This series will be split into four posts starting with his films from the 1970’s and moving on to his Nightmare on Elm Street series before finishing with the Scream franchise. In between I will look at some of his other work as well.
10. Scream – The Opening Scene
By now, most cinephiles are familiar with the famous opening scene in Wes Craven’s Scream. Written by screenwriter Kevin Williamson, Scream is a brilliant deconstruction of the horror genre — canny, witty, and surprisingly effective as a slasher film itself. Williamson, who was then a novice screenwriter with no prior experience, was shopping around a spec script for Scream (originally titled Scary Movie). The screenplay became the subject of a bidding war between various studios overnight and Williamson wisely sold the rights to Dimension Films who handled the project with loving care. Scream was an unexpected smash hit in 1996, revitalizing the horror genre and inspiring a new generation of self-knowing teen slasher films.
The prologue which lasts 13 minutes could easily exist as a short film in itself. We all know how it plays out — viewers are quickly introduced to Casey (Drew Barrymore), an all-American girl who’s in her kitchen making popcorn in preparation for watching a scary movie. The phone rings, and there’s a mysterious voice on the other end who invites her to play a game. We all know how it ends, but what most people don’t know is that Drew Barrymore had signed on to play Sidney Prescott, the resilient “final girl,” but after reading the script, she asked Craven if she could switch parts and play Casey instead. When Scream premiered in theaters, the poster featured a close-up of Drew Barrymore’s face, and her name appeared on all the promotional materials, leading audiences to believe that she was the film’s protagonist. The unexpected death of Drew Barrymore’s Casey took audiences by surprise and Scream went on to become the most talked about movie of 1996.
The opening scene was filmed in sequence over the course of about a week. In order to keep Barrymore in character while receiving those mysterious phone calls, Craven kept actor Roger Jackson (the voice of Ghostface) in a separate location, where he could watch the action through a monitor. The first scene was modeled after the underrarted When A Stranger Calls, only this time the actress with top billing wouldn’t survive past the opening credits. Indeed, Alfred Hitchcock had used the same trick to great effect in 1960’s Psycho, stunning audiences when lead actress Janet Leigh’s character was murdered halfway through the film, but nobody had repeated this trick since.
From the opening close-up of a ringing telephone to the final stab, the prologue is pitch perfect. Craven relied on a Steadicam operator to follow the actress through the large house and while the location at first starts off bright and spacious, the corridors and the rooms slowly become darker and narrower as Casey becomes increasingly more frightened. Of course, what follows is a defining moment of the entire franchise: I’m of course speaking of the willful acknowledgment of horror movie cliches, something that also caught audiences off guard. From here on out, the final five minutes of the prologue is essentially a cat and mouse chase, until Casey has nowhere left to run and is “ripped open from end to end”. In those final seconds, Craven teases the audience by not showing the killer’s face when Casey pulls down his mask. And in knowing that she was only seconds away before her parents came home only added salt to the wounds.
**Also worth quickly noting is Marco Beltrami’s incredible score. A relatively unknown composer at the time, Beltrami skilfully masks the fact that budgetary restrictions meant he had a relatively small orchestra to work with and yet he provided a killer soundtrack that would launch his career.**
11. Scream 2 – Prologue
As with the first film, Scream 2 is a fun deconstruction of horror movie conventions and manages to poke fun at terrible sequels without falling victim to the same fate. Scream 2 opens approximately two years after the original and as in the first picture, there’s a great prologue. Scream 2 opens on a movie within the movie, based on the events of the first Scream film, wherein Heather Graham stands in for Casey Becker and Tori Spelling plays Sidney Prescott in a film titled Stab. Watching the movie-within-a-movie is Phil (Omar Epps) and Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) who quickly find themselves victim to a copycat killer running loose in the movie theater. The fabulous opening not only perfectly encapsulates the meta-fictional work that screenwriter Kevin Williamson is famous for but perfectly parodies the original Scream while raising the scare factor by having Maureen literally murdered in front of a packed house of innocent bystanders. As stipulated by one of the “rules of sequels” uttered by Randy, the body count in Scream 2 is higher than that in the original, and the opening scene is just the start.
Scream 2 – Cat & Mouse Chase in the Film School
There’s a reason why Randy Meeks is the fan favourite of the Scream series, and while I could easily list several scenes with the cinephile boasting his cinematic knowledge (such as when he debates the merits of sequels and explains the rules during film class), this list is really about Wes Craven’s direction and not Kevin Williamson’s screenplays. While the original Scream features the iconic opening listed above, the rest of the film was pretty standard stuff when it comes to the slasher genre. Scream 2 however, aspires to a lot more than slasher fare. The audience for Craven’s sequel is invited to enter a hall of mirrors and stay there, watching characters in a sequel argue about whether sequels are any good. Not for nothing does one of the best scenes take place at film school.
The fictionalized movie based on a “real” incident that in fact exists only on celluloid is pretty great, but it doesn’t have the nail-biting suspense found in the foot chase through the university. Handsomely shot by Peter Deming, with an eerily unsettling score from Marco Beltrami, the cat & mouse game follows reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and officer Dewey (David Arquette) who are chased by Ghostface through the long corridors and the auditorium until taking shelter in a university radio station. Dewey finds himself trapped in a soundproof booth where Gale, with her back turned towards him on the other side of the glass, can’t hear him crying out to her while he’s being repeatedly stabbed in the guts.
Scream 2 – The Car Crash
Last on the list is a simple but effective scene in which Wes Craven display his skill as a master of suspense. After a terrible car crash, Sidney and Hallie must crawl over an unconscious Ghostface in order to get out of the stolen cop car. The sequence lasts nearly four minutes and takes place entirely within the confines of the vehicle, and yet, Craven sets up various cameras from dozens of angles to try and capture just how difficult it is for these two girls to climb out, without waking up the killer.
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