Scream (1996) (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1996 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Dimension Films (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Wes Craven’s Scream felt like a breath of fresh air for the horror genre in 1996, though as with many things in life, the reality is a bit more complicated than that. The concept of a postmodern deconstruction of the genre wasn’t really novel at that point—even Craven had already done something similar in 1994 with his vastly underrated New Nightmare. But the real antecedent for Scream was a little-seen 1991 film by Rolf Kanefsky, There’s Nothing Out There. Kanefsky’s film featured a protagonist who was obsessed with horror films, and who spent the entire film telling his friends what was going to happen based upon his knowledge of the genre. The character is similar enough to Jamie Kennedy’s Randy in Scream that there’s little to no chance that screenwriter Kevin Williamson hadn’t seen Kanefsky’s film before he sat down to write his own script. However, nothing succeeds like success, and while There’s Nothing Out There went straight to video, and even New Nightmare was a disappointment at the box office, Scream was a huge hit in 1996. More importantly, it became a pop culture icon, spawning legions of parodies and imitators—cementing its legacy more than any amount of financial success could possibly have done.
What Williamson really accomplished with his script for Scream was to take the familiar and make it feel fresh. He pulled a Quentin Tarantino by liberally borrowing from what others had done before, creating a pastiche of all those elements, but in a way that felt different thanks to how he put his own stamp on the material. One of his biggest contributions was the way he handled the identity of the killer, which manages to skate the fine line between clever and stupid. It’s clever in terms of how the killer operates, but stupid in the sense that there’s no plausible motivation for it. But Williamson pulled out a trump card by referencing that weakness directly in the dialogue, and having the killer mock the idea of having any motivation at all. Scream works because Williamson didn’t merely skewer the genre; he also skewered his own screenplay.
Of course, Scream also works thanks to how Wes Craven handled that script. Horror-comedies can struggle to find a balance between those two elements, usually falling more heavily on one side or the other. That’s understandable, since it’s difficult to make a film that’s frightening and funny in equal measures—the two emotional responses are at odds with each other. But Craven willingly embraced both sides of the equation, even letting the humor veer toward slapstick, while still gleefully reveling in the nastiness. There are plenty of horror comedies that are far more gruesome (Dead Alive, anyone?), but few that are as overtly brutal as Scream is. The horror here is genuinely horrific, almost to the point of taking away from the humor, but never quite going too far.
Full credit also needs to go to the fine cast that Craven assembled. Williamson wrote interesting characters, but without the right actors to bring those roles to life, the film still would have failed. Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy are all perfect for their parts, and even Matthew Lillard’s over-the-top schtick actually works well here. The characters in Scream have become almost as iconic as the film itself, and that’s thanks to the likability of the main actors. Scream truly is an ensemble film, in the broadest sense of the term: everyone worked together as a group, both in front of the camera and behind it as well. The results speak for themselves.
Mark Irwin was the primary cinematographer for Scream, though he was replaced for the final week of principle photography by Peter Deming. Both shot on 35 mm film primarily using Moviecam Compact cameras with Clairmont anamorphic lenses, with additional photography done using Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras and Panavision Primo anamorphic lenses. The film was finished photochemically at a 2.39:1 aspect ratio for theaters. For this Ultra HD version, the original camera negative was scanned at 4K resolution and graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on the disc). The results are a significant improvement over the previous Blu-ray. Whereas that disc suffered from too many artifacts due to artificial sharpening and other processing, this one never looks anything but natural and filmic. Fine detail is improved, though it may not be as easily perceptible from normal viewing distances. Similarly, the grain is very subdued, but it’s there if you look for it. There are no traces of damage visible. The image is never as sharp or as well-defined as the best that the format has to offer, but it’s an accurate representation of how the film was photographed. The HDR grade is suitably restrained, but it enhances the contrast range and provides deeper black levels, without crushing any of the detail. The color gamut is definitely expanded, but not in a way that strays from the original look—it’s subtly enhanced, but not revised. Some of the daylight scenes do offer brighter colors than before, but it all retains that natural look. This isn’t demo material in the sense that it shows off everything that 4K Ultra HD can do, but it’s a nearly perfect example of how to faithfully translate the look of a given film onto the format.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and it’s the same 5.1 track as previous releases. This has never been a particularly aggressive mix, and while it tends to focus on the front channels, the surrounds are still used effectively at times to enhance the suspense. But it’s Marco Beltrami’s score that really does the heavy lifting in that regard, and the fidelity of the lossless track supports his work well. This is one mix where the dynamics and the bass extension are just as important as the surround channels, and there’s plenty of kick here for lovers of jump scares.
