Scream: A 15-Year Perspective from an Aging Millennial

Discussion in 'Slashers' started by Fistfuck, Dec 5, 2011.

  1. Fistfuck

    Fistfuck Slowest to 2000 posts

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    As I warily approach my 30th birthday (in all truth, I’m being dragged kicking and screaming), I find myself performing stereotypical behavior I’ve always heard about but never understood. Thinking back to the good ole days, remembering my high school career with rose-tinted reflection, and believing things will never quite be the same - while simultaneously praying reincarnation lies at the end of the road – have become not the fond reminiscences I had hoped for but distracting obsessions.

    After all, our fourth decade is when we need to get serious about what it is we’ll produce throughout our lives. No longer can we claim the ignorance of adolescence or the “finding myself” of our 20s. It’s at this point either our past successes will add up to personal and professional satisfaction or we begin the difficult-to-break habit of coasting through the rest of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure, especially for a generation who was told “reach for the stars,” “follow your dreams,” “go to college so you don’t end up flipping burgers,” and then ridiculed for not settling for a low-income job and protesting the state of the 21st-century economy.

    All this in mind, I’ve regressed to my mid- to late-adolescent headspace, spinning Nine Inch Nails discs ad nauseum, not changing the station when a No Doubt song comes over the airwaves (something I wouldn’t be caught dead jamming to at 16), and dusting off those old teen movies my generation was blessed – I sincerely believe this now - with. As a sort of punctuation mark, my 10-year class reunion was this past weekend. This led me back to Scream, a film I hadn’t seen in some time. A film whose esteem was throughout the years hip, infallible, embarrassing, fondly remembered, and hopelessly dated. After viewing the film for perhaps the first time in, let’s say, ten years, I was inundated with a wave of feeling and emotion I wasn’t prepared for.

    Perhaps it’s my current state of heightened sensitivity that affected this reaction to the film, but for the first time in a long time, I remembered with clarion vision the first viewing at age 14.

    At this age, your life is one of perpetual waiting. Waiting for your learner’s permit and driver’s license, waiting to get your first job, waiting for prom, waiting for graduation, waiting for the first kiss, first sexual experience, first of what you imagined to be many alcohol-fueled ragers. An age where rites of passage were lined up one after the other by those dreaded adults and the generations that preceded you. An age that seems a galaxy away from the make-it-or-break-it world we as adults now inhabit, where the experiences you look forward to are solely of your own creation. I remembered as if it were yesterday – the interceding fifteen years deposited in my memory like a science fiction plot.

    What is it about this film that brought all this flooding back like getting smacked by a nostalgia-laden subway train? From where did the same flutter in my stomach come that accompanied the lie to my mother, “oh, yeah, it’s a sleep over party. Of course his parents will be there?”

    I was born in 1982, in many ways the definitive year of the millennial generation (GenY, GenY2K, [loosely defined as those born from 1980 until 1999]). I was old enough to take part of the beginnings of video games as a respected medium, perceive the change grunge brought upon popular music, be among the first adopters of the spread of the Internet, and was one of the first classes graduated in the new millennia (sorry, class of ’00. I know the party was in ’99 but millennia actually begin with ’01).

    By the time Scream came around grunge was breathing its last angst-ridden breaths, video games had moved from tiny, pixilated sprites and solid state cartridges to ugly, pixilated 3D playing fields and spinning discs, and 56k modems allowed us to download nude images of Pamela Anderson at blazing speeds. Horror was far from in style. The only releases at this time were direct-to-video sequels and sporadic, flavorless originals like The Prophecy.

    I was parting ways with an obsessive relationship with Star Wars and entering the peak years of my horror fixation. I had already been a fan for half my life at this point, sneaking late night viewings of the big three sequels at 7 and being introduced to Stephen King films by my mother at 9. Unlike with Star Wars, I had no one to share my interest, most kids still prohibited by parents from viewing R-rated fare or otherwise simply uninterested. My friends’ eyes would glaze over when I’d go on about whichever Nightmare installment I had viewed over the weekend. It was a solitary experience in the midst of the worst social and physiological years of anyone’s life.

