Scream (1996 film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Don't answer the door, don't leave the house, don't answer the phone, but most of all, don't SCREAM.

In 1996, director Wes Craven (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) and writer Kevin Williamson (who would go on to make Dawson's Creek and The Vampire Diaries) decided to make a film to end the slasher genre once and for all. A peaceful town in California turns into a bloodbath when a masked killer haunts the town. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a young teenage girl whose mother was killed a year before, becomes the target of the masked killer! Her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes the main suspect, along with Sidney's father. Local tabloid news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Woodsboro's Deputy Dwight "Dewey" Riley (David Arquette) investigate and try to figure out who the killer is and if it's the same person who killed Sid's mom the year before.

It ended up being a success, and doing the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do by giving new life to the slasher genre.

Something that set Scream and its sequels apart from other slashers was that they weren't just straight horror films, but also dark, "meta" parodies of the genre. The killers' modus operandi was that they were all deliberately invoking slasher movie cliches, and our characters were all trying to survive by attempting to guess which horror movie tropes the killers were going to follow next -- which just as often got them killed as it did save them. To a generation that had grown up viewing slasher films as trite and cliched following the genre's burnout at the end of The Eighties, this was a very welcome shift. Unfortunately, many (though certainly not all) of the horror films that copied its formula in the ensuing years didn't understand this, instead feeling that the films' success was the result of their young, hip casts, featuring stars from such hit TV series as Party of Five, Friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a result, the film has suffered from quite a bit of Hype Backlash since its release, as the things that it did started to become commonplace in the horror genre.

In addition to all the copycats, Scream was able to spawn three sequels of its own. While none of them are quite as fondly remembered as the original, they all have their fans.

Tropers like us owe a substantial amount of our hobby to the film. Whole-heartedly about lampshading and deconstructing tropes, it was one of the first major, mainstream films to do this since Airplane!, while remaining grounded in reality this time and exploring a whole new genre to boot. It's also notable for predating Buffy the Vampire Slayer by a few months when it came to having sarcastic, Genre Savvy teenagers in a post-modern Horror setting.

