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Scream is a 1996 horror film directed by Wes Craven from a screenplay by Kevin Williamson, and the first of the Scream series. Filmed mostly in Santa Rosa, Californiamarker, the film tells the story of the fictional town Woodsboro, California being terrorized by a masked killer who enjoys tormenting his victims with phone calls and movie references. The killer's main target is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a teenage girl whose mother Maureen fell victim to a brutal murder one year earlier. The film takes on a "whodunit" mystery, with many of her friends and townspeople being fellow targets and suspects.

Scream revitalized the slasher film genre in the mid-1990s, similar to the impact Halloween (1978) had on late 1970s film, by using a standard concept with a tongue-in-cheek approach that combined straightforward scares with dialogue that satirized slasher film conventions.


The story is set in motion with the brutal murders of high school students Casey Becker and her boyfriend Steve, classmates of Sidney Prescott. The timing of the tragedy is hard on Sidney, who is attempting to cope with the anniversary of her mother's rape and murder. The following night she is contacted by the same person who killed Casey and Steve, a mysterious man dressed in a ghostly costume. The killer taunts Sidney over the phone and then attacks her in her home. Reacting to circumstantial evidence, Sidney accuses her boyfriend Billy Loomis of being the attacker. Because her father is away on business, she spends the following night with her best friend Tatum and her brother Dwight "Dewey" Riley, a deputy on the police force. While there, she receives another taunting phone call from her attacker, which seems to clear Billy, who is still in jail. Suspicion falls on Sidney's father, who turns out to be missing.

Sidney is forced to deal with the scandalization of her attack by tabloid television newswoman Gale Weathers. Gale is responsible for a book accusing Sidney's mother of having an affair with her convicted killer, Cotton Weary, leading to bitter mistrust between Gale and Sidney.

When word gets out that the killer is still loose, school is canceled as a precautionary measure, leaving the building abandoned. Despite the closing, the principal is killed while in school. Unaware of the principal's fate, Tatum's boyfriend Stu Macher throws a party; among the guests are Billy and Sidney, who reconcile through sexual intercourse, and film buff Randy Meeks, who explains to the other party-goers the genre conventions a movie character is required to follow in order to survive a horror film. Meanwhile, Tatum goes into the garage to find beer, and gets killed by the masked killer.

Gale, sensing the potential for a scoop, crashes the party and hides a video camera inside the house. As Dewey and Gale investigate the mysterious appearance of Mr. Prescott's car, the party-goers receive word of the principal's death and most of them head to the school. The killer starts to stalk those who remain behind, murdering Gale's cameraman Kenny and wounding Billy, Dewey, and Sidney. Gale is also wounded, in a car accident.

Sidney encounters Randy and Stu, who both accuse each other of being the killer; not knowing which one to trust, Sidney locks them both out of the house.

Billy falls down the stairs, seriously injured, and lets Randy into the house. Randy claims that Stu has gone mad, but Billy replies that "We all go a little mad sometimes" (quoting Norman Bates) and shoots Randy. Billy and Stu reveal that they are both the killer, and have been using a voice-changing device to make them seem like just one person over the phone. They also reveal that they had murdered Sidney's mother the previous year and then framed Cotton Weary for the crimes; similarly, they plan to frame Sidney's father for their current murder spree, by planting evidence on his body. They stab each other to create the illusion that they have been attacked by Sidney's father, but Billy cuts too deeply, and Stu starts to die.

Gale attempts to rescue Sidney and her father, but she is easily subdued when she fails to disengage the safety on her gun. However, Gale's interference does serve as a distraction which allows Sidney to escape. She returns to taunt and attack Billy and Stu; in the struggle that follows, she kills Stu and seriously injures Billy, before Gale saves Sidney's life by shooting him. Presumably dead, Billy springs to life one more time (a horror convention which Randy had predicted), but Sidney kills him with a bullet to the head.

In the epilogue, Dewey is carried away on a stretcher, wounded but alive, and Gale makes an impromptu news report on the events of the previous night as the authorities arrive.


Satirical and self-referential style

During the opening scene, Casey discusses movies, sequels, and trivia with the killer on the phone. Randy seems almost unable to tell the difference between a movie world and his own world. He constantly compares what is going on to situations in horror films, and at one point even says: "If this was a scary movie, I would be the main suspect." Randy also seems to believe very devoutly in his "Rules For Surviving a Horror Movie;" he eventually believes that the only reason he himself survives is because he's a virgin. Billy also comments that life is just "one big movie. Only you can't pick your genre."

Most notable of all, the climactic scene of the film revolves around the characters watching the movie Halloween, unaware that they themselves are being watched on a hidden camera with a time delay. At one point, Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy) yells at the movie: "Look behind you, Jamie", unaware that there is also a killer behind him. Kenny watches this from inside the news van, and also yells, "Behind you, kid." despite the time delay meaning the warning is just as pointless as Randy's. The result is a movie character (Kenny) watching what the hidden camera in the room shows, giving advice to another movie character (Randy), also watching a movie, also giving advice to a movie character (in the movie, he's watching).

