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The genius of it is unparalleled. Arguably this was Wes Craven's true masterpiece even beyond that of A Nightmare on Elm Street. We've seen satires or parodies before at length (Scary Movie, anyone?), but when Scream was released, not only did it seem to "satirize" an entire genre, but it took the satire and actually made it part of the plot itself.
That, and, of course, it gave rise to the classic "comedic" horror film.
Something that Craven dabbled just a bit with in his Freddy Krueger flicks, he took it to the next level with Scream, overtly centering the idea of laughs as a premise to go with the scares, the gore, and the fear. Because fear shouldn't simply stand all on its own (even though it truly can).... Fear is the movie popcorn; laughs are the butter and seasoning to go with it.
It was easy getting some laughs in with the script, because it took the entire cheesy horror film genre and turned it into an actual vehicle to support the story. We were able to laugh at the entire thing, because it was about the very thing the film was about and what the film was—a cheesy horror film about, well, cheesy horror films.
In a way.... it validated the film and propelled it as something more than just tasteless entertainment, but a deep look into pop culture and how some of the most saturated and simple models for the horror genre can be examined with such exactness.
'Scream' made it possible to expect EVERY scene to happen and know that the expectation WAS the entire point of the film.
You know what we're talking about here: everyone rolls the eyes when the suspecting lead character gets into a situation where he or she feels compelled to walk into that dark basement after hearing some weird mysterious sound.... "Don't go there, please, oh, man, you're so dumb." It's part of what makes one of those cheesy horror films so unabashedly bad.
Scream was overt about it. It made fun of it. That allowed you to make fun of those scenes (because it employed it as well) while appreciating the whole point of it.
The serial killer Ghostface was murdered simply for the sake of making fun of those cheesy horror lines, films, scenes, and all the necessary and familiar tropes we've come to expect. Pure. Genius.
Heck, we even got an educational course of what makes a horror scene and plot line so evidently and rigidly structured when a character says the classic line.... "I'll be right back!"
Instant death. When a character says that, there's no doubt: that character's not coming back.
However, I make this important point: It's NOT just a satire about a satire.
And it's easy to get into that mindset. Scream is mindless fun, yes. But that mindless fun is about the exact mindless fun we all love about cheesy horror films. The story could easily be about something so realistic. And it is.
Ask yourself that important question: could this actually happen in real life? Yes. You're not looking at demons. Witches. Or anything supernatural. This is about a crazy messed-up person in a ghost mask wanting to kill a lot of people for the sake of making fun of all those horror movies people love to make fun of.
Another important comparison would be the 'Sharknado's of SyFy and the irreverent ridiculousness of it.
You literally can't even successfully review those kinds of movies. Because the whole point of them is to be just plain dumb. And retarded.
Scream, however, treads the line of silliness with that healthy dose of realism, because of what it's all about. In other words, Scream would be simply "colorless" if there wasn't any sense of humor in it. It's about a serial killer who happens to like horror films. Plain and simple.
There's no introspect as to how funny many of those horror films unintentionally are. There's no background for a viewer to fall back on. They're just watching people get killed. It's dismal. It might even be quite scary.... But at the end of it all, it's just another horror film trying to get some cheapness out of you.
In short: When you make a viewer THINK about WHY something's so scary as they're being scared, you've hit the payload.
And Scream is ridiculously full of payloads of payoffs. It explores the genre while being the genre. It draws the audience not only into the story, but everything about the genre itself that's so rich in the story. It becomes everything about the hilariousness of the genre without actually being the genre.
In other words.... You laugh at it and get scared by it all at the same time. For all the right reasons.