Scream: The deconstruction of the slasher
More than a decade after the widely-acclaimed A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven takes a different turn within the seemingly decaying realm of the slasher to give birth to the ultimate horror satire. One that would turn the genre inside out and carve the name Craven in the history of horror.
By 1996, Wes Craven was already a well-established name in the horror community. He had finally given closure to his acclaimed series A Nightmare on Elm Street with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: an entry that saw the first hints of subversion and self-referentiality that would later be forever imprinted in his line of work. I would dare to say that, even if in the ‘80s he had changed the game for horror, it was in the ‘90s that Craven found his true calling. One that would culminate with the mother of all meta-horror films: Scream.
Following a decade-long of horror movies that were becoming increasingly popular and decreasingly worthy at the same time, the 1990s saw the rise and fall of the slasher. By that point, it was almost impossible to release a serial killer film that would be innovative and could break the leashes of the formulas that were now adhered to the subgenre itself. So, how could you possibly be original in such a seemingly bleak horizon for the future of horror? Well, Craven had the answer. He understood that in order to reinvent the slasher, he had to create the ultimate meta-slasher: A film that was a slasher in itself but at the same time made a mockery out of everything that made the subgenre what it was.
As one could expect, Scream follows an ordinary slasher formula: A group of high schoolers, led by the prototypical girl-next-door, are being chased and slaughtered by an unknown masked killer. But as we are presented with an apparently typical plotline, we know from the first moment we are not watching the same story we have seen a dozen times before. The opening scene is not only one of the most iconic sequences in the history of horror, but it also lets the film begin with a bang -or a meta-bang, one could say-. A slasher that began with an entire conversation about “scary movies”, even including a reference to Craven’s previous work… Right then and there, we know we are in for a treat. And it only becomes clearer and clearer as the film develops in a constant play on tropes that reaches its highest point in the scene where Randy -the epitome of the horror cinephile, by the way- lists the rules you must follow in order to survive a horror movie while Halloween plays in the background.
But, just as the characters here break all the rules listed by Randy, Scream bends all the rules of the horror genre. It is a slasher that presents as a commentary on the slasher. There lies the genius of Craven. In how he uses the same language of horror to talk about the genre and deconstruct it, introducing something brand new into it. And this is something that would become even clearer in the following entries of the franchise. Scream 2 is a commentary on horror sequels and their bad reputation; Scream 3 plays with the concept of a movie within a movie; and, finally, Scream 4 goes full circle, commenting not only on the horror genre but on the Scream franchise itself.
When the characters in Scream say time and time again: “If this were a scary movie…”, this evidences the fact that the film is a self-referential comment on horror. But even more than that, that line alone is powerful enough to make us wonder: Is Scream a scary movie? Is it horror or comedy? Is it a slasher or a satire? Maybe it is both. But then again, maybe it is neither. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that it split the history of horror in two. And that is reason enough to name Craven the father of horror.