Scream (1981) Review
The film opens rather eerily with wax figurines of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, then the camera zooms in on the clock next to them striking midnight. The camera pulls back, showing us that the baker and candlestick maker have been decapitated, and the butcher's cleaver has blood on it. Then the butcher's eyes move! We are then introduced to a group of people (It's never explained if they're friends, family members, co-workers, or what) rafting down the Rio Grande as part of their vacation. The group decides to dock their rafts and camp out in an abandoned ghost town that's miles away from civilization for the night. However, on the first night, three of them are killed. In the morning they find their rafts have been destroyed. Who is killing them? Is it an outsider? One of the group? Or could it be something not entirely human?
Just for a quick clarification, The Outing was also the title of a superb 1987 killer genie that I highly encourage everyone to check out, but we're not here to talk about that. We're here to talk about Scream, which has to be one of, if not the most, hated slashers of all time. I mean, you look on IMDb and every single review (save for mine) is completely negative! In fact, it's a miracle this even got a DVD release because of all the hate towards it. OIt was directed by Byron Quisenberry, a somewhat successful stuntman, and stars a few kind-of recognizable faces, like Etan Wayne (John's son), Woody Strode (Once Upon A Time in the West), Hank Worden (The Searchers), and Pepper Martin (the guy who beat up Superman in a diner fight in Superman II).
First off, everything you read in the negative reviews is completely true. This is definitely a slow-burn movie in every sense of the term. The film sets its own pace (that of a snail) and follows it to the bitter end. But you know what? I like that. I would compare to 1984's The Prey as far as completely mellow horror movies go. Sometimes it's good to just kick your feet up and relax; that's the mentality of Scream. It knows it's got places to go, stuff to do, but it just shrugs its shoulders, stuffs its hands in its pockets, and takes a slow stroll to wherever it decides to go. I can dig that. That's a movie modeled after my own heart. There's a lot of atmospheric shots of the ghost town, the aforementioned wax figurines, people talking, people walking around, etc.
Scream also seems to piss people off by having every murder either be completely bloodless or offscreen. In fact, I would say that it feels like Scream is a rebel. By 1981, a system had been established for slashers, but Scream gives it the finger and does its own thing. However, one genuinely good thing about this movie is its atmosphere. Any serious-minded scare flick set in a ghost town is bound to be creepy, and this is no exception. The long, dragging shots of the ghost town that so many folks complain about really just builds on the atmosphere. The film does build suspense a few times, and it even has a few decent jump scares.
However, all is not perfect in Quisenville. For one thing, some of the acting in this movie is really putrid. Some actors look really invested, and others look like they're getting directions straight off a teleprompter. The film did get really tedious at times, and the bloodless deaths did begin to get on my nerves a little bit. Also, the film sets up a huge body count, yet a majority of the group survives, including every woman! I found that to be a nice twist on things, as well as making a lot of the characters middle-aged. Also, one thing that both annoys me and fascinates me is the (almost) complete lack of answers the film gives us at the end. We're meant to assume the ghost of a pirate is killing these people (which is revealed when Woody Strode's character rides in on horseback and tells the tale), but we know nothing for sure (we don't even see any killer's hands; we just the weapon of murder rising and falling).
It also has some hilariously bad moments, like when one character yells at a girl, "I won't let nayone tell me what to do, especially a FEMALE!" or something to that effect, or when one character screams his head off and runs away when a spider crawls across his hand, yet being completely silent when one character is murdered two or three feet away from him! Then there's the part where two dirt bikers roar into the town, and the group just stand and watch them ride around right in front of them without even bothering to flag them down for help!
Scream is one of those movies that can be summed up by its cover art: it's simple, very creepy, proposes a lot of questions and answers few of them. Yet there's something under all the crap that has me coming back time and time again. Maybe the reason I can't stop watching it is for my thirst for answers. Maybe all the negative reviews had me expecting something much worse. Maybe I'm just weird like that. Probably the latter. Anyway, in the right setting, Scream is sure to please. It's one of those three-in-the-morning films that can pretty much put anyone to sleep, or, at the very least, relax them. Isn't that what movies are supposed to do? It's slow, occasionally boring, very slightly scary, heavy on the atmosphere, and very mysterious. What was the point? Who was this made for? Sure, I could listen to the audio commentary with Byron Quisenberry on Code Red/Shriek Show's really good DVD release, but that would ruin the fun, now wouldn't it?
The Verdict: Scream is not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests, with lots of atmosphere and little plot. However, if you watch one movie called Scream and one movie called The Outing this year, make sure it's the other ones. Then watch this one just because.
Score: 6/10. Rent it or buy it cheaply.
Don't trust my judgment? Here's four other opinions:
Oh The Horror!