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Scream (Craven, 1996) Opening Sequence

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Harry Pearson

on 30 November 2014

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Transcript of Scream (Craven, 1996) Opening Sequence

Part of the Slasher sub-genre, popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
This is evidenced by the focus on a knife wielding antagonist and ample amounts of blood and gore.
Other similar opening sequences include Scream 2 (Craven, 1997) and Halloween (Carpenter, 1978).
This opening scene confides to the typical style of the slasher genre and the audience's expectations are met with a slightly tongue in cheek, but nevertheless shocking opening sequence.
There is a slight irony to the sequence, as the protagonist discusses scary movies with the antagonist, but this soon dispels into real slasher horror.
Sequence Analysis
Camera Shot, Movement and Angle
Ideologies, Audience and Context
Opening Scene Analysis
Scream (Craven, 1996) Opening Sequence
The narrative follows the protagonist Casey (portrayed by Drew Barrymore) as she is preparing for a night watching horror movies, when an unknown caller interrupts her. The person keeps calling, getting progressively more creepy until he reveals that he is going to kill her. After breaking into the house he chases her and eventually stabs her multiple times and hangs her corpse from a tree, which is subsequently discovered by her parents.
This opening scene utilises the stock character of a young adult girl in the stock setting of a large home in a remote rural area at night.
The audience is positioned with the protagonist, seeing the action from her perspective. This provides the audience with an equal sense of confusion and fear and prevents the audience from seeing coming threats before the protagonist.
The main themes of the narrative include naivety, fear and gore. All of these are displayed by the protagonist as she undergoes the various stages of fear in the narrative.
Tension is created in the scene by not revealing the antagonist for a long time and instead having him talk to the protagonist through the phone. Only hearing the voice of the enemy raises questions of their appearance and how they are going to attack the protagonist, raising tension and uncertainty in the sequence. In addition to this the choice of camera angles to obscure certain views which would provide comfort in the scene, such as through windows or into large open spaces keeps the tension high as a claustrophobic atmosphere is created.
The first shot of the scene is of the phone on the table. The camera is level with the phone as it rings, and then pans up, tracking the phone to the girl's face as she picks it up. This both establishes the scene and sets the focus of the sequence on the phone and, more importantly, who is speaking on the other side of it.
When the phone rings again, the same camera motion takes place, this time stopping at an off angle so the frame is tilted slightly. This presents a sense of uneasiness, and makes the phone ringing a second time seem a little more sinister.
A POV shot is used as Casey looks out of the window after the antagonist's line "Can you see me?". This positions the audience in the protagonist's place, immersing the audience in the action and giving a feeling of dread at who is outside.
For about half of this scene there is only digetic sound, such as the phone and the atmospheric background noise of bugs outside, connoting a rural setting at night even before this is revealed on camera. This creates a depression in the action in the sense that there isn't any tension produced, but there is a slight feeling that the audience is waiting for something. This helps to lead into the suspenseful section of the scene when it comes.
This silence is finally broken when the antagonist speaks the line "I wanna know who I'm looking at". At this point non-digetic sounds appear in the form of a piano stinger followed by a suspenseful, building section of music, creating a sudden sense of threat and urgency.
Arguably the most effective use of sound in this sequence however, is the dialogue from the antagonist over the phone. In only hearing his voice, the audience is left with a chilling absence of what the threat really is and where it is coming from.
The choice to shoot this sequence in a night time environment conforms to one of the oldest and most effective horror conventions, the fear of the unknown. In this sequence this fear manifests itself in not being able to see outside the windows of the house, effectively trapping the protagonist and the audience within its walls. This gives a sense of claustrophobia and presents an aspect of paranoia for the audience, wondering where the antagonist is in the darkness.
While talking on the phone in the kitchen, Casey picks out a knife from the rack and plays with it. This foreshadows the slasher style death she will endure later in the scene and is a subtle addition to the suspenseful waiting of this sequence as she talks to the antagonist.
A large amount of this scene takes place without any obvious cutting. This slow cutting rate as a Steadicam follows the protagonist contrasts the fast cutting rate towards the end of the sequence. It also serves to immerse the audience in the conversation she is having with the antagonist and keeps the scene from feeling like a film and more like a real situation. This contributes to the sense of fear later in the scene when the threat from the antagonist finally presents itself.
Throughout the scene there are various cuts back to the popcorn cooking. This serves as a visual signifier of the situation, connoting the scenario the protagonist is experiencing getting more and more dangerous. For example as she plays with the knives the popcorn bag is expanding, then after the antagonist mentions that he can see her the action cuts to the bag reaching its limit and popping at the back, reflecting the danger Casey is now in.
The key social groups represented in this sequence are of youth and women. The protagonist represents both these groups in a slightly ideologically regressive way. This can be seen through her ineptitude to effectively deal with the threat by calling the police and hiding somewhere in the house and by her reliance on the threat of her boyfriend to protect her. She is displayed as a character who is unable to help herself and is being dominated by the male antagonist in the scene.
Media Audiences
The target audience of this film is teenagers and young adults. This can be seen through it's mature content including the use of gore and focus on a group of young adult protagonists. My personal evaluation of this text is that it effectively puts an ironic spin on a now classic horror sub-genre. In not taking itself too seriously, the film has managed stay credible in terms of its effects and shooting style in the near 20 years since its production. My evaluation is most likely influenced quite heavily by my age, as this film comes from an era of media that holds nostalgic value to me, despite being too young at the time to view or appreciate this genre.
Institutional Context
This film was produced by Dimension Films and Woods Entertainment and distributed by Miramax Films. It is an industrial production, as Dimension Films was owned by Miramax and Walt Disney Studios at the time (it is now owned by The Weinstein Company). The production value of the opening is moderate, with a large set for the house. However very few effects are used so the film's moderate budget is not apparent in the opening scene. The film's bankable stars include David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and Drew Barrymore.
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