Welcome to another installment of our History of Horror series, as we discuss Scream, the horror film that made slashers popular again. Take a deep breath and step back into the 1990s.
Screenwriter Kevin Williams had just sold his first screenplay, Killing Mrs. Tingle in 1994. He was house-sitting for a friend one evening when he came across a true crime documentary about Florida serial killer Danny Rollins. He found himself feeling spooked after watching the doc, especially when he noticed an open window in the house, and he had a nightmare that evening.
The next morning, partly inspired by the story of Danny Rollins, and partly by a short play he had written in college, Williams began to brainstorm the story which would eventually become Scream. At the time, he had titled it Scary Movie, and it took him three days to write the first draft.
Intrigued by the belief many people held that films actually incited violence in some viewers, he came up with a line of dialogue that was used in the final draft of the film: “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative.”
Scream was unique in the horror genre because the characters were very self aware, and they not only followed horror movie rules, they actually voiced the rules. It also made the shocking decision to kill off its most famous actor in the opening sequence. Nobody watching Scream when it was first released expected Drew Barrymore to be viciously murdered within the first ten minutes.
Wes Craven directed the film, and that was a big boon for Scream; especially since he was somewhat of a legend due to his past films, such as The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Reportedly, Alicia Witt and Brittany Murphy both auditioned for the lead role of Sidney Prescott, but Neve Campbell’s ability to project both vulnerability and athleticism (she had a background in dance) won her the part. Courtney Cox played against type for the role of Gale Weathers, and David Arquette took on the task of playing the somewhat doofy Dewey…and the two ended up falling in love in real life.
Upon completion of filming, the MPAA initially gave Scream the dreaded NC-17 rating, meaning nobody under the age of 18 would be admitted, period. Craven made some edits to the gorier kill scenes, and finally achieved his desired R-rating.
Scream opened in theaters all over the US on December 20, 1996. It was a slow starter, and didn’t make much of a splash on opening weekend, earning $6.4 million versus its budget of $15 million. But as positive reviews and word of mouth began to spread, more and more people went to see it. It ended up being one of the top ten highest grossing films for nine weeks straight, and was #13 in the list of highest-grossing films for the year.
Ultimately, Scream not only spawned six sequels (with another on the way), but a tv series as well. It also revitalized the horror film genre, and led the way for films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and, of course, the parody film Scary Movie.
Scream will forever be recognized as a very important film in horror history, and deservedly so.