There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance: One: You can never have sex. The minute you get a little nookie-you're as good as gone. Sex always equals death. Two: Never drink or do drugs. The sin factor. It's an extension of number one. And Three: Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, say "I'll be right back."
Not only do the teens in Scream deliberately refuse to comprehend the meaning of the "rules" (objective story concern-understanding)--these guidelines are laughed at derisively:
Wanna another beer?
I'll be right back.
Kevin Williamson's "Homage to Halloween" (Schiff 26) Scream, directed by Wes Craven, is a "scary movie" (original film title). Hip and witty, this slasher film that winks at the genre of which it is a part, deserves its commercial success and the cool cachet of MTV's 1997 Best Film award. It also happens to fall in line with Dramatica's "rules" for a grand argument story--a story that is structurally sound and emotionally and logically comprehensive. The grand argument story is comprised of four perspectives necessary to present all sides of the inequity that has created the story's imbalance. They are:
- Objective story: Examines dispassionately the overall issues that affect all the characters.
- Main character: The character representing the audience's position in a story.
- Influence character: The character representing an alternative point of view to the main character.
- Relationship story: Explores the conflict and growth in the relationship between the main and influence characters.
As the set up, Drew Barrymore, in fine Janet Leigh form, is terrorized when a stranger calls. She is ridiculed for not adhering to horror film etiquette: "You should never say 'Who's there?' Don't you watch scary movies? It's a death wish" and is subsequently "splatter movie killed-split open end to end" (story driver-action) within the first ten minutes of the film. Introduced next is the real heroine and main character, Sidney Prescott, a fresh faced high school student still mourning the rape and murder of her mother (mc concern-past), exactly one year later. Sidney's influence character is Gale Weathers, a less than ethical reporter for the tabloid TV show Top Story. Gale has penned a tell-all on the trial of Maureen Prescott's murderer and is back in town determined (ic domain-mind) to cover the latest bloodbath. Gale serves as a tangible reminder (ic concern-memory) of Sid's loss (mc signpost 1-past):
How's the book?
It'll be out later this year.
Sidney tries to contain herself . . . squeezing a clenched fist.
I'll look for it.
I'll send you a copy.
In a blurred, unexpected instant, Sidney brings her fist forward (mc approach-doer), SMASHING it hard into Gale Weathers's face (rs inhibitor-senses). The impact sends Gale reeling backwards, knocking into Kenny as they both tumble to the pavement.
Psych! Gloves off, this is the domain (psychology) where the relationship story is explored. In one of the many ways of keeping the audience off guard, Gale occasionally hands off the influence character point of view to Billy, Sidney's "alluring" boyfriend. Both compel her to confront the self-absorption (mc problem-self-aware) she's languished in for the last year. For Billy that means a sexless "edited for television" relationship: "I wouldn't dream of breaking your underwear rule." For Gale, it implies the eyewitness evidence (mc critical flaw) the young girl provided against Cotton Weary convicting him may have been in error, and the real killer is still at large (rs thematic issue-situation vs. circumstances).
Sidney and Billy's classmates are self-conscious smart alecks (os problem-self-aware) who do not take the murders (os domain-physics) seriously. The demise of others is an entertaining diversion from the mundane:
Suddenly, a SCREAM erupts. All eyes go to a GHOST MASKED STUDENT running down the hall, screaming wildly, running amuck.
Why are they doing this?
Are you kidding? It's like Christmas.
Listen up. They found Principal Himbry dead. He was gutted and hung from the goal post on the football field.
So what are we waiting for?
Let's get over there before they pry him down.
The objective story's thematic conflict of senses vs. interpretation works particularly well with the os symptom of perception and response of actuality. What is seen and heard is frequently misinterpreted--resulting in appearances taken at face value and objective reality ignored. For example, home alone, Sidney-in her objective character role--receives an anonymous telephone call with an unidentifiable distorted voice (os thematic issue-senses) on the other end. Unnerved, she "locks, chains, and bolts the door" only to turn and face the masked figure. Sidney manages to evade the intruder long enough to alert 911. "Suddenly a NOISE at the window. Sidney looks up to see Billy her boyfriend, staring at her, surprised . . . . Billy pulls himself through the window. As he does, a small black object falls from his dark jeans. It hits the floor as Sidney eyes it (os thematic issue-senses) . . . a sleek, compact cellular phone. . . . Sidney bolts (os thematic counterpoint-interpretation)."
The police take Billy into custody (os catalyst-interpretation). While he's cooling his heels in jail, Sidney stays the night at her vampy girlfriend's, Tatum:
Do you really think Billy did it?
He was there, Tatum.
