A teenage girl is slashed to pieces after receiving a phoncall in which her killer taunts her with references to other slasher movies. Her peers have a party in which they discuss survival tactics a la horror convention, and get picked off one by one
Now this might all sound a tad familiar: a teenage girl home alone; a telephone call that moves from sexy banter to psychotically violent threat; a Steadicam that never seems to stop peering edgily around corners; and a disembowelled boyfriend oozing offal onto the patio.
For a generation who grew up with Michael Myers and who would list Camp Crystal Lake as a favoured holiday spot there would seem to be no surprises in the crimson tidal-wave of torn nubile flesh that an opening sequence like that promises. But what distinguishes Scream from the rest of the slew of teen-slashers that still haunt the lower reaches of Blockbuster's shelving is that it's bloody. Bloody funny, that is.
The plot is pure horror hokum. A quiet town with a Mainstreet, USA feel is battered by a series of brutal murders, mostly of teenagers, which seem to be linked to some unsolved murderous malarkey a decade or more ago. The local adolescent population respond by having a party and are knocked off one by one.
But what director Craven, creator of possibly the most distinguished kiddie mangler of shock-flick history, Freddy Krueger, does with the twitching corpse of the genre is to turn it into a kind of chaotic post-modern pyjama party, with the imperilled teens constantly remarking on the similarities of what's going on to every slasher ever made - "it's like we're in one of those Wes Carpenter movies" one remarks - and even outlining the rules of such movies while slavishly following them.
In one inspired sequence a gaggle of partygoers watches a video of Halloween while one of them delivers a survival speech: "You can never, ever, have sex," he says. "Sex equals death." (Upstairs a couple of latter-day bobbysoxers are performing the opening steps of the dance of first love) "And no one should ever say, 'I'll be right back'." (Someone goes out to get more beer uttering said phrase.)
In less talented hands this could have been a lumpen disaster. The slasher movie has attracted the attention of humorists before. April Fools Day, Saturday The 14th and one with Kenny Everett in it that no one can remember are among the failed spoofs of what would appear to be an eminently piss-takeable genre.
Craven succeeds not only because of an intimate knowledge of the type of movie he created - along with the other two Cs: Carpenter and Cunningham - but because of a capacity to leap with balletic deftness from exuberant in-jokery (Ulrich as monikered Billy Loomis and watch for who plays the school principal) to ball- retracting moments of terror which are all the more unnerving for the guffaws that have preceded them.
Assisted by a young and pretty cast - Ulrich and Barrymore are standouts while Hackers' Matthew Lillard puts in a fine turn as the grinning Stu - and a pacy, intelligent script by newcomer Kevin Williamson which only flounders a little when he tries the same gag just once too often, Craven has delivered a ferocious workout that'll leave you breathless. And, a word to the wise; stay seated until the ride has come to a complete standstill...
The once hip irony of Scream is now something of a cliche, but after all of the imitations, have another look at the real thing. Clever, quick and bloody funny. 'Bloody' being the operative word.