SCREAM (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Horror Violence and Gore, and for Language

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: Kevin Williamson

Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, Joseph Whipp, W. Earl Brown, Liev Schreiber & Henry Winkler

Wes Craven became one of the most well-known horror filmmakers with his imaginatively terrifying NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but Freddy Krueger wasn’t the only iconic killer that Craven brought to the big screen. Working from a cleverly self-referential script from Kevin Williamson, Craven introduced Ghostface to horror fans in December 1996. Inspiring four total films and three seasons of an MTV horror series, SCREAM is one of the most important slasher films in cinema history and also holds up as a fantastic scary movie on its own merits.

As the first anniversary of her mother’s untimely death approaches, depressed high school student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) braces for an inevitable wave of turbulent emotions to arrive…much to the dismay of her sex-starved boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Hormones and angst aren’t the only things that Sidney, Billy, and their group of teenage friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy) need to worry about though, because someone has taken their love for horror movies a bit too far. By “a bit too far,” I mean that someone is running around in a creepy costume and slicing/dicing teens. This masked psycho seems to have his eyes set on Sidney for some strange reason. Bodies pile up, laughs ensue, and this film parodies slasher films while simultaneously being a slasher film.

There are so many items to talk about with SCREAM, so I might as well start with a quality that usually makes or breaks 99% of slasher films: the kills. SCREAM is notably set in a more real-world environment than almost every other slasher movie in existence, because these characters have seen PROM NIGHT, HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc. They already know the dumb clichés and rules that they need to follow in order to successfully survive a horror movie. This more realistic meta-feeling bleeds over into the film’s kills. This is especially present during the film’s infamous prologue that packs in plenty of humor and scares, while also distinctly reminding horror fans of the disturbing phone calls in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS or BLACK CHRISTMAS.

KNB Effects utilized 50 gallons of blood for various wounds and designed chest pieces for the many stabs and slices. Though SCREAM’s kills are mainly of the knife variety, there’s a certain grisliness to them that makes them pretty damn effective to watch and some of the gore effects are downright disturbing to look at. This more “realistic”-ish spin on slasher kills positively offsets the film’s light-hearted, comedic atmosphere into darker directions. It reminds the viewer that this slasher, as fun and funny as it may be, still has kids meeting their untimely demises and that’s a horrible thing.

As far as the teenage characters go, Kevin Williamson’s script feels refreshingly grounded in a subgenre that can range from ridiculously over-the-top to unbelievably stupid. Though there are a couple of dumb mistakes made by the teenage victims that lead to a rather high body count, the film remedies these “errors” by pointing them out and winking at the camera in a knowing fashion. Right before Sidney’s first encounter with Ghostface, she references a stupid mistake that she unwittingly commits in the heat of the moment during the very next scene. Little details like those seemingly correct annoying decisions that are all too commonplace in hundreds of slashers.

As far as the cast goes, the young actors and actresses make for convincing teens, while the adult performers seem fairly realistic. Every character is colorful and sticks out, making their absence (due to being butchered by a masked psycho killer) much more noticeable. Special mentions go out to: Neve Campbell as the film’s tragic final girl, Matthew Lillard as an obnoxious smartass, Jamie Kennedy as a diehard horror fanatic, David Arquette as the geekiest cop around, and Courtney Cox as a bitchy news reporter. The film’s two worst performances belong to: Skeet Ulrich as the obviously creepy boyfriend and Rose McGowan as Sidney’s airheaded gal pal.

It’s worth noting that SCREAM keeps its fast-paced storytelling up throughout the entire running time. Even though the film clocks in at slightly under two hours, nearly half of this time is dedicated to an incredibly funny, entertaining, and satisfying finale that takes place in/around a single house. Kevin Williamson was able to pack so much development into the smart first half of the film (including little pieces about Sidney’s past tragedy that don’t feel like forced exposition at all), and then Wes Craven let loose with his suspenseful and violent slasher fun during the film’s second half. My only complaint with Williamson’s script is that it’s fairly easy to identify the killer early on, even though the film throws a couple of half-assed red herrings into the mix. To his credit, a big twist during the final 15 minutes still remains remarkably effective and forces viewers to watch repeated viewings through a different lens.

