On July 7, 2000, the Wayans Brothers unleashed Scary Movie upon us, for better or worse. Here we are, sixteen years later. In New York, the movie can legally drive. A rip on both Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, it lampooned elements of the popular films that became cultural phenomena. To celebrate, I went back and re-watched it. I was curious to see if it was still funny after all these years. The answer? Yes. Yes it is.
Why is that? Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m old enough to remember the source material that’s being parodied. When Scream came out in 1996, it was a huge cultural moment. Wes Craven had been getting asked when he was going to make something good again, and this was his answer. He went back and looked long and hard at genre staples. The level of self-awareness was something that gave many pause, and packed a twist ending that the audience wasn’t expecting. Similar to that, 1997 saw the release of I Know What You Did Last Summer. Based on a Lois Duncan book, it featured a cast that was teen-magazine worthy (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe), and was written by Kevin Williamson, who had been hailed as a screenwriter able to capture the teenage voice (whether or not you agree with that statement is up to you – personally, I was never much of a fan). In between, we get references to The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense, both of which terrified audiences. Any way you slice it, you can’t deny that these films helped make horror more accessible to people who normally didn’t do horror. They made being scared popular. It was cool to go to the theatre and scream.
So naturally, these films became fair game for parody, and it’s the way that the parody is executed that makes them all the more entertaining. The Wayans brothers made sure to poke fun at the plots and dialogue of the films. No plot hole was left unturned and no twist was sacred, from melodramatic delivery to signs asking the characters if they wanted to run toward safety or certain death. While many of the jokes are direct pot shots at the originals, there are some universally funny pieces of comedy that continue to work to this day. Anna Faris shaving her upper lip and chin in the bathtub? Great. Regina Hall getting stabbed after acting obnoxious in a movie theatre? Strangely cathartic (note: I don’t endorse violence in movie theatres, but please, don’t talk). A group of stoners toking up with the killer? That’s funny. A sexually aggressive boyfriend getting his penis bitten during oral sex by a naive girlfriend? Hysterical. We laugh because we don’t have to be familiar with anything that happened in the source material. It had people like Cheri Oteri (who can still get me to laugh) and the crew responsible for In Living Color. It introduced us to Anna Faris, whose deadpan delivery and shrill scream makes her a national treasure in my book.
Here’s the thing about parody: parody is the sure-fire sign that horror has done its job and gotten under someone’s skin. It’s often said that there’s a fine line between comedy and horror: when placed in context with the proper performance, music and setting, something like a stabbing can shift in tone to move from something that horrifies us to something that makes us bust out laughing. And really, when something scares us, we want to make fun of it. It’s how we cope with horror; it’s how we put the boogeyman back under the couch. Instead of burying it under layers of clothing, in the closet, we put a goofy hat on it and laugh at it to make it less scary. In this respect, it validates the work of Craven and Williamson. There was need to lighten the mood, and Scary Movie came through to make our terror laugh-out-loud funny.
Is it entirely age-proof? No way. The cell phones are dated, the music really isn’t that great, and let’s face it, everyone made fun of The Matrix and bullet time. But it’s good to keep in mind that at the source of all of this, Craven and Williamson did their jobs. Someone obviously felt the need to laugh. True to form, the Wayans boys more than made good on that challenge.