31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 1]: Williamson’s Dynamic Duo

Pardon me while this washed-up, dried-out has been has a moment.

I cannot imagine a better way to kick off my official writing about horror than with my annual journey of Halloween Haunts through the month of October. While many post about “spooky szn” and their annual fall trips to apple orchards in flannels and boots, I gear up for 31 days of horror-filled excitement–a gallivant through the wide world of one hell of a genre.

This is my seasonal excitement and annual tradition. I’ve participated in watching a least one horror movie each night for the 31 days of October since I was 13 (yes, the age is a coincidence). I’ve made it my mission to attempt to watch a variety of movies and rarely repeat if I didn’t have to year-after-year. There are so many great horror films out there and so many horror communities to draw from that I would be doing the genre a disservice if I didn’t vary my viewing.

This year, I’m going to view primarily canonical. It’s been a long time since I focused solely on the popular classics of each decade. I’m not necessarily referencing the academic canon that horror movie scholars and communities may assume should be on my list. I’m purely going with common films that many have seen or it is criminal that they haven’t. This year, I also want to push myself to also watch at least one film a week, beyond the popular works, that is written, directed or produced by a minority/marginalized voice.

Moving forward, as I continue to build this blog beyond these 31 days, I want to then dedicate this space to sharing films by, of and about marginalized voices and communities. Yes, I have a love and passion for the classics; however, I am deeply concerned that we are unable to see more of these voices in our viewing community and I would like to be a platform to share it.

I see horror both as a fan of its camp and popularity and its deep symbolic and connected purpose and themes. In this blog, I will attempt to offer both in my recommendations. But, let’s be real, I’ll probably just babble and tell you why you should watch these movies and why horror is worth it.

Just saying.

Welcome.

[Day 1 of 31]

You don’t have to be close to me to know that I have a less-than-subtle obsession with my first two films: “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Many think I’m joking when my response to the question “what do you watch when you need to relax before bed” is usually one or both of these films. Yes, it does possibly paint me as someone who quite possibly is a little twisted; however, it isn’t the horror that I find comfort in (to defend myself from those critics of my personal choices). I see these films as icons–two films that define my introduction to the horror genre. These two made me love horror for its wit, charm and significance.

From my favorite line in nearly all of film history, “Is the washed-up, dried-out has been having a moment,” to the self-referential tropes, I love these films. “Scream” offers up a critique of the rules of horror, while “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was a clever riff off the genre rules and conventions Williamson’s script unearthed the previous year, there is something for everyone in both. Neither film would strike me as being overtly scary, while yes there are moments where jumping in common as a result of the loud noises or what’s lurking around the dark corner. Instead, the films are simply fun.

The casts include a late-90s rat pack of beautiful scream queens (including Neve Campbell, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rose McGowen) coupled with the slick and sexy beaus (Skeet Ulrich, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Ryan Phillippe), the bumbling sidekicks (Jamie Kennedy and Matthew Lillard) and the franchise icons (Courteney Cox and David Arquette) allows for a unique mix of youth and edge with wit and tenacity. While not all of the characters proceed through the sequels, there is something special and unique about the two original casts in these films.

Here’s why I love them and why you should watch them:

Scream

Arguably one of the most significant films in modern horror, “Scream” is the film that took the rules of the genre and made them obvious. No longer were they elicit ideas that gave the audiences a reason to shout out to the big-breasted blonde while she paraded herself into a situation where death was inevitable. The rules were now where everyone can see and understand them.

You may not survive the movie if you have sex.

You may not survive the movie if you drink or do drugs.

You may not survive the movie if you say “I’ll be right back.”

Randy, “Scream”

And if you broke any of these rules, you end up on the literal cutting room floor and your paycheck didn’t extend to numerous sequels. What makes this film worth your first watch of the holiday season is that it sets the tone for how to see the rest of the movies you watch. Do they follow the rules? Do they break them? How and why? It is because of this film and its critical look at the genre that made it famous that a new batch of horror fanatics was born.

Beyond this, there is something special about the 90s fashion and hair, the cutesy one-liners and the shocking appearance of Drew Barrymore and her dance with horror trivia that make it beyond appealing. While the film is encroaching on its 25th anniversary, much of the film still remains worth watching–Cox and Barrymore’s bangs may be the one thing to leave behind. If you’re someone who loves 70s television, the Fonz returns to high school, this time as a principal, and meets his match as Kharma for his previous role.