Scream (1996 film) is the Trope Namer for:
The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the Scream franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • Action Girl: Sidney, being a Final Girl, has her moments.
  • All-Star Cast: It certainly qualifies, particularly the sequels.
  • Anyone Can Die: Any character featured in the first ten minutes, regardless of the actor in the role, can (and will) die. With other characters, however, this trope is averted -- Sidney, Gale and Dewey have survived all four movies.
  • Badass Damsel: Sidney laughs at the Damsel in Distress trope!
  • Big Bad: Ghostface is the identity donned by every one of the series' antagonists; no matter who it is behind the mask, they always exhibit the same basic personality and physical attributes: taunts victims through phone calls, grunts and groans when injured, remains primarily mute while face-to-face with a victim, prolongs a kill when an advantage is gained, stabs victims with a hunting knife, switches from being quick and efficient to clumsy and accident-prone, outright ignores blunt trauma, stabbing wounds and gunshots, strong enough to physically overpower victims in a fight, prowls without being detected, and often vanishes from the targets' defense before taking them by surprise almost immediately thereafter.
  • Bittersweet Ending: All the films seem to end on this note, Ghostface's dead and the heroes have lived to go on fighting and living another day, but most of the characters you have cared about are now dead and aren't coming back... unless they're still alive but barely.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Discussed in the second film, but it actually used less fake blood and guts than the original. The fourth movie, however, is much bloodier than Scream 3, and possibly the rest of the series.
  • Boom! Headshot!: Billy and Roman. Sidney also shoots Mrs. Loomis in the head, but she was probably already dead.
  • Bound and Gagged: At least one character in every film: Steve Orth and Neil Prescott in the first, Derek in the second, Dewey, Gale and Milton in the third, and Charlie and Trevor in the fourth.
  • Brick Joke: One that occurs between movies. In the first, when Sidney is asked who she'd like to play her in the inevitable movie about the events, she says that she'd prefer Meg Ryan, but knowing her luck, she'd get Tori Spelling. Guess who plays her in Stab?
  • Butt Monkey:
    • Dewey, who depending on your point of view is either the unluckiest or the luckiest character in the series: he gets attacked and very badly sliced up in every film but also manages to survive them all.
    • Sidney as well, when you consider that she's basically destined to spend the rest of her life being periodically attacked and having all her friends killed by nutjobs attempting to imitate the previous killers.
  • Conversational Troping
  • Creator Cameo: Director Wes Craven makes the first of his brief cameos through out the films, appearing here as the school janitor Fred (wearing a very recognizable hat and striped sweater)
  • Dead Star Walking: A tradition for the films is to have a big-name actor in the opening scene, only to kill them off within fifteen minutes. The first film had Drew Barrymore in this role, the second had Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett (and later killed off the Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar), the third had Liev Schreiber, and the fourth one has <breathes in> Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson.
    • YMMV on the fourth one, in terms of the word "star."
      • If you mean the fourth movie, well, Kristen Bell and especially Anna Paquin (winner of an Oscar and a Golden Globe) surely qualify. If you mean the fourth name on that list, well... ditto.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters often say witty snarky comments, but Ghostface seems to be the biggest one when he taunts the victims.
  • Deconstructive Parody: What it aims to be, but isn't.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Gale over the course of the series.
  • Determinator: Ghostface is really driven when it comes to killing his intended victims.
  • Evil Phone: The killers are quite fond of messing with their victims over the phone.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: As the series went on, Ghostface's voice went deeper in tone, possibly as a result of the voice actor (Roger L. Jackson) getting older.
  • Film Within A Film: The Stab series of slasher films, which act as this universe's analogues to the Scream series. The first Stab, featured in the second movie, is based on the events of the first film (albeit with some artistic embellishment), is directed by Robert Rodriguez, and stars Tori Spelling as Sidney, Luke Wilson as Billy, David Schwimmer as Dewey, and Heather Graham as Casey. The third film, meanwhile, revolves around the production of Stab 3, which the masked killer is trying to sabotage. By the events of Scream 4, there have been seven Stab films, with the series having abandoned all pretense of being Based on a True Story after the third (Sidney sued to prevent any further use of the original characters) and gone into straight-out fantasy by the fifth (which included a Time Travel plot).
  • Final Girl: Sidney and Gale are subversions; while they survive all three movies, neither of them (especially Gale) represents the ideals of purity that this trope upholds.
    • Sidney evolves into a deconstruction of this trope as the series progresses, what with her life coming to be defined by the trauma suffered by her and those close to her thanks to her "perpetual victimhood."
    • Jill in the fourth film is arguably among the greatest subversions ever. She masterminded the killings and planned to frame someone else for it so that she could play this trope and get her Fifteen Minutes of Fame, much like her cousin Sidney did.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The first film helped to popularize the use of this trope with horror movies, and all of the sequels indulged in it as well. This trope is so attached to the series that, when the fourth film finally released a "floating head" poster (even if it's only the Mexican poster), the fans were ecstatic that it was following series tradition.
