Horror Battles: Scream (1981) vs Scream (1996)
Have you ever been talking about a film with someone, and it becomes clear that you are talking about a different film? Confusing everyone involved. It can sometimes be confusing when two films that have the same name. The most infamous being the two Jack Frost, released within a year of each. But one is a horror film, and one is a family film. Although it could be argued that Michael Keaton as a snowman is as terrifying as the snowman in the actual horror film. Sometimes the same title happens to films in the same genre, and here is where the battle can begin. So over a series of articles, I will look at two (or more) films with the same title but are different. This means I won’t be looking at remakes, sequels, prequels and requels. So there won’t be Halloween (1978) vs Rob Zombie’s Halloween vs Halloween (2018). So considering all that, here is our first battle – Scream vs Scream.
In the Blue Corner: Scream (1981)
Director: Byron Quisenberry
Stars: Pepper Martin, Hank Worden, Ethan Wayne (John Wayne’s son)
Tagline: Greetings from…………..Texas!
In the Red Corner: Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette
Tagline: Someone Is Playing A Deadly Game, Someone Who Has Seen Way Too Many Scary Movies.
Scream starts with a strange but creative opening; however, it no longer makes sense since the name changed from The Butcher, The Baker, and The Candlestick Maker. The scene shows a painting of a sailing ship and figurines of the characters above before focusing on a mantelpiece clock showing midnight. When the camera returns to the figures where it appears the Butcher figurines have decapitated the other two while we were distracted. Now we hit the actual plot of the film – A group of people (friends, family, team building colleagues, it is not clear) who are on a rafting journey in the hilly part of Texas led by Stan (Ethan Wayne) and Ruby (Joseph Alvarado). We have a Navy baseball cap-wearing old guy (Alvy Moore), Ross (Gregg Palmer), a random young woman Janice (Cynthia Faria), and the grumpy old man John (Hank Worden), Marion (Ann Bronston) and complete asshole Bob (Pepper Martin).
More characters in the form of a University of Houston sweatshirt wearing Laura (Julie Marine) and shy Adriana (Nancy St. Marie). Bring up the rear is the fat loner “comedy relief” food-obsessed Lou (Lou as in Lou Costello, cos he is funny, do you get it, are you amused yet?! Played by Joe Allaine) and another dickhead Andy (Bob McGonigal). The group arrives at a strange abandoned town. They end up being stuck there overnight, where they are killed off one by one by an unknown assailant while the rest of the group smokes, drinking coffee and Dr Pepper.
At midnight, one is found hanging, and two are hacked to death with a cleaver. And due to their canoes being damaged, the group are stuck there for another night of shock. Another character is killed after several fake-outs. Then in rides in a cowboy with another horse and Rottweiler, the group decides to invite the apparent villain into their own make-shift base. The cowboy spends the time silently smoking a pipe. He gives a brief monologue about being a sailor before getting back on his horse to ride off. The character did nothing, added nothing and did nothing to move the story along.
He could have been taken out, and it would not change the film anyway, at least at this point. A couple of characters survive being attacked. Lou is dragged out by the killer where we see the scythe rise for the kill that we have been waiting for since seeing the cover art when we have a gunshot. The cowboy has returned to validate the random interaction earlier. So who is the killer? Is it a ghost from the past out for retribution? The film drags itself along with a cast that clearly does not know what they are doing and then an utterly bloodless murder.
Rinse and repeat until the end. Oh, the ending. This is why this is a forgotten film, even with the resurgence of love for weird 80s slashers. The film is written, directed and co-produced by Quisenberry, who had previously worked as a stuntman. One problem is that there is no character arc for anyone. Bob has some sort of “personality” as incompetent and scaredy-cat and opens him to mockery from his fellow travellers. Beyond that, the characters are forgettable, and you soon realise that you don’t care if they die or if one of them is the killer. There is no romantic subplot or excitement, with large parts of the film showing the cast staring off into the middle distance.
Even the soundtrack makes you think you are watching a sitcom, not a horror film. The film even wasted the beautiful location as no cinematography was in place. Unlike many “cheap” 80s horror, there is no nudity, no blood, and, despite the title, precious little screaming. This might have happened because Quisenberry did not want to make a “typical slasher”, but the kills (apart from one) are downplayed and often off-camera, which does not work in a slasher film. We see the weapon, we see a hand pick up the weapon and boom next shot dead body, occasionally shown afar and sometimes we saw the weapon put back.
And that is when we are lucky. So yeah, a bit of tit and ass does not make a film, but it helps make it more palatable. As someone that regularly watches “bad” films with a group of both male and female friends, we will all shout “Bobbies” at a bit of nudity and reengages us into the film. And before you ask, the ages range from the late 20s to the late 40s. They also do not use its star power with Green Acres star Moore has such a short role that it is the real “blink and you will miss it.” moment.
