In 1996, Wes Craven's 'Scream' reignited a mass, box-office interest in the slasher subgenre, both with loyal horror fanatics and the general viewing public. At the time, most horror entries were little more than a joke, and franchise sequels were literally contrived shadows of their former glory. Aside from a few exceptions, the genre seemed to limp along in a daze of formulaic rubbish, and audiences (myself included) were in need of something new. When 'Scream' hit theaters, it didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, and it was far from ground-breaking or original, but it offered a fresh and innovative approach by celebrating the formula which made the genre popular, relishing in its own self-awareness.
Penned by Kevin Williamson, who later created the well-liked 'Dawson's Creek,' the dry humdrumness of 'I Know What You Did Last Summer,' and the amusingly fun 'The Faculty,' the script cleverly works to deconstruct convention while ironically employing it in nearly every scene. At one point, it even lays out the rules which govern the structure of practically every horror feature as distilled by the film-geek character, played to silly perfection by Jamie Kennedy. For aficionados, the story is a treasure trove of horror trivia — some blatant, like the janitor Fred, while others very subtle and sly, like Billy's (Skeet Ulrich) last name and Linda Blair's cameo as a news reporter. For regular moviegoers, the picture offers good entertainment, full of mystery and standard cheap thrills.
Carefully breaking down plot devices into their individual parts and announcing them at the forefront, 'Scream' is also an obvious exercise in the postmodern, a meta-narrative that knows all too well it is fashioned from outside sources. Rather than attempting to escape its predecessors, the movie praises them by combining them in a mishmash of styles and techniques, paying particular homage to two films that changed and influenced the genre most. The entire opening sequence with Drew Barrymore is in honor of Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' And although she's no Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell's Sidney echoes the purity of Laurie Strode with a tinge of Nancy's resourcefulness from 'Elm Street.'
Long familiar with the genre, director Wes Craven clearly shows he's having fun with the material and many of its self-referential aspects. He doesn't shy away from satirizing the horror films of his peers or his own works. He knowingly exposes many of the flaws in a worn-out plot structure as well as admiration for some its finer features, namely the mystery and suspense. The legendary director shows the careful hand of an experienced filmmaker, pacing the scares and tension with a patience that builds. The camera lingers with moody silence just long enough before breaking into typical jump tactics. It's a technical characteristic that can be appreciated as the work of a skilled storyteller, and Craven reveals he hasn't lost touch of that with 'Scream.'
The plot even takes a moment to humorously comment on the social effects of movie violence through the many exchanges between Kennedy and Matthew Lillard. Then there's the fact that some are willing to profit from real-life murder and mayhem in spite of the pain it might cost victims, as seen in Courtney Cox's character, Gale Weathers. David Arquette's Deputy Dewey is there mostly for comic relief, and Rose McGowan serves primarily as the "big-breasted girl who can't act." They're ultimately intended as fodder, but amazingly — and one the best parts of the movie — we can't predict who will die next. 'Scream' is a play on convention, but it has fun surprising viewers with its predictability.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Films Home Entertainment brings Wes Craven's 'Scream' to Blu-ray as the R-rated version on a Region A locked, BD25 disc and housed in a blue eco-case. At startup, fans can enjoy a trailer for the latest installment in the franchise, along with two promos for the 'Saw' series and other Blu-ray releases from the studio. Afterwards, we have the standard menu selection with full-motion clips and music playing at once.
The 90s horror hit arrives on Blu-ray with a great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1), but it's far from perfect and comes with one very disappointing drawback. Various scenes throughout show clear signs of edge enhancement, ranging from minor ringing around the edges of actors to white halos bordering houses in many exterior shots. They're not exactly big, glaring force-fields, but it's enough to distract from enjoying the movie, especially for those with larger screens. In the first half of the movie, it's a very minor annoyance, but as it progresses, the ringing grows into a frustrating presence. There are also some sequences with mild, blocky noise, like around the threads of Barrymore's sweater, but they're somewhat negligible.
This is such a letdown because the rest of the presentation looks to be in really good condition. Even though it appears likely struck from the same print used for the DVD, the high-def transfer is a definite improvement, with better clarity and resolution. Aside from a few scattered shots of mild softness, definition is near excellent for the most part with nicely distinct lines in clothes, foliage and various background objects. Pores and textural details in the faces of actors are terrific, especially in close-up. Contrast is pitch-perfect and bright with a brilliant display of primary colors and strong, cleanly-rendered variation in the secondary hues. Black levels are deeply profound and rich, giving the image some appreciable depth, while shadow details remain plainly visible and never obscured by the darker portions of the picture.
Overall, the video looks great on Blu-ray, with an attractive film-like quality, but it's sadly hindered by visible sharpening tools and very mild compression artifacts.
The movie fares much better in the audio department, with a terrifically entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The design is filled with various subtle ambient effects, like birds and crickets chirping in the distance, generating a convincingly immersive soundfield. Pans and movement are smooth and flawless, and channel separation is nicely balanced, creating a welcoming and spacious soundstage. The lossless mix is more focused in the fronts with clear and accurate dialogue reproduction. The mid-range is expansive and sharply defined, so listeners can enjoy the many loud bursts of terrifying action with precise clarity and detail. The musical score also spreads across the entire soundstage and lightly bleeds into the rears with great ease. A robust, palpable low-end meets every punch, thrust, gunshot and crash with plenty of weight and force. Wes Craven's 'Scream' is a great and engaging listen on high-rez audio.
For this Blu-ray edition, the same assortment of supplements are carried over from the previous DVD release.
Wes Craven's 'Scream' is a well constructed and cleverly entertaining feature which revitalized the slasher movie, as well as the career of the legendary director. Assembled from a postmodern passion for horror, the box-office hit is also a genre exercise, filled with humor, thrills, and suspense. Sadly, the Blu-ray from Lionsgate arrives with a disappointing video presentation that's ruined by noticeable edge enhancement. The audio fares a great deal better, making up for some of the distracting artifacts, but supplements are nothing new and are simply carried over from a previous release. Overall, devoted fans are more likely to take a chance with a purchase, but others are better off with a rental.