July 8, 2007

Getting Ready to Watch a Scary Movie...

This is my entry for The Performance That Changed My Life Blog-a-Thon over at All About My Movies, run by the delightful Emma.



An eleven and a half minute cameo may not be a typical selection for something as epic-in-scope as "the performance that changed my life", but I found it hard to think of a particular performance that changed the way I viewed movies or the craft as acting in general. I found the movies themselves are what have changed my life, and I've discussed them before (but I can't be bothered digging around the archives).

So instead I took a bit of a detour. I decided upon a specific scene that changed my life and that scene would be the opening sequence of Wes Craven's 1996 horror comedy thriller Scream. The film, which single handedly reinvigorated the horror genre (whether you like it or not), was ingenius in it's casting of the character of Casey Becker - a blonde seemingly all-American high schooler with a football jock boyfriend ("He's big! And he plays football! And he'll kick the shit out of you!") with a penchant for scary movies ("Halloween! You know, the one with the guy in the white mask who walks around and stalks babysitters.").


For a role that is actually just over eleven minutes long the makers decided to cast Drew Barrymore. She who was once a huge star as a child before descending into a drug-fuelled chasm. By the time Scream came around she was slowly making her way back into the mainsteam and it was these eleven and a half minutes that have pretty much solidified her place back in the world of film making.


The scene in question is a classic and created now a stock-standard slasher tradition - the opening scene murder. Usually played by an attractive well-known actress who becomes the first victim of the film's murderous villain. The scene in Scream is so incredibly scary and shocking in it's means (gutting? really?!) that upon watching it on VHS back in 1997 on a sick day from school (the mother had hired it out and I just happened to be in the room while she watched it) I was riveted. It struck me. It hit me at a core. Remember, I would have only been 12 at the time, too.


But you may be saying to yourself "it's not the performance!" but, oh - it most certainly is. Or, the performance is at least a major part of it, anyway. If I was to do an UMA award presentation for 1996 I would probably go as far as to nominate Barrymore for Best Supporting Actress (but, I would need to see more contenders first). If Judi Dench can win an Oscar for 8 minutes, then Drew Barrymore can be nominated for an UMA for eleven and change!


Barrymore puts so much into this small part that is transcends being a mere "opening scene murder" and becomes one of the scariest scenes in cinema history. The sight of nosey ol' Gertie from ET playing wicked games ("Jason! Jason!") on the phone with a mysterious hidden voice is fuckin' freaky, alright?! And if Barrymore sounds legitimately terrified it's because she is. Wes Craven actually threatened to murder a puppy just so she could look geniunely frightened. How sick is that?! I guess it worked though. There is pure terror in her eyes.


The reason though as to why Barrymore's performance (probably the best of her career, just fyi) changed my life is because of the effect it instantly had on me. This scene, this performance - as I said - instantly grabbed me. It got me hook, like and sinker. I continued watching this movie with the sort of hyper-scared enthusiasm that I think only younger people can have. I still get it after watching it more than one hundred times (I watched it once a day for about two months in 1997. I wore out the VHS for sure). I had seen movies before this that you could call "scary", but upon watching this one my eyes opened. "You can do this in a movie?" (I suspect this is the only reasoning for the continued Saw franchise, natch) I wondered how it was possible to elicit such a reaction from me. How could watching Barrymore fight for her life charge me up so much? I scared myself for a bit when watching it.


Scream lead me down a garden path to a place where I am today. After watching this movie I was intrigued as every other budding movie buff is around that age - "What else is out there?" My household soon got the crazy program of sorts called "The Internet" and it was because of Scream - and because of those eleven minutes - that lead me to seek out places on the Internet that could satiate my desire to know everything. I discovered websites such as IMDb, Dark Horizons and the like. I devoured film information. What movies were coming out, what movies were being made, who was being cast in what. I spent hours just letting my brain soak it all up. Those were the early stages of the film nerd I am now.


After the release of Scream 2 (a movie I like even more than the first) I started to visit forums about the franchise. I met a lot of fans. We discussed what could happen in Scream 3 (including who would be the opening scene murder, of course) alongside many other things Scream and non-Scream related. Many of them I am still friends with today. One of them, Jen, from Sydney is holidaying in Melbourne next week and we're catching up (we're going to the Pixar Exhibit at ACMI, funnily enough). Another, Jo, came all the way from Perth just to celebrate my 21st with me, and I've met others from California, Alaska, Sydney and somewhere in Holland, plus I've had the pleasure of knowing many others from all over Australia, America, England and various other places. So it changed my life in a personal sense as well.


It also got me writing from a young age, a past-time that I continue to this very day (clearly) and that I wish to persue as a career of some sort throughout my life. I began writing silly horror movies about killers on the set of a movie (which would, curiously, go on to be the plot of Scream 3) and other horror movie ripoffs - all of which would feature an opening scene murder. But nothing I, nor anybody else - professional or not - could ever compare to what Craven, Kevin Williamson (the writer) and Barrymore achieved in the opening of Scream. I may have been a sick twisted fifteen-year-old, but I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have liked Hostel then, either!