  • Follow the Leader: The Faculty, which essentially did for sci-fi horror what Scream did for the slasher genre.
    • Which makes some sense, as it was written by the same screenwriter.
  • For the Evulz: Many of any Ghostface killer's reasons.
    • Probably Stu the most though. He really had no reason to help Billy but did just because he wanted to.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Arguably, Ghostface. Roman Bridger being the biggest one since he masterminded Billy and Stu into killing his own mom then in turn the Woodsboro murders and followed through his own killings by killing his cast and trying to kill Sidney, his half-sister, as well while appearing as their dead mom.
  • Freudian Excuse: Almost every Ghostface claims to have one. By the third film, Sidney has had enough of it and yells at the killer that they all have no excuse, they're all just that — excuses to kill people For the Evulz.
    • The exception to this being Jill, who openly admits that she's a Complete Monster, citing that "sick is the new sane".
  • Genre Blind: Ironically enough, the killers. Each time there have been two killers, one has turned on the other. And yet they never see it coming.
  • Genre Savvy: Randy, a horror movie fan who lists three rules for surviving a horror movie -- don't have sex, don't drink or use drugs, and never say "I'll be right back." Naturally, the characters break all three in record time. Randy expands his rules to sequels and trilogies [2] in the later films.
    • He is replaced in the fourth film with Robbie and Charlie, two horror geeks who deliver a rules for remakes.
    • All of the characters become this as the series progresses. Sidney becomes Dangerously Genre Savvy by the end.
  • Gorn: Even for a horror series where the killers only use knives to kill, some of the deaths are quite icky. A particularly grisly example is the second victim in the series -- while she is eviscerated offscreen, it soon cuts back to her intestines falling out. Even Roger Ebert admitted being a little grossed out by the first two, almost to the point of docking the films for it.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Trope Namer, and happens quite a bit in the series.
  • Harassing Phone Call: The killers love doing this to people they intend to kill.
  • Hot Scoop: Gale.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Personified with Gale, although she gets better in the sequels.
  • Lampshade Hanging: And how!
  • Late Arrival Spoiler: Best to watch the films in order, because the sequels tend to be quite open about the identity of the killers from previous entries.
  • Legacy Character: Ghostface.
  • Made of Iron: Notably averted. Ghostface is clumsy, falls down, and gets smacked around quite a bit, due to the fact it's normal folk under the masks, and not the genre's usual undead/supernatural/etc. figures.
    • Though it should be noted that it still takes a lot to kill them.
  • Meta Guy: Randy in the original trilogy, and Robbie and Charlie in the fourth film. See Genre Savvy.
  • Murder Simulators: Referenced several times with regards to violent horror movies. Considering that the director is a man who made his name with such films, this can easily be interpreted as a Take That against fear-mongering Moral Guardians.
  • Mutually Fictional: With Halloween and The View Askewniverse.
  • Not Quite Dead: In each damn one. The characters end up fully expecting it. In Scream, Randy lampshades this with Billy, who promptly reveals himself to be not quite dead. Sidney very calmly shoots him in the head. Subverted in Scream 2, Gale and Sidney expect Mrs. Loomis to be this, and then Mickey jumps up behind them screaming. They shoot and kill him, and then Sidney shoots the (probably already dead) Mrs. Loomis in the head, just to be sure. Scream 3 has Roman play this straight, until Dewey shoots him in the head. Scre4m shows Jill survive a defibrillator on full power to the head, and attempt to stab the characters in the back with glass. Sidney, fully expecting it, turns around and shoots her in the heart killing her.
  • Plucky Girl: Sidney.
  • Post Modernism: Numerous elements in the films as discussed in the main text. The film also started a massive wave of self-referential, teen-focused horror films that ran through the late '90s.
  • Self-Referential Humor: The series' bread and butter.
  • Serial Killer: Needless to say.
  • Slasher Movie: Despite the director's initial intentions, the films are well-accepted members of the genre.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: The first two films were roughly equal mixes of horror and comedy. The third film, which had a different writer, was more of a straight horror film, with more of the humor coming from the characters rather than from jabs at the genre. Finally, the fourth film, which brought back original writer Kevin Williamson, is arguably the most comedic of the franchise, with even a few of the deaths (such as Deputy Perkins) being Played for Laughs.
  • Tempting Fate:
  • Too Dumb to Live: Tatum Riley tries to escape Ghostface when she panics and tries to get through a large dog-door. Not only can she not get through, she gets stuck so she can't get back in. Ghostface recovers and switches on the automatic door, which snaps her neck rather messily.
    • A perfect example of this trope, when one considers there were several instances where she could have (a) found something larger or sharper than the knife Ghostface was using to defend herself and/or (b) curb-stomped Ghostface to within an inch of his/her life after knocking Ghostface down not once, but twice.
  • Troperiffic: Lampshadedly the whole point of the series, especially the first film.
  • Voice Changeling: Ghostface's voice changer, which can even replicate other people's voices in the third film. On the other hand, Technology Marches On...
  • Wham! Line: All movies seem to have this happen just before The Reveal:
    • "We all go a little mad sometimes," as said by Billy Loomis before he shoots Randy Meeks (though non fatally).
      • "Your slut mother was fucking my father. She's the reason my mom moved out and abandoned me. How's that for a motive?" as said by Billy, while explaining to Sidney about this. Even Stu was shocked by this.
    • Ghostface, while unleashing its Motive Rant in Scream 3

