Halloween Special: Are You Ready to SCRE4M? (spoiler alert)

Posted by Sarah Anderson on October 31, 2011 in Blog tagged with , , , ,

So, tonight is Halloween, in case you hadn’t noticed. When I was a child I once dressed up as ‘Super Ted’, complete with cape, but this turns out to be an exception to the normal ghost, ghoul, witch, mummy, zombie, vampire or other scary Gothic villain favoured by children and adults alike. I have always found it intriguing, how much we celebrate the gothic villain. Indeed, nobody wants to identify with the victim, even the survivor; what we take away from a horror movie, why we go to see it in the first place, is the killer.

Halloween proves that we would all rather identify with the Gothic villain rather than the victim, so does this mean we are all potential serial killers? And if this is the night when all the real monsters and villains have free rein, how do we know who is human and isn’t? Who is fake and who is real? Gives you a satisfying shiver on a night like this, doesn’t it?

However, you need not fear, as the purpose of this post is to use the brilliant Scream films, a trilogy in four parts, (spot the deliberate mistake) to construct a guide to help you navigate your Halloween horror movie.

Step one: Select your movie

The dangers of movie watching are highlighted best by Scre4m. I watched the Scream movies for the first time a few months ago; I summed them up then as “an orgasmic explosion of Gothic meta-fiction”, and I still stand by this highly eloquent and succinct analysis. Scre4m is no different; in fact, its artifice is so extreme that the film’s frames are a Gothic labyrinth in themselves.

In the beginning of Scre4m, we are presented with 3 sets of teenagers watching horror movies. It turns out the first set aren’t in our movie, they are in the movie being watched by the second set  who are in a movie watched by the third set (who are in our movie). The question is, are we, the audience, also in a movie, and if so, should we refuse to answer the phone and start behaving like the generic survivor?  To add to this unsettling possibility, each pair of teenagers is situated to look directly at the audience as the audience watches them, this both reinforces the idea that the audience is in a horror movie  and questions who is the real object of the gaze (i.e. who is about to get murdered, us or them?).

Second Frame

Point one:  Take care when watching Scream tonight as you risk being a potential slasher film victim.

Step two:  Who do you want to be? The gorgeous girl who dies first? The serial killer? The last one standing? (well, who doesn’t want to be the lovely Sidney Prescott…) Or just a member of the audience?

The problem with the Scream franchise in general and Scre4m in particular is that these roles are neither stable, nor clear cut. Firstly, the killer in Scream is instantly recognisable by his mask of a screaming face, which places him/her in the position of the screaming victim. In a move typical of the Scream franchise, this is literalised in Scre4m, where Jill, Sidney Prescott’s cousin, carries out a series of killings in order to construct herself as ‘the perfect victim’. Furthermore, the other ‘killer’, Charlie, who believes himself to be in league with Jill, turns out to be another one of her victims; his murder has been planned just like everyone else’s.#

Serial Killer?

So victim has become killer and killer has become victim, however the twists do not stop there. In order to construct herself as the perfect victim, Jill needs a movie and has therefore been filming her murders using hidden cameras. In this movie Charlie retains the role of ‘Killer’ along with Jill’s ex-boyfriend, while Jill stars as the victim, much like Sidney Prescott is the star of the Scream movies. There are further issues surrounding this as the film in which Jill stars as the victim is made up of real events so that it is impossible to make a distinction between reality and film, and we can never really definitively state that Jill is really the victim or that she is really the killer.

or Victim?

Scre4m is fraught with people who film and acts as a running commentary on how the camera objectifies the person who is filmed, which in itself is a form of murder (death is the ultimate process of objectification).  The film literalises this by the fact that the murderer films the killings, forcing the audience to share the perspective of the killer. This process is mirrored in the film itself when Gale Weathers attempts to catch the killer by filming the murders, so that her actions mirror those of the killer.

