Effective horror lingers with its audience long after the credits roll. The images (or messages) take root deeply inside our psyche and not only leave lasting impressions to fuel our nightmares but make common everyday things something dreadful. That’s a sign of great horror and only the masters of the genre can manage it.
They turn the mundane into malevolence, and, to the peril of their audiences, suddenly the shelter of the everyday norm is stripped away and our world of comforting shelter is no more. Some examples include: Psycho violated the private safety of a common shower making it no longer a safe and intimate place. After Jaws premiered family outings to the beach were something turned suddenly macabre. No one wanted to step into the water.
Jason scared people away from camping out and Freddy met us in our nightmares to slaughter us like pigs. Ah Hell, Stephen King made cornfields scary and Clive Barker turned a music box into a doorway to Hell.
In like manner, Ghostface made answering the phone dangerous. To emphasize the malicious effect this slasher had on society after Scream’s blockbuster success the rate of people getting caller ID increased astronomically. All of a sudden people had a reason to fear who was on the other line. After all how well do you know that other person?
The chance that a stalker – or serial killer – was waiting on the other end was always a great possibility. Something Scream exploited brilliantly.
Not being the first horror movie to make crank calls something to fear (Black Christmas, When A Stranger Calls) it certainly gave the concept its own grisly twist and introduced Ghostface as a new horror icon whose spectral visage has now haunted generations of horror fans.
Part of the character’s violent success is the unique fact that – unlike his big brothers Jason, Michael, or Freddy – anyone can be behind that ghostly mask. There is no repeating Ghostface murderer from movie to movie. The only thing shared between each of them is the iconic mask.
With each succeeding film, new serial killers don the mask and cloak and busy themselves by both revering the established standards of the past while carving a new grisly legacy of blood in the flesh of new victims. Bottom line no one knows what sick maniac hides behind the ghost’s face … but it’s probably someone you’re closest to. Just saying. So the victims of the franchise are always on edge and never know who they can trust.
That’s the scariest side of Ghostface: who is he or she? The clever script of the first film had us all on the edge of our seats trying to figure out who in the Hell was guilty? Was the lead girl pulling the strings behind the whole thing or was she an innocent trapped in a violent game? That’s the hook, that bloody mystery and classic slasher motif of ‘who done it’ the subgenre was originally built on.
Bottom line is we all know who Jason, Freddy, Chucky, and Leatherface all are. We don’t know who’s behind Ghostface, at least not until the final reveal in the third act of each movie.
Admittedly Ghostface is not as readily adored as much as his older brothers of the slasher genre. Possibly because the Scream franchise went on to inadvertently inspire a long list of copycat films and parodies that made it tough for some horror fans to take the franchise seriously. And that’s too bad because this really is a fun series with plenty of scares and kills to keep people coming back.
One phenomenal achievement Scream can claim is reviving the horror genre when it was clearly on life support and rapidly losing the battle. Long gone were the days of the ‘60s when Hammer ruled the box office or the ‘70s that gave us groundbreaking terror like The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And the entire decade of the ‘80s was ruled by horror. We grew up on the teats of the Beast and just expected each year to produce a brand new Jason movie or Freddy film. It was the decade of slashers, zombies, and splatter!
Then… nothing. Like bones left out to bleach under a desolate sun, horror seemed to have outlasted its usefulness and many fans left the genre completely. Then came Wes Craven’s little meta-horror film (that manically embraced what it was) sparked a hellish flame among audiences and they came out in droves just to see what all the fuss was about.
Holy shit! Scream (1996) didn’t disappoint either.
You could call it sensational. I call it a ‘90s phenomenon. Scream became a hit and people – as aforementioned – were scared of ringing phones. Everyone was a suspect (in the movie) and the simple formula of mystery and murder pumped new life into the genre and horror was back on its feet. The Beast was awakened with a new scent of blood on its maul and was taking no prisoners.
There are today horror podcasts who readily admit they would not be into the genre if it weren’t for the black magic of Scream’s howling success. It stabbed deeply into the cultural psyche and left an oozing mark.
I look around my writing space here and see all the Scream Factory and Severin Blu-Rays I own; a pantheon of horror icons line my shelves thanks to the brilliant work of NECA’s beautiful renditions of Jason, Pennywise, Chucky, and many, many others. I’ve spent hours playing the Friday the 13th game on PS4 and the list of my collection (and obsession) can go on and on. So I’m left wondering if any of these things I love would have been possible without the success of Scream.
Our younger readers might think this to be over-exaggeration but those of us who know simply know. Horror was almost lost because no one wanted to invest in the genre. Scream changed a lot of corporate minds and suddenly there was money to be made in well-written and smart horror movies.
That’s not to say there weren’t any good scares or genre flicks happening at the time. There were movies like Cape Fear and Silence of the Lambs that both came out in 1991 and scared the shit out of people. But these movies were placed under the moniker of Thriller. There was an obvious attempt being made by studios to do everything in their power to not let their sophisticated movies be called a ‘horror film’ as if the term would taint their project.
Among the rise of thrillers also came the romantic gothic remakes of classic monsters with titles like Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1993) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994). Both movies were elaborate projects sporting big-name actors, stunning set pieces, and performances of a lifetime. Wolf (1994) also joined the fray and reworked the classic werewolf story into a more modern setting. But these movies were not being called horror movies but were gothic romances instead. Hell, I still loved them.
But Scream made being a horror fan something to be admired. All of a sudden all of us horror geeks were like part of a clandestine order, holders of dark knowledge and be sought. It was a game-changer and wasn’t afraid to be called a horror movie. It wore the title proudly. Both it and The Blair Witch Project (1999) helped re-evaluate the genre in the minds of many, many people.
As of writing this article the franchise’s fifth movie is in theaters now – and enjoying good reviews. So Ghostface is back and, after seeing the movie, I say make a big deal of it. Watch all four previous films – or at least the original trilogy – and lead into seeing Ghostface up on the big screen again.
This is certainly the most violent of the whole franchise (no complaints from me, I love that kinda stuff) and really got me excited about the Ghostface killer all over again. If you’ve not seen the series yet you owe it to yourself – as a horror fan – to go watch the first movie at least. See the movie that made future movies like Hereditary possible at all.
One thought on “A Horror Retrospective – Ghostface And His Generational Influence”