"Scream" Is Still One of the Best Horror Movies Ever Made

Halloween is by far one of my favorite holidays. The candy, the costumes, and the beautiful fall weather are great, but it’s the dark, spooky stuff that really makes Halloween stand out. So what better way to get in the holiday spirit than to watch a scary movie?

Admittedly, I can't really call myself a horror buff -- I've always been a little squeamish and avoided scary movies for a long time because of it. But now that I’m older (and less wimpy), I've been trying to explore the genre more. I ended up watching Scream for the first time last October, and I fully expected not to like it. The slasher genre, in all its formulaic, over-the-top violence, didn't really seem like my style, especially since the only horror movies I'd seen and enjoyed at that point, like The Others, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Silence of the Lambs, went for subtle suspense more than bloody rampages. But now, Scream is one of my all-time favorites, and 22 years after its release, its reputation still holds up.

The story focuses on Sidney Prescott, a high school girl who is still recovering from the trauma of her mother's murder a year earlier. Her world is turned upside down once again when a sadistic masked killer begins stalking her and her fellow students. At first glance, this plot doesn’t seem all that impressive -- maniacs with a mask and their shrieking teenage victims are a dime a dozen in horror, and when the movie premiered in 1996, all the tropes that were originated by 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1978’s Halloween had already run dry. The slasher genre was in serious decline by the time the '80s ended, as an endless stream of direct-to-video sequels and lazy ripoffs had turned the once-innovative formula from scary to boring. But Scream single-handedly brought horror back from the dead, not in spite its trope-filled story, but because of it.

Scream may be one of the first popular “meta-movies” in that it’s not just a horror movie, it’s a horror movie about horror movies. The villain taunts his victims over the phone by demanding film trivia. Sidney quips that the way women are often portrayed in horror is “insulting”. Another character lectures his friends on the rules of surviving a slasher -- don’t have sex, don’t drink or do drugs, and above all, never say “I’ll be right back.” But as much as Scream pokes fun at the films that came before it, its greatness lies in the fact that it’s not just a parody. It’s as much a love letter to the scary movie as it is a subversion of it. Director Wes Craven (who previously directed A Nightmare on Elm Street, another relic of the genre) packed Scream with references to its horror ancestors, from Nightmare to Psycho. The self-aware jokes make the movie fresh and creative, but they’re mixed with a healthy appreciation for its predecessors that keeps it from becoming too smug.

Ultimately, what makes Scream so good is that it is able to do so many things at once. It delivers a clever commentary on horror without leaning so far into satire that it forgets to make the scary movie, well, scary. Its humor is blended with genuine tension and terror, which is due largely to a cast of well-written characters the audience can actually care about. It’s not easy to strike that balance between irony and earnestness, but Scream ties it all together in an intelligent, funny, and, yes, a scary gem of a movie. In short, it deconstructed the classics so well it became a classic in its own right. If you’ve never seen it, give it a watch. With '90s nostalgia in full swing and Halloween, one of Scream's biggest influences, being rebooted this month, now is the perfect time for Scream to be revisited (and for those of us who are still watching Riverdale for some reason, it’s also a chance to see a young Skeet Ulrich). So grab the popcorn and turn off the lights -- you might just find a new answer to the question, “what’s your favorite scary movie?”