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Film / Scream (1996)

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

In the town of Woodsboro, two teenagers are gruesomely 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 Gale Weathers investigates the killings with deputy sheriff 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.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Ghostface mentions to Sidney that her mother begged for her life.
    Ghostface: Do you want to die, Sidney? Your mother sure didn't.
  • Ax-Crazy: Billy and Stu.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Ghostface is introduced as the main antagonist, but he's actually an alias shared by two people; Billy and Stu.
  • Blown Across the Room: Randy gets thrown backwards several feet by a gunshot.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Stu prefers him and Billy to be referred to as psychotic, and Billy admits he's a psychopath when he reminds Sidney they had sex, which SHOULD mean Sidney now has to die.
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  • 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.
    • Sidney stops her dad from entering her room while Billy is there by opening the closet door, which blocks the bedroom door. Later the same obstacle prevents Ghostface from entering Sidney's room after chasing her upstairs.
  • The Commandments: Randy lays out the rules to survive a horror movie:
    1. You can never have sex. (Though Sidney has sex with Billy and survives.)
    2. Never drink alcohol or do drugs. (Though Randy drinks beer and survives.)
    3. Never, under any circumstances, say, “I’ll be right back.”
  • Combat Pragmatist: After stabbing Billy with an umbrella, Sidney sticks her finger through the wound to gain the upper hand.
  • Creator Cameo: The high school's janitor, who is seen in a two-second shot wearing a red-and-green sweater and is named "Fred", is played by Wes Craven himself.
  • Dead Star Walking: Drew Barrymore.
  • Death by Irony: Stu, who's planned his murders based on slasher movies, dies after having a TV set (with a scary movie playing, no less) dropped on his head.
  • 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. Of course, the killer does die after he has sex, so ... played straight?
  • 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!"
  • Evil Is Hammy: Stu, who seemingly goes crazy following The Reveal.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: How the Ghostface killer's iconic mask is first shown.
  • Final Girl: Sidney is a reconstruction of the trope. In spite of having sex and not being the most wholesome teenager, she is able to outwit the killer. However there are four other survivors too.
  • 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:
    • It happens pretty early on, but after Ghostface mysteriously disappears, Billy conveniently happens to be going in Sidney's window. Dewey also finds the mask nearby, how odd is that? At this point in time it was Stu in Ghostface, but the timing is impeccable and too conveninent to not have been set up.
    • Billy's talk with Sidney right after being jailed is rather pointed as well. "I was in jail, I couldn't have done it, remember?"
    • Gale Weathers states that she thinks that Cotton Weary was framed for murdering Sidney's mother. Turns out she's right; Billy did it.
    • In the video store, Randy correctly states that Billy is the top suspect. Not only that he calls Stu a "stupid little lapdog," when he's the accomplice to Billy's rampage. In addition to the scary music that plays when Billy and Stu both gang up on Randy.
    • Stu celebrates the closure of the 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?
    • The serial killer has an obsession with horror movies, right? Billy, before the sex scene, compares Sidney's situation to The Silence of the Lambs, a horror movie which spawned the Psychological Thriller genre, and also says 'It's all just a movie'.
    • When Principal Himbry is mad at the kids who are running around in the Ghostface Masks he unmasks 2 kids.
  • Four Is Death: The catch phrase that Randy says saying is against the rules for surviving horror movies, "I'll be right back", is exactly four words long.
  • Genre Relaunch: The film brought the Slasher genre, which had been struggling since its Golden Age ended along with the 80's, back in in vogue, due to its both lampshading many of the genre's clichés but also managing to still be quite scary in spite of it. Ironically, Wes Craven had actually made Scream as an attempt to put the alling genre out of its misery, but instead he ended up revitalising it.
  • 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.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: The Trope Namer. After Casey fails Ghostface's trivia question, the patio lights go out while her boyfriend Steve is eviscerated, coming back on just in time for Casey to see his intestines hanging out. Casey winds up getting the same treatment by the end of the scene.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Randy's second rule to survive a horror movie is to not drink alcohol. He explains this while holding a bottle of beer and then clinking bottles with a friend.
  • 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 but she's put the safety chain on it - so she has no choice but to run upstairs.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Gale Weathers may be rude and egotistical, but she was right about Cotton Weary being innocent and Sidney ignoring the facts to defend her mother.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: While the killer is approaching Randy, he's watching Halloween and is saying "turn around, Jamie" to Jamie Lee Curtis. Randy is played by Jamie Kennedy.
  • Morton's Fork: How the killer both of them plans to kill Sidney.
    Stu See it's a fun game Sidney. We ask you questions and if you get one wrong, BOO-GAH!, you die.
