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SCREAM – DEVIL’S ADVOCATES ****

Written by Steven West. RRP £9.99 130pp

Out now from Auteur Press.

 

It may be hard to imagine now, especially for those too young to remember, how big of a deal SCREAM was at the time of its release. Arriving on cinema screens in the mid-90’s there was a real dearth of big screen horror at that time and the idea of Wes Craven tackling a horror comedy, after his Eddie Murphy starrer VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, did not exactly inspire confidence in even his most loyal fans.

 

SCREAM was a genuine surprise; not only with Craven’s return to form, helped along by Kevin Williamson’s clever script but in its immediate popularity. Here was a genuine word of mouth hit, proving that audiences were desperate to be scared again. With its young cast, some of whom were already familiar from a number of popular television shows including Party of Five and Friends, and its near meta commentary/critique of slasher films it seemed to capture the zeitgeist in a way very few horror films had done before then.

 

In the latest in the series of slim yet in depth volumes from the Devil’s Advocate’s series, Steven West tackles the phenomenon that kick started a genre that was previously thought moribund. For those who were present at the time of its release it might be thought that everything that has been stated and written about SCREAM has been said by now. West however foregoes the usual commentary of how clever and revolutionary Williamson’s script was and takes the perspective of how Craven moulded it in such a way to fit with his own body of work. The parallels drawn between the slick and crowd pleasing SCREAM and his still harrowing debut THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT are clearly etched out here; horror in suburbia, the devastating effects of sexual violence on the family unit and the climactic staging of a white picket fenced house as a bloody battleground.

West is far more interested in examining Craven than Williamson. Indeed, it feels that at the time it might have been regarded as more of his film than Craven’s. Much is made here of the fact that it was marketed more as a thriller than an actual horror film and the disparaging and quite condescending remarks of its cast downplaying its genre roots is also highlighted here, showing how far the genre had fallen out of favour in those days. Such aspects allow West to really come to grips with the films tightrope act of mocking and celebrating the slasher genre that Williamson grew up with and was so inspired by. Where critics at the time were keen to embrace the films own criticisms of the genre West goes in depth to defend it, skewering the films own self perpetuating myths about the subject it lampoons as much as loves.

 

The fact that Craven himself had already gone down the metafictional route prior to SCREAM is also looked at with his own overlooked WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE;  his self-scripted return to Elm Street in 1994 which blurred the lines between fiction and reality in a more personal and artistically ambitious way is also explored. West marks out the distinction between the two films by stating that NEW NIGHTMARE was Craven’s last truly personal film. Hereafter the case that he was more of a director for hire type than the auteur who was so clearly interested in exploring the more nightmarish aspects of the American dream is neatly and succinctly laid out.

The only real criticism that I can come up with for this impressive and entertaining volume is West’s habit of including quotes from several academics who have also studied and written about SCREAM. No context or basic information is given about who they are or their background. This one small, personal quibble aside the book can be highly recommended for both casual fans of the film and for those who may be taking a more academic interest in it and the much-missed Craven himself. Like the majority of the Devil’s Advocate series the page count stretches to just over one hundred pages, a fact that renders West’s own thoughts on the sequels and tv spin-offs quite brief. That his work here leaves the reader curious to see what keen observations he could come up with for them is an impressive feat but so is the fact that he has made this once uninterested reviewer keen to take a look at the whole slasher saga again once more with fresh eyes.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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 © 2000 - 2018