The Score: Mapping the Music and Style of 'Scream'
So much 90s fashion, so much 90s alt-rock.
Hey, do you like scary movies?
Released in 1996, the first instalment in Wes Craven's incredibly successful series of classic slasher movies (we're up to the fourth now) is pretty perfect. It's like a 90s Point Horror book smeared onto the big screen. I used to (still do) read a lot of Point Horror, mostly because I liked the descriptions of the outfits the characters wore. There was one particularly evil and murderous girlfriend who wore a fluffy dark green jumper and kilt, with long red hair. I always thought she sounded so stylish. (As well as dangerous and psychopathic.)
The scripts for the all the Scream films except the third were written by Kevin Williamson who also wrote "Dawson's Creek," I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Vampire Diaries and The Faculty, amongst others. He's my hero, and Scream is full of all his trademark motifs: the dialogue is laced with quick-fire pithy wit, the setting is a beautiful suburban town—"Nothing terrible could ever happen in a place as lovely as this!?” Teenagers are frustrated by the "system" and how they fit into it, there's a lot of talking about sex but not that much actual sex, characters reference scary films—"Please don't kill me Mr. Ghostface! I want to be in the sequel!" And of course one of the main characters is a film buff. Whenever Williamson plops one of those into something I always assume he's writing himself into the action. He is Dawson Leery and he is Randy Meeks.
But more than some of the other projects Williamson has been involved in, this film is cool. The soundtrack, featuring Nick Cave, The Connells and Alice Cooper, is music the kids would want to buy and listen to at home so they could feel fashionable. Oh and the outfits in this film are so, so, so good. Apparently 90s scream queens dressed fucking amazingly.
Let's start at the beginning, with Casey Becker.
We hear Drew's voice before we see her. But when we do see her she looks stunning. That blonde bob with the heavy fringe. The powdered skin with the dark plum lips. And those pale lavender trousers with the cream jumper. She must be one of the coolest cheerleaders in school. I mean, just check out her babe of a boyfriend!
He's rocking the perfect pre-Y2K jock look, and I'm am always a fan. Although those sneakers are a bit Dad-esque.
Drew Barrymore was the first actor to show interest in the film and she was originally going to play the part of Sidney Prescott. But sadly other commitments got in the way and she had to take the smaller role of Casey instead. Still, it was her original enthusiasm and passion for the film that encouraged other big name actors and producers to sign on. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly she said, "I loved that it actually got tongue-in-cheeky but it was still scary, it was this great game that sort of described genres and revived them at the same time and redefined them all in one script. I went bananas." According to the internet, in order to keep Drew Barrymore looking scared and crying during the filming of her only scene, director Wes Craven kept telling her real life stories about animal cruelty. Drew loves the puppies.
I love the internet. I love that it is the home of facts like that.
Casey accessorises her casual hanging-out-at-home outfit with a massive white wooden house, surrounded by nothing much but trees and fields.
The production added that swing in the front yard before filming and the owners of the house liked it so much they kept it.
"Oh Sandra that swing outside is just darling!"
"Thanks Marie! We love it, it reminds us of such happy times."
Apparently there is still fake blood on the swing.
If you like plants and gardening you can read an interview with the owners of the house about their property and its vegetation here. You're welcome.
I should also mention Casey's phone as it makes me feel nostalgic for landlines and pot pourri, and it goes wonderfully with her outfit.
Sidney always seems like an odd slasher heroine to me. I guess this film was made before we had really strong female roles in films and TV shows, with them kicking ass and fighting back... OK that's a huge generalization. Whatever, she sometimes seems really scream-y *snort*. And in a film where so many of the characters are playful and witty, and delivering amazing one-liners, Sidney is very vanilla. She takes everything so seriously. Although her mother was killed brutally the year before so maybe I'm being a teeny bit harsh, and perhaps she needs to be played completely straight in order to make the flippancy the other characters exhibit work. (Just some casual thoughts I have when I rewatch this film every year.)
Her wardrobe matches her personality, because this girl is 100% normcore. She is the every-woman and as such she wears the most basic outfits imaginable. Everything about her look is subtle. Light denim jeans, soft cotton t-shirts and jumpers in muted tones, worn with black boots or white sneakers. She looks like The Gap threw up all over her. And she frickin' loved it.
She must have been feeling so outta control that day when she pulled on that red floral t-shirt. I wonder if it has a matching cardigan.
Sidney doesn't really have any discernible character traits other than that she's a very tragic victim. In fact the most interesting thing about her, sadly, is that she's dating a bad boy. Billy Loomis. We first see them together in Sidney's room when he climbs through the window and they make out on the bed, a moment that's winkingly soundtracked by a cover of "Don't Fear The Reaper" by Gus AKA Gus Black AKA Anthony Penazola.
(You may not know this, but in his varied career as a producer, songwriter and director Penazola has carved a niche for himself as the guy that makes videos for alt bands who were big in the 90s. His clients include Goo Goo Dolls and The Used, and he directed the documentary Tremendous Dynamite: The Making of Hombre Lobo about Eels. You can watch the trailer for that here.)
Oh actually I was wrong, the other thing to define Sidney is that she's a virgin. So I guess that's why for her first screen appearance they dressed Neve Campbell in a floral nightie, her hair pulled back into a bouncy ponytail. The hair stylist did that 90s thing of pulling out two bits of hair from her ponytail to frame her face. Why did we do that? When did we stop doing that? It's so Joey Potter, hey, maybe this film used the same hair person? Does Kevin Williamson have it written into his contract that he will only write female leads who are brunettes, wear stonewashed denim and have hair dangling around their cheeks?
But in this scene we also see there is one person who can push her towards some more naughty behavior: good old Billy, yet again.
I always find Skeet's slightly gormless face when ogling her breasts in this scene funny. I like to imagine Neve was wearing a hilarious joke bra—you know the type—and he was surprised and also trying not to laugh.
Her other night time outfit is this big coral t-shirt and slouch socks. Which is 90s costume designer shorthand for, "The female lead is now very sad because she has been hurt by the man in her life." She should really be eating a big tub of Haagen-Daz and listening to Chris Isaak.
By the way this is Sidney's house. It is also secluded and absolutely HUGE. This town is just littered with mansions and fields.
That is a lot of cast iron garden furniture on her decking. Two sets of tables and chairs very close together—what's the story there?!
Anyway, we need to talk more about that boyfriend of hers...
Billy comes from the Jordan Catalano/Troy Dyer school of styling. He has the floppy hair, the sharp jawline, and the collection of white tees and flannel shirts to pair with his biker boots, jeans, and intense scowl.
Oh and he's also a horror film obsessive, a psychopath, a serial killer and a real mom lover. Can you say dreamboat?!
We don't get to know much about Billy's music taste, and I doubt he has much time to invest in expanding his record collection—serial killers have to be very organised and thorough—but with his "Daddy did a bad thing" angst I feel like he's probably a Silverchair/Smashing Pumpkins fan. Although I also don't think he's averse to a bit of Tupac.
A musical motif for the first three Scream films is the song "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds from the album Let Love In, his biggest commercial success to date. It was used in each of those movies, and is widely accepted as the unofficial theme song for the series. It was also used in Dumb And Dumber two years earlier, which makes less sense. I remember that film being creepy, but in a different way.
Lyrically "Red Right Hand" is perfect for the first film. Nick sings about the boy who "seems so cute and true and groovy/ But to get that boy up on the stand/ And watch him raise/ His red right hand." I mean, that's just Billy. His hands are scarlet.
By the way 1996 was also the year that Tori Amos was sued by a man who crashed his car because he was distracted by a billboard advertising her new album. The billboard was a photo of her breastfeeding a piglet.
"Where is Matthew Lillard now?" you scream, throwing things around your room, falling to your knees and raising clenched fists to the heavens, "WHY HAS LILLARD FORSAKEN US?"
Actually he hasn't so you can just chill out. He recently played Daniel Frye, the drugged up reporter on the US remake of that hit Danish-Swedish series "The Bridge" (although that did just get cancelled—boo). He is also the voice of Shaggy in the animated version of "Scooby-Doo," a character he also played in the live-action film. Shaggy is ideal casting for him; during the 90s he excelled in playing goofy characters in a long line of teen films—sometimes sadistic violent ones, like in Scream and The Curve, sometimes hilarious ones as in She's All That, Summer Catch and Hackers. I imagine his agent often used the phrase "A young Jim Carrey" to describe his manic energy that could be twisted into full on crazy.
In Scream we're introduced to his Stu Macher as the boyfriend of Sidney's best friend Tatum. He's an insensitive dope, popular and rich, but a bit of an oddball. He's also a bit of a dick. You can tell that by the shiny evening jacket he wears to his own party.
Also because he's the WACKSTER sidekick to Billy's brooding serious leading man, he is a fan of patterned shirts and jewelery.
Look at him in the same shirt below, being all crazy Stu, picking up his girlfriend and driving her nuts with his wackiness.
We never really know why Stu gets involved with psycho Billy's antics—is he really, really, REALLY bored? Is he just that impressionable? I think we're supposed to simply accept that it's peer pressure that causes him to follow Billy down the garden path and into the bedroom of Sidney's mom, where he brutally murders her. I dunno. Peer pressure made me do some dumb things on nights out but they never had a body count. Maybe he just adored Billy?
Stu's song would have to be "Youth Of America" by Birdbrain, because he's a bit of a birdbrain himself. If you're not familiar with the track it's classic 90s alt rock, the lyrics are all about how teenagers in America are in loads of trouble and we should get on our knees and pray for them. Sadly this is the only song that seems to be readily available for Birdbrain fans, a fact which someone on their Wikipedia page is quite bitter about, "The underrated band is only known for "Youth of America." When it was heard during the party in Scream people loved but didn't care to remember." GOD GUYS WHY DIDN'T YOU CARE TO REMEMBER?!
This is Stu's isolated mansion, I love how gothic it is. Apparently there was a rumor on set that the previous owners of the house had died inside shortly before filming. Oh my glob.
Tatum is my bae. I love her so much. She's funny and gorgeous and a pretty great friend to Sidney before, well, you know. Ahem, the catflap incident. She's played by the always brilliant Rose McGowan, who dyed her normally black hair blonde so she wasn't follically competing with Neve Campbell. That seems very considerate to me.
My favourite outfit of Tatum's is the one above. It's 90s teen movie aspirational dressing. Echoes of Cher Horowitz and Corey Mason. I love the white boots, the kilt (of course) and the lemon roll neck.
Look at this highly impractical denim jacket she wears. It's mega cropped, the sleeves are way too short, and that low cut neckline is good for absolutely nothing.
This outfit below though, oh my good lord. I enjoy how she accessorises her cropped silver football tee, her red bootcut jeans with the white stripe and her zebra print bag with a lollipop and braids. Watch out guys, Lolita's trying out for the NFL again.
By the way, in Nightmare On Elm Street, Johnny Depp also wore a number 10 jersey. Can we get a film buff round of applause for Kevin Williamson please?
In this scene below when the BFFs are sitting on the ridiculously massive porch of Tatum's gigantic house, we've just heard "Schools Out" by Alice Cooper. That anthem of non-conformity and scholastic rebellion was released in 1972, and parents, teachers, psychologists and principles were so shocked by it, many demanded radio stations should never be allowed to play it. Ever. Still, it went to number one in several countries, so those Cooper-haters must have been freaking out. I wonder how they felt when Staples used it in a commercial in 2004, with Cooper himself wandering up and down the aisles buying stationery. Yeah! Rebellion!
Tatum's last amazing outfit can be seen below. She stuck with the roll neck and boots, but put on her psychedelic 70s skirt. It's a pretty sweet party outfit. Just perfect for hanging out, drinking some beers, and dying in a horrible, gruesome way.
I wish we got to see more of Gail's clothes because I feel like she definitely owns a lot more acid-hued skirt suits. Her wardrobe is like Ally McBeal on, err, acid. Look at that skirt! The buttons are so unnecessary, I love it!
Also please take the time to admire her little thin fringe bits, and chunky blonde highlights.
I remember when I saw this film for the first time I couldn't believe this was Monica Geller being so ruthless, mean and full of the bad swears. I was so into it! I was also into this jacket with its huge white buttons and white stitching.
Um, awkward but, isn't that a Rachel cut?!
She has to have some leopard print, even if it's only on a hair accessory. Her character IS leopard print. She is a prowling, vicious wild cat, and my god she's gorgeous.
This leather jacket below though is the ugliest freaking thing I've ever seen. I don't understand what happened Gail. What would you call that shade of shiny pleather? Turd? Old mouldy caramel?
Whatever, I still love her, which is why the song in the film that best goes with Gail is "Drop Dead Gorgeous" by Republica. I always loved the lead singer of that band, Saffron AKA Samantha Sprackling (stage names seem to have been way more of a "thing" in the '90s). She had, and I think still has, chunky red highlights in her hair. Yet another Gail connection.
I want to write about Dewey's clothes, but in the first film he's nearly always in a police uniform. Still, he does look great in it.
Despite playing a character supposedly seven years older than the high schoolers, David Arquette was actually younger than Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy. He gets the song "First Cool Hive" by Moby as his theme because Arquette is so sweet and chill, and I imagine this was the kind of music he used to seduce Courtney Cox after filming. Look at them on set, falling in love.
Elizabeth Sankey is often tweeting about film and TV here.