To mark the twentieth anniversary of Wes Craven’s game-changing slasher, Scream, Wicked Horror presents a week of specially-themed content celebrating the movie’s enduring appeal. In this installment, Nat Brehmer looks back on a life idolising Scream, the movie that finally made him feel accepted as a horror fan.
I got into horror gradually. It started when I was about five, with the Universal Monsters, although I had probably watched things like Scooby Doo and the like before that. I was enamored with those classic creatures. Then, when I was in first grade, I thought I was cool because I knew all about Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, but my friends had seen everything. They said “What about Jason and Freddy?” and I was like, “Who?”
Thus, they opened me up to a whole new world. I’d never seen anything from the horror genre past 1950, and here I was learning the backstories of Voorhees and Krueger secondhand. As soon as I saw their respective films, I would quickly learn that I hadn’t got all the details and that the version I built up in my head, only hearing about them from my friends, was not necessarily representative of what existed on the screen.
Somehow, on my very first sleepover, my friend and I convinced my mom to lent us rent the original Friday the 13th. I was beyond excited. I’d heard so much about Jason and finally I was going to see him. My friend had seen all of the movies up to that point, but we were seven years old. He didn’t necessarily tell them apart perfectly. So I sat through the entire original feature waiting for Jason to show up, only to discover this middle-aged woman turned out to be the killer. I was furious. I’d been promised Jason and as far as I was concerned, the flick did not deliver. At least not until he jumped out of the lake at the tail end of the whole thing.
I watched it not knowing what to expect. But from the opening sequence, I was hooked. Within minutes, I was hearing characters talk about movies I loved and things I knew about, that were important to me. I felt like my knowledge of horror was valuable for the very first time. If anything like Scream ever happened, then I knew that a knowledge of horror would likely help me to survive.
That hasn’t quite happened yet (thankfully). But the other thing the trivia at the beginning of Scream did for me is give me some confirmation about the Friday the 13th series that I desperately needed. I knew that Jason returned in the series but I didn’t quite believe it because I felt like my friend had lied to me, conned me, after we watched the original and Voorhees never showed up. Scream confirmed that Jason was the killer through the rest of the sequels—for the most part. It’s possible I wouldn’t have kept going with the Friday the 13th franchise had it not been for Scream. At least not as quickly.
As I sat there and watched it, I became instantly enamored with this movie that itself was built upon references to other horror movies. I’d never seen anything like it. I immediately identified with the character of Randy. And I continued to relate to him more and more as I got older. I had never seen anything like this character, who knew horror inside and out and used it as a tool to survive. He wasn’t the best looking of the bunch, he never got the girl, but he was every horror fan watching that movie. Regardless of gender, anyone could identify with him because, even among fringe kids, he was the outcast.
Scream was the first franchise I became obsessed with in real time. After watching the first movie, I couldn’t wait for the second. I began to understand what it was like for people watching Freddy and Jason at the height of their success. I was bursting with excitement when I finally saw Scream 2 on the video store shelf. For some reason, that film might be even more nostalgic for me than the first one.
I still rank it among the best horror sequels ever. It ups the stakes, changes the formula, and provides a fascinating commentary on the state of sequels in general, in ways that are just as smart as the original flick. Yes, I was heartbroken by the death of my favorite character. But Randy’s untimely demise made me understand something the first film didn’t: nobody is safe. If Randy died, anybody could die at any time.
With how quickly Scream 2 was released after Scream, I was not prepared for the wait for Scream 3, especially as an impatient young kid. The first issue of Fangoria I ever bought boasted a Scream 3 cover story. I needed to know what was going to happen in that film. I tried to find a way to go see it in theaters, but to no avail. So, instead, I rented it the very day it hit home video. Strangely enough, I remember feeling both disappointed and elated at the same time.
It wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, but I was just so happy that it even existed, I almost didn’t care. There was a third Scream movie and I was watching it. When you’re ten years old and obsessed with horror, that’s all that really matters.
Naively, I never expected a Scream 4. When it was sold as a trilogy, I believed it. But I always wanted a fourth installment. At the age of ten, only a few months after seeing the third for the first time, I attempted to learn screenplay format in order to write my own Scream 4—which I did write, by hand, on a yellow notepad. I don’t remember much about it other than I had it in my mind that slashers always grew more and more supernatural as they went along, so it was about a killer trying to make it look like Billy Loomis had returned from the grave.
I was in college when Scream 4 finally hit. I was excited, but also skeptical. It had been a long time, 3 had promised to be the end of the series, and that film had had some not-so-secret production problems. I went in with some reservations. But as soon as the movie started, I was ten years old again. It was Scream. It felt more like Scream than the third entry did, by quite a bit. Sure, I see some of the pacing issues and flat jokes now, but it was one of my favorite horror movies of 2011.
It was everything I didn’t get to have in Scream 3. More than just being the fourth entry in a franchise, it made up for some serious childhood disappointment. I don’t think it’s anywhere near the quality of the first two, but there are a lot of smart things in it, especially the play on the remake trend and the commentary on teenage vanity. More than anything else, it felt like Scream in a way the third movie didn’t.
While it’s still such a huge loss for horror that Wes Craven is gone, and one the genre will likely never recover from, I’m kind of proud that his last film at least went out with something of a bang. It rallied the old fans together to give them one last show. Scream 4 might not have lit the box office on fire, but it was a critical success, and I think everyone expected the reception to be reversed.
I’m glad to have the TV series as a new incarnation, mostly because I want to see Scream continue, but I don’t want it on film without Craven. I can’t imagine seeing a Scream sequel or even a remake without his name on it. When I think about it, whether I focus on the past or the future of the franchise, I can’t help but think about that little kid renting a video without the slightest idea of what to expect. I remember how mesmerized he was. And I remember how he sat there in awe for two hours thinking his knowledge of horror was valuable for the very first time.