    Along came Scream. Horror was cool again, and thus, the new wave era of slashers dawned. All of the sudden people were talking about this new film, how hip it was, how referential it was to Halloween and its successors. A film that seemed to bridge the gap between those who spent a minimum of half an hour in the horror section and those who were asking (though they probably didn’t know it) for their own series of John Hughes films. I finally had something to talk about with my friends, with the cheerleaders, with the valedictorian.

    Much has been said of the cultural reference oversaturation of Scream and the ubiquity of WB up-and-comers cast in the films it inspired. While it may be easy, perhaps even a tad lazy, to look back and see this era as a clean-shaven, fangless commercial product of its time, I believe these films, Scream in particular, held more in common with what they referenced and were fairly prescient of the coming decade.

    Much as Black Christmas was the accelerant and Halloween the ignition of the slasher movement, Scream served as both while being the prototype for the next fifteen years of horror and culture. Unlike the first wave of slashers, many of the stars of the post-Scream era would go on to have lengthy and legitimate careers.

    It was an intelligent move on the part of the producers and casting directors: taking somewhat established TV-stars (Courtney Cox in Friends, Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt in Party of Five, Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy) and realizing they could fill seats with the built-in audiences those series carried. These same stars, and others, now have careers that can switch seamlessly between the big and small screen. In this new millennium, television no longer has the negative stigma it once carried. It’s no longer a springboard for unknowns, the final resting place for the twilight years of an actor’s profession, or the only way Susan Lucci has a job. While Alec Baldwin is arguably turning in the best performance of his career on 30 Rock, channels like AMC, TNT, and USA, once relegated to syndication and B-movie reruns, are producing award-winning stories that rival and supersede those of Hollywood.

    This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to the other half of the broadcast spectrum, the reality show. While tabloid fodder was no new novelty in the mid-90s, it was regarded as a bread and circus form of entertainment, something you hid your fondness of for fear of being ostracized. Now, the reality TV craze has become a cultural obsession. Despite never having seen a single episode, I can regrettably name multiple characters from The Jersey Shore. The divorces of people who are known only for being known make headline news on CNN. In Scream, Gale asks of her cameraman, “Tell me, Kenny, has a trashy tabloid reporter ever won the Pulitzer?” This sentiment is perhaps more scary now than it was funny fifteen years ago.

    In short, Scream was more groundbreaking in ways that were impossible to see at the time and less in the ways for which it was lauded.

    Scream succeeds for the same reason any great teen movie does: it shows adolescents having fun and engaging in a series of risk/reward behaviors. This appeals to pre-adolescents who have yet to experience the events depicted, the adolescents who see themselves on screen, and those not too far removed from (or perhaps hopelessly stuck in) their teen years. Each group has its own reaction: pre-adolescents say, “I can’t wait to do that;” adolescents say, “that gives me an idea…;” adults either say, “I remember when I did that,” or, “I wish I had done that.” This leads to a sort of experiential displacement where a viewer feels a desire to be part of the on screen action. All great films do it, whether you long to be the hero of the action movie or be with the love interest in the romantic comedy. The draw of the teen movie is that fun can be had and risks can be taken while still having the buffer of parents between action and consequence.

    But fun can be had in all types of films. What sets teen films, teen slashers in particular and Scream specifically, apart? In an article titled “Beautiful Brains” in the October 2011 issue of National Geographic, David Dobbs posits what sets adolescent actions apart from those of children and adults (and makes them so maddening to parents and authority figures), is not the long-held belief that teenagers have under-developed brains and are stupid or ignorant of consequence. In fact, they’re able to see consequence as well as adults. When adolescent brains are entering their final stages of development from 13 to 25, they are at their adaptive best as humans. Proficiencies in athletic and musical abilities are earned, they become fluent in other languages, and as mentioned before, this is when early successes or failures begin to shape the productive output of a teen’s adult life. The rewards have a higher consequence at this early stage. They have peers to impress, a social circle to establish dominance in, and mates to attract. The greater the success, the better the impression, higher position, more attractive mate. Take, for example, the reckless driving in a car. The faster a teenager drives in the presence of their peers, the more daring he is, the higher his regard becomes. It’s not that death does not factor in to his decision to drive fast, it’s that at this point he values his social standing more than his own life. The higher the risk, the greater the reward.

