Devil's Advocates - Scream Book Review

Written by Rebecca McCallum

Published by Auteur Press


Written by Steven West
2018, 120 pages, Reference
Released on 17th May 2018


Split into six neatly sized and digestible sections, this pocket-sized book offers insights galore into Wes Craven’s self-referential masterpiece and is a highly enjoyable read for discerning horror fans. West opens by covering the genesis of the all-important script and how the picture was a slow burning, sustained success garnering an unexpectedly positive response from critics. He also touches on Scream’s capacity to both revitalize the genre and simultaneously critique the countless inferior imitators of the slasher greats.

First Blood: The Opening of Scream deconstructs the now famous first 13 minutes, exploring how, by first aligning us with and then brutally killing off the presupposed central character, this marked a change for the slasher sub-genre. This chapter also looks at Casey Becker’s (Drew Barrymore) early demise as a reflection of Hitchcock’s heroine, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho. Discussion on the early sequence establishing Scream as embodying a balance between the darkly comical and the intensely shocking is included before West asserts that Casey’s unsuccessful attempts to make the right choices within the conventions of horror ultimately result in her untimely death.

The advent of the film is contextualized in Craven Images: The Road to Scream, which takes a closer look at marketing techniques in the film industry. More specifically, the chapter discusses how Craven’s earlier works (The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes) illuminate a particular social message and the notable absence of this in Scream. An interesting comparison with A Nightmare on Elm Street follows, with a focus on how the 1984 film treats the subjects of death and grief with more humanity and compassion than is shown in Scream.

The influence and impact of new media and popular culture is the starting point for Horror Happy Meal and Hybridisation: Scream and the 1990’s which interrogates how technology, the new teen demographic and marketing boom contributed to Scream’s success. West goes on to explore how the surge in horror-themed films, marketed as belonging to alternative genres and not just for horror fans in order to widen appeal, changed audience perception and generated maximum profit.

A dissection of the major players can be found in Scream in Characters, Conventions and the rules: Creating Scream's Thieving, Whoring Ensemble. This section pays close attention to Sidney Prescott, with a detailed focus on her role as an unconventional final girl. Stepping into the shoes of predecessor Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), West argues that while Sidney seems to have all the tropes of a final girl, she in many ways subverts the convention. The notion of the ‘final duo’ is put forward as a progressive and refreshing diversion with the unusual choice of having news reporter Gale Weathers and Sidney fight for one another despite not being bound by friendship. An analysis of the films’ killers also places emphasis on Scream ushering in a trend for the final big twist or shocking ending in cinema. The decision to mislead audiences by having not just one killer but two is discussed along with the fact that the monsters on screen now reflect the lives of the youths consuming the film itself. Alongside this, the role of violence and media interplayed with gender in Scream is touched upon. The oft quoted ‘rules’ which are pivotal to the film are then reviewed both in terms of Scream and other works of horror cinema.

The hotchpotch of tropes, clichés and horror references is the primary subject matter for Watch A Few Movies, Make A Few Notes: Scream’s Layer Cake Of References. This includes a discourse on defining postmodern horror and the role of commentary, humour and creativity within the genre. The importance of audience interaction while watching Scream is given some attention, particularly in respect to the savvy 90’s viewer who is able to engage with the text of the film and get ahead of the characters. However, West also acknowledges that, while this new approach worked for some, others found it unappealing and he considers why a certain section of genre fans found it that way.

In Reception and Marketing: The Selling of Scream, West deconstructs the media used to market the film, including the trailer and theatrical posters, to demonstrate how Scream utilized promotional techniques in order to misdirect the audience. In the final chapter, Scream and Scream Again, The Legacy of Scream, West shifts his focus towards Scream 2 and looks at how it had moved from interplay within the genre to interplay within the franchise. Finally, there is an examination of the potential reasons why, in such an overcrowded genre, the film has endured for so many years. Whether you are a fan of the work of Craven, of the film in particular or of the film in general, this book will provide you with insight and plenty to ponder on. West’s writing demonstrates that, almost 25 years on, Scream is as important as ever to the evolution of the genre.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon UK

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