Scream is a movie created by Wes Craven creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street is a turn of the tables on the typical horror flick The problem with today s slasher movies is that the character s are all one-note stereotypes the plots are ridiculous the action always follows the same dreary pattern and the only creative effort is in the new bloody makeup effects Wes Craven changes all this He reinvents what makes going to the movie such a thrill by scaring you all over again
The killer in Scream is very eccentric in that he can quote literally all of every other horror film ever made He uses this talent by terrorizing certain teens in a California town At the top of the killer s list is Sidney who is played by Neve Cambell Her past is what has makes her the killer s target Her mother died one-year back in a brutal murder which is somehow linked to the killer so she is too depressed to make time for her boyfriend Skeet Ulrich She is also very upset at a tabloid-TV reporter Friends co-star Courtney Cox because her book claims that Sidney pointed at the wrong guy responsible for her mother s death
The first scene of Scream in which Drew Barrymore is used as the killer s first success makes the audience sit at the edge of their seats throughout the rest of the movie First Barrymore gets a mysterious call while making popcorn Just few minutes later a failed trivia quiz made by the killer about Friday the 13th leads to a murder that puts a small California community on the alert
David Arquette who played Dooy is goofily charming as a semi-naive deputy whos infatuated with Cox He is a less than qualified deputy who is truly committed in attempting to keep his sister her best friend Sidney and of course Courtney Cox safe
The real action of the movie really gets rolling at a teen keg party – the prime location for any slice-and-dice movie As the party s guest list rapidly shrinks Sidney s video-obsessed friend Randy explains the three rules of surviving a horror flick Number one being never have sex The second is never do drugs or alcohol and the third is never say I ll be right back
Sidney says to him But this is life – it isnt a movie Instantly shes given a wake-up call Yes it is Sid its all one big movie Very soon she will be given evidence Typically the bimbo in a horror movie always runs up the stairs instead of out the door and if they do go out the door they always stupidly run back into the house Wes Craven mocks these actions but at the same time twists them back into new frightening scenes
Sid has to show the killer that she is less of a stereotypical girl then it thinks But will she able to before its too late The movie Scream is very creative and breaks away from the mainstream horror flick movies in that it lets you have it both ways- it lets you laugh and it also makes you gasp in the face of fear
Although its generic title suggests otherwise Wes Cravens Scream 1996 is a horror film that in many ways transcends the banality of its genre Indeed Scream distinguishes itself from other horror movies by an understanding made explicit within the diegesis of the film of the horror genre and its standard formula This genre-consciousness is developed through its characters an ensemble of movie-obsessed teenagers whose identities are inextricably linked with their culture appropriately the killers are two members of this group who view life as one big movie Although this cinephelia does make the film unique Scream self-consciously achieves the goal of any horror movie terrifying its audience In order to understand exactly how this horror is achieved we must look to the opening scene to locate central themes established through the intercutting mise-en-scene and dialogue of the sequence Evident in the bloody deaths of two of the protagonists the movie becomes horrifying when innocuous everyday phenomena–the telephone the Jiffy Pop and the cultural omnipresence of cinema– become threatening

To understand how Scream functions as a horror film we must first understand the notion of cinematic horror and the way in which it is typically constructed In her essay King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema Fatimah Tobing Rony discusses the genre of horror and its dependence on the idea of some hybrid monster that defies the cultural standards by which we define ourselves Citing JP Telotte Rony claims that the horror film can play most effectively on its boundary position monsterlike it can simply reach into our world and make us part of its nightmarish realm 1 Applying this idea to Scream one might hastily conclude that this theory has no bearing on the film as there is no true monster within the narrative one might also point to the films modern suburban setting as precisely the opposite of a fantastical nightmarish realm However such a conclusion would be premature and incorrect Just as Rony and Telotte might claim it is precisely the transformation of everyday objects spaces and phenomena into mechanisms of fear and horror that makes the film terrifying In Scream simple even mundane things from our world like the Jiffy Pop telephone and movies suddenly become threatening and nightmarish Thus one might say that the monster of the film is the hybrid created when what was previously banal and innocuous suddenly poses a threat and elicits fear