Additional audio choices include German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish (Spain) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin America) Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, Italian 2.0 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, and Russian 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include, English, English SDH, Danish, German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Finnish, and Swedish. Paramount also continues to be one of the only companies to offer a wide selection of subtitles for commentary tracks, in this case English, German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese (Brazil).
Paramount’s Ultra HD release of Scream is a single-disc version that includes a slipcover and a Digital copy code on a paper insert. Take note that there’s no standard Blu-ray in this set. Extras include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson
- A Bloody Legacy: Scream 25 Years Later (HD – 7:29)
- Production Featurette (Upscaled HD – 6:12)
- Behind the Scenes: On the Scream Set (Upscaled HD – 3:25)
- Behind the Scenes: Drew Barrymore (Upscaled HD – 2:53)
- Q&A with Cast and Crew: What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie? (Upscaled HD – 2:44)
- Q&A with Cast and Crew: Why Are People So Fascinated by Horror Films? (Upscaled HD – 2:31)
The vintage commentary with Craven and Williamson is a fairly informative one, though the pair could perhaps have used a moderator to prod them along occasionally. They talk about the cast and crew, and provide interesting stories about the production. They acknowledge the similarities between the opening scene of their film and When a Stranger Calls, and point out other references and callbacks as well. They discuss the various red herrings, both in the script and also in terms of how Craven shot things. They also note the scenes that caused trouble for the MPAA, and even admit that they took some of Bob Weinstein’s suggestions. It’s a somewhat dry commentary track, but it’s still worth a listen for fans of the film.
The sole new HD extra is A Bloody Legacy, which features the cast and crew of the 2022 installment of the franchise discussing the original film. While new content is always welcome, this is really just a thinly disguised promo for the upcoming film. The vintage Production Featurette includes Craven, Williamson, and members of the cast. It’s nice to see the late Craven talking about his work, but this featurette is far too short to offer any real insight. On the Scream Set is a random collection of behind-the-scenes clips, and Drew Barrymore is a slightly less random collection of behind-the-scenes clips from the opening sequence for the film. What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie? and Why Are People So Fascinated by Horror Films? are just what the titles indicate: clips of members of the cast and crew briefly answering the questions at hand. While the commentary track is still solid, the rest of the extras can safely be skipped. Scream has always deserved better than this lightweight collection of extras.
There are a few items missing from the previous Lionsgate Blu-ray release: the red band trailer, the green band trailer, and seven TV spots. But the biggest omission is the Unrated cut of the film, which has only been made available on the original 1997 LaserDisc release, as well as a few import DVDs. It’s only about 20 seconds longer, but it contains footage that had to be removed or altered to obtain an R rating. It’s possible that there are practical or legal reasons why that cut can’t be included anymore, but it still would be nice at least to get a featurette compiling the trims and the unaltered footage—or better yet, a comparison video.
Scream has one of the all-time great acknowledgments at the end of its closing credits: “No thanks whatsoever to the Santa Rosa City School District Governing Board.” Craven had planned to shoot some scenes there, but the school board balked at the last minute and the production was forced to relocate. Not everyone had the vision to see what kind of cultural impact that Scream would end up having, but 25 years later, the franchise is still going strong, and watching the original film on this UHD release is the best way to remember why.
- Stephen Bjork
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