Film: Scream (1996)

Scream (1996) is the first film in the Scream franchise.

In the town of Woodsboro, a teenager is killed by a mysterious stranger wearing a white mask. A panic breaks out in the town, as the killer continues to target more and more people, displaying an affinity for horror movie tropes in staging his murders. Sidney Prescott, who is still reeling from the death of her mother a year before, becomes the killer's primary target as "Ghostface" slowly wipes out her friends one by one. Meanwhile reporter Gail Weathers investigates the killings with deputy sherrif Dewey Riley, convinced that the deaths are linked to Sidney's past.

For the 1981 movie by the same title, see Scream (1981).

This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Hearing your daughter's weakening cries for "Mom" through the phone as she is dragged to her death is horrifying for any parent. Having it punctuated with seeing her body hanging from a tree, entrails hanging out, puts things firmly within this trope.
  • Ax-Crazy: Billy and Stu.
  • Blown Across the Room: Randy gets thrown backwards several feet by a gunshot.
  • Cat Scare: When Tatum hears a noise in the empty garage, she turns just in time to see a startled cat scramble out the pet door.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The 30 second delay on the tape gets Kenny the cameraman killed.
  • Combat Pragmatist: After stabbing Billy with an umbrella, Sidney sticks her finger through the wound to gain the upper hand.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Billy and Stu, until they decided to stab each other before trying to kill Sidney and her dad.
    • Tatum during her death scene; she continually mocks the killer and the idea of the helpless female victim scenario, until he actually pulls a knife on her:
    "No, please don't kill me Mr. Ghostface! I wanna be in the sequel!"
    • Sidney also qualifies when she first talks to the killer:
    "[referring to horror movies] They're all the same; some killer stalking some big breasted girl who can't act, who's always runs up the stairs when she should be going out the front door - it's insulting."
    • This of course leads to an Ironic Echo, where she is forced to run upstairs instead of outside when the killer attacks moments later.
  • Dead Star Walking: Drew Barrymore.
  • Death by Sex: Lampshaded.
    Randy: Rule #1 [for surviving a horror movie]. You can never have sex. (boos from the crowd) Big no-no! Sex equals death, okay?
    • Subverted, however, by Sidney, who has sex (with the killer!) and still survives.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • When Stu, one of the killers, is informed that the cops are on their way, rather than reacting negatively to that, or the fact that he's coughing up quite a lot of blood, he starts crying and says, "My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!" You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
    • This was Billy's motivation for the murders. His father was having an affair with Sidney's mother, which caused Billy's mother to move out and abandon him.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Randy gets a little excitable talking to Stu about who the killer might be: "There's a formula to it! A VERY SIMPLE FORMULA! EVERYBODY'S A SUSPECT!"
  • Everybody Lives: Well not everybody (there are 5 on screen victims) but Sidney, Dewey, Gale, Randy, and Neil Prescott are left standing in the end, this is a big difference from the usual Final Girl ending that horror movies have.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Stu, who seemingly goes crazy following The Reveal.
  • For the Evulz: At first, Billy admits to not having any particular motive for the killings, and just committing them for the fun of it. When pressed for a motive however, he reveals that it's also revenge for Sidney's mother having an affair with his father and breaking up his parents' marriage. On the other hand, Stu appears to have been an outright example of this trope.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Gale Weathers states that she thinks that Cotton Weary was framed for murdering Sidney's mother. Turns out she's right; Billy did it.
    • Randy thinks that Billy is the biggest contender for murderer in a video store.
    • Stu celebrates the closure of his school after the principal is murdered.
    • After the rules speech, Stu's mocking "I'll be right back!" and Randy's response "I'll see you in the kitchen, with a knife!" foreshadow that Stu is able to break Randy's rules for survival because he's a killer, and guess what he's holding in what room a short time later?
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Casey's boyfriend; after failing Ghostface's trivia question, the patio lights goes out while he's being eviscerated and comes back on just in time for Casey to see his intestines hang out. Casey winds up getting the same treatment by the end of the scene.
  • Improvised Weapon: Sidney drops a TV on the killer in the first film. It can be taken as Death by Irony, since the TV is showing Halloween (1978) and the killer, who was an obsessive fan of horror movies who wanted to live one out, is now all the way into one.
  • Indecisive Deconstruction: The first film was marketed as a Deconstructive Parody of the Slasher genre, but for all it did to point out as many traits as it could, it just ended up being a straight entry of the genre with genre savvy characters that still fall into all the same traps.
  • Insistent Terminology: By the killer, both of them.
    Sidney: You're crazy, both of you.
    Stu: Actually, we prefer the term "psychotic".
  • Irony: When called by the killer, Sidney, who dislikes horror movies, badmouths them, saying they all just involve some eye candy girl who always runs upstairs instead of out the front door. When Ghostface attacks moments later, Sidney tries to run out the door, can't, and seeing no other option, runs upstairs.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted with Randy, who attributes his survival to being a virgin.
  • Murder Simulators: The killer states that violent movies "don't create psychos, they only make psychos more creative."
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: At the climax of the film, Billy and Stu leave Sidney alone in the kitchen to deal with Gale, giving her the opportunity to escape and ultimately kill them.
  • Not Quite Dead: Lampshaded. Billy is shot in the face immediately as he is getting up to do this.
    Randy: Careful, this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back for one last scare.
    Billy: Gah!
    Sidney: (BLAM) Not in my movie.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Played straight, then later subverted.