SCREAM’s self-referential style may not be for everybody, but (at the very least) this film must be respected for what it did to the horror genre in the 90s. At the point when this film was originally released, horror was in a rut. Lots of crap was coming out, tons of films were bombing at the box office, and most folks thought that the horror genre was as good as dead. Then SCREAM came along and injected much-needed new blood into age-old clichés. Though it gave birth to a wave of mediocre 90s slashers (e.g. URBAN LEGEND, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, etc.), SCREAM is also the first installment in one of the most consistently entertaining slasher franchises in existence. If you haven’t seen SCREAM before, now is the perfect time to do so!

Grade: A

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: S. Craig Zahler

Written by: S. Craig Zahler

Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig & Geno Segers

Two genres that don’t often go together are Horror and Westerns. Combinations of the two very different genres have only been attempted a handful of times to my knowledge (THE BURROWERS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and TREMORS). BONE TOMAHAWK just happens to be the latest effort that tries to blend these two distinct genres into one creative story. While it definitely leans more onto the Western side before diving straight into Horror country for the final third, I can easily fathom that this film will please fans of both cinematic genres. Blending a slow brooding pace of a John Wayne flick with some graphic cannibal horror, BONE TOMAHAWK is an unexpectedly great film that came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass.

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Bright Hope is a peaceful, out-of-the-way town that never encounters any serious problems. Tonight is different as a strange drifter has just rolled into town and caught the eye of Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell sporting a magnificent bit of facial hair). One brief confrontation later and the drifter is behind bars at the local jail with only a law man and a nurse to keep him company. This drifter’s arrival was the mere beginning of something far more sinister and the jail turns up empty in the morning. Hunt suspects that Indians might have something to do with the three disappearances and soon learns that there’s something in the wilderness that even Indians are afraid of. Taking their lives into their own hands, Sheriff Hunt brings along Arthur O’Dwyer (the missing nurse’s husband), Chicory (an old-fashioned deputy), and John Brooder (a trigger-happy bigot) on a rescue mission into some very dangerous territory.

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For a movie that’s essentially been sold as Kurt Russell fighting cannibals in the Old West, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated. I mean, sure that one sentence pitch sounds fun in and of itself, but this movie treats itself as a dark and brooding ride. Everyone is playing this ridiculous-sounding material with a believable straight face. This approach works far better than it probably should have. First-time director S. Craig Zahler (who also penned the decent ASYLUM BLACKOUT) uses a confident hand behind the camera to bring his vision to life. This feels like a slow-burn Western that just happens to have a long showdown with vicious man-eating cannibals in the final act.

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This self-serious approach can also be seen in the performances of a remarkable cast of big-name actors. Kurt Russell (who’s also starring in certain other Western that arrives later this year) is very much in his element. He’s having a blast as Sheriff Hunt and gives the performance his all, which brings to life a likable bad-ass with a heart of gold. Patrick Wilson is especially good and plays the wounded husband (he has a broken leg all throughout the film) as a determined man on a mission. Richard Jenkins brings a strong screen presence as the kindly old deputy. Meanwhile, Matthew Fox really shines as the despicable Brooder (who has an interesting motivation of his own). David Arquette and Sid Haig also make brief, memorable appearances.

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When it does get into the horror section of its story, BONE TOMAHAWK also gets extremely graphic in the violence department. Seeing as the plot involves cannibals, I was expecting gore. I just wasn’t expecting this film to have a scene that rivaled the best moment of THE GREEN INFERNO in its sheer viciousness. Even when we get severed body parts and guts spilling out onto the screen, the movie never goes into cheesy or over-the-top territory. Instead, the brutality only adds to the dark atmosphere that the movie was playing with from the very beginning.