Martin (previously beat up Clark Kent in Superman 2) does not feel right as the cankerous middle-aged man. One of the good points is the cover art, complete with creepy font and an image of a hand holding a moon-like scythe in the air. You have to credit Quisenberry, who managed to get his film made when the dream gets ruined for many. I am one of those people with a film in my head that I know will never get beyond that. And, of course, Quisenberry might have been ahead of the curve. In the time of Tommy Wiseau, Neil Breen, James Nguyen and Asylum films, maybe Scream would have more ironic love.
Retrospectively it feels like the perfect story for a slasher. However, one of the most surprising things about the film is that John Wayne’s son is in it. Scenes meander at a snail’s pace as we follow these insipid people while they are being killed with hatchets and axe, but there is some moment of unintentional humour. There is little gore and no explanation for the killer’s motive; in fact, let’s be honest here, we don’t even see who the killer is. Most of the time, you find yourself saying FFS throughout this film. Watching Scream tests your endurance and skill to watch the same thing repeatedly that made no sense, giving a horror fan nothing they want.
There are many pointless shots of people doing things that humans would not do in life. Unfortunately, Quisenberry did not have any funds for special effects, and the sprinkling of swear words is the only thing that gives this film its R-rating. We watch a group of people stumbling around, being scared by something. While the cowboy character is not utilised well, he is one of the film’s better parts. The only time you break from the boredom of the film is to ask what the fuck is happening. Is it worth a watch? If you have curiously approached the work of those mentioned above, then it may be worth it. However, it is unlikely that you will return again and again.
We start with Casey (Drew Barrymore), who is home alone. She receives a call from a killer that taunts her with horror pop culture questions. Unfortunately, most of the point of view comes from peeking around corners. When she gets a question wrong, her boyfriend is killed. She is then attacked by a masked figure, and she nearly escapes as her parents are returning home. But she is caught, killed and hung from a tree. The opening is exhilarating, shameful and intense. She has become the victim of a killer known as Ghostface, attacking Woodsboro. Ghostface becomes obsessed with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who herself has had a sad life. A year ago, Sidney’s mother, Maureen inhumanely killed by suspect Cotton Weary (Live Schreiber). So it makes sense that her father has chosen this weekend to go away. Sidney is still struggling with the loss of her mother. Sidney and her friends are shocked to discover that one of their classmates had been killed, possibly relating to a cult. But they should be ok as they have The Fonz as their principal (Henry Winkler).
The murder also brings in the vultures, also known as news media. All of these are not making Sidney’s healing process any easier. This is highlighted in her unhealthy interactions with her boyfriend, Billy Loomis (in-joke played by Skeet Ulrich). When Ghostface makes himself known to Sidney, she fights him off, which leads to her and her friends in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Scream is perfect at pointing out the horror tropes that we, the audience, are so used to that we predict the film based on our prior knowledge of how these films work.
They say things that we have said: “I hate it when characters are that stupid.” It feels like a horror film for fans written by fans. We have even been placed in the film with the character Randy. And our heart does a little happy dance at the Kruger Easter Egg. Scream was as powerful for 90s teens as A Nightmare on Elm Street was for 80s teens and, of course, proved that Wes Craven was always controlling the zeitgeist. However, it can be argued that slashers are always just for teens, and as they grow, they want something more refined, so the sequels created for the original audience have already moved on. By the early 90s, slashers had died a death, but Scream revived it.
It is as close as you get to a perfect film, whether horror or a slasher film. Craven turned it into a bedtime story full of rules to survive, ones that they have to religiously follow, even while mocking them. The best thing about Scream was the change made to the villain; while we still get an iconic villain in the same vein as Kruger, Vorhees and Chucky, etc., unlike those, Ghostface is human. And as a human, he can be hurt and hurt he is as victims are not as pathetic as they have been, harming, hitting, stamping and defeating him any way they can. One trope the film plays with is the jump scares, with the distorted music stingers, when an unknown person startles the heroine. The most knowing wink to the audience is when the friends gather to watch Halloween, where Randy comes into his own with his “rules for survival” speech. This speech becomes so quotable, including the best interaction when Randy says, “And no one should ever say, I’ll be right back.” Stu gets up to grab a beer and leaves the frame, saying, “I’ll be right back.” Scream has three significant aspects: the script, the cast, and the opening scene. The dialogue between the characters is believable, albeit a little cheesy at times, with the right mix of humour and pop culture references.
