Horror retrospectives are a big deal these days. I remember receiving Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror as a birthday gift a few years back and being pleasantly surprised that such a compendium existed. Even if I wasn’t a fan of the whole series (the original Halloween is the only one I legitimately love), I found the insight into their production and the fallout after each release captivating. Seeing how the creatives involved reacted to both failure and success, and how those reactions informed the creative process / mandate for the next installment, was easily more entertaining to me than watching just about any of the sequels.
After being horribly let down by His Name Was Jason my interest in these documentaries was re-emboldened by the holy grail of horror retrospective DVD’s, Never Sleep Again. Covering eight movies and clocking in at around four hours, I think I almost lost a girlfriend after suggesting we watch it a second time.
So how does Still Screaming stack up in this pantheon? The short answer is “very very well”. Of course there are variables, I mean, if you love A Nightmare On Elm Street but hate Scream then you probably already know if you want to spend 93 minutes learning more about the franchise. For Scream fans (or people interested in the development and production process in general) it’s a total delight. I’ve read a lot about the series over the years, Peter Biskind’s “Down And Dirty Pictures” devotes more than a few words to at least the first installment, but even when the information presented here overlapped with what I already knew, it was still engaging. Even better, more often than not I found myself learning something entirely new.
The doc opens with a brief intro that pays homage to the series by introducing two nubile young fans having a movie night and being interrogated by Ghostface on their Scream trivia. For a second I was nervous that this would be a recurring theme, that the flow of the documentary would be interrupted by these skits (a la the kind of stuff that almost ruined Red Letter Media’s Attack Of The Clones review), but it actually does a nifty job of settling us into the rest of the documentary and from there we’re off and running.
Still Screaming flows well from one installment to the next, even if many of the stories around the first film are well known there’s more than a few gems in the first 35 minutes or so. For example, I had no idea that Bob Weinstein had to outbid Oliver Stone on Kevin Williamson’s script – what the hell would that movie have looked like? But I actually found real meat of the documentary to be in the discussion of the sequels. The rushed schedule on Scream 2 would be intense enough, the film was in theaters exactly one year after the 1st was released and they weren’t even planning on making a sequel until several months into the theatrical release of part one. Compounded by the leaking of scripts online (something a lot of people wouldn’t have planned on in 1997) and Williamson having to relinquish writing duties on part 2 in order to attend to “Dawson’s Creek” with Wes Craven, among others, taking over to address issues on the day (Duane Martin literally improvs his way out of being killed and into a taxi cab) – it’s all fascinating. And it’s remarkable that Scream 2 works as well as it does.
The segment devoted to Scream 3 is even more revealing. Most of those involved more or less acknowledge the dip in quality on the third film. David Arquette comments, “it kind of became a caricature of itself”, but I actually found myself wanting to revisit it just to see how they were able to cobble ANYTHING together out of what they had. They only had Neve Campbell for three weeks. Kevin Williamson had to pass his treatment to Ehren Kruger, who in turn passed the baton of his admittedly rushed screenplay to Laeta Kalogridis for onset rewrites. Josh Pais even recalls everyone sitting in Courtney Cox’s trailer “talking about [trying to figure out] what we were going to shoot that day”.
Of course, one of the joys of these retrospectives is hearing all the good stuff from those onscreen. So I’ll stop with the recap (and trust me, I’ve left the best stuff unsaid). Still Screaming is well put together, the production values are as good as if not better than Never Sleep Again, and most of the interviews are candid, affable and revealing. Even when someone isn’t being candid, or is trying to paint a rosier picture than what you suspect may be true, the doc is structured well enough that you can bounce that off of contrasting interviews and calibrate your own personal bullsh*t meter. All of the major players are here, with the notable exception of Kevin Williamson who was perhaps not in the mood after history repeating itself on the set of Scream 4.
Initially I thought to myself that the only things that kept Still Screaming from reaching the level of Never Sleep Again were the fact that it only covered 3 films and that those films were newer (thus making participants perhaps less willing to dish dirt – especially since many were involved with the 4th). But after taking another look I actually appreciated the difference. The Scream films existed in an entirely different studio culture than Nightmare which presents its own set of challenges. And even if you can tell someone is pulling their punches or being political, there are plenty of lines to read between.
It’s also nice to see so many of the same participants move from one film to the next. While the production of the Nightmare series was fragmented, lurching from one installment to the next with different writers and directors, different budgets, different leads and different crew – the central alumni of first three Scream come across as kind of a graduating class that went truly went through a lot together. It takes place over a period of four years, some people left and some talent came in, but the whole overall arc is refreshingly linear.
Still Screaming is written and directed by Ryan Turek and produced by Anthony Masi. It is included in the Scream Trilogy Blu-Ray package hitting September 6th.