I’ve never been a huge splatter-horror fan. A lot of horror in what I call the modern era tends to fall into that category. Films that revel in their gore, that enjoy the splash of blood and thunk of dismembered body parts hitting the floor. The thing about Wes Craven was he always remembered horror, terror, starts with the situation. With the mind. With what someone feels. A lesser effort reaches for the best the effects and makeup teams can render; Craven always put a lot of thought into the setup of his films that could really disturb you because of what was happening. Because of how you would look at the situation of the scene, fill in the blanks and project it forward if you found yourself stuck in that circumstance, and often decide you’d be just as screwed as the characters usually were.
Scream is my favorite horror film. Scream 2 is way up there too, and I like it a lot. Scream 3 was a wasted effort, and don’t even get me started on Scream 4. But the original Scream, now that’s a fantastic horror movie. For many of the same reasons I like Cabin in the Woods, Scream works so well for me because it plays so effectively with the tropes and expectations of the genre. A lot of that is due to Kevin Williamson’s script, but Craven could’ve easily ruined the whole project if he hadn’t been on board with what Williamson was doing. And he was, and helped elevate the entire project to the high regard I – and others – hold it in.
These days, ‘meta’ is threatening to become a joke. That’s a discussion for some other time. But in 1996, Scream was a breath of fresh air to not only horror, but to thriller movies in general. It used the audience’s expectations to shape the story, invited us in and made us part of the joke. Scream isn’t one of those movies that has you yelling in disgust at the scream when the characters do incredibly idiotic things simply because the script demands it of them so the next scare or kill can be set up. Scream said everything we think about when we watch horror; and while we were waiting for the bad writing and stupid setups to start, it did an end-run around us and really got going with some fun. None of the beautiful art of the film would’ve made it to the screen without Craven’s storytelling skill.
Craven was a director who definitely got horror. He never forgot to keep characters in the mix, never neglected scenarios and settings, and even still kept the E&M crews happy. Seventy-six is a good run, but I just feel like there might have been still more he had to offer. And that makes this a sad day for horror fans. But at least he left a great body of work for us to appreciate. That’s all any artist can ever hope for. The rest is icing. Bloody, warm, icing.