Scream

on December 20, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   "I can't take any more of this," said one terrified young woman early on in Miramax's Showeast screening of "Scream," exiting her seat and leaving her more stalwart friends behind in the Xanadu theatre. Deciding to paper the house to fill seats at the late show not taken by tired and too-old-for-the-genre-anyway exhibitors, the savvy marketers at Miramax had recruited the perfect audience for this latest horror/comedy from Wes Craven: local college kids from the Atlantic City area, eager for a midnight blast. Which "Scream" provided them to goodly extent.
   Although Kevin Williamson's script for this Dimension release--which tells the story of the efforts of a female teenager ("The Craft's" Neve Campbell) to evade the bloody fates of various schoolmates when serial killings being to ravage their quiet California town--doesn't make for classic horror fare, it provides enough bounces, chills and chuckles to entertain its target moviegoers. Although being sold almost as a satire of the genre's usual rules ("don't answer the door," "don't have sex," "don't go back in the house"), the spoofing appears only intermittently throughout the narrative, giving the film a fractured quality; do they mean it, or not?
   Indeed, "Scream's" most effective scenes are those involving the most dire peril, as when one young lovely asks a malevolent male phone caller "What do you want?" and is answered with "To see what your insides look like." (Regardless of line reading, there could never be any yucks there.) Cast members, even the most temporary, do a good job during all the screaming, scramming and slaughtering; although she's a goner early, Drew Barrymore plays an important role by getting matters off to proper hysterics, and Courteney Cox (one of TV's uber-"Friends") provides a possible crossover draw for tube-prone youth audiences. (And Cox in the process does fine against-type work as a sleazy tabloid reporter.)
   Nonetheless, young male slasher aficionados are the most likely demo here, meaning a big first weekend with little staying power post-holiday. That scenario might be exacerbated by Miramax's decision (believing the promotional pluses would outweigh the exhibition negatives) to premiere "Scream" two weeks early via Network Event Theatre, which debuted the film on Dec. 4 via satellite-linked theatres on college campuses representing a total potential student universe of 650,000. Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich and Drew Barrymore. Directed by Wes Craven. Written by Kevin Williamson. Produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad. A Miramax release. Horror/comedy. Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language. Running time: 111 min. Opens 12/20 wide
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