Wes Craven really needs no introduction, right? He's directed some of the most notable horror films of all time, such as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Not only that, but he's responsible for the creation of who's arguably the most notable horror icon of all time - Fred Krueger. Yep, with making us fear every bump in the night for nearly four decades now, it's safe to say that Mr. Craven certainly has some authority to satirize the very genre he helped to define. Of course, the ideas he implemented 'way back when' inevitably grew stale. Numerous horror franchises that were once frightfully original, transformed themselves into tired, formulaic jokes. Horror films used to be about sitting in a dark room with your significant other, snuggling close together when the suspense in the air was palpable, letting the fear induced adrenaline allow teenage boys everywhere to get their grope on. Now? Groups of friends get together to see the latest gore-fest, fully anticipating to laugh their asses off the entire way through. There's something definitely wrong with that picture, don't you think? Fortunately, Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson felt the same way, and set out to make a slasher flick that delivered genuine chills, while destroying all the 'by the numbers' conventions that plagued the genre throughout the 80's. The end result was Scream, and after a long history of unimpressive home video treatment, it's finally made its way to Blu-ray.
Sidney Prescott isn't your typical hometown girl... at least, not anymore. She's been trying to cope with the brutal rape and murder of her mother for almost a year now, but the town of Woodsboro just isn't willing to let her move on. It's a small town where hardly anything of interest ever happens, so it didn't even take a heartbeat's notice for a small time reporter, Gale Weathers, to start spreading tabloid propaganda about Sid's mom. More or less, she pegged Mrs. Prescott as the town bicycle that everyone got a chance to ride, and unfortunately, this ongoing story has made it very difficult for Sidney to find peace with the biggest tragedy she's ever had to face. Not that you can blame the poor girl, what with her mom's good name and reputation constantly being soured and all. To top things off, her father is always away on business, and she's catching some flak from her boyfriend for being intimately distant. Sid's nightmare is about to get worse however, as a killer in a generic five-and-dime Ghostface costume has gutted two of her classmates. It isn't long before Sid realizes that the timing of the latest deaths in Woodsboro (leading up to the one year anniversary of her mother's death) isn't a coincidence. After being put into protective custody by local Deputy Dewey, everyone close to Sidney starts dropping like flies, making it painfully clear that she's at the center of the killer's murderous rampage. Finding the killer will unfortunately be no easy feat however, as everyone is seemingly a suspect.
Granted that on the surface, the plot doesn't sound all that interesting. That being said, the plot's implementation in Scream is what really allowed Wes Craven to once again change the face of the genre. Unlike any horror film before its time, the characters in Scream are completely self aware. That is, thanks to the Ghostface killer pretending like he's the star in some slasher flick, everyone knows they're playing by the rules of a horror movie - If you don't want to die, don't say something to foreshadow your own demise like 'I'll be right back', don't drink or do drugs, and above all else, you better hope to God that you're a virgin. Of course, despite the fact everyone is actually aware of the 'horror movie as life' analogy at play, most people dismiss the genre clichés that could potentially save their lives, and inevitably end up meeting their maker anyway. Now, I'm aware there are some wise guys out there that are going to say something like, "Well, that's still just people dying because they're stupid. They know the rules, and still turn into toast. How's that different than any other horror flick I've ever seen?" Well, in my mind, there's absolutely no question that Scream was original and actually took real life into consideration. I mean, think about it - If you were to receive a phone call from someone who could potentially be a serial killer, and they let you know that they're hiding somewhere on the premises, are you going to whip out a little notebook that tells you what genre clichés to avoid? No, you're going to be thinking on your feet with the little time you're actually given to be able to do so. Perhaps the most logical choices for escape just isn't an option, such as running out the front door and calling for help, and Craven and Williamson acknowledge that in Scream. By taking the bold step to oftentimes put the main characters in the very situations they're attempting to satire, they send a message to filmmakers - The tricks that audiences have seen time and time again can be just as effective today as they were decades ago... you just need a fresh idea to back their play. Otherwise, the gasps and shrieks the audience is intended to share, will end up sounding more like a laugh track instead. If Scream turned out to be a complete misfire, such an outspoken message could have made these guys the laughingstock of Hollywood. Fortunately, Scream was a success in every perceivable way, due largely to the fact that their method of storytelling solely allowed the character interaction to provide the laughs and guffaws, whereas the scenes meant to provide the thrills and chills were actually, you know... scary.