    This is perhaps another reason not only for the draw but also the numerousness of teen slashers – the catharsis of seeing human beings cut down in the prime of their lives rather than the off-limits taboo of childhood, the doldrums of middle age, or the decrepitude of old age. In Scream, we see teenagers taking risks both small (watching movies late on a school night, sneaking out to crawl through girlfriend’s window, running through school with the killer’s mask on) and great (underage drinking, premarital sex, reckless driving, homicide), and are vicariously rewarded through one of those four reactions of experiential displacement. For instance: “I can’t wait to have sex,” “I, too, am having sex,” “I remember losing my virginity,” or “I wish I had lost my virginity in my teen years.”

    We as an audience share in their rewards, placing value on fun the most. We see the characters doing simple things like having lunch on the quad (my high school didn’t have one and I was relegated to eating inside) to partying. It’s why Scream is such a traditional teen slasher film. The characters engage in the same actions as their forebears. The pranks of Stu and the “desensitized little shits” that Himbry chastises, the drinking, the drugs, the partying are all common themes, not punishable by death as “The Rules” state, but because, as John Carpenter put it, this is what teenagers do. Thus, the fun we want to have, the fun we’re having, the fun we remember, and the fun we wanted to experience is also the fun we see on screen.

    Speaking from a strictly white, suburban, and mid-class background, it’s no surprise that these teenage years become so fondly remembered, even by some who were traumatized by them. For the most part, we all had our group of friends. The majority of us even valued our friends over our parents – again, the reason we took risks. There’s an elegiac sentiment I find present in Scream (as well as slashers of both eras) that I believe at one point we all shared. That of, if I die, I do so with my friends. It is perhaps an immature reaction to parental interference or control, the anti-authoritarian phase we all go through, or simply the all-time teenage favorite, “you just don’t understand.” Either way, it’s a sentiment repeated in the films’ choice of music. We end with the beginning strains of Moby’s First Cool Hive, a danceable triphop song flavored with the echoey, mournful vocalizations of a woman’s alto. As it was a newer genre of music at the time, the techno/triphop speaks to the target generation, saying , “This is what is current.” With the female’s vocalizations and accompanying strings, both more classical elements, a sense of sorrow is introduced. A target audience member can read this cut as saying, “This is how my friends and I die. This is how we will be remembered.” Presaging these events, Birdbrain’s Youth of America is even more apparent. Played at the beginning of Stu’s party, it’s a straight ahead post-grunge rocker, cautious in it message and blunt with its lyrics.

    Say a prayer for the youth of America
    God bless the youth of America

    and

    You’re all dead
    You’ve been wasted

    leave little to be disputed. Rock n roll was always music for teenagers to die to, and with this song, it illustrates an acceptance of this fictional group (perhaps this generation) that, yes, we will die tonight, but we’re gonna have a helluva time until then. It’s an interesting thought, and one I reflect on how cavalier we were with. My graduating class had, and continues to have, a worryingly high mortality rate. Perhaps this sentiment, present in the film and my own life, is the best exemplification of different generations deal with death.

    With an eye toward the future, a way in which Scream was both traditional and groundbreaking was its almost fear of technology. Despite being released around the proliferation of the Internet, the film makes little use of computers and the ability to connect online. The one instance it’s referenced, while Sidney is first being chased and attempts to contact 911, is a nonevent. It could be excised from the movie without effect. Elsewhere, garage door openers and wireless cameras are implicit in the deaths of two characters. And cell phones, something novel at the time and not nearly as widespread as Billy claims, are used as weapons. The obvious example is the phone calls the victims receive. But the technology is also used to frame Sidney’s father and is even weaponized against poor Randy. In this way, Kevin Williamson not only predicts the lack of technology implemented in millennial horror, but warns filmmakers against the folly of trying to do so. With a few exceptions – Halloween: Resurrection, feardotcom, one sequence in Urban Legend - technology has been absent in the past decade of horror despite its prevalence in our lives.

