Scream: Collector's Edition Review
Scream is a title that holds special significance for me. Four years ago, it was the film that first got me interested in horror movies. Viewing Scream at Halloween on Channel 4 ended up opening the doors for me to an impressive back catalogue of excellent horror movies. As such, I am prone to wax nostalgic about this film. Bear with me.
It took me a few viewings to realise that Scream is in fact satirical. My discovery of this, from both the DVD audio commentary and from watching earlier horror movies, led me to respect this film even more. Particularly impressive is the fact that it can be watched either as a self-conscious satire of the horror genre or as a straight horror movie in its own right. Ultimately, Scream's greatest asset (its self-awareness) has ended up being the reason that so many people dislike it. An entire generation of self-conscious "post-modern" horror movies rides on the coat tails of Scream's success, with many people pointing to it as being responsible for the late 90s being oversaturated with knock-offs, much in the same way that Halloween in the 70s and Friday the 13th in the 80s paved the way for countless unimaginative imitations.
Scream tells a deceptively simple tale. A year ago, teenager Sidney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) mother was brutally raped and murdered. Now, with the supposed killer facing life imprisonment, a girl and her boyfriend are cruelly murdered. Their assailant now has his sights set on Sidney, and in his vicious phone calls he claims to have been her mother's killer. The killer is aware of horror movie clichés, which he mocks in the film's highly effective prologue. Unfortunately, Sidney is surrounded by friends who are also aware of horror convention, creating a tense situation where, to quote Randy (Jamie Kennedy), "everybody's a suspect".
The result of this is another of Scream's high points: a genuinely successful "whodunnit" mystery. Unlike the film's many imitators (and its two sequels), the killer's identity comes as a genuine surprise, but one that on second viewing is completely logical. The film also has no extraneous characters, whereas in the sequels many members of the cast are simply walking corpses, present for no reason other than to be killed.
The film's cast of (at the time) relative unknowns works a treat, especially Neve Campbell, who gives a subtle and believable performance as Sidney. David Arquette is well-cast as the bumbling deputy cop Dewey, and although I am not a fan of Courteney Cox, she works wonders in her role as trashy tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (although some of her more hysterical moments come across as overly melodramatic). Jamie Kennedy (who has gone on to establish a part-time career as a TV stand-up comedian) is a treat as Randy, the most horror-literate character in the movie. The standout for me, however, is Rose McGowan, whose hormone-charged, alluring performance leads to an over-the-top yet strangely likeable character in Sidney's best friend Tatum.
One slightly weak link is Matthew Lillard (Stu), who comes across as somewhat annoying at times. That said, given that the role was at one point meant to have gone to Freddie Prinze Jr., we should perhaps be thankful for small mercies.
Directed by Wes Craven (of A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Last House on the Left fame), the film has a dark, forboding atmosphere that never lets up. Even with the lavish coatings of referential humour (mostly coming from the dialogue written by self-confessed horror fanboy Kevin Williamson), the tension never lets up. The movie is well-paced and never becomes tedious, even in its more serene moments.
Ultimately, Scream has found itself with a great deal of enemies, largely due to the imitators it spawned. However, for this first outing at least, the blend of horror and self-aware satire works, and it is important to view Scream in its own right, rather than as the origin of the epidemic of unimaginative post-modern teen horror that followed it.
Addendum: It should be noted that this release of Scream is not the unrated director's cut, which includes approximately 30 seconds of additional gore removed from the film in order to obtain an R rating. If you are interested in obtaining the uncut version, you should seek out the Japanese or Danish DVDs, or the US laserdisc.
Scream is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with anamorphic enhancement.
This is the third version of Scream I have owned, having previously viewed both the Region 1 Collector's Series edition and the Region 2 Japanese director's cut. Apart from this Australian version and the Japanese disc, the only other edition available with an anamorphic transfer is the French release, which I have unfortunately not had the chance to view.
Compared to both the American and Japanese discs, the Australian version shows a good deal of additional detail, while not suffering from the excessive edge enhancement that plagued the US release. Although I have seen many DVDs with sharper transfers, the detail present here is certainly not to be sniffed at.
The colour and contrast levels are a little lower than I would have liked: not quite as rich as the other two versions. The night scenes espeically have a rather grey look to them.
The excessive moiré and shimmering issues that plagued the other releases, especially the US one, are more or less a non-issue here. There a slight sawtooth effect in a couple of scenes featuring detailed surfaces, such as the opening shot of the school, but compared to the problems on past releases, these are relative non-issues.