Within the very first seconds of the film Craven introduces this idea of the everyday assuming nightmarish qualities through the quick juxtaposition of certain off-screen sounds and on-screen images As the movie opens the very first thing we hear is the sound of a phone ringing in the off-screen space as the title Scream appears Written in white against a black background the letters turn suddenly to a suggestive bloody red as we hear a single scream and the sound presumably of a grating knife Then the entire frame becomes red and the film cuts to a close-up of the phone now ringing for a second time Before we ever see a human we see a television in the background whose blue screen indicates that the set is ready for a video-screening and we are now abruptly thrown into the narrative and the diegesis of the film In this almost insignificant amount of time–merely the second or two between juxtaposition of the telephones rings–Craven succeeds in introducing several essential elements of the film clearly as the ringing telephone the scream of a woman and the exaggerated sound of the knife are the very first things we experience these will be crucial to the following scene and to the film as a whole On one hand these auditory and visual experiences simply cue the audience to the fact that they are watching a slasher flick However it is also important to note that in this brief instant Craven juxtaposes the commonplace ringing of a telephone with the more infrequent and horrifying sounds of a knife and a scream this contrast immediately establishes a close tie between an average household scene and impending violence

Throughout the opening scene and Scream as a whole the otherwise-average phone continues to function as a horrifying device eliciting fearful responses in the audience and in the film itself The beginning sequence is structured around six phone calls with each phone call the audience and Casey the protagonist become more nervous and suspicious of the caller All of the contact between Casey and the caller is over the phone thus advantages of technology which we take for granted on a daily basis allow the killer to have a real threatening presence without actually being inside the house As this presence is manifested almost completely through the telephone we can say that in Scream the commonplace object assumes a threatening role the telephone becomes killer The phone also allows Casey to briefly establish a rapport with the killer without as far as she knows having ever really met or seen him This would be impossible without the telephone Not insignificantly the phone is also cordless it not only allows Casey to communicate and move across the space between her and the killer but also gives her spatial mastery within her territory 2 Because of the cordless phone Casey can move both inside and outside the safety of her house in an attempt to evade the killer an ability which helps doom her Thus in the film an everyday seemingly innocuous object like a phone can be a device of horror because of the temporal and spatial boundaries it violates

Craven makes this function most evident at the end of the scene as Caseys ability to communicate which is inextricably linked with the phone determines her ability to survive Once the killer invades Caseys house and the on-screen space she is forced to the less secure space outside and is quickly caught Casey manages to struggle free from him for a brief moment as she then tries to get the attention of her parents as they arrive home However Caseys faint desperate cry of Mom Mom is inaudible across the distance between them and she is captured again by the killer Casey is unable to master this space–and therefore communicate– without the phone Soon after this we see Casey near-dead but still clutching the telephone being dragged away by the killer At this point we can just barely hear her increasingly desperate inaudible cries of MomMom Yet this time Caseys mother is able to hear her cries because she has picked up the phone to call the police The film asserts that only with the aid of the telephone can Casey communicate with her mother even in this most dire situation Thus one can see how human life in Scream is intimately tied to everyday objects and how the transgression of this assumed norm is absolutely abominable

Besides the phone calls Craven relishes in the presence of cooking popcorn in eliciting fear and anxiety in the audience Repeatedly the Jiffy Pop appears in short-take close-up shots starkly juxtaposing the long-take medium shots of Casey this contrast creates a certain visual turmoil that exacerbates the oppressive discomfort of the scene Furthermore Craven strategically places and intercuts these shots in a way that establishes a parallel between the cooking popcorn and Caseys murder The first time the Jiffy Pop appears Casey has just hung up on the caller for a second time At this point both Casey and the audience have just begun to become uneasy but there is still relatively little tension Abruptly Craven switches to a shot of the stove burner as it is ignited and the Jiffy Pop placed on it for cooking As this shot is in close-up and is the only object other than the telephone that we have to this point seen filmed in this way Craven is clearly bestowing it with some significance The popcorn again appears a few seconds later as Casey reaches to answer the phone yet again at this point the Jiffy Pop is visible now beginning to cook and we expect it to start expanding at any moment Similarly given our previous knowledge of the horror formula we anticipate that the danger and anxiety within the narrative of the scene will likewise begin to expand Throughout the third phone call–as Casey and the caller discuss horror movies–the sound of the Jiffy Pop beginning to cook is audible in the background subtly echoing the simmering tension of the scene Soon the popcorn appears again in the mise-en-scene now beginning to cook and expand rapidly in the narrative Casey hangs up on the caller for the third time and her panic begins to escalate dramatically Thus it seems that Craven is placing the popcorns cooking and the threat to Caseys life on some sort of time-line one in which beginning middle and end points are contemporaneous by doing so he is evoking a metaphoric relationship between the two which is predicated on time