Point 2: Thanks to Scre4m, you can never know whether you are actually the serial killer. It may appear that way until someone stabs you in the back, literally.  Similarly you may have to go on a few killing sprees to ensure you claim that prized ‘victim role’

Step 3: Knowing when the movie is over.

When is it safe to carry on living your life, answering your phone, sleeping with your boyfriend or stop analysing how much your sexual orientation influences if, when and how you get killed?

The tricky thing about metafiction is that it makes the distinction between reality and fiction impossible to determine. The Scream franchise exists both inside and outside a movie; ‘Ghost face’ masks are available to buy as merchandise both within the film and in real life. Scream is both an original and its own spoof; it provides its own critical commentary and therefore transgresses its own boundaries so that reality becomes the vanishing point of fiction, as one character says in one of the many opening frames:

“it’s been done to death, the whole self- aware, postmodern meta-shit, stick a fork in 1996 already”.

What is most chilling, however, is how aware the characters are of being in a movie. Why else does Robbie film his every move? Why else does Jill need to film her murders to become like Sidney? When Sidney attends a school meeting on surviving the modern horror film, she is described as the star, for them she is the celebrity of the Stab movies, not the actress who plays her; they revile her not as a person, but as a character, the star of the Scream movies, implying that they know that they are characters too.

Sidney Prescott

In another example of filming with Scre4m is Robbie, the high school student who films his every move for the school blog by wearing a camera at all times. Robbie ends up filming his own murder, while simultaneously viewing it on his smart phone.  He is therefore simultaneously sharing in the perspective of the killer, watching the movie of himself as character and experiencing it in real time. It seems, therefore, that reality, reproduction and viewing the reproduction are indistinguishable from each other.  Though this is most explicitly done in the latest version of the Scream movies, it has been present from day one through one of the repeated survivors, Gale Weathers.  Gale enters the movies as the nosey reporter everybody loves to hate, but soon  becomes part of the events she is attempting to report on, and thus the process of representing the murders becomes part of the story itself.

The scope of this is radically increased in the third Scream film, which takes place on the set of Stab 3, which is the fictional version of Scream 3 (but how can we have a fictional version of a fictional film? I hear you ask). In this movie Gale, Sidney and Dewey meet the actors and actresses who play their characters, which reference real actors and actresses, for example Jennifer (Aniston) and Angelina (Jolie). Thus, the characters intermingle with the actors that play them; again, fact and fiction are confused, particularly since ‘Jennifer’ insists on remaining in character in order to not be killed. Fact and fiction are also reversed as the characters here are more real that the actors and actresses who play them (i.e. we know that ‘Jennifer’ is not really Jennifer Aniston).

Furthermore, in Scre4m, Dewey and Gale are married, as they apparently are in the Stab movies. One character notes her surprise at this as their relationship seemed like a ‘movie romance’, so that, in Scre4m, real life has become like a movie, or the movie has leaked into real life. But of course, we can give a sigh of relief if we remember that Dewey and Gale are only fictional characters and are therefore only fictionally married – until, that is, someone reminds us that Courtney Cox (Gale) and David Arquette (Dewey) did actually marry in real life. Another example of the Scream franchise’s ability to incorporate real life into itself.

Point 3: We are all, potentially, in a movie, participating in a narrative of social networking sites, security cameras and reality TV shows. Scre4m is made up of self-commentary so that it has no fixed boundaries – by writing this, I am extending the boundary of Scre4m to my reality and yours. In short, the movie is never over.

So when you are watching your spooky films tonight, or pulling on that sexy zombie-nurse outfit, just remember how hard it is to keep fiction away from reality. In the end it seems that the only sure fire way to be the last one standing is to be more “meta” than everybody else. So I recommend sitting at home and practising those analytical skills rather than hiding weapons about your person. Or dressing up as Sidney Prescott- that might work.

P.s. You might also want to look out for someone who is interested in metafiction and scary movies, because that person is the one most likely to be hiding in your wardrobe.

Happy Halloween.

Tiny URL for this post: http://tinyurl.com/6dzk75q