Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene: SCENE 1 of Scream (0:00:00-0:12:46)

In this project I attempt to review the entire Scream trilogy scene by scene in chronological order. Click here to find out why. Please be advised that, quite obviously, this is as far from a spoiler free zone as you can get and there are spoilers for all three films from the get go. Also, please note that there will be gore throughout the series. That's a given.

Scene 1
Length: 12mins 46secs
Primary Characters: Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore), Steven Orth (Kevin Patrick Walls), Ghostface (voiced by Roger Jackson), Mr & Mrs Becker (David Booth and Carla Hatley)
Pop Culture References:
  • Halloween (Casey's favourite horror movie, first trivia question, "Drive down to the McKenzie's")
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street ("Is that the one where the guy had knives for fingers?")
  • Friday the 13th (Second trivia question)

Notice up the top there in the title bar? It states the opening scene of Wes Craven's seminal Scream is only 12 minutes and 46 seconds long. For a scene that is, by all counts, relatively short, it sure has had a lot of impact. Much like the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, it is a scene of shocking violence that changed the way horror movies were made.

The first shot in Scream is of a ringing telephone, which is only apt since the audience has to get used to them. This being 1996 the use "cellular" phones (oh American lingo, you amuse me!) hadn't quite reached the level of ubiquity that we see later on in Scream 3. There's something so quaint about the use of a landline phone, isn't there? It sort of just makes the helplessness even stronger since the character of Casey is so tied down.

The sight of former child star turned drugged up disgraced turned respectable actress must have been a fascinating one to see. I find it amusing that a 12-minute cameo in a quote-unquote slasher movie is seen as a defining turn in her career, but it's a refreshing one (is Lindsay Lohan paying attention? It could be quite easy!) Being an original movie audiences really had no idea what to expect so it was a stroke of genius to not only cast Barrymore - who would expect her to meet such a grisly end in such a short amount of time? - but also to make the voice of "Ghostface" so nonthreatening with this back-and-forth of almost "make cute" banter. If this were a romantic comedy you would expect them to realise they're made for each other.

This moment is particularly good since Craven is quite obviously allowing audiences to get a feel for the location with those big french doors looking out onto nothing.

And here is, I think, one of the most interesting parts of the entire movie. At this moment Casey has begun to feel a bit creeped out by this mysterious caller and yet here she is just seconds later having a relaxed chat about horror movies. What I find interesting about it is that horror movies are designed to test audiences. We allow ourselves to be placed into a false sense of security so that when a cat jumps out from a box we feel that security threatened (obviously more so when the threat is a knife-wielding maniac and not a feline who enjoys coiling up in a box). So audiences let themselves feel complacent in a horror movie because when we get frightened it gives us that adrenalin that is what makes a horror movie so effective.

So here is poor Casey Becker and she herself is being lulled into a false sense of security when she really ought to freaking the fuck out and all because of horror movies. The killer here uses horror movies as a way to pull his (in this movie, "his" is appropriate) prey into a secure trap, let them think they have the upper hand (see the scene later on with Neve Campbell's immortal "stupid girls with big breasts" speech) before unleashing that menacing...

"You never told me your name."
"Why do you wanna know my name?"
"Because I wanna know who I'm looking at."

Bear in mind that we're not even three minutes into this movie and already so much as gone on. It's why this sequence is a classic. So much legwork is being done for the entire film, too.

"Listen asshole-"

"No you listen you little bitch, you hang up on me again and I'll gut you like a fish, understand? Hah. Can you handle that, Blondie?


Of course, what follows is a defining moment of the entire franchise. The willful acknowledgment of horror movie cliches - "You should never say 'who's there?' Don't you watch scary movies? It's a death wish. You might as well just come out here to investigate a strange noise or something!" - as well as the admitted knowledge of horror movie franchises, which is something that carries on through the entire trilogy.

The scene's trivia moment is a truly terrifying moment, isn't it? Can all of us - movie aficionados all - say we'd be able to keep our calm during such a moment and be able to answer the question "Name the killer in Friday the 13th" without hesitation? Would you, too, scream "JASON! JASON! JASON!"?

