Friday, March 2, 2007

THE ULTIMATE SCREAM COLLECTION (Dimension Films 1996-2000) Dimension Home Video

Horror movies are popular with audiences because subconsciously we all enjoy a good scare. Just why we do has been the subject of considerable debate. Anthropologists will suggest that the genre appeals to our inherent 'fight' or 'flight' impulse that has been quashed over centuries of human refinement. Psychologists will likely argue that horror films allow us to exercise our suppressed voyeur. We can experience heinous and terrifying acts that our 'better' selves - conscience - subconscious... whatever - tells us we must not partake in reality, but can indulge vicariously within the relative safety of a darkened theater. 

After's only a movie. But movies must reflect a part of ourselves if we are to successfully accept and relate to what's being presented to us on the big screen. So, perhaps Alfred Hitchcock was quite right when he said that simply by walking down the street one could come in close proximity to a sadist or a murderer. Now, that is scary!

Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) plums the familiar territory of a traditional slasher movie, but with renewed vitality for that 1980s sub-genre and more than a few chills along the way. Kevin Williamson's screenplay works in just about every cliche and angle we've come to know, love, expect and - occasionally abhor - about the genre. Williamson wrote Scream (originally entitled 'Scary Movie') as a sort of cathartic release, to calm his nerves after an unsettling news story about a series of gruesome murders in his own neighborhood.  

Shopping the screenplay around, the writer was repeatedly told that the horror genre was pretty much dead (no pun intended) in Hollywood and that the more grisly elements in his first draft - including graphic decapitations and disembowelment - would have to be greatly toned down for the project to be even remotely considered as a B-movie. Williamson obliged, rewrote his material, and submitted it to Miramax and Dimension Films. More delays 'haunted' the project, including a lawsuit filed by Sony over the film's new name 'Scream' as it seemed to infringe on the copyright of their own 'Screamers' released the previous year. 

Wes Craven was approached to direct and willingly accepted the assignment only after Santa Rosa, CA was agreed upon as the principle location. The studio had pressed for a Vancouver shoot as it was cheaper by nearly a million dollars. But Scream also attracted the attention of high profile celeb' Drew Barrymore - elevating its stature above just another B-slasher.  Barrymore's involvement on the project also brought out more A-list talent to get involved including Neve Campbell who had found considerable acclaim on TV's Party of Five.

Scream opens on a Hitchockian note - killing off 'the presumed star' (Barrymore) just as Alfred Hitchcock had done with Janet Leigh in Psycho some 45 years before. Barrymore's Casey Becker is a carefree teen getting ready to settle in for the night with a scary movie and a bowl of popcorn when a 'wrong number' strikes up a conversation. At first, Casey is intrigued by the caller who seems to appreciate her taste for horror. But very quickly Casey realizes that the person on the other end of the line is not nearly as far away as she thinks. In fact, he's just outside, and holding Casey's boyfriend (Kevin Patrick Walls) hostage while she and the caller play a paralyzing game of cat and mouse over the telephone. Butchering the boyfriend, the killer breaks into Casey's home and slaughters her just as her parents are about to return home - their grisly discovery of Casey's body strung up from a tree in the front yard.

From here, the story's focus shifts to Neve Campbell as careworn teen Sidney Prescott. Seems Sidney has been receiving disturbing phone calls from ‘an admirer’ who would like to gut her like a fish. Terrified and terrorized, Sidney confides her fears to best friend, Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan) whose brother, Dewey is the town’s deputy sheriff. Meanwhile, ravenous tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is on Sidney’s trail for the scoop that will make her career. Gale was responsible for exposing the brutal slaying of Sidney’s mother – a bone of contention that has Sidney fuming and ready to fight back with a solid left hook.
Sidney's boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) offers his support and comfort. But it's all just a ploy to get in Sidney's pants and, after a few false starts, it works. Sidney and Billy consummate their relationship, setting Sidney up for another convention of the horror genre; that all non-virgin females must die. Video store geek, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) is instrumental in explaining these ground rules to his fellow victims. These potentially include Tatum, Randy, and Billy's best friend Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard). 

In hindsight, only the opener of Craven’s bloodfest is masterful. The ending is mildly clever. But in between we get a pedestrian retread of the slasher film conventions geared toward generating repulsive chills; silly teenagers, doing stupid things, like getting drunk and misbehaving during a house party where – no kidding – the killer(s) is waiting to exact his bloody revenge.

