Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Looking Back on Horror Spoof ‘Scary Movie’ Twenty Years Later

I have a confession to make. While I’m a huge Scream fan, owning all of the movies and even having crafted a homemade Ghostface costume for Halloween partying purposes, my first contact with the horror-obsessed killer wasn’t actually through a Wes Craven film. In all honesty, I have to admit that the first time I laid eyes on Fun World’s iconic costume design was in the infamous 2000 parody flick, Scary Movie.

I used to be ashamed of this fact after falling in love with horror, but 20 years later I’ve come to realize that I’m probably not the only one to have seen the parody before the original. In fact, despite the uneven quality, I’m now certain that Scary Movie and its subsequent sequels are responsible for introducing thousands of non-horror-fans to classic genre tropes and iconography in a “safe” comedic environment. If you think about it, this franchise probably acted as a gateway drug for some folks that had never given real scary movies a chance.

It’s easy to look back on these films and judge them as a shameful product of early 2000s humor, but the fact is that these parodies were huge back in the day, and whether you liked them or not, they helped shape the future of both horror and comedy throughout that decade. Hell, if you really look into it, it’s likely that Scary Movie contributed to the untimely death of several silly trends in mainstream horror, with many studios upping the gore and “seriousness” of their productions in an effort to distance themselves from these parodies. So, at the very least, I think we can agree that these movies were culturally significant.

The idea of a Scream spoof was actually pitched by Miramax themselves, wanting to capitalize on the runaway success of Craven’s franchise with both existing fans and folks who might prefer comedy over thrills. Even at the time, horror parodies weren’t exactly a novel idea, with classics like Young Frankenstein and the Abbot and Costello crossovers proving that the formula could be immensely popular, so a team of writers was soon hired to bring the project to life.

Due to a WGA dispute, a baffling total of six writers were credited with the creation of Scary Movie (with the name referencing Scream‘s original working title), but the finished film was really a product of the Wayans brothers, who also co-produced the picture. Keenen Ivory Wayans directed the project while Shawn & Marlon Wayans co-wrote it alongside Buddy Johnson and Phil Beauman, with the team skyrocketing to fame once the end product became a box-office hit. In fact, Scary Movie was notable for being the highest-grossing film directed by an African-American at the time, paving the way for the Wayans’ future productions.

It doesn’t get any more 90s than this.

The film itself was a rather vulgar retelling of the first Scream, with some elements from I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Usual Suspects thrown in for good measure. The always-lovable Anna Farris stars as “Cindy Campbell” (our stand-in for Sidney Prescott), who realizes that she’s being stalked by a goofier incarnation of Ghostface. A lot of violent slapstick and extremely dated 90s references ensue as Cindy and her ill-fated friends race against time and attempt to discover the killer’s secret identity, recreating iconic horror scenes along the way.

I may have grown up as a Scary Movie enthusiast, but I’ll be the first to admit that the film (and its sequels) haven’t aged all that well. A lot of the jokes fall flat and some are downright offensive even for the time. The movie also has an annoying habit of thinking that it’s smarter than the horror flicks that it’s parodying, with unfair jabs at the genre that feel like a precursor to the recent online trend of mistaking nitpicking for legitimate criticism. Hell, I’ve met folks who point to the Scary Movie franchise as the reason why they don’t enjoy horror films, claiming that they’re easy to make fun of because they’re all dumb and formulaic.

If you can overlook these obvious flaws (though I won’t hold it against you if you can’t), Scary Movie still kind of works as a nostalgic time capsule of late 90s to early 2000s humor while still ultimately feeling like a loving homage to the horror genre. At the end of the day, there’s no denying that the unique humor on display here has its charms.

The likable cast is largely responsible for making this endeavor work, with Regina Hall‘s snarky comebacks and Anna Farris’ deadpan reactions getting me every time. The actors’ commitment to translating cartoonish antics to real life through exaggerated slapstick and absurd logic is truly commendable, even if these efforts are hampered by some uninspired writing and inept criticism of scary movie tropes.

Critics might not have been crazy about the movie at the time (though Roger Ebert of all people gave the film a positive review), but audiences absolutely ate it up, resulting in an astounding $278 million pull at the box office on a $19 million budget. Naturally, a sequel was greenlit immediately, though the studio insisted on a tight schedule in order to release the new film the following year.

Great cast… and that’s about it.

Scary Movie 2 ended up being completed in under 9 months, and it unfortunately shows. There’s still a lot to like about this sequel, especially considering that they kept most of the cast and crew (even dead characters inexplicably make a comeback, which is sort of a running joke in the franchise), but the lack of a solid structure and memorable antagonist makes it decidedly less fun. If you enjoy haunted-house and exorcism movies, you’ll probably get a kick out of this entry, but the rushed script and low production value make it a vastly inferior product to the first movie.

Even so, Scary Movie 2 was a considerable box-office success and the franchise went on to produce several more sequels. Personally, I stopped enjoying them after the third one (which is still lots of fun and also benefits from the comedic stylings of the legendary Leslie Nielsen), but the horror parody craze never really stopped. We may remember this kind of movie as a decidedly “2000s” thing, but the last Scary Movie sequel came out only seven years ago, and was soon succeeded by other series like the Haunted House films. It’s only recently that producers have stopped churning out these parodies, as audiences became tired of a schtick that began in 2000.

Despite the questionable humor and a few misunderstandings regarding the horror genre, I still think Scary Movie is worth revisiting as a curious product of its time. I’m pretty sure that the franchise introduced horror to a lot of folks that might not have dipped their toes into the genre otherwise, so I’ll always be grateful for the laughs we had along the way. It may just be nostalgia on my end, but even 20 years later, gags like “Just chilling, killing” and main characters getting inexplicably run over at the end of the movie still manage to tickle my funny-bone.

While I wouldn’t hope for a franchise comeback at this point, I do think that modern audiences would appreciate a decent horror spoof if it was made with genuine affection for the source material. We’re in the midst of a horror renaissance, so it would be fun to see a comedic take on modern classics like Hereditary or even the Conjuring franchise. After all, even if these movies aren’t for everyone, they could once again introduce iconic locations and characters to a brand new audience.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!


Some of Scary Horror Stuff's Freakiest Short Horror Film Features!

The latest on the horror genre, everything you need to know, from Freddy Krueger to Edgar Allan Poe.

How Plausible Is It to Have the "Hocus Pocus" Kids Back for Some More Halloween Hijinks?

Potentially very good. See below. It turns out that the announcement is official according to the Carrie Bradshaw of the Sanderson bunch (Sarah Jessica Parker): there will be a "Hocus Pocus" sequel, premiering on Disney+.