Scream aka Scary Movie (1996), written by Kevin Williamson, is the authoritative slasher horror movie of it’s generation. Let’s analyze the screenplay (somewhat confusingly titled Scary Movie).
- Draft Read: “Rewrite July 31, 1995)
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 120
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Suburbia
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
- Genre(s): Horror
- Theme(s): Comedy, Slasher, Fear
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
There’s surprisingly little to say, or better said necessary to say, after reading Scream. It’s a great script and it’s obvious that Williamson is experienced. It’s a solid script. All the usual strengths are present: There aren’t really any wasted lines, it has good flow, etc.
Two strong suits of the script are a command of pacing as well as use of setups and payoffs. Of course, these are two different aspects of writing, but for the sake of my laziness I’ll more or less combine them in my analysis.
If you take a moment to watch the opening scene, you’ll see the top comment notes one of the most impactful lines is when the mysterious male caller says, “,Because I want to know who I’m looking at,” thereby turning the phone call back-and-forth from playful/flirtatious to scary/frightening. Here’s how it’s described in the script (Page 6):
Why do you want to know my name?
Because I want to know who I’m looking at?
Casey springs around like lightning facing the glass door.
What did you say?
I want to know who I’m talking to.
That’s not what you said.
What do you think I said?
Casey CLICKS on the outside light. A flood light illuminates the backyard. Her eyes survey the grounds. But it’s empty. No one’s there. She turns the light out.
On the stove, the popcorn POPS.
I have to go.
That excerpt alone showcases how strong the writing is. Just when we are losing interest things get serious. The only line that matters is, “Because I want to know who I’m looking at?” the rest is really just filler while we let it sink in. And the writer knows this. And by knowing what the viewer is focused on, they control the narrative.
Throughout the script, the writer does a fantastic job with this type of dialogue, but also is strong with action lines too. At various points the ghost appears in the background and is described in chilling detail. That brings me to the script neutral.
The front half of the script is far scarier than the second. In the first half, the ghost is never described as saying anything (yes there is the phone call, I’m aware), making any noise or acting in any way that isn’t ruthless. Truly a cold-blooded killer like Norman Bates in costume. This mystery element only makes the ghost scarier.
The second half of the script is a little different. The ghost often can’t make the kill and reacts to the characters. For example, when the Ghost traps Tatum in the garage the ghost simply could have turned off the light and finished the job, instead delaying their (what pronouns does a ghost use?) reaction and letting Tatum rattle off a a few jokes while she figures out that the ghost is real. Sure, the latter is a screenwriting tactic (where we are supposed to be yelling at Tatum so she realizes the ghost is real. Ah!), but it’s not particularly convincing as the ghost just isn’t scary enough.
There is a flipside to this. A non-perfect killer leads to false alarms (and therefore the ghost can be a threat in more scenes), and at some point we have to figure out who the ghost is… I guess. So the ghost has to make at least one mistake and therefore not be totally ruthless. Plus, there’s little hope for the characters versus a ghost who always gets the kill, and part of what makes a horror film thrilling is the fact that the good guys have a chance of escaping.
None to note.
I would argue that the plot come secondary in this screenplay. It’s somewhat formulaic with the intense opening scene (a more recent script I read that employed this technique was Get Out (2017)). The houseparty taking place after many murders feels out-of-place and Sidney attending it (after almost being killed) it comical. The second act is probably the weakest, but there are enough scares with the ghost that it powers through.
The writer seems to realize that any ending may not be perfect, and has some fun with pretty funny dialogue. Here’s one example (Page 116):
You know what I hate most about horror movies? The final scene… It just goes on and on… and it gets so stupid.
And two pages later (Page 118)
Careful. This is the moment when you think the killer’s dead, but then he springs back to life for one last scare.
More or less the typical teen horror film characters. The one exception would be Sidney, the lead, who really does have emotional depth and a moral compass.
Dialogue & Pacing
I’m not 100% sure, but I think Williamson’s main goal was to have fun with the dialogue. Here’s a relatively absurd line from Page 75:
Billy’s right. Whenever he touches me, I just can’t relax.
You have a few intimacy issues as a result of your mother’s untimely death. It’s no big deal. You’ll thaw out.
Hmm. Quite the line for a high-schooler (Tatum) who’s next line is, “Billy and his Penis don’t deserve you.”
No additional notes on pacing.
It’s horror. It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat… Maybe. It’s fun. It certainly impacts your anxiety level, but in regard to other emotions? Not so much.
Best Part of The Script
It’s probably the opening scene. The climax, or final house party, is good too, specifically the killing of the cameraman and the delayed camera feed.