Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits one of the best horror films of the 90s, Wes Craven’s Scream.
Scream 5 hits theaters early next year, and while we’re excited about it — the filmmakers’ previous film is the excellent Ready or Not — there’s a notable sadness around it as it’s the first without Wes Craven. The legendary director helmed the first four, and while they all have their charms I think we can all agree that Scream > Scream 4 > Scream 3 > Scream 2. (I know we can’t actually agree on that, so feel free to leave a comment below with your incorrect ranking.)
In anticipation of the upcoming sequel, and as an excuse to revisit the film on its new 4K Ultra HD release, I gave a listen to the commentary track with Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. The film’s a quarter century old at this point — yup, twenty-five-years — so horror fans already know some of this stuff, but it’s still a solid listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Scream.
Commentators: Wes Craven (director), Kevin Williamson (writer)
1. The opening scene with Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) was filmed over the production’s first five days. The house was a set built in a vineyard, and the large windows are meant as a reminder to viewers feeling safe within that “there’s a big world out there.”
2. The film was originally called Scary Movie, “and when Miramax changed it to Scream we all thought that was a stupid title.” They all love it now, of course.
3. Craven initially removed the bit where Casey says the first Nightmare on Elm Street film is great but the rest suck, “because I thought that would make me look like an egomaniac.”
4. Roger Jackson voices the killer, and he was actually on set during production — and on the other end of those phone calls. They never let Barrymore see or meet him, though, to maintain her uncertainty over who it actually was.
5. The “very special blue” on Casey’s television screen, the dead screen between VHS tapes, appeals to Craven as it suggests “we’re about to see a film.”
6. Barrymore had shared a traumatic memory with Craven involving a story she read about a dog owner who burned their pet alive. “So anytime that I needed her to get over that edge into complete tears I would just say ‘Drew, I’m lighting the lighter,’ and she would just burst into tears.”
7. The exposed intestines at 8:02 were censored by the MPAA. “A lot of times the MPAA just sad to me ‘that’s just too intense, take the intensity back.'”
8. While the conceit of the mask was part of Williamson’s script, he made no mention of what else the killer is wearing. Craven and the costume department went through various options, all designed to ensure viewers couldn’t identify the killer behind the mask. They initially looked at white costumes to be in line with the ghost mask, but one of the producers suggested they go black instead.
9. Casey’s father telling her mother to “drive down to the Mackenzies” is a nod to Halloween (1978) when Laurie Strode tells the kids to go down the street to the Mackenzies. Seems to me the Mackenzies should be looked into as it’s awfully convenient that they’ve now lived near two mass murder sprees.
10. The conversation between Sidney (Neve Campbell), Stu (Matthew Lillard), Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and Tatum (Rose McGowan) at 20:00 is what made Santa Rosa High School pull their permission for filming on campus. The language was too much for them. “One of the great ironies of it was that in the middle of all this school board saying you’re showing the wrong thing to our kids and setting the wrong example, one of ’em was arrested for beating his wife.”
11. “There’s a little boom shadow on that railing there,” at 22:25. “It’s the only one in the movie.”
12. Williamson gets more flack for the line about Tom Cruise’s penis than any other in the film. The Richard Gere/gerbil line is a close second.
13. Craven knew they were walking a fine line with the killer’s clumsiness/how often he’s knocked down, and during the first fight with Sidney they actually shot but then removed a beat with her hitting him over the head with a picture causing him to fall down the stairs.
14. Sidney types her distress call out to the online 911 system, and she enters 34 Elm Street as her address — but it was cut for time.
15. Joseph Whipp plays the sheriff here, and he plays a cop in A Nightmare on Elm Street too. “So the backstory there that I put in is that he was so upset by the events in Nightmare on Elm Street that he moved to a small town in Northern California.”
16. The film remains great fun in regard to its manipulations and red herrings, but the shot of Billy’s face at 30:01 always sealed his guilt for me. (A similar one during the gang’s conversation by the fountain is equally overdone.) “The idea here for me,” says Williamson, “is that I point the finger at him so blatantly that the audience immediately knows no, he’s not the killer.”
17. The killer’s costume, as glimpsed in the package at 35:09, is called Father Death. “That was my little misdirection,” says Craven, “put the word father in there to make people think it’s Sid’s father who’s mysteriously missing.” This is news to Williamson.
18. Williamson feels Stu’s character is underwritten, so he credits Lillard with turning the character into one of the film’s most memorable.
19. The principal (Henry Winkler) is killed because Bob Weinstein felt that thirty pages without a murder was too long.
20. Other directors were brought in before Craven, but they were all nixed in part because they viewed the script as a comedy. “You can not be funny when somebody’s dying,” says Craven. He instead loves to find the humor in the tension between kills.
21. Craven didn’t know what a beer bong was.
22. The house where the film’s third act is set was built by a couple who died within a month of each other. It was basically abandoned as the couple’s children wanted no part of it, so they were easily convinced to rent it out for filming.
23. Neither comments on the partygoer who reacts to the hallway closet kill in John Carpenter’s Halloween by saying “the color of the blood is all wrong! It’s too red!” There is — quite famously — no blood in that scene (and barely any in the film as a whole).
24. Ulrich only donned the killer’s costume once during filming, and it was during the scene where Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is watched Halloween alone and talking to the screen trying to warn Laurie.
25. The van stunt at 1:27:00 was supposed to see the vehicle go off the road and immediately flip, but it kept going and slammed into the trees. The stuntwoman was safe and unhurt.
26. The beat where Gale (Courtney Cox) falls onto Dewey (David Arquette) had to be reshot multiple times as the pair would immediately start giggling on every take.
27. Ulrich had open-heart surgery as a child, and it left him with a spot on his chest with a stainless steel wire that can be sensitive to touch. He was padded up for the umbrella hit, but the stuntwoman’s second stab at 1:40:02 accidentally connected with the spot.
28. Sidney sticking her finger in Billy’s fresh wound was devised by Craven as an “intimate reverse love-making” of her penetrating him.
29. They added the shot of Dewey alive and being loaded into the ambulance on the spot “just in case” audiences liked the character.
30. Craven is pleased by his addition to the end credits acknowledgements ending a list of thanks with “No thanks whatsoever to The Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board.”
31. Non-Wes Craven movies mentioned include Psycho, When a Stranger Calls, Copycat, Ransom, Walking and Talking, Prom Night, and Halloween.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I’ve always thought that the scariest killers are the killers that are really smart.”
“I’ll do anything to get my shots.”
“I was trying to get every movie reference in I could.”
“What is postmodern horror?”
“Censorship can really make things impersonal.”
Scream remains a terrifically entertaining slasher film — funny, violent, smart — and it holds up well on rewatches. Some character beats/expressions push the boundary of red herrings — looking at you Ulrich — but audience suspicions shift beautifully throughout. Craven and Williamson made for a great team, and their commentary shows two people in love with movies, horror, and the talents that bring it all together.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.