Ghostface/Roman: I searched for my mother, an actress named Rina Reynolds... searched for her my whole life. I finally tracked her down, knocked on her door, thinking she would welcome me with open arms... but she had a new life, a new name: Maureen Prescott! You were the only child she claimed. Sid, she shut me out in the cold forever! Her own son. (takes off the mask, revealing whom they are) Roman Bridger, director... (uses the voice changer) and brother.

Tropes used in Scream (1996 film) include:
  • Ax Crazy: Billy and Stu.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate - Billy and Stu are the ones that issue the killings as Ghostface.
  • Blown Across the Room: Randy gets thrown backwards several feet by a gunshot.
  • Cat Scare: When Tatum hears a noise in the empty garage, she turns just in time to see a startled cat scramble out the pet door.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The 30 second delay on the tape gets Kenny the cameraman killed.
  • Combat Pragmatist: After stabbing Billy with an umbrella, Sidney sticks her finger through the wound to gain the upper hand.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Billy and Stu, until they decided to stab each other before trying to kill Sidney and her dad.
    • Tatum during her death scene; she continually mocks the killer and the idea of the helpless female victim scenario, until he actually pulls a knife on her:

"No, please don't kill me Mr. Ghostface! I wanna be in the sequel!"

    • Sidney also qualifies when she first talks to the killer:

"[referring to horror movies] They're all the same; some killer stalking some big breasted girl who can't act, who's always runs up the stairs when she should be going out the front door - it's insulting."

      • This of course leads to an Ironic Echo, where she is forced to run upstairs instead of outside when the killer attacks moments later.
  • Death by Sex: Lampshaded.

Randy: Rule #1 [for surviving a horror movie]. You can never have sex. (boos from the crowd) Big no-no! Sex equals death, okay?

    • Subverted, however, by Sidney, who has sex (with the killer!) and still survives.
  • Did Not Do the Research: One of the causes of Casey's death is forgetting that Jason wasn't the killer in the first Friday the 13th. Also:

Sidney: Why? Why did you kill my mother?
Billy: Why? WHY? [[[Beat]]] You hear that Stu, I think she wants a motive. Hmm. Well I don’t really believe in motives – I mean did Norman Bates have a motive?
Stu: No.
Billy: Did they ever really decide why Hannibal Lecter likes to eat people? Don’t think so.

  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: When Stu, one of the killers, is informed that the cops are on their way, rather than reacting negatively to that, or the fact that he's coughing up quite a lot of blood, he starts crying and says, "My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me!" You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
    • Not to mention being Billy's entire motivation for the murders.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The exact phrase is even quoted word-for-word.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Stu, who seemingly goes crazy following The Reveal.
  • Eureka Moment: When Billy searches for Sidney and her father, he passes by the closet before getting a glimpse of the climax of Halloween. This gives him the idea that Sidney is hiding in the closet. He looks in there and at first it seems he finds nothing but clothes, until Sidney pops out in Ghostface attire and stabs him with an umbrella.
  • Genre Killer: An attempt at a deliberate example of this... which didn't really work out.
  • Ha Ha Ha No
  • Improvised Weapon: Sidney drops a TV on the killer in the first film. It can be taken as Death by Irony, since the TV is showing Halloween and the killer, who was an obsessive fan of horror movies who wanted to live one out, is now all the way into one.
  • Insistent Terminology: By the killer, both of them.

Sidney: You're crazy, both of you.
Stu: Actually, we prefer the term "psychotic".

  • Irony: When called by the killer, Sidney, who dislikes horror movies, badmouths them, saying they all just involve some eye candy girl who always runs upstairs instead of out the front door. When Ghostface attacks moments later, Sidney tries to run out the door, can't, and seeing no other option, runs upstairs.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Subverted with Randy, who attributes his survival to being a virgin.
  • Pet the Dog: After it's revealed they are the killers, much of Billy and Stu's actions seem to embody this trope. In Stu's case, when Sid's attack causes the school to close, he offers a party and provides the booze for those he would try to kill in a heartbeat. In Billy's case, he lets Randy in when Randy thinks Stu is the killer. Though the latter is subverted when Billy ends up shooting Randy.
  • Murder Simulators: The killer states that violent movies "don't create psychos, they only make psychos more creative."
  • Not Quite Dead: Lampshaded.