Scream II (1997) is an even more abysmal attempt to extend this one premise wonder into a two picture deal. Relocating the bloody carnage from Woodsboro to a college dorm, where our heroine is desperately trying to get her mind off her past – and with the killer seemingly dead at the end of the first movie – Sidney Prescott quickly realizes that someone has taken up the deceased's murderous rampage.

We are introduced to a new slew of victims destined to meet with untimely ends. Again, Craven opens this sequel with a totally unrelated vignette; this one featuring Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) and her horny boyfriend, Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) attending the premiere of ‘Stab’ the movie based on Gale Weather’s Pulitzer prize winning account of the first Woodsboro slayings. 

Phil gets his inside a stall in the public restroom. Maureen dies in plain view of a packed audience who, at first, believe that her blood body collapsing in front of the movie screen is just part of the buildup for the premiere. From here, the story digresses to a college setting – the predictable hunting grounds for a psychopathic stalker already exploited in countless horror movies from the 1970s and 80s. Sidney is dogged by a new 'ghost face' who quickly does away with her new boyfriend, Derek Feldman (Jerry O’Connell) and various other acquaintances. 

Gale attempts to unite Sidney with Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) the man she falsely fingered for her mother's murder, but who was released from prison only after the first Woodboro slayings revealed the identity of the real killer to be otherwise. If anything, Scream II is an even more uneventful and disarmingly conventional slasher movie than its predecessor. Craven relies on the thirty-second shock value of a knife being plunged into someone's throat or belly to jolt his audience from their seats. It works, I suppose, but only the first time around. Renewed viewings of the film does not get the same level of adrenaline flowing. And movie blood is far too liberally sprayed about the campus. It's as though Craven can think of nothing more horrific than the sight of buckets of Red dye #9 cascading from victims stomachs and mouths.  

Scream III (2000) concludes Craven’s infatuation with long suffering heroine Sidney Prescott on a decidedly dower note of extreme lampoon. Now a telephone grief counselor, Sidney is living in isolation deep in the California hills where – surprise, surprise – the killer finds her and begins his malicious stalking once again. Only this time the incongruous focus of ghost face's carnage is on the cast and crew of Stab III. The demise of several key figures in that production brings Sidney out of hiding and reunites her with Dewey and Gale who are attempting to patch up the tattered remnants of their crumbling marriage.

We are introduced to self-appointed actress extraordinaire, Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey – obviously having a good time), sleazy film producer, John Milton (Lance Henriksen) and strapping Los Angeles police detective, Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) – destined to wind up as Sidney’s love interest by the end. As far as trilogies go, Scream and its sequels are very much a one hit wonder spread over three excruciatingly dull movies. The first film remains the best - but that really isn't saying much. The original is still pretty bad unless you resign yourself to expect the expected and then simply go along for the ride. 

Unfortunately, the second and third installments are thinly disguised attempts to exploit and squeeze out every last bit of box office from the success of the original. Craven makes absolutely zero attempt in these latter two movies to offer us anything even close to originality. I suppose, why bother, when his fans are so readily amused by more of the same. As such, Craven trudges through the quicksand of this tired, old formula again and again - stretching his luck and our patience until the next hapless victim drops like a stone before our very eyes.

Dimension Films has put together all three films in The Ultimate Scream Collection (all three titles are also sold separately – though the box contains an exclusive bonus feature disc). However, remastering efforts on the original Scream are  extremely disappointing. The film has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions. Why? Shear laziness! Colors are bold but unrefined. Certain scenes exhibit excessive digital grit. Blacks are solid and deep. Whites are generally clean. Edge enhancement is prevalent throughout.  This disc is a Frisbee! 

Parts II and III have been enhanced for widescreen televisions. Picture quality on the whole is infinitely more satisfying – particularly in a refinement of colors and contrast levels, with much more fine details present throughout. Still some minor edge enhancement and pixelization but on the whole, passable. The audio on all three discs is 5.1 Dolby Digital, offering an aggressive spread. Extras on all three discs include audio commentaries by Craven; production featurettes, Q&A with cast and crew, behind the scenes footage and outtakes and theatrical trailers. On the bonus disc we also get the extensive ‘Behind the Scream’ documentary, a barrage of deleted scenes and outtakes, screen test footage and a litany of DVD-ROM features that will surely delight the tech-head collector.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Scream 3
Scream II 1
Scream III 2.5

Scream 1
Scream II 4
Scream III 4.5


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