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Scream (1996) (4K Ultra HD)
"It all began with a scream over 911 and ended in a bloodbath that has rocked the town of Woodsboro." Reporter Gale Weathers' (Courtney Cox) final line in Scream is not totally accurate, as poor Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) never got the chance to call 911 in the memorable opening scene, which sets the stage for this wholly entertaining, self-aware horror film. The mid ‘90s did not find the horror genre in top form, save a few exceptions like From Dusk Till Dawn, Candyman, and director Wes Craven's own The People Under the Stairs. What makes Scream so good and so timeless is not that it was the first horror movie to successfully integrate comedic elements and self-awareness - hell, Craven did this in his New Nightmare two years earlier in 1994 - but that it does these things so well. The blend of Craven's direction, Kevin Williamson's writing, and the fantastic cast, which includes Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard and Rose McGowan, makes Scream a bloody success.
Back in December 1996, I was starring as Charlie Bradley in our community theater's production of Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." While ten-year-old me did not make it to the theater to see Scream, I will never forget hearing all the older, high-school castmates excitedly describing the film, particularly the opening scene with Barrymore. If for some reason you have not seen this film yet, spoilers ahead, but everyone was shocked Craven brought in an actress as famous as Barrymore, only to fillet and hang her from a tree within the first ten minutes. This opening cat-and-mouse chase, in which the masked killer tests Casey on her horror-film knowledge, is instantly recognizable for both genre and casual film fans. From these first moments, it is clear Craven is not afraid to frighten but that a playful energy hides just below the surface of Scream.
Among the many things the film gets right are the characters and their respective cast members. Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is a perfect, believable and complicated final girl. The daughter of a murder victim living with her father in Woodsboro, Sidney balances grief, school, friendship with Tatum Riley (McGowan) and a lustful boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). When Ghostface calls Sidney at home and references her mother Maureen, the film displays a willingness to wound its characters emotionally, too. After a harrowing, near-death run-in with the masked assailant, Sidney decides to spend the weekend with Tatum and her deputy brother Dewey (Arquette). Friends Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) are not exactly reverent toward their fallen classmates, and spend lunch cracking jokes at murdered Casey and boyfriend Steve's expense. As you're no doubt familiar, the majority of the second act takes place at a big party and sees Ghostface targeting guests as Dewey and Gale attempt to stop the killings. The kills are creative and often bloody, and the humor is strong, occasionally even veering into slapstick territory.
Trying to be too clever can get you in trouble, but Scream manages to walk right up to that line without ever falling into stupidity. Kennedy's video-store-clerk Randy is a fun guide to the rules of horror, and the film even mocks the idea that serial killers must have some deep-rooted motivation for their crimes. This is also the rare horror film where you care about some of the characters, particularly Sidney. The film scolds the fallen virgin, rewards the good guy cop, and lets its heroine make rational decisions. While I would have loved to see Scream in a crowded theater back in 1996 with an electric audience, I rented the film from Blockbuster Video soon after it came to home video and have seen it dozens of times since. Scream holds up remarkably well 25(!) years after its debut. Watching it again on 4K Ultra HD made me realize how much I miss director Craven, too. Not many filmmakers can deftly blend genre elements like Craven to such entertaining success. My genre buddies get it, but casual viewers often shortchange the horror genre and its talents. Scream brings back a lot of memories for me, and it certainly deserves its spot in popular culture.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
When Scre4m hit theaters a decade ago, Lionsgate released the first three films on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the old Blu-ray release for Scream offered a lousy transfer, obviously pulled from an old master and caked with edge haloes, noise reduction and black crush. I was pumped when Paramount announced it was going to be releasing Scream on 4K Ultra HD and would be remastering the film, too. I am pleased to report that this new 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer from the native 4K source, with Dolby Vision and HDR10, is a massive improvement over that dated HD release. This presentation is much, much more filmic, with a light, perfectly resolved layer of grain. Gone are the the numerous artifacts and edge halos of the previous disc, and in their place we get strong fine-object detail and texture. Although cinematographer Mark Irwin occasionally shoots in softer focus, the 4K image is still gorgeously detailed. Sure, this is not the absolute sharpest, insanely detailed 4K disc on the market, but it presents Scream as it was shot, which is fantastic. Close-ups reveal intimate facial features and wider shots are crisp and clear throughout. The HDR pass works well, too, and provides gorgeously saturated colors without overhyping or altering the film's appearance. Black levels are inky and shadow detail is abundant, which is another huge improvement over previous releases. I noticed no issues with compression artifacts or print damage.
The soundtrack does not appear to be new, but this recycled 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is certainly more than acceptable. Craven does not beat viewers over the head with audible singers or jump scares, but this mix certainly keeps up when the blood starts flowing. Dialogue is crisp and clear, whatever speaker it is delivered from, and the Marco Beltrami score and soundtrack selections are given appropriate weight. Ambient effects waft through the surrounds, and action-oriented scenes rumble the LFE and make use of the entire stage. There are no issues with crowding or distortion to report. Alternate soundtracks include German and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, and French, Italian, Japanese and Russian 2.0 Dolby Digital mixes. There are also a ton of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in an attractive slipcover. A digital copy is included. Extras include a Commentary by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson; A Bloody Legacy: Scream 25 Years Later (7:29/HD), a new featurette that also highlights the upcoming sequel; Production Featurette (6:12/SD); Behind the Scenes: On the Scream Set (3:25/SD); Behind the Scenes: Drew Barrymore (2:53/HD); Q&A with Cast and Crew: What's Your Favorite Scary Movie? (2:44/SD); and Q&A with Cast and Crew: Why are People so Fascinated by Horror Films? (2:31/SD). It goes without saying that Scream could absolutely benefit from a boutique studio completing a better set of extras or production documentary, as these are not particularly informative.
It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since the release of Wes Craven's Scream, one of the best horror films to ever successfully weave self-aware humor into its bloody thrills. Paramount's new 4K Ultra HD release offers an excellent remastered transfer, solid audio and a few bonus features. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.