of the last 25 to 30 years. In addition to re-invigorating the horror genre, Scream re-wrote the rules of horror movies for a new generation of fans.
Reviving a Stagnant Genre
After the revisionist horror of the 1970’s and the “Golden Age of the Slasher” in the 1980’s, the horror genre experienced something of a recession in the 1990’s. Certainly, good horror movies were produced in the decade. Sam Raimi completed his Evil Dead trilogy with Army of Darkness. In the same year, Peter Jackson released his irreverent horror-comedy, Dead Alive. To this day, Jacob’s Ladder and Candyman remain among the best of the decade. But between 1990 and 1996, the genre arguably experienced a significant downturn. That is, unless you’re a huge fan of Doctor Giggles. Horror needed something fresh to kick it out of the doldrums. Enter Wes Craven.
When Scream was released on December 20, 1996, it became an instant box office cross-over sensation.
Prior to Scream, Craven had already significantly impacted the horror genre in two separate decades. Love it or hate it, The Last House on the Left was transgressive, erasing boundaries of what could and could not be shown on screen. Over a decade later, Craven released A Nightmare on Elm Street, introducing one of horror’s most enduring horror icons. When Scream was released in 1996, it became an instant box office cross-over sensation. Craven’s little slasher movie went on to gross just north of $103 million on a $14 million budget. This was the biggest horror box office take since 1994’s Interview With The Vampire. Taking a note from Janet Leight’s shocking death in Psycho, Drew Barrymore’s quick exit genuinely threw audiences for a loop and became water cooler conversation. Simply put, Scream was a horror movie that attracted non-horror audiences, not unlike what Get Out accomplished in 2017.
Wes Craven and Scream Re-Write The Rules
Earlier in the 1990’s, Craven experimented with a more self-aware, post-modern approach to horror. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t ready for a “meta” horror treatment and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare disappointed. Just two short years later, Craven took another shot at the concept and nailed it with Scream. By 1996, the slasher film was a sub-genre long past its best-buy date. Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels had all sputtered out at this point. Even by the late 1980’s, most slasher movies had descended into self-parody.
Movies like Urban Legend opted to re-hash all the slasher tropes with none of Craven’s insight or wit.
By explicitly laying out the rules of the slasher movie, Scream somehow breathed new life into a stale format. Audiences clued into how fresh and clever it was to have characters within a movie take note of the plot contrivances around them. But Craven was also able to take those same tired tropes and find new ways to make them feel genuinely scary again. Even when Randy reminds the audience that the killer always comes back for one last scare, you probably still jumped when it happened seconds later. If you have any doubt as to Craven’s mastery of the subject matter, just watch some of the slasher-lite movies that cashed in on Scream’s success. Movies like Urban Legend opted to re-hash all the slasher tropes with none of Craven’s insight or wit.
Scream Kickstarted Careers and a New Horror Trend
Prior to Scream’s release, Drew Barrymore was its most recognizable star. Following the movie’s breakout success, several young careers got a huge boost. Neve Campbell already had some success on television with her role in Party of Five and a role in The Craft, but Scream certainly helped her transition to the big screen. David Arquette, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, and Matthew Lillard all saw their career trajectories significantly benefit. In fact, the Scream franchise proved to be a launching pad for a lot of young actors.
Though it’s arguably overused today, Scream’s self-aware approach to the material was something entirely new at the time.
In addition to launching careers, Scream gave introduced a new horror trope for audiences and filmmakers alike. Though it’s arguably overused today, Scream’s self-aware approach to the material was something entirely new at the time. It is ‘meta horror’? Or maybe we can coin it ‘hipster horror’. Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Cabin in the Woods, You Might Be The Killer – Scream has influenced these and countless other movies to some extent.
Scream Remains a Horror Masterpiece
After over 20 years, Scream remains a horror masterpiece. Its influence on the horror genre is almost immeasurable. With three sequels and an MTV television series, Scream has secured its place in horror history. A reboot is probably not far around the corner, so do yourself a favour and re-visit Craven’s original classic.