Horror maestro Wes Craven has always had more to say than his contemporaries and imitators (who have often been one and the same), a fact he proves once again with this homage to/subversion of the slasher films that thrived in the 1980s. Scream concerns the attempts of a group of high-schoolers to avoid a serial killer in their midst. The catch: Both stalker and prey are fully aware of the conventions of the sort of film in which they appear. As in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the director uses this awareness to comment cleverly on the genre, and unlike that film, which drastically shifted gears in its final act, Scream does not clumsily become the very thing it parodies. But don't be mistaken. Though Scream is a smart send-up, it also remains a finely crafted, tense, scary thriller from start to finish. And for a generation raised on the conventions it explores—titillation and violence are equated, and the fall from sexual purity inevitably means death—it could even be considered important. What was it that made the sight of half-naked women being sliced up so entertaining anyway? Scream would come off as an attempt at redemption for a decade of dark fantasies if it didn't find its source material so amusing. It's to the film's credit that its ironic ambivalence seems more mature than hypocritical.
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