When you think of iconic American horror, what first comes to mind? Maybe it’s recent thrillers, like “Get Out,” “A Quiet Place,” or “Hereditary.” Maybe you’re more into stuff from the 2000s. Your Halloween movie nights consist of films like “The Ring,” “Saw,” and “The Grudge.” No matter your preference, though, there is one horror film that almost everyone will know: “Scream.”
When “Scream” was first released in American theaters on Dec. 20, 1996, the film instantly saw box office success. The movie stood out among both movies of its time and slasher films today against all odds. The writer, Kevin Williamson, struggled after the failure of previous scripts of his, and the release of the movie during the holiday season raised doubts about how well it would perform. Despite it all, “Scream” became one of the highest-grossing movies of the year, earning over $173 million worldwide and inspiring five sequel films.
The success of “Scream” might seem strange at first glance. It is, at its bare bones, just a classic slasher film—well-made for sure, and certainly unique in its satirical representation of overused horror tropes, but nothing groundbreaking. So why is the movie so beloved in the eyes of the public?
Well, to modern audiences, the film is simply the quintessential horror movie—if the name itself doesn’t ring any bells in your head, some key details from the franchise probably will. The classic Ghostface mask—a white, elongated face, with its eyes and mouth pulled down in a wailing expression—and the raspy voice of the killer over the static of a phone call have become beloved icons of the horror genre.
If you’re not familiar with the original “Scream,” the basic run-down is this: a masked killer called Ghostface appears in the small town of Woodsboro, Calif., and kills a young couple. Sidney Prescott, a young teen around the same age as the victims, hears of the murders and soon begins receiving calls from Ghostface. After being attacked by Ghostface in her own home, Sidney becomes distrustful of her boyfriend, Billy Loomis, when a phone falls out of his pocket as she clings onto him in panic. However, this suspicion is quickly foiled when Sidney gets another call from Ghostface while Billy is being held at the police station.
As the movie progresses, suspects continue to be ruled out one by one—it’s the timing, mostly, that makes their alibis solid. When the killer shows up, the suspect is either in another room, being held somewhere, or being stabbed to death in front of Sidney by Ghostface himself.
Character after character is crossed off the list of potential killers, and just when the roster runs dry, the big twist is revealed: timing hadn’t cleared anyone, because there are two killers.
Billy and Stu, a friend of Billy, had worked together to execute the murders throughout the movie—one boy wore the mask, the other called the victims on the phone. The concept was as genius as it was groundbreaking; the idea of two killers had never really been explored in the horror genre before, but it was incredibly successful. It kept the audience guessing while still staying within the bounds of reality, not feeling like such an easy discovery as to be low-hanging fruit but also not being so wildly out of left field that the audience felt cheated out of a plausible answer.
“Scream” is a thrilling horror film that has withstood the test of time—even nearly 25 years after its initial release, the movie is still unique and compelling, with its subversion of classic horror tropes, its introduction of two killers, and its steady plot and pace. If you’re looking for a scary movie to shock a shriek out of you this Halloween season, “Scream” is a great place to start.