WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: When a masked killer starts scything people down, Cindy Campbell and her friends can’t help but link the killings to an accident they caused the previous Hallowe’en*. As the group around Cindy is whittled down – without, it appears, much assistance from the useless Police Department – the identity of the killer remains unclear. One thing’s for sure, though – the whole thing’s a scream.
If you had your movie-going ears to the ground in 1996 you would have known all about Scream, writer Kevin Williamson and Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven’s knowing slasher movie which brought horror films out of the doldrums with a post-ironic wink. The success of Scream and the following year’s I Know What You Did Last Summer (with a screenplay by Williamson) were always going to be spoofed – but how exactly do you parody something which is already a parody of something else? In the hands of the Wayans brothers the answer is simple: Go crass.
Since the plot is a fairly straight amalgam of the two films mentioned above, right down to Carmen Electra’s ‘Drew’ being menaced in her kitchen, I won’t linger too long on it; but Scary Movie essentially revolves around Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris), a virginal young woman with an impatient boyfriend in Bobby (Jon Abrahams), both of whom are keepers of a terrible secret. Together with their friends Brenda (Regina Hall, shouty and in yo’ face) and Ray (Shawn Wayans, hopelessly hiding his preference for men), and Buffy (Shannon Elizabeth, slutty) and Greg (Lochlyn Munro, jockish), they killed a man the previous year and are convinced that he – as the masked killer who bumped off Drew – is coming to get them.
Their theory is proved right when Greg is killed, but those in authority don’t seem to care: Buffy’s brother, cretinous police officer ‘Doofy’ (Davie Sheridan) is too busy attending to reporter Gail Hailstorm (Cheri Oteri), who will do anything to get the lowdown on the story. As the body count piles up, the nightmare culminates in a house party where Bobby seeks relief from his sexual frustration and the killer, while always on the prowl, is waylaid by Brenda’s clueless pothead brother Shorty (Marlon Wayans).
Unless you have never seen a spoof movie before, you hardly need me to tell you what happens in these films: a scene is set up much like it is in the original, then something is done, or said, that sends the scene spinning out of control to comic effect. The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team, responsible for The Naked Gun etc, traditionally go for sight gags and deadpan misunderstandings, cramming the jokes in at such a rate that you miss the lame gags because you’re still laughing at the good ones; the Wayan brothers, in contrast, have chosen to push at the boundaries of taste, driving every single action towards a joke about sex, drugs or race.
On one hand, their outrageousness is liberating – there’s a good movie trailer for Amistad II, for example – and makes the film a satisfyingly naughty experience for teenage viewers; but Scary Movie’s comedy is a very blunt tool and if you choose to be offended, there’s a lot to be unhappy about, particularly the unpleasant paranoia about homosexuality and the offensive portrayal of Doofy.
In more general terms, the film is far too self-conscious and referential about the thing it’s parodying, naming Scream itself on several occasions; and while Scary Movie does manage to restrain itself largely to a single plot (unlike some of its dire sequels), things start to get tiresome and unfocused around the hour mark with Cindy and Bobby’s long-winded sexual encounter and the bafflingly random Matrix parody that follows it.
Performances are largely adequate, especially that of Faris, though whilst I am generally disturbed by the “hilarious” violence heaped on the women in this movie Brenda’s death was actually delayed far too long. I am also grateful that in this film the cameo count is low, more or less restricted to a smart blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from James Van Der Beek.
I didn’t really enjoy Scream so it’s perhaps little wonder that Scary Movie isn’t exactly my thing. Even so, it made me laugh a couple of times and the sight of Carmen Electra beating seven bells out of trick and treaters warmed my heart. Only to be avoided if you’re easily offended, unlike Scary Movies 2 and 4 which by anyone’s standards are terrifyingly poor.
NOTES: Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve and – when I was growing up, at least – had an apostrophe in it. I’m not going to change now, no matter what the so-called “spell-check” may say.