In 1978, a UFO landed in theaters: Halloween, the night of the masks. The success is immense and planetary. John Carpenter revolutionizes horror cinema and invents a genre: the slasher movie. The theme of the masked psychopathic killer who guts teenagers with knives was born. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger fill the dark rooms. Adolescence as a time of recklessness turns into a period of all temptations and all dangers. Sequels and plagiarisms multiply, originality leaves the film, giving way to scriptwriting artifices.
When, in 1996, the famous Ghostface, by Wes Craven, tumbles onto the screens in Scream, the first reaction of the public is: “Another story of a masked killer. Except that Scream blasts the codes of slasher. This from its opening scene. In a beautiful villa, a pretty blonde teenager, played by Drew Barrymore, the famous Gertie from ET the extraterrestrial, answers a phone call. At the end of the line, a voice asks: “Do you like scary movies? And this is where the codes are shattered.
“Now let’s play…”
Drew Barrymore, although the most famous actress in the cast, will not be the final girl, this ultimate survivor, an imposed figure of the genre. And the killer, himself camouflaged behind a mask imagined for the occasion, and concealed in a long black dress in which he sometimes trips, seems more ridiculous than terrifying. Wes Craven signs a contract with his spectator: “I know you know how it goes, now let’s play. As a master of the genre, the director of Les Claws de la nuit decides to leave no ambiguity: it is the characters of the film who recall the codes. In particular the three laws of survival in a horror film: no sex, no alcohol and drugs, and, above all, under no circumstances leave a room saying “I’ll be right back”.
These Puritan laws recalled in the film point to the state of American society at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. . The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 symbolizes this reactionary surge. Did the horror cinema of the 1980s almost have a moralizing function to put young people on the right track? Unless the monster is this American society that lectures its youth to the point of suffocating it?
In 1996, when Scream landed, the USSR had collapsed and we were in the middle of the decade of “the end of history”, according to liberals. We praise happy globalization, deregulation, free trade which have become unsurpassable horizons. The springs of Reagan America were reactivated in 1994 with the “republican revolution” under the impetus of the neoconservatives. This reactionary turn will increase throughout the second half of the 1990s and allow the election of George W. Bush, a born again Republican (Protestant puritan). It is in this context that Wes Craven will therefore resume and pay homage to John Carpenter in a masterful sleight of hand. “Since we are being sent back to the 1980s… let’s play with it to better criticize the end of the 1990s” on the ideological and cultural levels. And Hollywood takes it for its rank, especially in the sequels to the adventures of Ghostface.
Who is hiding behind the mask?
Indeed, Scream will have a sequel in 1997, then an episode concluding a trilogy in 2000. Much later will come a Scream 4, a series and a Scream 20 years later, in 2022 (pending a sixth film in 2023). Once again, it’s the opening scenes that set the tone. In Scream 2, it shows a couple going to the premiere of Stab (the film adaptation of the story of the first Scream), a film within a film to parody an industry that digests itself ad nauseam. Among the public disguised as Ghostface for the occasion is a real killer who liquidates our lovers under the eyes of the crowd who do not react, thinking of a publicity stunt. The mise en abyme Stab/Scream highlights the hypocrisy of American society. Ironically, the Columbine school massacre in 1999 led to a reorientation of the third opus. In Scream 3, it is the screenplay codes of the trilogies, from Star Wars to Alien via the Godfather, which are diverted. The films also question one of the fantasies of the reactionaries: the weight of fiction on reality. “Is Stab responsible for the appearance of a new Ghostface? Wes Craven pretends to wonder.
The three laws of survival: no sex, no alcohol, no drugs. Above all, never leave a room saying “I’ll be right back”.
Does horror cinema account for the excesses of American society? This is reminiscent of the trials against comics in the 1960s, hard rock in the seventies, role-playing games in the eighties, video games in the nineties, social networks in the 2000s… Scream therefore masters the codes of the genre to better transgress them. The alcohol flows freely, Sidney (Neve Campbell), the final girl, has sex and other leading protagonists survive and become recurring… Scream will inspire many horror films of the late 1990s and beginning of 2000. The success will be with go without however that none manages to create particular alchemy. It must be said that Ghostface is a particular killer. Unlike the Halloween or Friday the 13th series, in which the villain is an incarnation of Evil, the same character keeps coming back, the one behind the Ghostface mask is always different: anyone can be the ghostface killer . Here, no absolute evil.
With Ghostface, it’s really the clothes that make the monk and one of the interests of the different films is also to try to discover who is hiding behind them. Paradoxically, of the three iconic slashers, he’s the only one to put on a mask that doesn’t exist in real life. Jason (Friday the 13th), after using a burlap sack, opts for the terrifying hockey goalie mask; Michael Myers (Halloween) displays the deformed face of the famous James T. Kirk, the captain of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. In Scream, the mask hides the identity. In Halloween or Friday the 13th, it symbolizes the non-humanity of the killer. Ghostface’s humanity gives him another unique characteristic: his ability to be parodied. Many spectators discovered this very particular killer thanks to Scary Movie, a title which was originally to be that of Scream… A crazy parody, often in bad taste and not always funny. They can’t be urged enough to watch the original. Scary Movie breaks the codes to make people laugh, Scream did it before it to “slash” puritanism.