The cast is perfect, especially with the interactions between Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. My favourite character was awkward Dewey, as it is clear that Arquette loves playing the role. And there is always a character to cheer on in the group of teens to survive, or vulgar Gale Weathers (Cox) and shy Dewey blossoming romance.Scream also has cameo roles for Linda Blair and Robert Englund.
Usually, in a film with so many great actors, some end up being overshadowed but not in this film. But that opening scene is such an ideal blend of stress and shock, and in a lesser film, what follows would never come close to that perfection (I am looking at you, Ghost Ship). For some people, the downside could be the low body count and that Ghostface’s weapon is nothing more than a knife, so there is not a variety of kills. I loved this film when I saw it as a teen, and I still love it. I have a lot of time for the winks and nudges to the audience and how self-aware the characters are. Unfortunately, this film has a fair amount of gore, and it is a violent film. But this is not just a violent film; Craven dances a fine line between the joy of enthusiastic teens poking fun at a horror film to the heart-stopping moment of alarm with extreme violence, which is more shocking because we were laughing a moment earlier.
This splits the audience on whether the violence is used in a sarcastic way or remarks on it. The film may be bloody and nasty, but it is playful and funny, rammed with pop culture jokes and references. However, you could never accuse this film of being uninteresting. It has a decent plot where the mystery element holds your attention, and you are Jessica Fletcher your way through the film trying to work out who the killer is. And it has its horror film references right up to its dying moments. And you do get a fantastic pay-off for sticking to the film. It is an exciting film with a score that helps build the tension. The only thing that dates the film is the pop culture references, but It is still a quotable film, and it is an ironic look at horror films that may make the film easier to watch for non-horror fans. The film’s casting seemed a little unusual as most of the roles went to actors at the beginning of their careers. However, Campbell hits all right notes as the tough damsel in distress and clearly destined to become scream royalty. Ulrich is perfect in his role, while Matthew Lillard, as Stu, can become annoying but still gives his all in his part. Arquette’s enchanting dork is excellent, and Cox’s delectable performance as a hard-as-nails reporter still holds true today. Barrymore and Winkler are fun little cameos.
The script is pacy and imaginative but understands the way teens thought; Kevin Williamson’s work is groundbreaking but could become a little repetitive. Instead, Craven provides us with a film that is a breathless ride that keeps you entertained until the end. A good film is the number of imitations that follow it, and after Scream, there was a whole raft of meta horror-comedy; some worked well, like Zombieland and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but many more fall flat. Scream was perfect at being intelligent and bloody funny. Pun intended.
Winner: Scream (1996)
There is no surprise here as Scream (1996) is considered one of the greatest horror films, with an iconic killer, whereas Scream (1981) is a forgettable film with a killer that we do not really see. Scream (1981) was K.O from the opening scene, and even if it tried to fight back, it was always going to be on the back foot. The only thing that Scream (1981) had going for it was the poster art was more dynamic. There was such a weird trend of film posters in the 90s to just be nothing more than a professional-looking shot of the characters. I suppose you have a high calibre of stars; you want to show them off, which was not something that Scream (1981) had.
Scream (1981) is a poorly directed and edited film with no internal logic. Scenes and settings would change randomly, with characters often seemingly teleporting in and out of the house. All the tension from the death is completely removed. Character’s personalities end up doing 360 degree turns to help the plot. The ending comes when an elderly couple arrives and does something that we can not quite see, and then the film ends. There is no conclusion about who the killer is and why they were killing people. It is almost like the camera ran out of film, so it was decided to stop. It is not a film that I would even show friends on a “so bad, they’re good” film night.
Scream (1996) could not have been made if Craven did not have an innate understanding of his talent and what horror fans want. Craven has always been one of those horror directors that would take risks with his work. Scream (1996) is Craven’s love letter to horror films and fans. As well as violence and bloodshed, there is an underlying sense of humour and intellect. Scream (1996) is not speaking down to its audience. This is a great film to watch alone or with a group of friends with a drink or two.
Beverley Price is a writer from a small town in Carmarthenshire, Wales, a three-time winner of the title “Chief Poet Skald of Suffolk”, a local eisteddfod.
She has had a poem published in an E-book called “Poems from Beyond the Grave” and “Serial Killers – A Pizza Eaters book”. Beverley has her poetry books, “The Flowering of the Black Petal” and “By Ink, By Pen, by Paper: A Tribute to Black Petal” under the alias Stormy and two novels “Blood Bound” and “Blood Brother”.
Beverley is a feature writer for the London Horror Society, looking at “so bad, they’re good” films, Hammer Horror and banned films in the UK.
Beverley is always open for conversations about horror, and the weirder, the better @stormywriter2. Also, check out my website at The-Poet | Vampire Novel (blackpetal82.wixsite.com)