    Billy: You get one right, you die.
  • Motive Rant: Discussed Trope. When Sidney prompts the killer for a motive, he derides the whole idea of a Motive Rant, pointing out that the villain tends to be a lot scarier if there's no motive. However, this is immediately double subverted when he gives her one anyway.
  • 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 Sidney is taunted by Ghostface while Billy is being held by the police, and again when Billy is apparently killed. At this point, the viewer is led to think "so obviously that means it was Sidney's father the whole time!" It then takes the usual horror denouement of "the too-obvious red herring is killed off, and the real killer is 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, there were actually two killers, and the guy you thought you could trust was trustworthy after all!
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The story was inspired by a series of murders in Gainesville, Florida.
  • 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 the life of her boyfriend Steve). Unfortunately for Casey, Ghostface was only talking about the original film, where the killer was not Jason Voorhees, but his mother. Steve 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:
    Tatum: No, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface! 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.
    • Reference Overdosed: The movie is packed with references to other films, most of them through direct comparisons or discussing them in-universe.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The killer explains that his motive for wanting to kill Sidney is that her mother Maureen had an affair with the killer's father, which caused his parents to divorce and his own mother to run away. Which, obviously, is hardly something that Sidney can be held personally responsible for.
  • Skewed Priorities: When Stu, one of the killers, is dying in Sidney's kitchen, the first thought that comes to his mind concerns how angry his parents are gonna be with him when they find out what had happened. Never mind that he was just stabbed, has lost a lot of blood, and will be in trouble with the law if he manages to live.
  • 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.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: Redheaded Drew Barrymore wore a blonde wig to play the film's opening victim Casey. Tatum who is also blonde dies. Both female survivors are brunette.
  • 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.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: Billy asks, soulfully, what he has to do to prove his innocence. A second later the killer leaps into the room and stabs him. Because Scream never met a trope it didn't want to play with, it turns out Billy's the killer anyway. There were two killers and they engineered the whole thing to screw with Sidney.
  • 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. Days before filming was to begin, however, the school board raised objections 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 city 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.
  • Tap on the Head: When Ghostface/Stu attacks Sidney the first time, he slams her head on the floor to stun her.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: During the climax, Sidney escapes and hides from Billy and Stu and uses their own phone call games to taunt them that the police are on their way. They don't take it well.
    Sidney: We're going to play a little game. It's called guess who just phoned the police and reported your sorry mother fucking ass!
  • Teens Are Monsters: The Red Herring teenager Billy turns out to be the killer all along, with fellow classmate Stu as his accomplice.
  • Tempting Fate: The reason why saying "I'll be right back" ensures you won't be back to wherever you said it, according to Randy.
  • Title Drop:
    • Stu exclaims "it's a scream, baby!"
    • A subverted example: 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 the day after the real Ghostface killed two students. To really drive it in, he threatens to kill both for their actions AND hits BOTH with a Precision S Strike.
    • In real life, this is part of the reason for the objections to shooting at Santa Rosa High School.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Having immobilized Ghostface for several seconds with a solid groin attack, Casey had bought herself enough time to reach her front porch just as her parents were about to go inside. Due to the prior attempted strangulation, she was temporarily unable to cry out to get her parents' attention, but she still had the heavy cordless phone in her hand she could've thrown towards the door to get their attention.
    • To be fair, with two killers, and Casey already weakened by the initial stab in the chest survival would've been far from guaranteed even if she'd got her parents' attention.
    • There's also the fact that Billy and Stu decided to stab each other before dealing with Sidney.
  • 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?
  • Villainous Breakdown: Both Ghostfaces undergo this after Sidney escapes and reveals the police are coming after them, using their own phone call mind games on them to add insult to injury. Billy throws a violent hissy fit and screams blue murder at Sidney, while Stu blubbers like a baby over what his parents will do to him.
    Stu: My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!
  • Virgin Power: Parodied by Randy when he survives.
    "I never thought I'd be so glad to be a virgin."
  • 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?
      Ghostface: Because I want to know who I'm looking at.
    • The line that reveals Billy Loomis as the killer just before he shoots Randy Meeks (albeit non-fatally):
    • "Surprise Sydney", which not only reveals Stu as the killer, but combined with (and immediately following) the above, reveals there are two killers.
    • Billy Loomis' Motive Rant to Sidney. Even his accomplice Stu was shocked by this.
      "Your slut mother was fucking my father. She's the reason my mom moved out and abandoned me. How's that for a motive?"
  • Whole Costume Reference: The school janitor is seen wearing Freddie Krueger's iconic hat and striped shirt.