The self-referential flick–including a janitor who is a nod to Robert Englund’s iconic Freddy Krueger (also a Wes Craven film) and a shot-for-shot alignment of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy calling out to Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie on TV, referencing Jamie by her first name, all while the killer was looming over his as much as her on-screen–uses the genre as an extended and effective plot point. The film starts with horror trivia, is built on horror trivia and iconic tropes and characters die by the same conventions. There is no escaping the rules, and there is no escaping the roller coaster ride that is “Scream.” Even the line “what’s your favorite scary movie,” which was originally used in the film by the killers before attempting to slice and dice whoever was on the other line, has now become pop culture gold and reflexive statement in itself.

While the film spawned what will be four sequels, there is nothing like the original, and, as Campbell states in the fourth installment, “Don’t f*ck with the original.” However, I’ll be honest, I’m a little partial to “Scream 4.” I did love what they did to bring the series back to life, and Hayden Panetierre’s Kirby may just be my favorite character in the whole series. No matter the side note, the first film, the one that sparked a slew of other films that would become known for their uses of teen angst and reflexivity of horror conventions, will go down as one of the greatest of all time. And it will certainly sit at the top of my list as one of my two favorites–“IKWYDLS” being the other.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

The followup to the ’96 cult classic is its significantly less favored little sibling. While it features a young Leonard Hofstadter come in a classist conflict with a “college quarterback ass” before finding a fisherman’s hook in his throat, there is more to celebrate than the launching of a number of new talents’ careers.

Arguably, this movie has significantly more impactful and lasting one-liners, usually emerging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself and her sister’s (Bridgette Wilson) banter–a twit with a wit anyone? Additionally, it certainly looked to capitalize on the success of its predecessor but attempted to provide a new location and an elevated sense of horror by using the iconic villain of urban legend lore: the man with the hook. Despite this, its narrative doesn’t read more complex; rather, it, as “Scream” states, is another entry in the generic conventions of horror.

This film is the perfect companion to “Scream” as it draws on the love of the 90s and the casting of Hollywood’s unknown darlings. The quick jumps, fear of someone always watching and the pure terror of a man with a big f*cking hook are all reasons to get your cuddle on with either that significant other or your nearest pillow. And if you not looking for that big of a scare, this film isn’t going to send you into a nightmare frenzy as you lay down to count sheep.

“IKWYDLS” fits nicely with “Screams” reflexivity, but in this case does so not with horror but with other texts: a nod to Dawson’s Beach (a play off of Williamson’s “Dawson’s Creek”), Jodie Fosters’ “Silence of the Lambs” and Angela Landsbury’s “Murder She Wrote.” The use of mystery as allusion isn’t a surprise as the film is based on a mystery novel of the same name. Instead of the slow-burn whodunit, the film traded in for fast-paced blood and guts. Even Anne Hasche, who would star in the ill-fated “Psycho” shot-for-shot remake the following year, makes an appearance in a slicker with a slight homage to the “Chainsaw” roots of horror’s past.

Don’t let the crabs carry you away (watch the movie, you’ll get it) and watch this movie. What are you waiting for?

Welcome to the world of Kevin Williamson, a screenwriter who has been notably active since 1990. The choices for my first day are two of my all-time favorites; in fact, much of Williamson’s work is work I favor (including other teen-driven 90s TV and films like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” and “The Faculty”). Williamson produced and wrote all but two of the sequels of these films (“Scream 3” his characters were used and he produced, but he didn’t write the film; “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” was noticeably written, directed and produced by a different team.) is also already slated to be an executive producer on the fifth installment of the “Scream” franchise. While many would assume that these choices would be far from an ounce of diversity, equity or inclusion–hell, they don’t even broach including a visible minority in either film beyond the class struggle between those that work the fishing docks and those that go to college), the writer of these films is openly gay. While this isn’t inherent or overt in the films, Williamson’s queering of the genre released both films from the rules they explicated. Female strength is clearly evident, men are provided more chances to have fewer clothes than the women, love is seen as a transaction through sex, and, well, the over-the-top antics and desire to go beyond heteronormativity give these films a chance to emerge as iconic texts of a gay writer.

As an additional note, it isn’t until “Scream 4” that one of Williamson’s films directly addresses the role of being gay in horror. The line, “if you want to survive in a modern-day horror movie, you pretty much have to be gay” was ultimately subverted when the only gay character (or assumed gay–he “outs” himself in the sequence) is killed and pleads that his queerness should save him.

Kevin Williamson, Photo Creative Commons

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