This month, I’ll be writing spoiler-free reviews of my favorite horror movies. Enjoy!
Horror and comedy are two genres that shouldn’t work well together. How do you make somebody laugh when their palms are sweating, or how do you make somebody cower in their seat when they’re too busy laughing? Striking this balance of tones is an enormous task for any filmmaker, and while there have certainly been great attempts at cracking the horror-comedy genre such as Shaun of the Dead, I can’t see anything rivaling my particular love for one wickedly fun, self-aware slasher: Wes Craven’s Scream.
The brilliance of how Scream redefines the horror movie is not by massively subverting the tropes of the genre, but by exposing them. How many times have you seen a horror movie and known when a character is going to die after making a stupid decision? Probably a lot, but the difference in Scream is that the movie’s characters are just as aware of horror movie clichés as you are, as they reference classics like Halloween in order to piece together the killer’s identity and anticipate his next move. The movie constantly winks to its audience, playing with their expectations of how much a horror movie about horror movies is going to abide by the unwritten rules of horror movies, and it’s a delight to watch for any fan of the genre.
Regardless of how clever or meta the movie gets, it always feels like a loving embrace of the horror genre as opposed to a scathing critique of it. Craven isn’t encouraging us just to laugh at horror movie tropes — he is encouraging us to marvel at their effect first-hand. The movie doesn’t make any compromises when balancing horror and comedy, resulting in some of the most thrilling and iconic set-pieces in the history of the genre like the movie’s iconic opening scene or the brutal ‘garage door’ moment. Scream also has the element of surprise up the sleeve of its villain, as unlike a Michael Myers whose identity is known and trivial compared to the sheer force of evil he represents, Ghostface’s identity is a mystery that demands to be solved by the film’s characters. In this regard, Scream masterfully executes a third genre: the whodunnit. And what better detectives are there than a bunch of horror-film obsessed teenagers? The movie constantly keeps you guessing about who is under the Ghostface mask up until its third act, which is a 40-minute stretch so deliriously fun that it stands among my favorite sequences of any movie ever.
I began this review by saying that horror and comedy are two genres that shouldn’t work well together. And, yes, they shouldn’t, but they can when under the genius of an assured director like Craven, who realizes the two genres are polar opposites that share a common goal of eliciting visceral responses from their audiences. In Scream, he does just that — eliciting a combination of reactions that you would be hard-pressed to experience anywhere else.