"Careful, this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back for one last scare."

  • Not with the Safety On, You Won't: Played straight, then later subverted.
  • Oh Crap: Randy's reaction after realizing that Sydney just handed the gun to one of the killers.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Drew Barrymore only gets fifteen minutes of scream time, but it's easily the most famous scene in the movie.
  • Red Herring: Played with beautifully, in that the red herrings aren't red herrings at all. The movie practically screams "This is the killer" whenever Billy's onscreen (a phone falling out of his pocket after a call from the killer, an unstable attitude, his tendency to show up only after someone is killed), and does it so much that everyone assumes this is the film trying to distract you from the real killer. The trickery is upped further when the apparent Red Herring is killed and everyone who's been paying attention will think "So obviously that means it was Sidney's father the whole time!" It then takes the usual horror denouement "The guy who was too obviously the killer was killed off, and the real killer turned out to be the person the Final Girl thought she could trust the most (her father)" in a very inventive direction by doubling back on itself: The Red Herring was the killer, his death was faked and there were actually TWO killers and the guy you thought you could trust was trustworthy after all!
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Casey.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Tatum.
  • Saw Star Wars 27 Times: Played for Drama - Casey angrily declares that she's seen Friday the 13th "20 times" when the killer says that she gave the wrong answer to the trivia question about it (with the stakes being her boyfriend's life). Unfortunately for Casey, the killer was not talking about the series as a whole, but the original movie, whose killer was not Jason Voorhees but his mother. The boyfriend gets Gutted Like a Fish soon after.
  • Self-Deprecation: Casey saying that all the sequels to Nightmare On Elm Street sucked. This could also be seen as a Take That, since Craven only directed the original and New Nightmare (and only co-wrote Dream Warriors). He only decided to keep it in once its self-deprecating nature was pointed out; he apparently thought it was a bit mean-spirited at first.
  • Sequel Snark: "No, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghost face! I wanna be in the sequel!"
  • Shout-Out: A brief appearance by a janitor named Fred, who dresses like Freddy Krueger and is played by Wes Craven.
  • Take That: "And no thanks whatsoever to the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board." To elaborate: when this movie was in production, scenes were to be filmed at Santa Rosa High School in northern California. The school board, however, objected to the gory nature of the movie, and after a lot of small town political theater, shooting for the school scenes was moved to a community center in the nearby town of Sonoma. In response, Wes Craven threw that phrase into the credits, right after the "special thanks" portion. The town of Santa Rosa, once a popular filming location, was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood as a result of the experience.
    • To be fair to the people of Santa Rosa, there was also a strong element of Too Soon involved, with the community still recovering from the Polly Klaas murder in the nearby town of Petaluma. The killer's trial was even set to take place around the time that Scream began production. Wes Craven later admitted in the Biography Channel's Inside Story program that he understands now why the timing was just too uncomfortable to be acceptable.
  • Too Soon: In-universe, the principal expels two students for insensitivity because they were roaming the halls dressed as Ghostface after the real Ghostface killed two students the night before, and then, not thinking it to be punishment enough, threatens to kill both for their actions AND hits BOTH with a Precision S Strike.
    • For a real-life example, see above.
  • Viewer Stock Phrases: "Look behind you!" is played with in the sequence where Randy watches Halloween and says this to Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie -- but also, unknowingly, to himself, as the killer is approaching him from behind. Meanwhile, a couple of people in a van outside, watching the exchange on a video camera, are saying the same thing to him. However, because the video they're watching is on a time delay, and whatever is going to happen is already over, they are powerless to help him -- just as Randy cannot change what happens in Halloween, and the Scream audience can't change what happens in the movie they're watching. Whew!
    • Played with even more when Randy says, "Look behind you, Jamie!" He's talking to Jamie Lee Curtis, but guess what the actor playing Randy is named?
  1. The three previous films took in upwards of $100 million each domestically, but this one didn't even reach that amount with domestic and overseas grosses combined. On the other hand, it only cost about $40 million to make.
  2. Warning -- both clips contains spoilers for, respectively, the first and second films.