So, without question, Craven and Williamson revitalized the horror scene with this film. Not only because it was actually able to deliver legitimate scares and keep the audience guessing who the killer was until the very end, but because it's genuinely entertaining throughout its entirety to boot. The comic relief never overpowers the elements of suspense and mystery, and never comes across feeling forced. It's also fun to be able to catch all the wink-and-nod references to the horror films of ole, be it through Ghostface's horror trivia challenge, seeing Wes Craven make a cameo as a school janitor that's dressed like Freddy Krueger, or even seeing Linda Blair make an appearance as a reporter. The only real drawback this movie has, is the influence it's left on Hollywood. Thanks to Scream's success, there have been countless clones and frighteningly unfunny parodies that have flooded the market over the years. Obviously, the bigwigs in Hollywood missed the point that Scream was trying to make entirely.
Anyway, there's probably little reason or rhyme in my continuing to sell this movie to you. Most of you have already seen this flick, and don't need my help in deciding if it's worthy enough to command your attention for (another) two hours of your life. If you've never taken the opportunity to watch Scream anytime in the mid-to-late 90's, I kind of feel bad for you. The issues that Scream was trying to tackle are still pretty relevant today, if you're a fan of all the old school horror films, that is. That being said, I feel the film's message has lost some of its potency after 15 long years, but that could just be because I've seen Scream more times than I care to try and recall. Don't let this sway you from experiencing one of the better horror films of the last 20 years though. You'd be doing yourself a disservice, to say the least.
This is undoubtedly the part of the review that most of you are here to read anyway, right? Right. So, let's get to it.
Scream slashes its way to Blu-ray with a 1080p, AVC encoded presentation (2.35:1). Needless to say, there's already been a lot of debate on the internet over some ill looking screen caps. The main question that most of you are looking to have answered here, is, "Are those screen caps an accurate representation of what Scream is going to look like in motion?" In short, the answer is yes and no.
The screens online show a picture that's plagued with compression issues, evidenced by what appears to be mini macroblocking patterns on pretty much every frame that reviews and HD enthusiasts alike have provided. Not only that, but some edge enhancement was also easily seen in the shots provided, indicating to me that the transfer that Lionsgate was using, was most likely an old one that was whipped up for the previous, non-anamorphic DVD. So, I guess I'll start off by responding to these concerns immediately.
Yes, there's some compression issues and yes, there's definitely some edge enhancement that's been sprinkled throughout. Fortunately for us however, those still shots posted online do not tell the entire story about the film's picture quality as a whole once it's in motion. The ugly clumps of mini-blocking (did I just coin a term there?) never appear as 'blocks' in motion. Instead, they make the grain structure, which fortunately is very much intact for this release, look a little noisy. Yep, the grain does look a little unnatural as a result of this, looking more digital than anything, but honestly, I've seen worse... a lot worse. Although a natural grain structure has been somewhat compromised by this, at least the compression issues aren't bad enough to actually look blocky after hitting the 'Play' button. And as far as seeing worse in my time goes, the same can be said about the amount of edge enhancement that's on display as well. It can be seen throughout most of the film, but more often than not, the effect is pretty minimal overall. If I had to make a comparison to another poor Blu-ray release that exhibited horrid amounts of EE, I guess I'd say that Scream is no Gladiator (when compared to the original release of Gladiator, obviously). So, have the internet 'screenshot scientists' made a mountain out of a mole hill in regards to what they were seeing based on a transfer they've not yet seen in motion as of yet? The answer is mostly yes, but let me be clear - At this stage of the game, this is still an inexcusable practice for any modern Blu-ray release. But, let me talk about the rest of the picture quality before I give you the rest of my generalized synopsis.
On the brighter side of things, contrast and black levels are pretty solid throughout. There are some occasions where blacks can look, oh, less than inky, but I'm going to peg this on the way the film was shot or tweaked in post-production, and not on the transfer that's been put on this Blu-ray. But, a majority of the film does have some pretty excellent contrast and the black levels to back it up. As a result, a nice amount of detail is able to be seen most of the time. 'Nice' being the operative word there, because although I was surprised with how much detail I was able to see most of the time (especially after reading through some of the transfer bashing that's been taking place on forums everywhere), I never saw anything I could describe as jaw-dropping. This is most certainly the most detail Scream has ever seen on home video, and unfortunately, probably the most we'll ever see on any format. Scream has a little bit of softness in its image throughout the entirety of the picture, something that most likely can be attributed to the director's intent and not on the transfer itself. The softness is minimal overall, but it affects the picture enough to keep things from looking pristine at any given moment. Probably the most notable achievement in this transfer though, is the level of color saturation. It's vivid and lifelike, and colors never bleed or look over-saturated.