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Though the running time might be a little too long and there’s a noticeable leap of logic made in the final moments, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated it being. The premise may sound ludicrous on paper, but the way it’s executed with an exciting new director/writer behind the camera, a rock solid cast acting their hearts out, and exciting bursts of violence transform the silly material into a seriously great time. It’s a shame that BONE TOMAHAWK didn’t hit theaters, because there are scenes that would get great audience reactions (I found myself cheering while watching it at home). If you’re craving something out-of-the-ordinary for this final week of this Halloween season (or any time really) and don’t want to make a trip to the multiplex, BONE TOMAHAWK should satisfy your craving. This is one of the best horror movies of 2015!

Grade: A-

HAMLET 2 (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, brief Nudity and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Andrew Fleming

Written by: Andrew Fleming & Pam Brady

Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler, Marshall Bell, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, Joseph Julian Soria & Arnie Pantoja

By virtue of the title HAMLET 2, you should know exactly what kind of comedy this is from the get-go. This is crude, childish and never even tries to takes itself seriously. It’s a ludicrous flick that makes sure to take shots at everyone it can, but there are a couple of flaws that are too big to ignore. HAMLET 2 is just a dumb comedy that was never meant to be high-art, so there’s nothing too critical in my noting of these problems. This movie is a good time for those who aren’t easily offended and want something a bit outlandish.

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Dana Marschz is a failed actor turned even worse high school drama teacher. Though there aren’t as many enthusiastic students as he would hope, Dana seems to be casually floating through his existence at the high school until new complications arise. Due to the school cancelling many art programs, a bunch of inner-city stereotypes have landed themselves in Dana’s class (as it was the only available elective). To make matters even worse, Dana’s Drama class is next on the school’s chopping block. In order to save his class and a small amount of his dignity, this struggling teacher/would-be actor dives deep into his inner genius and writes a politically incorrect sequel to Shakespeare’s HAMLET. His forthcoming production of HAMLET 2 becomes a source for controversy and Dana’s class must band together to make it happen!

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Without a doubt, the main attraction of HAMLET 2 is Steve Coogan playing Dana. He’s given free rein to be as quirky and crazy as he wants. Not much is given in the way of Dana’s character development (other than a few passing comments that turn into running jokes), but Coogan does get belly laughs as the ridiculously inept Drama teacher. The other characters are a blend of various high school students and roles that seem like excuses for other recognizable faces to show up. These include Catherine Keener as Dana’s wife, David Arquette as the couple’s boarder, Elisabeth Shue as an exaggerated version of herself and an underused Amy Poehler as a lawyer who sees HAMLET 2 as the ultimate “freedom of speech” case. Speaking of which, the film only shows glimpses of the actual play that the kids and Dana are performing. All we really see are snippets and two big musical numbers (“Raped in the Face” and “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus!”). I understand the reasoning behind this is that our imagination might make throw in images that are even funnier than anything shown on the screen, but it feels like heavily hyped center-stage joke that isn’t fully followed up on.

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Though remaining funny, the actual performance of HAMLET 2 is among a handful of half-finished jokes that leave the script feeling a tad incomplete. The film begins with Act cards as if the viewer is watching a play unfold before their eyes. This stylistic joke continues until about halfway into the movie and then pretty much disappears. The same situation occurs with an omnipresent narrator who has a place in the film until about halfway through and abandons ship. It’s not as if these half-assed style choices wreck the film or soil the fun, but they do echo of how much funnier this entire movie might have been had they been followed through on until the end. The story is also fairly by-the-numbers and predictable, but remains entertaining with that taken into consideration.

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HAMLET 2 is definitely not for everyone, but it’s also not nearly as offensive and over-the-top as it could have been. Jokes are set up and not fully followed through on (the actual performance of HAMLET 2 being the key one) comprise the biggest problems in the film. Steve Coogan definitely receives the most laughs as the eccentric and idiotic Dana. The other cast members are solid in their scenes as well, though Amy Poehler could have used a little more screen time. In spite of covering some pretty taboo subject matter (upbeat musical numbers about feeling face raped and a dancing Jesus in a tank top), HAMLET 2 manages to maintain a cheery tone and never aims for pure shock value. In the end, you should know from the general outline whether HAMLET 2 is for you or not. If you don’t expect more than a simple and silly comedy, you should walk away happy.

Grade: B