Wes Craven’s Scream premiered in December 1996, one day after I turned 16. For those who know me, horror is not my primary genre. Before I knew it had a name (hypnagogia), I would see things in the dark — forms, shapes, sometimes actual things — which made the temptation to watch horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Halloween (1978), Poltergeist (1982), and The Exorcist (1973) an automatic no-go. If not for the hilarity of Army of Darkness (1992), I wouldn’t have explored the Evil Dead series at all. Yet, then-first-time writer Kevin Williamson’s (The Faculty; I Know What You Did Last Summer) meta-narrative approach pulled me in to the point where I was encouraged to see Scream in theaters. Even now, writing this to the tunes of the original CD soundtrack (sup, Nick Cave!), the thrills and chills of that first theatrical watch remain with me, so much so that revisiting the film in the 25th anniversary release reminds me of just how this miraculous film resulted in me, a noted chicken, seeing the first three films in the horror series in theaters and now gleefully await the upcoming release of the fifth film, 2022’s identically titled Scream. Both a monument to the film that started it all and a tease for what’s to come, Paramount Home Entertainment offers this game-changing horror classic in 4K UHD for the first time. Is it worth it? Read on to find out.
For those unfamiliar, Scream centers on the town of Woodsboro, and a series of seemingly unconnected murders among the teens who attend Woodsboro High. After the first murder of teen Casey (Drew Barrymore), local teen Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) gains the focus of the figure called Ghostface, who attempts, on several occasions, to kill her. Still shaken by the murder of her mother one year before, Sidney seems like she’d be an easy target, but thanks to her knowledge of horror films, she manages to remain one step ahead of Ghostface. That is, until the allure of attending a party held by her friend Stuart (Matthew Lillard) draws her out into the open, along with friends Tatum (Rose McGowan), film nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy), and her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), who believe there is safety in numbers. But when the killer wears a mask, threats can come from everywhere and danger is omnipresent.
I am a movie nerd. I don’t know everything, but I learn as much as I can. I took film classes, but never went to film school. I am also hyper-aware of my own sensitivities, so watching films which come with the promise of gore are difficult for me to bear. There’s nothing wrong with this and anyone who says otherwise can just be ignored. There’s room enough for everyone, even chickens like me. In a weird way, Scream became a gateway to investigate other films within the horror genre, to know something about them before watching so that the surprise wouldn’t induce my stomach knots. Rather, I could focus on the story, performances, or effects. Yet, thanks to an equally compelling concept and approach, I also found myself irresistibly drawn to see this series through with sequel after sequel. Do people have their favorites? Absolutely. But there’s no denying the solid tether that links them all, especially in the original three, so that a story is crafted not out of supernatural elements or good vs. evil tropes, but of untreated pain that all begins with Maureen Prescott (the specter of the series starting with the original release). Discussed in the only new bonus feature, “A Bloody Legacy: Scream 25 Years Later,” itself a bit of a Scream (2022) promo more than anything, is how the mask itself was literally purchased in a Halloween store after being stumbled upon. It’s purely accidental that it became the face of an iconic killer, but, at the same time, it’s morphed into the perfect metaphor for a faceless monster hunting you: the past. It may not be your past, it could be someone else’s, but, when pain has been inflicted, a wound forms in need of healing. As we learn through the series, unaddressed pain put upon Maureen in her youth leads not only to pain in her life but unto her children and all they know. Michael Myers is always Michael, Freddy Kruger is always Freddy, Jason Voorhees (starting with Friday the 13th Part 2) is always Jason, but Ghostface is never the same person in each film. They, instead, come to represent something hidden, something dark, and in need of release. It’s absolutely fucking beautiful and the main reason that I keep coming back to this series. Where I’ve heard other series have gone off the rails (Freddy became a jokester; Michael turned supernatural), the Scream films have remained focused on the characters, pushing them, evolving them, and, sure, they follow the rules of horror film sequels, but they constantly do it in surprising ways (tell me that Scream 4 cold open doesn’t perfectly blend the old with the new, I dare you). What other series would have you actually mourn the loss of a side character like Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber)? That would have you root for someone as narcissistic as reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox)? Or continue to be surprised by the resiliency of now-Sherriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette)?
For those hoping for new insights, only “A Bloody Legacy” is new and all the rest of the bonus features appear to be previously released content. Considering that we have, at the time of this writing, about two months before the release of the fifth entry, there’s a strong likely hood that there’s a whole generation of folks who’ve never seen the original, so no new material is going to be fine. For those of us, however, who had to purchase an import Blu-ray set in order to get the four Scream films in one package (it me), having something more than a 7:29 minute featurette would’ve been appreciated.
While the bonus materials might disappoint old fans, the remaster will not. Scream is upgraded with HDR only and not Dolby Atmos, but the Dolby Audio mix still sounds crystal clear in a modern home theater set-up. Though the opening titles are stunted by time (the font and format are a product of the technological restraints of the era), the opening sequence remains one of the most startling moments in cinema. With 4K UHD, there’s greater detail awareness in poor Casey’s outfit, as well as more shine in Ghostface’s (never noticed how often it sparkles just a bit). The red of the blood is a tad deeper compared to my Blu-ray and the sound offers a touch more spatial awareness. The scene in the video store between Randy, Stuart, and Billy does appear a bit more faded in the daylight, however, each of the nighttime sequences feel extra dark and spooky. Maybe it’s time playing tricks on me, but the panels of Stuart’s house didn’t seem quite so chocolate brown before. Perhaps because the production design and art direction appear to keep the colors muted a bit, it was strange to suddenly notice the vibrancy of the wood paneling. All in all, it’s a solid video remaster.
If you’re thinking of picking up the 25th anniversary edition, keep in mind that you can choose from the usual DVD, Blu-ray, and now 4K options, but there’s also a special edition steelbook, available from select retailers.
With the release of Scream (1996) on 4K, now we wait to see if the rest of the series receives similar treatment. I may hold the first three in higher regard than the most recent released film (Scream 4), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the whole series on my shelf. So bring it on, Paramount. Rules are rules. You release one, release them all.
Scream 25th Anniversary Special Features:
- *New* A Bloody Legacy: Scream 25 Years Later (7:29)
- Audio commentary by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson
- Production featurette
- Behind the Scenes
- On the Scream Set
- Drew Barrymore
- Q&A with Cast and Crew
- What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie?
- Why are People so Fascinated by Horror Films?
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 19th, 2021.