All in all, people online really need to take a deep breath, take a look in the mirror, and say this to themselves over and over again - "Screenshots are good reference tools, but never tell the entire story. I will rent any Blu-ray in question and then, and only then, make up my mind about the transfer." Granted, there are definitely some issues that are easy enough to pick out, be it from a screenshot or even while the film is in motion. This isn't top-tier high-def material, for sure, but I would still consider the upgrade over the old non-anamorphic DVD substantial enough to upgrade. With the increase in detail, color saturation, improved contrast and black levels, and yes, even an image that will now fill your entire screen, I really don't see how an upgrade wouldn't be worth it. If you feel strongly enough about what you've seen after you've actually watched this release however, then here's the bottom line - Don't give Lionsgate your money. At this stage of the game, it's unacceptable for any studio to give us anything less than a true representation of what any given movie looked like theatrically. For my money though, I don't think the stink that's been raised over the release is entirely warranted. That is, not to the level that it's been raging at. Could Scream have looked a bit better? Absolutely. Is it bad enough to scoff at if you're a fan of the film? Not in my opinion. But, don't take my word for it though. Rent this for yourself before making up your mind. After all, I'm just a single man with one opinion.
If you decide the video transfer isn't worthy enough for an upgrade in your collection, than the audio most certainly is. Based on the fact that the video is seemingly taken from an old transfer, I was expecting the lossless track to sound like a top-tier DVD, rather than something that's actually worthy of utilizing a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. But, to my surprise, Ghostface's voice has never sounded more menacing, the sound effects never more frightening, and mix never more immersive. Sure, this isn't as immersive an experience as perhaps some of the modern high-budget horror films, but this is the best Scream is ever going to sound, guaranteed. The LFE was also a pleasant surprise from time to time, and really added to some of the more disturbing sound effects in the film. When you watch this film at night with the lights off, make sure you listen to it loud and proud, because the lossless track on this release got it right!
Audio Commentary by Director Wes Craven and Writer Kevin Williamson - This is an incredibly insightful commentary track, as Craven and Williamson reveal many of the film's subtleties that can actually reveal who's responsible for the Ghostface killings if you're paying close enough attention. They even get into the red herrings that were put in place to throw us off. Furthermore, these fellas get into the specifics of how they brought their talents together to bring their combined vision of Scream to the big screen. Both personalities behind the mic clearly love their work and it shows, as there's very little dead air throughout this commentary, thanks to an enthusiasm that keeps them bouncing back and forth off of each throughout the film's entirety. Any fan of the film should give this a listen.
Production Featurette - Really spends more time patting Scream on the back than being a real production featurette. I guess it's worth a viewing since it's pretty short and sweet, but overall, this doesn't really add anything to our behind-the-scenes experience.
Behind the Scenes - "On the Scream Set" and "Drew Barrymore" - Again, as behind-the-scenes supplements, these two featurettes are pretty worthless. It's basically just some standard behind-the-scenes footage done in a montage style.
Q&A With the Cast and Crew - More advertisement material it seems. Here, there are two questions that are asked to cast and crew alike - What Is your Favorite Scary Movie? and Why Are People So Fascinated By Horror Films? A few minutes are given to each segment, allowing the questions to be answered briefly. This pretty much rounds out the disappointing supplemental package.
Also included is the Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots. Missing from this set are the previously released Cast and Crew Bios, as well as the Special Effects Gallery.
Wes Craven helped to define the horror genre a long time ago, and after watching his and other horror masterminds' wonderful ideas turn into formulaic parody over the years, Craven teamed up with Williamson to revitalize the genre once again with Scream. Clever, funny, and most importantly, scary, Scream is one of the most memorable horror films to come our way in the last 20 years. Of course, you don't need me to tell you that, right? Nah. Didn't think so. The only real question is, did Scream get the high-def treatment it deserved this time around? The answer is unfortunately 'no'. Although the transfer isn't nearly as bad as some of the screenshot scientists out there would lead you to believe (since they've been judging this transfer solely on still screenshots), it certainly isn't without some issues that could have been corrected by creating a new transfer specifically for this Blu-ray release. With that being said, the video is still a substantial upgrade from the now ancient DVD. Unfortunately, the supplemental package is minimal at best, but the lossless audio track is pretty phenomenal. I'm rather reluctant to give this release a recommended rating. The film itself deserves higher, but the picture quality leaves a little to be desired, and Lionsgate even excluded some special features, albeit minor ones. For those of you on the fence in regards to the picture quality though, do yourself a favor and rent this Blu-ray first, and come to your own conclusion.
As an added note, this disc only contains the theatrical cut of the film. This may help some of you to make your decision as well.