After this point in the opening sequence the popcorn does not appear in the mise-en-scene for a relatively long period of time however the metaphoric relationship already established through Cravens intercutting is not undermined First of all even when the Jiffy Pop is not visually sensible its presence is asserted by the off-screen sound of it popping or by smoke filling a room Moreover when the popcorn does re-appear at the scenes climax its metaphoric relationship to Caseys murder is obviated The killer murders Caseys boyfriend Steve who we discover just before this had been tied-up in the backyard and only after this does the Jiffy Pop reappear visually in a shot Fleeing from the scene of the murder Casey runs to the kitchen and the burning popcorn reflects in the kitchen window while the smoke resulting from the fire obscures the rest of the room It is important to consider that the popcorn is only visible as a reflection on one hand this would seem to undermine its previous importance as it is neither in close-up nor does it truly appear in a palpable three-dimensional form However by filming the popcorn in such a way Craven dramatically distinguishes it from the rest of the mise-en-scene and we immediately recognize it as a reflection a variation of previous shots Within the narrative of the opening scene this moment represents the tangible realization of the previously anticipated threat to Caseys life as the killer has now penetrated the house Similarly the popcorn now explodes into violent flames as we have been made to anticipate through repeated intercut shots of the steadily inflating Jiffy Pop Finally as Casey is caught and murdered by the killer outside the popcorn inside sets off the smoke alarm signifying the panic destruction and horror of this culminating moment Thus the explosive end of this simple object is contemporaneous with the gruesome end of Caseys life a conclusion we have anticipated as a result of Cravens timing and intercutting techniques

Since the film guides its audience to relate the cooking of the Jiffy Pop and the murder taking place it is important to determine the precise nature of this correlation If the relationship between the two truly is a metaphoric one then as Linda Williams argues in her book Figures of Desire we must consider her claim that in the usual metaphoric processthe tenor half of the metaphor belongs to the action of the diegesis and the vehicle half belongs to a part of the decor or in the case of the pure metaphor to an entirely extraneous element brought in from the outside the narrative 3 This metaphor once established functions on a hierarchy maintained by the order of appearance of the two parts of the metaphor placed in syntagm most often diegetic action of the tenor is followed by comparison of the vehicle commenting upon it 4 It is almost immediately clear that the popcorn intercutting inScream does not function as a pure metaphor as it is part of the domestic mise-en-scene and even comprises a small part of the scenes action However the appearance of the Jiffy Pop–the so-called vehicle half of the metaphor– does chronologically follow the beginning of the scenes central action Thus according to the classical metaphoric hierarchy that Williams delineates the cooking of the popcorn provides commentary on the action of the narrative–Caseys murder–and forces the audience to anticipate certain events based on this relationship

In the metaphor that Williams addresses there is a visual relationship between the tenor and vehicle components however the metaphoric relationship in Scream which is to an extent visually conceived primarily functions in a different manner Although the ripping of the foil and the emission of smoke and corn clearly allude to the grisly stabbing and disembowlment of the two characters it seems that the Jiffy Pop is perhaps most important as it establishes an emphasis on timing This function is suggested both by the popcorns name and by the fact that it is something being cooked if Casey neglects it for too long it will burn and be ruined Her timing is of the utmost importance to the success of the popcorn a notion that the audience automatically understands because of the familiarity of the action Also the popcorn is meant to be prepared in a jif so that the temporal framing of this action is compressed and the timing of each moment with the sequence is that much more valuable Given this we must conclude that the horror which the scene elicits in its audience is inextricably linked to the relatively banal and compressed notion of time indicated by the cooking popcorn Thus in order to convey this terror Craven manipulates certain objects and actions ones whose normal function is readily apparent to all In the case of the opening sequence the audience understands the brief yet important minutes it takes to make popcorn a highly familiar action in which small changes in timing and movement make a vital difference Similarly this importance of timing is inherent to the horror narrative itself

Here the ideas from both Williams and Ronys essays are simultaneously operating Already we have seen how a commonplace technological object like a telephone can almost literally assume the role of killer the nightmarish other realm can suddenly cross boundaries to assume control of the everyday in our world At the same time the audience experiences this terror more intensely because of a metaphoric relationship which associates the banal with the horrifying and unthinkable

The popcorn would also seem to serve another less obvious function in the scene as it serves as a link to the unrelated phone As Casey is butchered outside the smoke of the burning popcorn sets off the smoke alarm in the house Caseys parents arriving home hear the alarm and see the smoke and immediately know that something is terribly wrong Caseys mother sensing this runs to the kitchen to extinguish the popcorn Both of her parents seeing that the Jiffy Pop has been neglected and burned sense that Casey must be in danger concern for their daughter is catalyzed by the popcorn Sensing this danger Caseys mother runs immediately for the phone and a cohesive narrative link is created between these two seemingly unconnected objects