From here on out the final five minutes of the scene is a good ol' fashioned chase scene (oh and a gutting or two) that really is thrilling. It's here that the legwork of those opening few minutes really comes in handy. We've seen the layout of the house through those glorious early tracking shots, but curiously we haven't seen the upstairs. This is actually quite amusing because we see Ghostface immediately run to the staircase because, again as Neve Campbell's Sidney later tells us, stupid horror movie victims always run up the stairs when they should be going out the front door. Allowing Casey to make a run for it before... well, this.

Who exactly is the Ghostface in this scene? Obviously both Billy and Stu were involved, but the killer here seems almost too smart to be Stu.

Michelle Pfeiffer once said that she used this scene as a reference point for her own performance in What Lies Beneath, saying "I thought about Drew Barrymore in the first Scream - I mean, ultimately that movie was more funny than scary, but the opening sequence was quite terrifying, and she portrayed terror in a way I'd never seen an actress do." If that's not high enough praise for you then I don't know what is. Of course, we all know what happens at the very end here. Casey's parents arrive home to discover...

Not pretty, most assuredly, but as a purely eye-opening shocking moment to kick start your movie with it sure does pack a punch. "Ripped open from end to end" as one character calls it, which is an apt description. And such brings an end to all brief love affair with cutey pie horror loving bob haircut-having beige sweater-wearing Casey Becker. We barely knew you and then you had to go and get the question about Friday the 13th wrong. She has nobody to blame but herself, really.

One thing I do have an issue with about this scene is the moment where Casey states her favourite scary movie as "Halloween. You know, the one with the guy in the white mask who walks around and stalks babysitters." I have an issue because that is not the plot of Halloween. While, yes, Jamie Lee Curtis does play a babysitter, Michael Myers is hardly a slasher movie killer only targeting babysitters. In fact, as far as I can remember, it's only numbers one and four of the Halloween franchise that even has a babysitter character (and in the fourth, The Curse of Michael Myers, it is the child, not the babysitter, being stalked). /gripe.


Wings1295 said...

Great breakdown of the scene! My first time here at your site, but I will be back! Awesome.

S said...

I SO approve of this idea!

Great post on an excellent trilogy.

Fernando Moss said...

Love it, love it, love it...

Love the scene, love Barrymore's performance and love the way you analize step-by-step this...

It's gonna be a hell of a ride this project of yours Glenn


Alex Ho said...

I'm excited to see the rest of your analysis! What's most chilling I think about Scream is that it came out only five days before the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. I was only a kid then, so I wonder if many older Gen Y-er's have the two events linked in their minds.

Alex Ho said...

A first timer to this blog as well. I'm excited to see the rest of your analysis! Drew Barrymore really is incredible in that scene. What I find really disturbing about Scream is that JonBenet Ramsey's murder happened just five days after this movie opened. I was just a kid then, but I wonder if older Gen Y'ers have these two events linked in their minds.

Jason Adams said...

I never really considered Drew Barrymore's role thru the prism of her future rom-com cred and the phone conversation as the sort of cutesy foreplay those movies would indulge in, but that's a great observation, Glenn.

Oh and I think you're being a wee bit hard on Casey there with her broad labeling of Halloween as a babysitter killing movie. Next thing we know you'll start gutting people like a fish yourself for such generalizations... ;-)

kidicarus222 said...

Agreed. I haven't seen Scream in a while, but your description brought back a lot of memories --- including how that line "I want to know who I'm looking at" marks the first genuinely scary moment in the movie.

Glenn Dunks said...

Thanks for all the feedback, guys (especially to the first timers - i'm not sure where you came from, but hello)! I can assure you it won't all be this long.

Alex Ho, I can honestly say I don't think those two events in my mind at all. Not even once until now.

Ja, really, she proved lacklustre knowledge of horror movies. Gutting!!

Philip said...

