Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that used to run every Thursday, celebrating the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time. It's time to say goodbye, though. Thank you for reading and for all your support.
Wes Craven returns to the director's chair for another installment in the 'Scream' series, which hits theaters April 15. His 1996 film reinvigorated and redefined the rules of classic slasher cinema, effectively changing the face of the genre for a whole new audience. The movie's opening was an intense sequence that immediately made one thing clear: anyone in the film could die. Kevin Williamson's script reads like a standard horror flick about a group of high school students being terrorized by a masked killer, but all bets are off once the limp body of the movie's top-billing star (Drew Barrymore) is seen swinging from a tree. Craven and Williamson lampoon the same slasher clichés that their characters are acting out on the screen. The cast essentially knows they're in a movie, and does all the things horror audiences have been trained to believe will get them killed: people have sex, people party, people say, "I'll be right back" and never return.
A high school girl is brutally murdered, which rocks the lives of her classmates -- especially Sidney (Neve Campbell) who recently lost her mother to a terrible tragedy. When the killer then sets his sights on her, everyone in the small town becomes suspect, but Sidney fights for her life and tries to unmask the killer in the process. The whole time, Sidney and her friends are living out the roles we've become so accustomed to seeing in horror movies, and each character flaunts that self-awareness in the process. Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy, is a movie nerd who even muses about which actors would play the parts of him and his friends.
Randy's role is an interesting one, because his knowledge of horror films defines the murders and series of events that happens throughout the movie. When Randy's in the video store talking about the murders with his friend Stu (Matthew Lillard), he predicts that Billy (Skeet Ulrich) -- Sidney's boyfriend -- is the killer, because it's "standard horror movie stuff" and that there's always some "stupid bullsh*t reason to kill your girlfriend." Among other predictions, Randy also believes that Sidney's missing father (Lawrence Hecht) will "pop up in the last reel somewhere." Everything he says turns out to be true, of course.
Stu throws a party that night, and Randy shows up, expertly navigating everyone through the plot devices of John Carpenter's 'Halloween' -- the ultimate slasher movie that Craven and Williamson make a bazillion references to throughout their own. At the same time that he's reminding the crowd of the lethal rules in slasher movies, those same rules are actually being acted out all around him. Sidney and Bill are upstairs having sex, Randy and friends are drinking and partying, and Tatum (Rose McGowan) tells the others she'll "be right back" so she can get beer from the garage and gets killed off in the process. Keep in mind that this is all happening while news reporter, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox Arquette), has been secretly filming the whole party, which is being watched by her cameraman in a van outside the house.
When the partygoers find out that their principal has been murdered, they leave, but Randy stays behind. While he's watching 'Halloween' he's shouting at the television at Jamie Lee Curtis to look behind her, because Michael Myers is about to attack her. At the same time, 'Scream's' killer is behind Randy, preparing to kill him. Gale's cameraman is also in the van watching the whole thing unfold like it's a movie. This is one of the scenes in the film where the clichés that Craven and Williamson have batted around are embraced and used to create a clever and suspenseful moment.
While this frame -- which is a video still seen on the cameraman's monitor -- isn't profound or even technically interesting, it's a visual representation of the themes and philosophies of 'Scream' and postmodern horror in general. What could be more meta than knowing you're in a movie, while watching a movie on TV that essentially represents your own fate and circumstance, and at the same time being watched by someone else because there's another camera pointed at you? This goes along with the spirit of Williamson's script which sets the scene with characters who are instantly recognizable. We don't need pages of plot exposition to know who is going to make it and who's getting killed off first. We're just watching and waiting like the movie's characters, while Craven and his crew lovingly stab at one of our favorite genres -- wink-wink-nudge-nudging us in the process. 'Scream' proved that there was new life in predictable horror movie conventions, which could be used to create fresh, unique ways for audiences to revel in their love of horror cinema.