The Jiffy Pop allows for a convenient conversational move between Casey and the callerkiller towards the topic of horror movies a dialogic progression which helps establish a genre pastiche essential to the film

KILLER Whats that noise

CASEY Popcorn

KILLER Youre making popcorn

CASEY Uh-huh

KILLER I only eat popcorn at the movies

CASEY Well Im getting ready to watch a video

KILLER ReallyWhich one

CASEY Oh just some scary movie

At this point the camera moves to follow Casey who had been at the stove shaking the Jiffy Pop as she turns to face the counter where a block of knives rests forbodingly

KILLER Do you like scary movies

CASEY Uh-huh

KILLER Whats your favorite scary movie

CASEY UmmmI dont know

KILLER You have to have a favorite What comes to mind

CASEY UmmHalloween Casey plays with knife from the block which makes the noise we heard in the opening You know the one with they guy in the

mask who walks around and stalks babysitters Whats yours 5

The conversation continues in this vein for a bit longer as Casey and the caller discuss other classic horror movies even critiquing some Well the first one was scary but the rest of them sucked Interestingly even though we already know because of our previous knowledge of horror movies that the caller is a threat to Casey the two have struck common ground in their love for horror films As mentioned previously this rapport is made possible by the telephone however as evident in this exchange Scream borrows other movies in order to forge a bond between Casey and the stranger on the phone

Elsewhere in the opening scene Scream incorporates other horror films into the dialogue in order to terrify the victim and intensify the audiences suspense In their discussion of film genres David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson make the following generalization which we should keep in mind when looking at this scene At the back of our minds whenever we watch a film these categories shape what we expect to see and hear They guide our reactions They press us to make sense of a movie in certain ways 6 As viewers we watch Scream with these expectations in mind and are manipulated by the films direction to feel as we do what makes the film unique is the fact that unlike other horror movies the characters within Scream are quite aware of these standards For example at one point in the opening scene Casey is visible at the front door in search of the killer As she backs away we see a medium shot of the door a shot included to increase the anticipation in the audience of the killers entrance At this point Casey desperately asks Whos there as she goes to call the police But typically she is interrupted as the killer calls back and provides interesting commentary on the actions just portrayed You should never say whos there Dont you watch scary movies Its a deathwish You might as well just come out here to investigate a strange noise or something 7 This comment works to terrify both the audience and Casey as we both know that by evoking conventions of horror movies the killer is almost narrating the scene of action At the same time the film does use this basic previously-established formula for its narrative so that both the action and the dialogue of the scene borrow from other movie sources

The television consistently present in the mise-en-scene functions similarly as it immediately suggests the ubiquity of cinema in the world of Scream it also helps posit a hierarchical relationship between television and cinema in which movies are so pervasive that they usurp the role of other forms of media The television is visible before any human character appears on screen an implication of its powerful omnipresence in the diegesis We must also consider that the television only displays a blue screen it is on but has been cued to show a movie rather than functioning in its own right These cinematic details establish a hierarchy which asserts the constant influence of popular culture on people while also suggesting the supremacy of film or at least video over true television as the television is present only to show a movie Later in the opening scene the same TV set becomes a refuge for Casey as she desperately tries to hide from the killer After Steve is murdered Casey retreats to the corner beside the television still displaying the anticipatory blue screen There she crouches in a last-ditch attempt to find protection from the killer Yet while closest to the television he finally physically invades the safety of the home Thus the killer penetrates the house when Casey is literally closest to movies and trying to use them as protection

It is during this moment that the killer also asks the final questions in his game making the life-or-death outcome contingent upon Caseys knowledge of horror movie history here the borrowed presence of other films is so powerful that it is now driving the plot In his game the killer questions her about horror trivia promising to save Casey and her boyfriend Steve if she can answer the questions correctly So while the basic structure of the narrative follows the genre standard the dialogue which helps to realize this formula is itself a constant allusion to other horror movies Casey has to know the genre well enough to outsmart the formula and thus survive Unfortunately the killer asks Casey a trick question one which predicts her hasty incorrect response Name the killer in Friday the 13th Casey eager to save her boyfriend responds almost immediately Jason Jason the same answer most of the audience would have given However she is wrong Jasons mother Mrs Voorhees was the killer Jason didnt show up until the sequel Wrong answer Thus despite the fact that Casey has see the movie twenty goddamn times she almost out of habit immediately associates Friday the 13th with Jason Anticipating this the killer tricks Casey into answering incorrectly and dooming Steve Here we can again see how Scream relies on other filmic sources to uniquely shape its narrative not only does the killer know the horror genre well enough to give quizzes on it but he also understands the category so thoroughly that he can accurately predict the common misunderstanding of a particular movie which is in this case Friday the 13th 8

