Wes Craven has matured past his old horror film days. His last two movies, Scream and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, have been serious, mature films. They just happen to fall in the Horror genre.
This latest movie will be classified as a horror film and it does have some gore. But it bridges a gap between two genres that should have overlapped long ago: horror and murder mysteries. My mom hates “violent” movies, which includes anything from gory movies to fast-paced thrillers, depending on her mood. Yet the only books she reads are murder mysteries; in other words, she reads very few books that don’t involve murder. I always saw that as a contradiction.
Craven has finally bridged the gap with Scream, which we may call a mass murder mystery. From the very beginning we see how terrible the killer is. His (or her) first victim is presented in the classic horror-film victim scenario, but there is a twist: the killer is interested in horror movies and he puts the conventions of them to use in his own awful plan.
But this movie is not just a horror film. The self-referential tone of the movie allows us to step back from the horror. Also, the presence of detectives and inquisitive characters focuses our attention away from fear and toward curiosity. We can stop the killing if we can only unmask the killer.
For those who know horror movies, the self-referential tone provides some funny moments when characters point out the “rules” of a horror movie, mention director Wes Craven, or comment on what would be happening “if this were a movie.”
And, for those looking for a good scare, Scream is an excellent choice. The mask the killer uses (which appears to be derived from Munch’s “The Scream”) is really quite frightening. The killer is more human than in most horror films, and therefore more terrifying. He is not invisible, but he is only seen in a quick flash. His advantage is not supernatural power — victims can lash out against him and have some effect — his advantage is surprise and fear. The killer’s humanity and thus his potential vulnerability makes him all the more frightening, and makes us all the more tense for his next victim.