SCREAM A POST MODERN HORROR TAKEN FROM AS MEDIA STUDIES FOR OCR
INTRODUCTION TO HORROR…
Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience. Horror films effectively centre on the dark side of life, the forbidden, and strange and alarming events. They deal with our most primal nature and its fears: our nightmares, our vulnerability, our alienation, our revulsions, our terror of the unknown, our fear of death and dismemberment, loss of identity, or fear of sexuality.
INTRODUCTION TO HORROR
Horror films, when done well and with less reliance on horrifying special effects, can be extremely potent film forms, tapping into our dream states and the horror of the irrational and unknown, and the horror within man himself. (The best horror films only imply or suggest the horror in subtle ways, rather than blatantly displaying it, i.e., Val Lewton's horror films.) In horror films, the irrational forces of chaos or horror invariably need to be defeated, and often these films end with a return to normalcy and victory over the monstrous.
The horror genre includes many subdivisions (or sub-genres). We could discuss slasher films, psychological horror or gothic horror cinema and identify horror convention in all of them. Sub genres and hybrid forms (films that merge more than one film genre e.g. Alien which may be considered to be a hybrid of science fiction and horror) take conventions and utilise in a way that may be amended, subverted or self-consciously commented upon.
Wes Craven’s Scream provides an example of the slasher format, but also offers commentary on the construction and consumption of the horror film
CLASSIC CONVENTIONS OF HORROR
The classic conventions of the horror film include: the final girl, a frightening place, brooding or ominous mise-en-scene , narratives that move from equilibrium to disturbance and back to a new equilibrium (Todorov), a monstrous human/monster, themes of death and destruction, iconography such as knives and masks, and a disorientation/disturbance of the audience
In Scream these conventions are employed literally and at the same time self-consciously. The dialogue of the film includes detailed descriptions of the mechanics and effects of the horror film
THE FINAL GIRL
Sydney (played by Neve Campbell) fulfils the role of the final girl. Characters are being killed all around her and she is left at the end of the film having to confront the killers. This confrontation allows her to discover the true identities of the killers and find out the truth about her own mother’s murder. The final girl re-establishes order by confronting her own past traumas and fears.
THE FRIGHTENING PLACE
In Scream the frightening place is not a gothic castle or an isolated house, but the domestic home. From the first killing of Casey Becker in her middle-class suburban home, we realise that the place we would naturally consider to be safe is, in fact, not.
Part of the threat and fear generated in this film is concerned with the invasion of the familial and domestic. These killers attack in the home, thus making the invasion that much more intimate
The opening scene of Casey Becker’s killing also provides examples of the ominous mise-en-scene characteristic of a horror film. She often moves around the house lit by lamps which provide pockets of light and shadow.
The darkened spaces are frightening for both Casey and the viewer because they provide places for a killer to hide
The lack of illumination in the scene is both literal and symbolic – neither Casey nor we know what lurks in the darkness. When Casey looks out of the window the mist over the pool also provides an example of disorientating mise-en-scene
Scream follows the equilibrium – disturbance – new equilibrium pattern of most horror films. The killing of Casey breaks the peace of the small town, and chaos ensues as other characters become victims the mid-section of the film charts the successive killings and the inability of the local police to solve the crime. It is only with the final confrontation scene that peace is reinstated.
The monsters in Scream are, of course the killers who bring chaos and death into the world of the film. What is interesting about Wes Craven’s version of this convention, is that they are not damaged victims who kill for their own pain. (this could be argued)
These are bored teenagers with little or no motive (at one point in the film Randy comment on the horror genre, proclaiming, ‘This is the millennium. Motives are incidental’), and for may viewers this is a far more frightening creation.
THEMES OF DEATH AND DESCTRUCTION
Death and destruction are what the killers inflict upon the world of the film, but in Scream we are made to look further into this theme. We are also asked the question: Within a media saturated environment where we are bombarded with images of death and pain, are we becoming desensitized to the reality of killing?
Scream includes many classic icons of horror. We see knives and a mask in the opening sequence and these are used throughout the film to signify the killers. Knives are intimate violent weapons. The killers must attack from close quarters and often stabs many times, heightening the fear and pain of the victim
Horror films use disguise as a means of disorientating the viewer and obscuring the killer’s identity until the end of the film
The position of the audience is important to the effectiveness of the horror genre. Often we are placed within a scene, and Scream includes many scenes in which we are positioned as Casey Becker or Sydney, waiting for the attack. This subjective (or point of view) camera work force us to enter a scene of a film and experience the character's fear. The dangerous situations we are sometimes forced to experience make the pleasure of the film’s final peace and safety even more palpable
SO WHY IS IT POST MODERN?
Horror films often have a knowledgeable audience who are aware of horror conventions and have certain expectations of the genre. Scream is a film which clearly acknowledges that its audience will have seen previous horror films. It invites us to comment on the predictability of the genre and at the same time offers us a new, elf-conscious, at times humorous, but nonetheless frightening example of the horror film
WHAT IS POSTMODERNISM?
A currently popular (I hesitate to say fashionable although intellectuals do have fashions) intellectual concept. It is used as a way of grouping and describing the styles of thought and culture attracting most critical attention during the final few decades of the twentieth century. It is sometimes affectionately referred to as 'pomo' by people with beards. 'Postmodernist thought' has caused a revolution across all academic disciplines, from Physics to English via Geography. Postmodernism offers a different way of both constructing and deconstructing ideas.
…in layman's terms!
POSTMODERN THEORY and practice emphasises ‘borrowing’ from previous works – mixing ‘high’ or ‘low’ art forms.
POSTMODERNISM is to do with non-conformity but having something to say within that show of non-conformity – punk rocker were once post-modern!
HOW DO I RECOGNISE IT?
Post-modern texts deliberately play with meaning. They are designed to be read by a literate (i.e. experienced in other texts) audience and will exhibit many traits of intertextuality. Many of the sophisticated visual puns used by advertising can be described as post-modern. Post-modern texts will employ a range of referential techniques such as bricolage, and will use images and ideas in a way that is entirely alien to their original function (e.g. using footage of Nazi war crimes in a pop video).
…BACK TO SCREAM
The key codes and conventions of the horror genre have famously been canonised in Scream (1996) , Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000). The Scream trilogy and it’s followers, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scary Movie (2000) delighted in self-conscious intertextual references to Halloween (1979) and Friday the 13 th (1980).
This delight was shared by audiences, who recognised these references; if they did not, the characters obligingly spelt them out for them!
Scream 1, 2, and 3 also spelt out the codes and conventions or the ‘rules’, of horror movies. Their self-reflexivity, together with their intertextuality, were two playfully post-modern aspects of the films’ success
At the time when Scream came out horror was a well worn genre. Audiences were getting bored of the horror formula. Wes Craven alleviated this with his post-modern twist on the horror genre.