As the killer concludes his game Screams status as a pastiche of horror films becomes even more evident After killing Steve he asks Casey the final question Which door am I at Here the killer again articulates the genre features at play while Caseys ability to recognize these standards ie through which door will he enter will determine her fate Even the killers description of the situation– theres a front door and two patio doors — re-enforces the horror formula already at work 9 At this moment the appropriation of other films is so overwhelming that it has even influenced the world outside the diegesis both the audience and the character within the film Casey understand the inevitable outcome of this horror scene and can do nothing but wait terrified for the killers arrival

Scream also relies on certain gender and sexual stereotypes borrowed once again from other films in its narrative Although genre these standards are not specifically addressed until later in the film when one character Randy outlines the Rules for Survival in any horror movie they are already functioning within this opening sequence Steve is the first victim of the killer but his death is merely a brief aside to Caseys protracted agonizing demise the film conveys from the very beginning a pre-occupation with male violence towards females This intentional misogyny is confirmed when we later discover that Casey has broken one of Randys rules for survival as she is not a virgin although her innocent blonde hair and white sweater would seem to suggest otherwise Also Scream seems to intentionally portay Casey and Steve as ridiculous teenage stereotypes in order to re-enforce the appropriated nature of the film Casey relying on her boyfriend for protection tells the killer that Steve is big and he plays football and hell kick the shit out of you Meanwhile his fleeting on-screen appearance serves to re-enforce his role as the jock bound and gagged tightly Steves only distinguishable trait is the brightly-colored varsity letter jacket that he is wearing

All of these borrowed features only help to strengthen the horror of the films opening sequence As we have seen throughout the beginning of Scream director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson manipulate the relationship between humans and everyday phenomena in order to create horror As we see with Casey the sudden and unanticipated transformation of phone into killer is a startling terrifying event one with which we sympathize However the intercut appearance of the constantly rising Jiffy Pop exacerbates our horror as we watch this scene as it establishes a metaphoric relationship between the commonplace and the ideally rare occasion of gruesome violence Through dialogue and details of the mise-en-scene the sequence creates a pastiche one which borrows the presence of cinema as well as the social stereotypes which this particular genre perpetuates Thus it seems that in Scream certain phenomena entrenched in everyday life–technological objects habitual actions like cooking popcorn and cinematic culture– all have certain characteristics which allow them to suddenly mutate to horrifying and truly frightening ends

APPENDIX-Plot Summary

The plot begins as two teenagers Casey Beckert and her boyfriend Steve are brutally murdered at the Beckerts home In the aftermath of this killing Caseys peers and their town attempt to find the killer The film focuses on an ensemble of teenagers most of whom become victims The central protagonist is Sidney Prescott a young woman whose mother was also a victim of murder a year ago Her circle of friends includes her boyfriend Billy her best friend Tatum Tatums boyfriend Stu and Randy After a close encounter with the killer and finding Billys cellular phone Sidney suspects Billy who is put in jail While he is in jail Sidney receives another call from the killer and the police set Billy free Meanwhile tabloid journalist Gail Weathers comes to town to investigate the murders Tension rises between Sidney and Gail who believes that the man convicted for killing Mrs Prescott is innocent To celebrate the cancellation of school all the towns teenagers go to a party at Stus house where the killer strikes again killing Tatum It seems as though Billy has been killed too until it is revealed that Stu and Billy are both the murderers Billy and Stu also killed Sidneys mother whose affair with Billys father caused his parents to divorce Before the film is over both Stu and Billy meet their gory deaths and Randy Sidney and Gail survive


1 Fatimah Toning Rony King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema The Third Eye Race Cinema and Ethnographic Spectacle 169

2 Edward Dimendburg The Will to Motorization Cinema Highways and Modernity October Summer 1995 135

3 Linda Williams Figures of Desire A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film Berkeley University of California Press 1981 70

4 Ibid

5 Scream 1996 dir Wes Craven Dimension Films cast Neve Campbell Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox

6 Bordwell David and Kristin Thompson Film Art New York Mc Graw Hill-Companies 1997 60

7 Scream

8 Ibid

9 Ibid