“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.”
No one knew those rules better than Wes Craven. He helped to create them, after all. Starting in 1972 with the cult favorite The Last House On The Left, he followed that just two years later with The Hills Have Eyes, which led to a sequel. But it wasn’t until a decade later that he would deliver his masterpiece and most successful franchise, Nightmare On Elm Street. Wes Craven introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, and our dreams have never been quite the same since. While others attempted to reproduce the same results with many sequels, it was Craven himself who put Freddy to bed with New Nightmare exactly 10 years after his birth. A remake never got much traction, and Wes Craven’s place in horror history was assured. In 1996 he decided to take one more stab at the slasher genre and delivered one of the best films to look directly back at the audience and celebrate the genre. Scream was another hit and another franchise staple. He took a then relatively unknown cast and made them household names with future amazing careers and decided that it was time to also poke a little fun at himself and his colleagues. The result was four films and an upcoming kind of reboot/sequel after a three-year television series examined the material. More importantly, it led to an entire sub-genre of films that include the Scary Movie franchise and others. Now, just in time for the holidays and the new film, you can see Scream in 4K with this UHD Blu-ray release.
The film advertised itself as a vehicle for Drew Barrymore and turned heads when the actress was killed in an opening scene that has become somewhat iconic. Craven and Williamson knew just how to identify an expectation and then take the audience by surprise. We never forgot Barrymore on the phone with a mysterious voice who wanted to play horror movie trivia with her and her boyfriend’s lives on the line. And who can forget tripping her up with a common Friday The 13th mistaken answer? With this scene, Wes Craven has introduced us to the killer and his characteristics and put us firmly in the mood for what is to come.
Of course this time we deal with the rules for a sequel:
“Rule number one: the body count is always bigger.”
This sequel starts at a movie premiere. The movie is called Stab, and it’s based on the book written by everyone’s favorite vain news woman: Gail Weathers (Cox). So we get more kills because we’re going to relive the most famous one from the first film. So we get to see a “newer” version of the killing of Barrymore’s character from Scream (and don’t forget the boyfriend). Plus we have the new film’s “real” killer running around taking out members of the Stab audience. It’s a really clever way to get the ball rolling and maybe match the iconic opening of the first Scream … or was that Stab? No, that was definitely Scream. As you can see, the franchise’s meta elements are really starting to kick in now. Just try to keep up. So check. There are plenty more kills in this film. The Stab segments we see at the screening were directed by Robert Rodriguez.
“Rule number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate. Carnage candy.”
We’ve graduated from high school, and now Sydney (Campbell) is in college. That means there are a ton of new ways for our slasher fodder to kick it. The theater killings bring up the whole nightmare again, and Sydney is once again dealing with a hungry press and the return of Gail Weathers and also Deputy Dewey (Arquette). This is the film where the characters get together as did the actors playing the role. The relationships don’t last, and even that’s covered rather cleverly in the more recent 5th Scream film. The film is populated by characters who are more than fodder for the killer. There’s the whodunit factor going on, and they are more entertaining so that you actually start to have fun with these people before they get it or perhaps are revealed as the killer.
“And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstance assume the killer’s dead.”
That was even good advice to the cast, who were not given the identity of the killer or killers during most of the shoot. That included the actual bad guy or guys. The last ten pages of the script were only available when the shooting was to begin on the scenes that were involved with the big reveal. The film is also willing to take out some folks you expect to survive. It has allowed the franchise to stay fresh and at least a little bit unpredictable throughout the decades.
Neve Campbell has roamed around television for a while, but Scream really put her on the map. She’s one of the more complicated final girls in a horror film, and she was intentionally made to remind us somewhat of Jamie Lee Curtis. She gets to do far more than just flee from the killer, and she’s given far more intelligence than final girls often have. When Courtney Cox came here, she was two years into her Friends gig, and it didn’t yet have any of the fame it would eventually gain. Her addition here was a clever, snarky Lois Lane, and it added yet another new element to the genre and some really nice winks to the audience. You gotta love the idiot-with-a-heart-of-gold deputy, played by David Arquette. In this defund-the-police movement, he’s the kind of cop we all wish served in our town … just as long as we weren’t really counting on him to protect us from any bad guys. It’s his best role, in my humble opinion, to this day.
The formula of having big names not last the film continues here with the addition of Jada Pinkett Smith and Buffy, that Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. If these are spoilers for you, remember that the film is 25 years old.
Scream is presented in a somewhat modified 2.35:1 as opposed to its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 50 mbps. There is no question that the film shows its age a bit. There are some soft image moments, particularly wide shots. But this was shot on 35mm film, so it has that native 4K thing going for it. Black levels appear to be nudged just a bit, which gives us some clearer shadow definition. That’s important during the climax. There’s far more detail present than I recall seeing even at the theatre. The film retains a bit of grain and continues to be quite atmospheric. Colors aren’t really popping here, but did they ever? Facial detail is improved, and that adds somewhat to the performances.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is basically the same as the previous Blu-ray release. I didn’t catch any significant changes. The expanded bitrate allows for some deeper subs, but it’s not really changed at all. Dialog comes through just fine. The score offers its nice ups and downs, and it’s all certainly clean and crystal clear.
The Blu-ray copy is actually the old Lionsgate release with the exact mastering. No new extras are included.
You can’t deny Scream’s place in horror history. Wes Craven proved he still had some gas after Freddy and that he’s very willing to poke fun at his own sacred work. If you haven’t seen it, where have you been for 25 years? The first film was released in 4K just as the new fifth film was about to come out. This one comes ahead of a sixth film in production. I would not be surprised if the other two vintage films release around the time of the new film. “The way I see it, someone’s out to make a sequel. You know, cash in on all the movie murder hoopla.”