Scream ★★★★

I was only 10 when SCREAM hit theaters, but as I stood on the threshold to teenhood two years later, the video was practically mandatory at every birthday party, sleepover, or any gathering free of adults (and you can probably imagine how much fun it was having the same name as the protagonist). I was too young to catch all the references and fully appreciate it then, but revisiting it now was practically delightful. I can only imagine seeing this for the first time now - the phrase "why on earth were we so enamored with these awful actors in the late 90's/early 2000's?!" swirled around in my head for almost the entire running time, and I can appreciate how one could dismiss this entire film based on that alone. But it was easy for ME to ignore all that...those actors and their awful clothes and their embarrassing music choices defined my whole tween/teen years, and movies like this serve as bizarre little time capsules.

There's a lot to talk about in SCREAM, but one thing stuck out to me most of all, and it might explain my high rating. That thing is...GENDER POLITICS! Wes Craven gave us one of the greatest final girls of all time in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and here he gives us a smart survivor and plays around with some gender stereotypes.

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STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT OR ARE UNINTERESTED IN MY AMATEUR ANALYSIS

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Our three main female characters fit into three stereotypes: Frigid, Slut, and Career-Minded Bitch.

Sidney Prescott does not want to have sex with her boyfriend. What a bitch, right? ACTUALLY, NO. From the beginning her boyfriend is set up as a bit of a sleaze (and god his hair is not doing him any favors here) and is obviously later revealed to be the killer. Her mother was raped and murdered...for being a tramp. The overall attitude of the town seems to be that she deserved it, or at least the unfavorable gossip about her sex life still spreads. In the bathroom, Sidney catches two girls theorizing that she invented her attack because she wanted attention, and our hearts break collectively when we see her crying in a bathroom stall. Sounds very similar to rape culture/victim blaming, and Wes Craven puts us firmly on the side of the victim. The most important part of Sidney's story comes later. Several times her friend Randy (who we all identify with since he works at a video store and is crammed full of film knowledge - don't you love how Wes gives his movie nerd fans props, by packing in obscure movie references AND letting him live? Does the nerd EVER live?!) tells us that the virgin always lives. BUT SIDNEY HAS SEX (without ever showing her boobs!), and not only lives, but kicks the ass of her greasy boyfriend and his doofus friend in the process.

The Career-Minded Bitch is set up as a villain immediately, as she ruthlessly gives our protagonist hell, following her around and rocking her world by accusing her of lying as a witness and putting the wrong man in jail. How insensitive! We hate her more and more as the film goes on, until the end...when it looks like she might have some real feelings for this moron cop. She tries to drive away, crashes but lives, and...goes back to help! She's humbled but not made weak, she becomes friends with Sidney. And here's her most important moment...SHE GOES RIGHT BACK TO DOING HER THING. She probably respects the situation more now, but she doesn't give up on her passion, and we are miraculously in her corner by the end.

And the Slut...well. The slut dies, but she never shows her tits (unless those nipples count, in what was by far the most popular movie scene in all of middle school), and she sticks by her friend the whole way. We love her anyway, she's smart enough, good hearted, and she's never mocked for dressing like a Spice Girl.

It's important that there is no topless scene in this movie. Of course there's the theme running throughout about women being prayed upon, stalked in the bushes, terrorized by obscene phone calls. Even if they die, womankind wins out in the end - we aren't victimized. Sidney feels hurt and shocked for about five minutes before she decides to give her (ex, I assume)boyfriend one last FUCK YOU. The polite and sincere policeman lives, the movie nerd lives. The jock dies at the beginning, the "cool" hot guy dies, and the wacky asshole dies - one pressures his girlfriend for sex, the other makes insensitive jokes the whole time.

So on one level, Craven is giving us a deconstruction of The Horror Movie, which is fun and funny and probably the best meta-horror maybe ever (yes, I've seen A CABIN IN THE WOODS). On a deeper level, he's deconstructing what those movies really MEAN - that one does not have to be a virgin to live, that one does not have to show her tits to be worthwhile, that it's ok to have sex or not have sex, that women are subjects of violence and shame and general bullshit in real life...and maybe we don't need to be victims of those things in the movies, too. Maybe we can stand up and be strong, that violence does not make us victims and sex does not make us stupid. Things don't have to be that way, and a movie can still be fun and scary and mean something.

After seeing this, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, SWAMP THING, and THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (also SCREAM 2, but that doesn't count) I think I can safely say that I absolutely love Wes Craven. He's got something he wants to say to the world - and I like it.

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