Barrymore's performance more than anything opening my eyes to what a person could do on screen. She made me feel for a character that I only knew for eleven minutes. It gave me an expectation for the future. If someone is capable of this in the short amount of time that they had, and in a slasher film no less, then why should I expect any less? It's not my favourite performance of all time, or one of my top 20 or 50 or whatever, but it was a vital part in (cue Thomas Newman score) The Evolution of Me... Coming to cinemas July 14.

I could post the final image of Barrymore in Scream, but it's tres gruesome (ENTRAILS! BLOOD!) so I'll exorcise good taste and leave it at that.

23 comments:

Arden said...

Thanks for this! I loved it.

J.D. said...

I want to see the first eleven and half minutes now! And it sounds very mind-torturey (my favorite [and only really] kind of horror), so... This is also one of those things like Janet Leigh in Psycho or Ulianneje Remooe in Ildrenche foe Enme, right? Awesome.

rural juror said...

That's such a good movie....and Drew will probably always be remembered for this classic scene. Good stuff. A movie full of teens that offs its most famous player (one with a history in horror, at that)...that was genius casting.

Kamikaze Camel said...

JD, you haven't seen it? You definitely should. It's gruesome when it gets to it, but til then it's just tension being ramped up frame-by-frame.

Barry said...

Holy shit. I totally agree with everything you said about Drew Barrymore. I think this is one of the best openings of any film in movie history. Frightening and extraordinary.

Would she win the UMA for Best Supporting Actres 1996?

I really need to buy Scream now. :D

Kamikaze Camel said...

No, Courtney Love would win the UMA.

Emma said...

Oh My. I think I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 11. It scared the shit out of me. Drew was great, I was terrified throughout her scene. Probably the scariest part of the movie, in a way.

Btw, looking at your sidebar, is Good Girl Gone Bad worth downloading? I loved Umbrella.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Thanks Emma.

And, GGGB is worth buying. *nudgewink*

Barry said...

reeaaallllly??? thats cool. For The People vs Larry Flint???

Jose said...

She was the Marion Crane of the 90s.
I'm always happy to see someone else loves Scream as much as I do, I always enjoy making fun of people who think it's merely a silly slasher. They never get that the joke is actually on them.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I know, right? It's always a pet peeve of mine when people just can't say a movie like this is good purely because it's not "important" or whatever. Scream was a better made movie than most of the other movies I've seen from that year.

And yes, for Larry Flynt (an all around amazing movie just fyi).

Ali said...

There's little I can add here - you've touched brilliantly on every single detail regarding this performance and why it is so special (and indeed worthy of award consideration way back when.) The first time I saw this film, I was cowering at the back of the room, watching through my fingers. It ranks as one of the scariest moments on film that I've ever experienced. Up there with Blair Witch and The Others.

Ali said...

And when I say "film", I'm clearly talking about the opening scene.

Although the overall movie's great and plenty scary too.

rose said...

Brilliant stuff!

I remember I was quite young when I saw Scream for the first time (WAY TOO YOUNG, lol) and Drew's scene was the only scene that gave me nightmares.

I'm still afraid to stay home alone, lol.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Drew did her family name proud in Scream- she's such a Barrymore in it (ah, yes, it is about her performance) that somewhere up above (or down below, considering his reputation) even grandpa John must have been smiling when the film came out and turned her career around. Wish Drew would just "go for it" again onscreen and knock our socks off.

Never thought the graphic violence was necessary, because Barrymore so vividly depicts this young woman that of course the audience is going to be mortified when she doesn't make it. We're pulling for her all the way, and don't need a ripped torso to ensure a shocked reaction- we get it, he was faster than her, and now this poor girl is dead.

Other than that, it's a masterfully done sequence. Thanks for a great entry in this terrific blogathon.

StinkyLulu said...

For what it's worth, Drew's work in Scream was considered among the best of the year -- and more than a handful of commentators that year insisted that genre snobbery kept her from getting a lot of awards attention.

It's a virtuoso sequence, really. On all counts. Good call.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Wow, really? Man, that would've been amazing to see a slasher movie performance up there for an Oscar.

Of course, if I had my way, it would have been nommed for Picture, Director, Screenplay and two supporting actresses (Barrymore and Cox). But that's just me... I think.

jakey said...

This is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I loved this post! I've read several times that Drew was offered the Neve Campbell role but turned it down, since she knew the biggest star of the film dying in the first ten minutes would be a big shock (if you remember the advertising, Drew was as prominent as all the other stars).

And yes, it's a mercilessly violent movie, but the story is so strong that anyone can get through it -- in the words of my conservative grandmother who I once forced to see it, "It's a bit gory, but it's so intriguing!"

Kamikaze Camel said...

Yeah, that's true. She thought the Casey Becker role was more challenging and she knew it'd be shocking.

And, yes, gory - but it has context and it's done in a way that helps the story.

RC said...

good call on a performance for this one...

it's a great selection. I love what she does in that small time frame. it's cinematic gold.

elisha said...

hehe i love this movie its really scary lol
xXx

Ashley in Wonderland said...

Just came across this in a Google search, and it really made me so happy! I'm a huge Drew fan and Scream is one of my favorite movies, and definitely one of my favorite performances she's ever given.

Hope said...

Thank you for the article, very useful piece of writing.