Scream [1996]

When Randy the video geek rattles off the rules of surviving a horror movie in Wes Craven's Scream, he speaks for a generation of filmgoers who are all too aware of slasher movie clich├ęs. Playfully scripted by Kevin Williamson with a self-aware wink and more than a few nods to its grandfathers (from Psycho to Halloween to the Friday the 13th dynasty), Scream skewers teen horror conventions with loving reverence while re-creating them in a modern, movie-savvy context. And so goes the series, which continues the satirical spoofing by tackling (what else?) sequels while sustaining its own self-contained mythology. Catty reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) turns grisly murders into lurid bestsellers, a cult of killer wannabes continues to hunt spunky psycho-survivor Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) for their 15 minutes of fame, and a cheesy movie series (Stab) develops within the movie series. Scream remains the high point of the series--a fresh take on a genre long since collapsed into routine, but Scream 2 spoofs itself with witty humor ("Why would anyone want to do that? Sequels suck!" opines college film student Randy), and delights with more elaborate set pieces and all-new rules for surviving a horror movie sequel. The endangered veterans of the original film reunite one last time for Scream 3, which plays out on the movie set of Stab 3. (It's a trilogy within a trilogy!) With Williamson gone, replacement screenwriter Ehran Kruger tries to mine the formula one more time. It's a little tired by now, and pale imitations (Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer) have further drained the zeitgeist, but the film bubbles with bright humor, and director Craven is stylistically at the top of his game. As a trilogy, it remains both the most consistently entertaining and self-aware horror series ever made. --Sean Axmaker

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