As far as horror-comedies go you don’t get much better or original than Scream. The late Wes Craven’s seminal 1996 flick ticked all the right boxes and went on to bring back the horror genre from its 80s slump. Combining American high school teen drama and slasher-horror gore was a winning formula and went on to inspire multiple other teen horrors and numerous parodies of what is essentially a satire itself.
As a 111 minute skit on slasher movies, Scream’s allure is in its own self-awareness. “Do you like scary movies,” breathes the gruff, almost comical voice of the Ghostface killer in the iconic opening sequence. Throughout the film there are regular references to horror films, even Craven’s own earlier film Nightmare on Elm Street which Drew Barrymore – upon being told the film was scary – replies “well, the first one was, but the rest sucked.” Everything within the film references another and it’s here where the movie holds its own.
Within Scream’s ‘monster’, Ghostface, is every horror movie killer that ever existed up to that point: Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Mrs Vorhees, Jason, Norman Bates and Leatherface all in one. Ghostface wears a disguise, stabs, guts and disembowels his victims, is human with superhuman qualities yet also – and this is where Ghostface stands superior to the rest – a slapstick genius. It’s for these reasons that I will argue Ghostface as the ultimate horror movie killer spanning all 4 films with the possibility of more to come.
My first argument is that the ever-changing nature of the character behind the slack-jawed Ghostface mask keeps audiences guessing. Scream is a mega movie franchise with the success of the first film sparking a further 3 and an MTV spin-off TV series. Similarly, if you have seen Scary Movie you’ll know that it’s almost impossible to think of Craven’s Scream without being reminded of the former. In all of these versions a new incarnation of Ghostface is born. Ghostface is not just one person but a changing collection of people always with different motives, methods and intentions. The only prerequisites of becoming Ghostface is that you must have a love for -and breadth of knowledge of- horror films, and any reason for wanting Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell in all 4 films) dead.
Secondly, Ghostface is charming, allowing him to navigate through a teenage high school world and survive so long before eventually being the one to unmask himself. We only ever hear the voice of Ghostface when they converse with their victims on the telephone using a ‘voice-changer’ in the form of Roger L Jackson’s voice which Craven states has an ‘evil sophistication’. It’s this charm and evil sophistication that keeps the victims on the phone long enough for Ghostface to play his deadly game.
As with most slasher horror films, Ghostface is ultimately human. Yet, despite his humanness, he displays superhuman strength and the alarming ability to disappear and reappear in impossible scenarios at will. In addition to adding suspense and drama, this plays with the audience’s perception and keeps them guessing who Ghostface is until the unmasking at the climax of each film.
Finally, Ghostface is comedy gold. All that falling and flailing, getting hit in the face by a bottle of beer and almost flying backwards, sneaking around the bushes and stumbling away when someone looks; he really is a slapstick genius. The greatest part is that when Ghostface’s identity is revealed, the unmasked character is never even a little bit funny. Where, then, do all the brilliant quips and gags from over the phone come from? The only explanation is that donning the mask instantly imbibes the wearer with extraordinary comedic prowess.
Ultimately the self-referential style and satirical nature of the film is what draws Scream’s audiences in and keeps them wanting more even after almost 20 years of the franchise. I, however, suggest that it’s Ghostface who has changed the genre and, despite all the gruesome murders, revived horror and brought it back from the brink of death.
Scream is showing at Hyde Park Picture House this Halloween, 31st October, 11pm. Tickets from £5.50 with a student card. See the website for more details: http://www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk/