The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents August 2011 Return to Table of Contents
The Tree of Life
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Outlaw Josey Wales
AuRevoir Les Enfants
ASC Close-Up
Scream (1996)
Blu-ray Edition
2.35:1 (1080p High-Definition)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Lionsgate/Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc., $19.99 

Life is dull in the rural hamlet of Woodsboro for married mother Maureen Prescott, a depressed woman with a hidden past. She has resorted to having discreet affairs with local men, and on one of her illicit dates, Maureen is brutally murdered. Her teenaged daughter, Sidney (Neve Campbell), finds her butchered body and, in spite of his vehement denial, fingers Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) as the slasher she saw leaving the scene. Tabloid TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) creates a media frenzy by publicly challenging Sidney's claim, but Cotton is convicted. With the accused locked up, grieving Sidney and her father avoid the press and go about getting on with their lives.

A year later, Sidney's classmate, Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is home alone when the phone rings. The teasing caller flirts and then asks what her favorite scary movie is. Put off and eventually frightened by the unknown caller, she hangs up, only to be called back repeatedly. Frustrated, Casey asks the caller what he wants, to which he icily responds, “To see what your insides look like.” Moments later, the anonymous caller materializes from the dark, cloaked in black and wearing a fright mask as he brutally stabs terrified Casey to death.

Sleepy Woodsboro is once again plagued by a media circus, including the return of pushy Weathers, who goads Sidney about a possible link between the recent crime and the anniversary of her mother's murder. Soon after, Sidney's phone rings and an anonymous caller asks her about horror films, her mother's death and, finally, if she wants to die. Sidney barely escapes a surprise visit from the caller, cloaked in black, wearing a mask and brandishing a hunting knife. As she wrestles with his continuing threatening calls and the mounting possibility her mother's true killer has now targeted her, Sidney finds herself at the center of a real-life slasher movie in which the people she cares about fall prey to a bloodthirsty maniac.

Slickly rewriting the rules of the basic formula for schlocky, teen, slasher movies popularized in the 1980s, the savvy teens who inhabit the world of director Wes Craven's clever thriller, Scream (1996) seem to speak from experience. Writer Kevin Williamson's sharp, inventive screenplay imbues the characters with a hip knowledge of horror-movie clichés. When faced with a real, crazed killer who seems plucked from any number of “scary movies,” sometimes the knowledge helps the characters, and sometimes, surprisingly, it makes the situation worse.  

Miramax Films famously won the Hollywood script-bidding war for Scary Movie, the original title of Scream, to produce the picture with its darker, genre-favoring, sister company Dimension films. With legendary horror director Craven signed on, the film's first-rate cast quickly fell into place. The project's primary director of photography, Mark Irwin ASC, CSC (Videodrome, The Fly), and Peter Demming, ASC (Mulholland Drive), who provided additional cinematography, both worked with the Clairmont-scope  anamorphic process, giving the story a sense of panoramic darkness from which the “ghostface” masked killer could strike at any moment. Filled with expressive and often nontraditional framing, on the audio commentary featured on Lionsgate/Buena Vista Home Entertainment's new Blu-ray presentation, Craven talks about favoring the use of extensive camera movement and interesting angles. He also notes the careful introduction of shocks from unexpected areas of the very wide frame to keep the audience guessing and the viewing experience fresh.  

The domestic Blu-ray debut of this vibrant thriller sports a solid high-definition transfer. Whereas the old standard-definition DVD had an acceptable color transfer that seemed ported from its earlier laser-disc incarnation, it lacked enhancement for widescreen television sets, making the image look flat and without any depth of field. This high-definition effort restores much of the film's sharp and colorful luster with deep saturation and well balanced contrast tonality. There is a visible and correct level of film grain on display, and inky, nighttime black levels seem accurate, with defined shadows and great detail throughout the frame. The overall image is appealingly film-like and crisp, without evidence of digital noise tampering. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is clear and rowdy, with good separation, giving life to the film's score, atmospheric nighttime sound effects and plenty of jolting surround activity.

The disc's supplements are all from previous DVD releases. There are promotional interviews with key cast members and Craven, as well as behind-the-scenes production featurettes shot on location. All of these features are presented in standard definition. The engaging audio commentary with Craven and writer Williamson is the same one recorded for the original laser-disc release in 1997.   

Like any exceedingly popular genre release, Scream revitalized its genre and spawned numerous imitators and three sequels, none as clever or as acclaimed. This entertaining, post-modern, “new classic” has been eagerly anticipated on the Blu-ray platform, and it has arrived in good form, slashing its way back onto home screens. For fans of the genre, adding this “favorite scary movie” to their collections is a no brainer.

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