  • Oh Crap!: Randy's reaction after realizing that Sidney just handed the gun to one of the killers.
  • Red Herring: Played with beautifully, in that the red herrings aren't red herrings at all. The movie practically screams "This is the killer" whenever Billy's onscreen (a phone falling out of his pocket after a call from the killer, an unstable attitude, his tendency to show up only after someone is killed), and does it so much that everyone assumes this is the film trying to distract you from the real killer. The trickery is upped further when the apparent Red Herring is killed and everyone who's been paying attention will think "So obviously that means it was Sidney's father the whole time!" It then takes the usual horror denoument "The guy who was too obviously the killer was killed off, and the real killer turned out to be the person the Final Girl thought she could trust the most (her father)" in a very inventive direction by doubling back on itself: The Red Herring was the killer, his death was faked and there were actually TWO killers and the guy you thought you could trust was trustworthy after all!
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Casey.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Tatum.
  • Saw Star Wars 27 Times: Played for Drama - Casey angrily declares that she's seen Friday the 13th (1980) "20 goddamn times" when the killer says that she gave the wrong answer to the trivia question about it (with the stakes being her boyfriend's life). Unfortunately for Casey, the killer was not talking about the series as a whole, but the original movie, whose killer was not Jason Voorhees but his mother. The boyfriend gets Gutted Like a Fish soon after.
  • Self-Deprecation: Casey saying that all the sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) sucked. This could also be seen as a Take That, since Craven only directed the original and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (and only co-wrote Dream Warriors). He only decided to keep it in once its self-deprecating nature was pointed out; he apparently thought it was a bit mean-spirited at first.
  • Sequel Snark: "No, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghost face! I wanna be in the sequel!"
  • Shout-Out: A brief appearance by a janitor named Fred, who dresses like Freddy Krueger and is played by Wes Craven.
    • Not to mention a character named Billy Loomis
  • Slashed Throat: How Kenny meets his end.
  • Slasher Smile: The killer Billy Loomis pulls off an epic one near the end. While his partner yammers on about "watching a few movies, take a few notes", he merely stands there and silently starts smiling, till it's a full on grin, heading into Technically a Smile territory. Interestingly, while all the other Ghostfaces pull off some form of Psychotic Smirk during the movie, Billy Loomis is the only one to really look like he's going to become Laughing Mad from revealing his plans. It sends a shiver down your spine.
  • Suddenly Shouting: The voice on the phone suddenly raising his voice to Casey, screaming that he'd kill her if she hung up, instantly dispels the "prank caller" notion and sends her into terrified mode.
  • Take That: "And no thanks whatsoever to the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board." To elaborate: when this movie was in production, scenes were to be filmed at Santa Rosa High School in northern California. The school board, however, objected to the gory nature of the movie, and after a lot of small town political theatre, shooting for the school scenes was moved to a community center in the nearby town of Sonoma. In response, Wes Craven threw that phrase into the credits, right after the "special thanks" portion. The town of Santa Rosa, once a popular filming location, was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood as a result of the experience.
    • To be fair to the people of Santa Rosa, there was also a strong element of Too Soon involved, with the community still recovering from the Polly Klaas murder in the nearby town of Petaluma. The killer's trial was even set to take place around the time that Scream began production. Wes Craven later admitted in the Biography Channel's Inside Story program that he understands now why the timing was just too uncomfortable to be acceptable.
  • Title Drop: Subverted. The original title of the movie was Scary Movie, and there are several lines that are clearly, knowing the context, meant to be Title Drops, but thanks to the changed name, they no longer are:
    Casey: Oh, just some scary movie.
    Ghostface: What's your favorite scary movie?
    Gale: Several more local teens are dead, bringing to an end the harrowing mystery of the masked killings that has terrified this peaceful community like the plot of some scary movie.
  • Too Soon: In-universe, the principal expels two students for insensitivity because they were roaming the halls dressed as Ghostface after the real Ghostface killed two students the night before, and then, not thinking it to be punishment enough, threatens to kill both for their actions AND hits BOTH with a Precision S Strike.
    • For a real-life example, see above.
  • Two Dun It: Billy and Stu, as it happens. This is also true in later films but is less of a twist after this first film set the pattern.
  • Viewer Stock Phrases: "Look behind you!" is played with in the sequence where Randy watches Halloween (1978) and says this to Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie — but also, unknowingly, to himself, as the killer is approaching him from behind. Meanwhile, a couple of people in a van outside, watching the situation on a video feed, are saying the same thing to him. However, because the feed they're watching is on a time delay, and whatever is going to happen is already over, they are powerless to help him — just as Randy cannot change what happens in Halloween, and the Scream audience can't change what happens in the movie they're watching. Whew!
    • Played with even more when Randy says, "Look behind you, Jamie!" He's talking to Jamie Lee Curtis, but guess what the actor playing Randy is named?
  • Wham Line: In the intro, the phone call starts off like a friendly chat between two strangers, until...
    Casey: Why do you want to know my name?
    • "We all go a little mad sometimes," as said by Billy Loomis before he shoots Randy Meeks (though non fatally).
      • "Your slut mother was fucking my father. She's the reason my mom moved out and abandoned me. How's that for a motive?" as said by Billy, while explaining to Sidney about this. Even Stu was shocked by this.
  • Whole Costume Reference: The school janitor is seen wearing Freddie Krueger's iconic hat and striped shirt.