In addition to this, the movie features cameos, such as Linda Blair and Henry Winkler and general references to Hollywood figures, such as Sharon Stone and Richard Gere. The Richard Gere scene mentions the well-known gerbil urban legend. Craven stated that he received calls from agents telling him that if he left that scene in, he would never work again.

References to other horror films

The film features numerous in-jokes and references to other horror projects. The victims in Scream are quite self-aware: they each make clear their familiarity with, and poke fun at, teen slasher and horror flicks, which sets up their fairly ironic responses to the film's situations.

Two of the most common references are to A Nightmare on Elm Street and its director Wes Craven. In the audio commentary for the DVD, Craven says that he almost took out the line where Casey Becker says the first A Nightmare on Elm Street was good but the rest sucked, because he thought it would make him seem egotistical. However, it was pointed out to him that he had co-written the third film and also wrote and directed the seventh. A Nightmare on Elm Street is also referenced in the high school janitor. Fred, played by Craven, wears an outfit resembling Freddy Krueger's. Later in the film, Tatum tells Sidney that she is "starting to sound like a Wes Carpenter flick", a fictional name created from compounding the names Wes Craven and John Carpenter (co-producer of the first three installments in the Halloween film series, co-writer of the first two, and director of the first).

At one point, Billy sneaks into Sidney's room through her window, startling her, in an homage to the scene where Glen sneaks into Nancy's room in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The similarity between the scenes in emphasized by the physical resemblance Skeet Ulrich, who plays Billy's character, bears to the young Johnny Depp, who played Glen's character.

Towards the end of the film, Sidney kills Stu, after a chase, by pushing a television receiver on to him. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, someone is killed by a television receiver when Freddy appears from the top of the set and pulls a victim up and into the screen.

In addition to its director, Halloween is referenced many times throughout the film. When Casey's parents come home and see that something is wrong, her father says to her mother, "Drive down to the Mackenzies'", which is a quote from Halloween. During the party scene, Randy Meeks, Stu Macher and the other partygoers are watching the horror film. They watch many famous scenes such as Michael Myers murdering Bob, as well as Laurie Strode discovering her friends' dead bodies scattered in the bedroom. The song that Billy puts on when he and Sidney are making out in her room is a cover version of "Don't Fear the Reaper" which was featured in Halloween in the scene where Laurie and Annie are driving to their babysitting jobs.

Billy's surname, Loomis, is the same as that of Donald Pleasence's character in Halloween (1978), which in turn was the name of Marion Crane's lover in Psycho. In a similar fashion to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), Scream's highly-billed star Drew Barrymore dies early in the film. Referring to Crane's similar premature murder, Robin Wood writes of the "alienation effect" of killing off the "apparent center of the film." In the later stages of the film, Billy Loomis quotes Norman Bates, saying "We all go a little mad sometimes." Licking his fake blood, Loomis says that it is actually corn syrup and food coloring, "the same stuff they used for pig's blood in Carrie". Billy later praises Norman Bates as a more effective horror killer as he has no motive for killing people.

As Stu and Billy reveal themselves to Sidney as the killers, they stand head to head, echoing a famous still photo from the film The Thing With Two Heads (1972).

When Casey (Drew Barrymore) is dragged across the lawn by her murderer it strongly resembles a scene from Dementia 13.

The blood pooling at Gale's (Courtney Cox) feet by the news van is reminiscent of a scene in Night of the Living Dead where blood pools on the floor by Barbara's feet (played by Judith O'Dea).

Many films are briefly mentioned during a scene in which Billy and Stu visit Randy at work at a video store. Films Randy mentions include Candyman, The Howling, Prom Night, and Everybody's All-American. Frankenstein is showing on the monitors.

Sidney mentions The Town That Dreaded Sundown while she, Tatum and Dewey are walking through town the day of the party.

During the party scene, the partygoers are struggling with which movie to watch. The possibilities include The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, The Fog and Terror Train. Clerks is seen as a videotape on top of a television.

During the party scene, when Billy arrives, Randy exclaims "What's Leatherface doing here?". Leatherface is the antagonist in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In addition to mentioning several horror films throughout the film, many minor characters were portrayed by actors who have worked with Wes Craven before and have also appeared in prominent horror films. For example, Linda Blair, who played Regan in The Exorcist, also plays the obnoxious reporter who approaches Sidney when she first returns to school after being attacked by the killer. Joseph Whipp, who plays Sheriff Burke in Scream, also plays a deputy sheriff in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Frances Lee McCain, playing Mrs. Riley, also played the part of Billy's mother, Lynn Peltzer, in 1984's Gremlins.

