‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’ For the past 25 years, many people’s answer would be Scream.
Ah, the slasher movie; horny, moronic and borderline celibate teens being picked off one-by-one by a masked killer. Silliness be damned, they’re often the foundation of moviegoers’ memories: Freddy Krueger’s claws dipping out of the bath and a young Johnny Depp being eaten by a bed; Michael Myers eerily standing among wafting sheets in the light of day; Jason Voorhees’ corpse leaping out of Crystal Lake.
Scream remains one of the most significant movies in my life. I watched it when I was just six years old, huddled under the covers with my brother and cousin. By the time Drew Barrymore’s entrails were drooping onto the moonlit grass, I was absolutely hysterical. I’d never seen anything so brutal and relentless.
Even today, I find her breathless, desperate ‘Mom…’ tremendously upsetting – but the movie’s only gotten better with age; sharper, funnier and the ultimate popcorn Scary Movie.
Warning: spoilers for the original Scream will follow…
Ahead of Scream‘s 25th anniversary and its re-release on 4K UHD and Blu-ray, I sat down with the Billy and Stu’s Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard, the gruesome twosome behind Woodsboro’s first spate of grisly murders; from Henry Winkler’s sleazy principal being sliced ‘n’ diced to Rose McGowan’s untimely garage door crumple.
Initially, the pair were amused by their first interview being with someone who wasn’t even around when the movie was released (I was born in 1997). ‘F*ck off, Cameron,’ they joked.
I recounted my floods of infant tears when I watched it way back when, and asked what their initial reactions were to seeing it in the theatre. ‘Wow… I can’t remember how I felt waking up this morning,’ Ulrich said. ‘That’s like asking what your first kiss was like… god, who remembers, Cameron? We’re almost 110 years old,’ Lillard added.
Both stars have remained friends over the years, lighting up horror conventions with their sparky chemistry and genuine appreciation for fans’ love. ‘It’s an incredible fan base. There’s definitely some committed fans, or should be committed [laughs]. It’s a rabid fan base for sure,’ Ulrich said.
‘That’s one of the great things about the franchise: the fans still love it, it still resonates with them, and it’s an authentic love for the movies. I know I’m saying it on behalf of Skeet and I, we’re both proud to be part of the original,’ Lillard also said.
Digging deep into the movie’s release, Ulrich’s biggest memory of that time – aside from making bucket hats popular, apparently – was taking his grandfather to see it. Not because he was hilariously abhorred by the violence, or was off-put by those meddling kids; he absolutely bloody loved it.
‘He wasn’t a theatre-goer. He was just blown away, so I really remember his reaction more than my own. He was so proud and just loved the film. I don’t remember what my personal reaction was, but his meant more anyway,’ he recalled.
For Lillard, the defining memory is something more general, but still poignant. ‘There’s a famous photo in the social media world of you, I and [Neve Campbell, who plays the movie’s ‘final girl’ Sidney Prescott] and the premiere. When I see that photo, it brings back all kinds of memories of that time in our lives. Looking back on 25 years ago, it was just such a monumental moment in all of our youths. It was part of our growing up.
‘But that moment… it’s so sort of symbolic of our youth, right? That’s where we grew up. We were young and ended up being part of a movie that became something special, but when we made it we didn’t think it’d be anything else other than another Wes Craven horror movie. Here we are 25 years later still celebrating it.’
The late, great Craven brought Kevin Williamson’s script to life in a way nobody else could have. Other directors were mooted, like Danny Boyle and Sam Raimi, but they leaned too heavily on its comedy, not seeing the defining scares within. The producers at Dimension Films knew Craven was the perfect fit.
Then again, it’s not like it was a sure thing. First off, the original title was bad: Scary Movie. Against Craven and Williamson’s wishes, this was changed to Scream and later used for the untouchable spoof, also from Dimension. The duo later admitted they were wrong, as Scream was not only eye-catching, but easily sequel-ised.
Secondly, Craven’s status as a horror icon was burdened by measly returns in the post-Krueger stage of his career, with the likes of Vampire in Brooklyn, Shocker and Deadly Friend.
In the end, Scream was a smash-hit; acclaimed by critics and a box-office giant at $173 million, bolstered by its teen appeal, iconic Ghostface mask – seriously, how many did you see growing up, especially with the fake blood hand-pump? – and one of horror’s sharpest scripts, even today. For example, the ‘certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie’.
The actors knew they were working on something great, but didn’t foresee its generation-spanning success. ‘I think, for me, I had no idea what it would become, but what we were doing felt really spot on as we were doing it. I think we were all kind of jazzed by each other and what we were bringing to it,’ Ulrich said.
‘You live and die by that as an actor – that’s the only thing you take home, that process of creating those moments. Then, you hand it over to directors, producers and studios and they make what they make of it. But the joy of doing it in the day, and seeing the people you’re doing scenes with doing things with it you could have never imagined. On my part, I was very proud of the work we were doing, and now shocked to see it’s resonated so long.’
Lillard agreed. ‘I don’t think anyone knew it would be this iconic film, but I think we all knew the script was great and the work on the day was engaged, energetic and fun. I think we were surprised by the overall success, but not in the moment.’
Scream 2 was greenlit off the back of a beaming test screening and sent into production while the first was still playing in cinemas, with the surviving cast – Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy and Liev Schreiber – and vast majority of the crew returning. Its success saw a third film, which was mostly panned, and a fourth film in 2011, which is often regarded as the best since the original.
Lillard was originally slated to reprise his role of Stu in Scream 3, having survived his face being crushed by a TV and orchestrating new murders on high school students from prison. In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, it was scrapped and re-written.
Next year, we’ll get the fifth instalment in the series, simply titled Scream. It’ll be the only movie not directed by Craven, who passed away in 2015. Williamson also didn’t pen the script, but returned as executive producer and gushingly praised the directing duo, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.
I asked the actors what their gut reaction was to hearing about another film without Craven’s involvement. ‘I don’t think I was excited about it, to be honest,’ Lillard said.
‘I hope the movie is great, and I know Neve respects the filmmakers and she believes in the film, which leads me to believe it’ll be an awesome and great experience. When Wes passed, I felt like that was a great opportunity to sort of change the trajectory of the franchise – but, that said, I love that Neve, David and Courteney are all still part of it, that makes me really happy. I have high hopes for the film and franchise going forward.’
Ulrich too remains hopeful. ‘I think it was sort of out of my wave length when it was back in it, and I wasn’t really sure what they were gonna do or how they were gonna do it, and I’m curious to see. I did get to see David recently and I know he’s jazzed on what they were doing, so I’m excited to see it.’
One thing remains certain: of all to don the Ghostface mask, none will ever eclipse Stu bloodily sobbing, ‘My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me.’ Thanks for the tears boys; they were worth it.
Scream is available on 4K UHD + Blu-ray and to download and keep from October 18. Scream (2022) will hit cinemas on January 14, 2022.
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