The Scream Trilogy Fifteen Years On - Part 2: Knowledge Killed The Movie Geek

In this series of three articles, leading up to next week's release of Scream 4 on DVD and Blu-ray, Film Intel examines three major elements of the original Scream trilogy and questions whether they challenged horror films to do better or re-enforced old cliches.

The Scream trilogy is, quite frankly, a film student's wet dream. Self-referential in a non-arthouse way, the Scream films exist in a Universe where movies are the prevalent topic of conversation and where every nubile teenager recognises that they are likely to be the victim of choice for a vicious killer. In the lead up to the release of his film Submarine, Richard Ayode bemoaned the fact that in films, no one ever talks about films. Never is this more an un-truth than in the Scream trilogy.

Joshua Jackson goes meta in Scream 2's extended film class scene.

The problem with creating films that are so cine-literate is that picking holes in them is made tremendously easy. In Scream, Tatum (Rose McGowan) and the killer have a one-sided ironic conversation in the garage when the character confuses the killer with a party goer and asks 'would you like to kill me now?'. The scene is both clever and darkly comic but Craven seems to forget that he's had his character commit one of horror's cardinal sins: during a teenage bloodbath, she has entered a darkened area (in this case, a garage) by herself, well away from the main group (incidentally, refer back to part one in this series and notice what device eventually poses Tatum the most threat).

The dichotomy between wanting to comment on the stupidity of various tropes within horror and attempting to avoid falling into those very tropes continues throughout the series. In Scream 2, Cici decides to run up the stairs when not a moment before she was right next to the front door. She obviously hadn't seen the first movie, where Sidney advises that horror films always feature 'some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door'. You can't make this stuff up.

The third film goes even further. Two of the franchises' most intelligent (and therefore long-lived) characters, Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) need somewhere to play a videotape. Where do they choose? An abandoned series of classrooms with plenty of locked doors and narrow corridors. Big-breasted girls who can't act conforming to horror cliché is one thing but two characters who have already survived two films where this sort of thing happens every minute or two? Quite another.

The janitor in the original film. Briefly glimpsed in full Freddy Krueger attire, one of the series more subtle references

Although Craven's rule breaking only goes so far, on occasion it works to tremendous effect. The killing of a character who seemed destined to survive to the very end in Scream 2 was Craven's signal that all bets were off, above and beyond the fact that the killing of the girl from ET in the first film should have told you that in the first place. Not only does Craven kill the character in Scream 2, he does it in broad daylight, in the middle of a busy campus square, where you might have thought him save.

Scream 2 is also notable for Joel (Duane Martin). Having established that cameramen are expendable additions to the Gale Weathers character in the first film, Joel seems like an ideal candidate to meet a rather stabby end. But Craven empowers the character, first having him discover the truth about Gale's last cameraman and then giving him the opportunity to leave the fray with all body parts intact. In any other film, Joel would consider running away and then have a macho change of heart and decide to stay. In Scream 2 he disappears from the narrative completely only to return at the end in an appearance which is basically only included to highlight the fact that he's not dead.

Gale Weathers goes at it alone in Scream 3

The final film in the franchise is a mixture of self-referential innovation taken as far as it can go and ridiculous return to horror formula. Angelina's (Emily Mortimer) death might be one of the best shot of the franchise but it comes after almost every single character left in the film has decided to split up and go their separate ways inside creepy producer John Milton's (Lance Henriksen) extravagant and isolated house, breaking horror film survival rule number one: never split up. Before this though, Jay and Silent Bob have appeared on a tour of one of the studios. The ultimate movie geeks have found their way into the ultimate movie geek franchise.

Equally though, years after their release, all three films provide a nice metatextual analysis of Hollywood for those mischievous enough to indulge in it. The suggestion in Scream 3 is that Milton literally kills actors. The suggestion that can be put to the rest of the franchise is that Craven kills actor's careers. How else do you explain the disappearance of Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard from our screens, or Scream 2's bevy of rising-star youngsters (Heather Graham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O'Connell, Elise Neal) who are now missing presumed un-employed, or the fact that lead trio Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette have done little since the original trilogy and have since returned to it to make it back into cinemas? The Scream franchise has come full circle. It is both the comment on Hollywood practices and the tool that appears to have shaped Hollywood casting. It seems that 'big-breasted girl's who can't act' shouldn't just be avoiding running up the stairs. They should be avoiding the Scream franchise all together.

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