Other films seen or mentioned

Reception and impact

The reaction to Scream was generally positive among film reviewers, who appreciated the shift from the teen slasher films of the 1980s and their "endless series of laborious, half-baked sequels." Williamson's script was praised as containing a "fiendishly clever, complicated plot" which "deftly mixes irony, self-reference and wry social commentary with chills and blood spills."

Roger Ebert appreciated "the in-jokes and the self-aware characters", but was confused over whether the level of violence was "defused by the ironic way the film uses it and comments on it." The New York Times says "not much of 'Scream' is that gruesome", but observes that Craven "wants things both ways, capitalizing on lurid material while undermining it with mocking humor. Not even horror fans who can answer all this film's knowing trivia questions may be fully comfortable with such an exploitative mix."

Scream ranked #32 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies and #13 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly dubbed the film a "New Classic" by ranking it #60 in their list of the 100 Best Films of the Last 13 Years. The film received an 83% fresh rating on The film ranks #482 on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.

Box office performance

The film opened in 1,413 theaters, taking $6,354,586 in its opening weekend. The film made almost $87 million in its initial release, and was then re-released to theatres on April 11, 1997 and went on to make another $16 million, making total a domestic gross of $103,046,663, with, , a worldwide lifetime gross of $173,046,663. It peaked at number 13 in the U.S. domestic box office. The film's success made it the highest grossing slasher movie as of 2009.


The film won several awards, including Best Movie at the MTV Movie Awards 1997, and Saturn Awards for Best Actress (Neve Campbell), Best Writer and Best Horror Film. Craven was awarded the Grand Prize at the Gérardmer Film Festival.

Horror films

The film inspired a revival of interest in the genre, including Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer & Valentine amongst many others. Two sequels were produced (Scream 2 and Scream 3). It was also the inspiration for several parody films such as the Scary Movie series. "Scary Movie" had been Scream's working title.

The film has been parodied many times on television. During the 1997 MTV Movie Awards, the opening scene was parodied, with Mike Myers calling and terrorizing Casey Becker instead of the film's killer, Ghostface.


When Billy comes into Sidney's room at the beginning of the movie a cover of Blue Öyster Cult's song " The Reaper" performed by Gus Black is played. This song is played in the first Halloween film when Annie and Laurie are on their way to baby-sit.

The theme song for all three movies is "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

An alternate version of the music video "Drop Dead Gorgeous" by Republica featuring clips from the film was shown on music networks such as MTV. Although the song can be heard in the film, it does not show up on the soundtrack album. The song was also used in one of the television promotional spots for the film.

Although the original version of "School's Out" recorded by Alice Cooper, was featured in the film, the soundtrack contains a cover version performed by Sebastian Bach's old band The Last Hard Men.

The soundtrack album was released on December 17, 1996 featuring songs from the film. A CD featuring Marco Beltrami's orchestral music for Scream and Scream 2 was released on the Varèse Sarabande label in 1997.

Track listing

  1. "Youth of America" — Birdbrain
  2. "Whisper" — Catherine
  3. "Red Right Hand" — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  4. " The Reaper" — Gus
  5. "Artificial World" [Interdimensional Mix] — Julee Cruise
  6. "Better Than Me" — Sister Machine Gun
  7. "Whisper to a Scream " — Soho
  8. "First Cool Hive" — Moby
  9. "Bitter Pill" — The Connells
  10. "School's Out" — The Last Hard Men
  11. "Trouble In Woodsboro"/"Sidney's Lament" — Marco Beltrami
  12. "Blasphemy" — Immediate Music (Bonus track)

Home Media releases

The original, gorier version of the film was released on VHS in 1997. The box covers classified the film as rated "R" even though it was actually the unrated version. The unrated cut was only available on video when the film was released for sale to the general public while the rental version, released earlier that year, still contained the theatrical cut. The unrated version was officially released as "The Director's Cut" on laser disc but has yet to be released on DVD in America. The unrated version has been released on DVD in other regions such as Europe and Japan with quality varying. Differences in the film include: A shot of Steve's entrails falling out of his abdomen; a longer, slower version of the shot where Casey's body is shown hanging from a tree; Tatum's head getting crushed by the garage door; More blood can be seen pouring down Kenny's chest after getting his throat slashed; A more graphic version of the scene where Stu and Billy stab each other.

When the film was released for sale on VHS in 1997 it was available in several different forms, including three collectible covers with one featuring Drew Barrymore's face, one had Neve Campbell's face and the other had Courteney Cox's face. There was also a collector's set which came with the wide screen version of the film on one tape and another tape featuring the movie with audio commentary by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. The set also featured a special Scream phone card with ten minutes of talk time and three large collector's cards with the faces of Drew, Neve and Courteney (the same images used on the special VHS covers).

On September 26, 2000, the film was re-released on DVD in an "Ultimate Collection" boxed set with Scream 2 and Scream 3 and a bonus DVD/DVD-Rom with special features and 24 page behind-the-scene booklet. The box set is now out of print.

On November 10, 2009, Scream was released to Blu-ray disc.


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