    As I conclude this lengthy reflection on Scream, it’s my 29th birthday. With each passing year I get further away from the era in which Scream was released. The ease with which I was able to slip back into a familiar mindset forces me to wonder if I’ve grown as much as I believed since my teen years. It’s a different world than our parents grew up in. At my age, my parents already had a four-year old. Perhaps the mentality of youth is something that has extended as lives become easier and death a more conquerable struggle. Perhaps 30 really is the new 21. But no matter how young or old I feel or am, I have a historical document of how my life was lived through my teen years. It’ll be interesting, centuries from now, for historians to hook up some ancient piece of equipment that broadcasts pictures from a spinning plastic disc, and see perhaps if their own adolescent sons and daughters are driving them as insane as we did our own parents. Perhaps that son will be me (please, God, reincarnation is a really really cool idea).
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2011
  2. MorallySound

    MorallySound Mad Mutilator

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    Splendid read. Regrettably, I still have not seen Scream or its sequels in thier entirety...
     
  3. ronnie21

    ronnie21 Well-Known Member

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    hate me here, but i never thought much of scream, by 1996, the horror movie slasher thing was old and dated, plus i was 25 so i seen it all and for me it wasnt a big deal like it was to alot of people, i understand it brought back horror movies. but this one didn't do it..
     
  4. Fistfuck

    Fistfuck Slowest to 2000 posts

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    MorallySound, Scream and Scream 3 are available on Netflix Instant. It would be interesting to get your perspective as someone who missed the boat, so to speak. I think someone viewing the film for the first time 15 years after its initial impact would make for a good read.

    ronnie21, I wouldn't say the slasher thing was old and dated by '96. Slashers more or less had run their course by '84, so you could say the genre was old by '86. My opinion was that the genre had lain dormant until '96, with the sporadic release here and there - much in the way westerns have never truly died, they've just become less frequent. Did you neither see Scream as a new and interesting twist or a throwback with a fresh coat of paint? Are you a fan of slashers in general?
     
  5. DVD-fanatic-9

    DVD-fanatic-9 And the Next Morning, When the Campers Woke Up...

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    But PLEASE do not watch them on Watch Instant- they chopped them down from 2.35 to around 1.85, lopping off a lot from the sides. In one of the scenes Fistfuck mentioned, they literally cut off one of the characters in the shot who was taking up at least 38-41% of the screen (and just kept Henry Winkler).

    Fistfuck: great beginning, strong wording. But you lost me somewhere after halfway. It looked like it was really going somewhere but then it turned into just describing the painfully obvious and making practically no point at all.

    But, hey, I don't anticipate anyone else agreeing with me. And perhaps I misinterpreted the title when I saw it (mistaking "Perspective" for "Retrospective"). And, the thing I really want you to remember from this reply is, I think you REALLY said something important with this one: "Scream was more groundbreaking in ways that were impossible to see at the time and less in the ways for which it was lauded."

    Also... I'm older than you. Just sayin'. :p
     
  6. MorallySound

    MorallySound Mad Mutilator

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    They aren't available on Netflix Canada anyway so I can avoid this worry.
     
  7. Fistfuck

    Fistfuck Slowest to 2000 posts

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    I was wondering about that. That's how I viewed it most recently, and while I didn't necessarily remember the film being shot in scope, the aspect ratio felt off to me.

    I agree that the structure of this is pretty poor. I basically just had a hankering to say something but was between writing a proper essay and wasting too much time on something that won't get much of a reaction anyway. I mean, look at all the replies so far!

    I disagree that what I said was "painfully obvious," at least to me. True, I didn't break the film down as professorially as someone like Rhett would have, and my insights are far from deep. That's all because...

    ...you've answered your own question right here. The whole thing is simply the musings of someone desperate to turn back the clock and why this film aggravates those feelings. But, again, it probably could have done with a few rewrites.

    Thanks for reading and not tl;dr-ing.
     

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