I'm also a newbie, haha, but I cannot tell you how much I am in love with the Scream trilogy. I'm only 17 but I remember being obsessed even when I was in elementary school and watching them with my mom. Sometimes we'd get jiffy pop at the grocery store and make some before we watched Scream. Teehee. And sometimes I'd randomly suggest watching the other two movies as well.

Gosh, I need to watch one of them again soon.

Drew was always one of my favorite actresses and I think Scream may have had some impact on that. I never realized how great she really is, but...she really is ~that~ great.

And I gotta agree, don't grill her for that false knowledge of the Halloween movies...I think they might've written that as a character thing - like she doesn't really know the movie, she just knows it's a babysitter so she says he stalks babysitters. LOL I have no idea what I just said, but it makes a lot more sense in my head. Nevermind. But it's kind of like the "orlly? nightmare on elm street? isnt that the 1 where he haz knives 4 fingerz?". Idk. I always thought it was a character thing.

Anyway, I'm done rambling. I will definitely be following this though. (P.S. I don't know where the other newbies came from, but I ventured from The Film Experience. :P)

Joel said...

I think we must have had a similar Scream obsessed teenhood. My and a friend recorded the audio onto a cassette and used to listen to the audio for fun... So lame.
But it did spark my love for horror and films in general, and I'm really looking forward to this breakdown!

Joel said...

And to be fair, Michael Myers does kill 2 babysitters in the first film :)

mizmode said...

Love your scene by scene commentary.

Just a little trivia for you if you already didn't know. :)

1. Drew was originally slated to play Neve's role, Sydney, but Drew convinced Wes Craven to take the part of Casey. Smart girl.

2. The wig that Drew wore in Scream was sort of an homage to Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Scarface.

I didn't know that Michelle said that about Drew. They should work together. :)

Unknown said...

Also, Drew's rather confused summary of Halloween may just be to shade her in as a dippy character, right?

Anonymous said...

Halloween #1 was based on a book called the Babysitter Murders so I think its a bit of horror movie trivia, and the majority of the movie does take place while both Jamie Lee Curtis and her friend are babysitting.

Anonymous said...

Also new to your site. I love your breakdown of the first scene. The Scream trilogy are the only horror movies I could ever get myself to sit through (suspense is one thing, horror scares the crab out of me).

I also came from Film Experience, but I will definitely be checking out the rest of your site and checking back in for the rest of your Scream analysis!

jakey said...

I *love* these movies. I was in fifth grade when they came out and wasn't allowed to see them at first, so when I finally did I knew everything that happened in the first one. I didn't care. I loved it. I was also obsessed with Neve Campbell at the time.

Your comparing this to Psycho is very apt. One thing I wanted to note is that Drew Barrymore was featured very prominently in the advertising for this movie, which made her on-screen demise even more surprising.

I realize they only had an hour, but I was so disappointed that she wasn't asked about this movie when she was on "Inside the Actors Studio"! The only comment I've ever read from her about this movie is when she was on The Rosie O'Donnell Show and said "That was so much fun!"

mizmode said...

This is in reference to Jakey's response about Drew talking about her film experience during the making of Scream.

I know I've read where she said that she went through a lot when she was filming. A lot crying, screaming, etc. Also, she didn't get her menstrual period while filming - that's how stressful the role was. So, although she said it was fun - it wasn't all fun. lol Do a search for Drew articles/interviews about Scream - and I'm sure you will find one where she talks about what I wrote.

Smashley said...

Jakey - Drew did lots & lots of press for Scream, I have plenty of interview footage of her talking about the movie. I also have some good magazine articles where she goes more in depth. Feel free to contact me if you're really interested. ashleybev[at]gmail[dot]com

vramirez said...

Awesome job... think this is a great idea for a blog and looking forward to reading the rest.

A part of this scene that you didn't mention that i always loved was after Casey's been stabbed and she tries to scream to her parents but can't is just so terrifying and every time i watch i pray that her parents will just look to the left a little bit... but I know they never will... gut wrenching horror at its core.

Anyway i know you cant mention every aspect of every scene i just thought id throw it out there.

Keep up the good work!