Scary Movie Is 20 Years Old Today
Wazzup! Happy birthday to Scary Movie; possibly the greatest parody of a satire ever made.
In 1996, Dimension Films released Scream, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s iconic, fiercely intelligent slasher paragon. Both poking fun at and honing horror’s tropes, Ghostface emerged above laughs to command film-goers’ fear, with a legacy of blood-dripping seasonal masks in its future.
Time has afforded the franchise a great respect, normalising brazen, self-referential wit that’d go on to line the fabric of Hot Fuzz and Tropic Thunder. However, only four years later, the Wayans Brothers plotted a paradox of mischief; a spoof of a spoof.
From Dimension’s blue logo, stove-cooked popcorn appears. The phone rings, picked up by Drew Decker (Carmen Electra), sparking the croaky, mysterious: ‘Wanna have a little fun?’
So far, so Scream, mirroring Drew Barrymore’s opening nightmare. Then comes a fart. When asked what her favourite scary movie is, she replies Kazaam. Upon the killer asking to see ‘what her insides look like’, she tells him turn to page 54 of a pornographic magazine.
When faced with a gun, knife and grenade to defend herself, Drew chooses a banana. As she runs through the yard, the headlights of her parents on the horizon, the sprinklers come on, igniting sultry, soaking posing. From start to stab, it rips an unforgettable, grisly sequence to shreds, with a pay-off of big, big laughs.
As well as spawning a franchise – which the Wayans were unceremoniously booted from come the third entry, thanks to Bob and Harvey Weinstein – Scary Movie was a box-office titan, grossing $278 million on a $19 million budget. While few critics were keen, audiences packed out theatres to the brim.
Commenting on the film’s success, Marlon told Variety:
People were literally in the aisles and you could hear the laughter outside the theater. Like most of our movies, it got critically panned. It always does, but you know, comedy is subjective. And not to say the critics are right or wrong, but that’s just not their brand of humour.
Their job is to critique. But our audience, 20 years later, people are still laughing. We don’t try to make a movie, we try to make a classic. And even if you don’t get it at the time, it’s something you go back to and watch it and go: ‘Man, that was funny.’
The film, directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans (A Low Down Dirty Shame, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood) follows Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris, playing the Sidney Prescott role), Bobby (Jon Abrahams), Brenda (Regina Hall), Buffy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Ray (Shawn Wayans), a group of high school students stalked by a serial killer on Halloween, also the anniversary of them accidentally killing someone.
Fun fact: Scream’s original title was Scary Movie, and Scary Movie’s original name was Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween.
Its plot is scaffolding for the gags, but it’d be remiss not to include. There’s also Shorty (Marlon Wayans), a lovable, floating pothead who spends his time cackling, getting high, screaming ‘WAZZUP’ – definitely the film’s most famous scene, inspired by the Budweiser commercial – and impersonating The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment.
Scary Movie’s blast range covers Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (Jack Black’s ‘fat white Jamaican kid’), The Exorcist, Election, The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, Amistad (more accurately, Amistad II), Titanic, Thelma & Louise, The Fugitive, Jackie Chan movies, Schindler’s List, Boogie Nights, Big Momma’s House, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, The Usual Suspects and finally, Halloween.
At its best, the cliché jabs are ahead of their time, such as the central group joking that they’d be played by 20 or 30-year-olds if they were in a movie, while a Dawson’s Creek cameo is still inspired.
There’s the brilliant, panicked transition into handheld camerawork, mimicking Heather Donahue’s sprinting through the woods, before drowning the camera in snot. Most of all, the set-piece with Cindy chucking a vase, a unicycle, her nan and a piano down the stairs is slapstick of the finest order. ‘I’m in the house,’ followed by nasal sniggering, made me laugh more than I care to admit.
Scary Movie would probably still be appreciated if it came out today, perhaps even more, as its idiosyncratic tomfoolery has big meme energy. Similarly to Dumb and Dumber’s laxative butt-quake, stupidity this funny, of this calibre, is an art form.
The game performances across the board should be applauded. It was Faris’s first role, yet she gives it her absolute all while summoning a geyser of spunk. Both Wayans are genuinely superb; Shawn as a sexually confused Black man who asks his girlfriend to wear football gear before sex, Marlon as a giddy fountain of smoke that just keeps giving.
Hall is, by far, the biggest winner. The cinema scene alone, as she screams at Shakespeare in Love – ‘That ain’t no man! Look right there, it’s coming out,’ she yells at Gwyneth Paltrow in drag – is hysterical.
Of course, not all of it has aged well (as if political correctness was ever a concern). Ray’s glory hole ear-f*ck is still weird, Special Officer Doofy and trans P.E teacher Miss Mann (with a hanging set of testicles, obviously) fit a brand of humour pretty much outlawed culturally, while Shorty’s date rape gag (‘I pulled my tongue out that ass and left’) evokes both an extremely guilty giggle and a chill.
On whether such crudeness and outrageousness would make it to the big screen now, Marlon added:
I think it would be difficult to greenlight. But I think the reaction’s still going to be the same. What I’ve learned from doing stand-up comedy is the opinions of the people and the taste of the people is not dictated by the politically correct nature of the social political climate.
We live in America, and freedom of speech is the First Amendment. With freedom of speech comes freedom of creativity. And I think anybody can do a joke about anything and it’s just who’s telling the joke and what’s your intention? Is your intention to humiliate, or is your intention to make people laugh? Our intention is always to make people laugh.
I could talk about the cinematography, the music, the acting, the editing. However, as Roger Ebert noted: ‘All of the usual critical categories and strategies collapse in the face of a film like this.’ When the film works, it rests upon the success of the gags. Fortunately, it rarely falls flat.
It wasn’t the first major parody, that honour goes to the far superior Airplane! and The Naked Gun series. However, Scary Movie was arguably the most influential, leading to one of the darkest periods in mainstream movie history.
Spawned from the affinity for spoofs, Hollywood spat out the likes of Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie, Extreme Movie, Vampires Suck and, god help us, The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It. Most of these films were major releases… the PTSD is pulsing.
Marlon even went on to produce A Haunted House, a looser parody around the found-footage sub-genre of horror. Again, despite being slammed by critics, it racked up more than $60 million and led to a sequel.
Nevertheless, next time you’re sitting at home, ‘just chillin, killin’, consider Scary Movie; a film with the sole goal of urinary incontinence via hearty, gut-wrenching guffaws. No agenda, no concessions, just unadulterated, naughty nonsense. ‘Snatch and run, y’all!’
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