Yet, Sidney answers a telephone call for her at Tatum's that shakes her grounds for belief (mc critical flaw-evidence):
Hello Sidney. Poor Billy-boyfriend. An innocent guy doesn't stand a chance with you. Looks like you fingered the wrong guy . . . again.
In another example, the local boys in blue use their sketchy powers of perception (os symptom) to (mis)construe (os thematic counterpoint-interpretation) the identity of the killer:
Listen up, Dewey, because it's bad. Real bad. Aircomp just faxed us. The calls were listed to Neil Prescott-Sidney's father. He made the calls with his cellular phone. It's confirmed.
Couldn't his cellular number have been cloned?
(Ignoring Dewey's observation)
There's more. Guess what tomorrow is? The anniversary of his wife's death. It all fits. He's our man.
Randy, the film geek, understands (os concern) the blueprint for a fright night flick, and that "the police are always off track with this shit."
Now that's in poor taste.
Randy refers to Billy who's [sic] stands down the aisle talking to TWO GIRLS.
If you were the only suspect in a senseless bloodbath would you be standing in the horror section (of Blockbuster Video)?
It was all a misunderstanding (os concern). He didn't do (os benchmark) anything.
. . . He's got killer printed all over his forehead.
Then why'd the police let him go?
Because, obviously, they don't watch enough movies. This is standard horror movie stuff. PROM NIGHT revisited. . . . if they'd [police] watch PROM NIGHT they'd save time (os response-actuality). There's a formula to it. A very simple one. Everyone's always a suspect . . .
. . . motive? (os goal-understanding)
It's the millennium--motives are incidental.
Heinous hijinks ensue as classes are suspended and Stu throws a "fiesta" to celebrate. Gale and her cameraman, Kenny, monitor the action from the studio van-thanks to the compact video camera the intrepid reporter has stashed inside Stu's house:
Tell me, Kenny, has a cheesy tabloid journalist (ic symptom-perception) ever won the Pulitzer?
Billy crashes the party to make-up and make-out with Sidney. Upstairs in a bedroom, Sidney effects her change:
I can't wallow in the grief process forever (mc growth-stop) and I can't keep lying to myself about who my mom was. I think in some weird analytical, psychological bullshit way I'm scared that I'm gonna turn our just like her, you know? Like the bad seed or something . . . (mc thematic issue-destiny).
Billy gets lucky as Sidney gives up her virginity (os dividend-past). Afterwards: ". . . her eyes come to rest on the telephone on the nightstand . . . it puzzles her as a stark revelation crosses her face." Using her female mental sex, she asks Billy whom he had called the night she had him arrested:
You don't still think (ic problem-thought) it was me?
No, but if it were you, that would have been a very clever way to throw me off track. Using your one phone call to call me so I wouldn't think it was you.
The story limit (optionlock) is firmly in place as, in Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians fashion, key objective characters are killed off until the true killer is revealed. Surprise! It's killers! And there is a method to the madness, after all:
You'll never get away with this.
Tell that to Cotton Weary. You wouldn't believe how easy it was to frame him.
Yeah, we just watched a few movies. Took a few notes. It was fun.
Why did you kill my mother?
Why? WHY? Did you hear that, Stu? . . . I don't really believe in motives, Sid. I mean, did Norman Bates have a motive? . . . How about this? Did you know your slut mother was sleeping with my dad and she's the reason my mom moved out and deserted me (os response-actuality). . . . On the off chance I get caught-a motive like that could divide a jury for years . . . . You took my mother, so I took yours. Big sympathy factor. Maternal abandonment causes serious deviant behavior. It certainly fucked you up. It made you have sex with a psychopath.
Finally aware (mc solution) enough to understand what really has been going on, Sidney and Gale join forces against the psycho killers and Sid is able to utilize her unique ability (interdiction)--successfully interfering with their best laid plans (outcome).
So Stu, what's your motive? Billy's got one (os signpost 4-understanding). The police are on their way (os solution-aware). What are you going to tell them?
Peer pressure . . . I'm way too sensitive.
Sidney, angst resolved (mc judgment-good), unties her bound and gagged father (whom the boys-now mortally vanquished-had intended to frame) and Gale, steadfast (ic resolve) in her drive for celebrity, gets an exclusive breaking story (ic solution-knowledge).
The Dramatica grand argument story contained in Scream provides a solid foundation from which a sequel that won't suck can be written. Kevin Williamson, who believes "Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative"--pulls off such a feat in Scream 2.
Sources other than released film:
Schiff, Laura. An Interview with Kevin Williamson. Creative Screenwriting, Volume V, #1. 1998, pp. 26-28.
Williamson, Kevin. Scream. Screenplay Rewrite. July 31, 1995.