Compression artifacts are not a problem, with a generous average bit rate of 7.13 Mbps, compared with 4.99 Mbps on the US disc.
This is certainly the best Scream has looked on DVD, with the improvements in detail and image stability far outweighing the comparatively minor problem of having slightly lower colour and contrast levels.
One of the most attractive features that this Australian release offers is the inclusion of a DTS 5.1 track (in addition to the standard Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks). The only other release of Scream to include DTS is the French DVD from Film Office.
Scream benefits a good deal from DTS, especially during the tense chase sequences, where Marco Beltrami's score pounds out from the rears. Although Scream doesn't make much use of particularly noticeable or unusual surround effects, it is an enveloping mix with a lot of volume. I do, however, feel that all the tracks have a slightly tinny feel to them. This is true of all the versions of Scream I have owned, suggesting that this is a problem with the original recording rather than the encoding on this DVD.
I should probably point out that, irritatingly, no subtitles are provided in any language. Although not necessarily a huge problem for most English speakers, the deaf and hard of hearing should take heed.
The menu is nicely designed, featuring randomised excerpts from the movie that are nicely timed to score and songs from the movie. Although the opening transition is a little long and unfortunately cannot be skipped, the menus are otherwise attractive and functional.
Packaging is an area where I feel a lot of Australian DVDs are a let-down, and this is no exception. The back cover is quite bland, and includes a number of spelling mistakes (for example, it spells "scary" as "scarey"). The front cover, however, is quite nice, eschewing the standard "floating heads" theatrical poster design and going instead for the striking image of a large eye.
This new "Collector's Edition" greatly improves upon the previous Australian release, although compared with the likes of the US and UK special edition releases, it may not seem dramatically different.
Audio commentary - Director Wes Craven is joined by screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and together, they give an informative overview of the production process. This commentary was originally recorded for the uncut US laserdisc, but it has been slightly re-edited to fit into the running time of the censored release. What makes this seem doubly ridiculous is the fact that Craven and Williamson make reference to what was deleted, with comments like "this shot is missing from the R-rated cut". Given that this is the R-rated cut, these interjections don't make much sense. That said, it is an extremely interesting commentary, made all the more amusing when you bear in mind that this is pre-fame Williamson, so he comes across more as a fan than an industry professional.
Behind the scenes featurette - This ten-minute featurette is exactly what it says and nothing more: a whole lot of material recorded during the filming of Scream.
Director's comments - In this three-minute interview, Wes Craven talks about the idea behind the movie, the concept of gore, and the troubles of balancing horror and comedy. This is an interesting but woefully short look at Craven's opinions, segments of which have previously been available on the US and UK DVDs.
Outtakes - This collection of bloopers runs for about four minutes, and was also included on the extra features disc of the US Ultimate Scream Collection box set. The picture quality is poor, sourced from a low resolution editing system.
Trailer - This is the standard G-rated US theatrical trailer (as opposed to the slightly more gory R-rated version featured on the US DVD), presented in non-anamorphic 1.33:1.
Behind the Scream - This 30-minute long documentary also appears on the bonus features disc of the US box set. It is a reasonably informative but relatively lightweight look at the Scream trilogy, with input from the majority of the main participants, including Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, editor Patrick Lussier, producers Marianne Madalena and Cathy Konrad, and various members of the cast. After the audio commentary, this is probably the most worthwhile feature. It is definitely worth pointing out, though, that it includes massive spoilers for all three films, including the identity of the killer(s) in each movie, so it should be viewed with extreme caution. When I bought the US box set, I made the mistake of watching this documentary before viewing Scream 2 and 3, and ended up completely ruining any suspense they generated.
Cast interviews - A collection of separate interviews with Drew Barrymore, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich and Neve Campbell, most of whom seem to be talking about Wes Craven and what it's like to work with him. However, the questions they were asked are not provided, resulting in their responses being quite ambiguous.
These special features clock in more running time than any other release of Scream. That said, I still feel that they are neither lengthy nor comprehensive enough to be worthy of the tag "collector's edition".
Although far from a perfect release, this is the best available version of the R-rated cut of Scream. At this moment in time, it is impossible to obtain an unedited version of the movie that includes a decent array of special features, so unless you are willing to buy more than one version of the film, it ends up being a choice between having the film uncut, and having a release with good image quality, audio options and special features. This release is the latter.