In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Scream, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Sidney Prescott – Neve Campbell
- Billy Loomis – Skeet Ulrich
- Stu Macher – Matthew Lillard
- Gale Weathers – Courteney Cox
- Dewey Riley – David Arquete
- Randy Meeks – Jamie Kennedy
- Tatum Riley – Rose McGowan
- Casey Becker – Drew Barrymore
- Ghostface (voice) – Roger Jackson
- Principal Himbry – Henry Winkler
- Written by – Kevin Williamson
- Directed by – Wes Craven
Important motifs in Scream
The rules of horror
Scream explicitly lays out certain “rules” that characters must follow in order to survive a horror movie, such as not having sex, not drinking or doing drugs, and never saying “I’ll be right back.” This motif emphasizes Scream as a movie commenting on the horror genre but gets into ideas of the relationship people have with media and the way media affects how we think about the world and live life. Billy and Stu represent the horrible influence this can have. Sidney and others represent the positive.
A sub-motif in Scream films is the relationship between distance and proximity. People feel safe in a certain location or environment. Then they receive the phone call and that sense of security vanishes. It’s a strange interplay. Phone calls are usually between people who aren’t around one another. There’s an inherent feeling of space and distance that creates a willingness to engage. A willingness Ghostface destroys by closing the distance emotionally then physically.
Phones are also very personal. Especially in the 90s when cordless phones became popular. A cordless phone wasn’t just a thing in the kitchen. You carried it with you throughout your home. It sat next to you on the couch. Was beside you in bed. So when you watched Scream, you thought about it long after the credits rolled. Every time the phone rang, there’s that moment of, “I know it’s not…but what if?”
Just a last note on this. The knife also plays into the distance/proximity dynamic. To use the knife, you have to be very close to someone. It’s intimate and passionate in a way a firearm is not. And if you really, really want to reach a little. The opening scene sets up a visual dichotomy between Casey and Ghostface. Ghostface wears the mask, the cloak, and carries a knife. While Casey has no mask, normal clothes, and keeps the phone in hand. One is the classic 90s teenager. The other embodies the fears many conservatives had around movies and games inspiring violence in kids and teens.
Trust and betrayal
Who can you trust? Scream really created this atmosphere of paranoia around the people closest to you. Ghostface wasn’t an outrageous entity like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. It wasn’t a monster or alien or vindictive ghost. It was someone Sidney knew. But who? The idea that someone close to you could be the one who snapped and was hunting you and your mutual friends? That’s intense. As exaggerated as it is, it does get at the reality that the people in our lives don’t always have our best interests at heart. They may say the right things and do the right things, but it’s possible they have ulterior motives. Obviously, that’s not true of everyone. This isn’t a plea for cynicism. But it is a reminder that these things happen. Maybe not the events in Scream but cheating, stealing, lying, going behind your back. Those things. Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, a 2022 film, explored a similar concept.
The Ghostface mask
The Ghostface mask extends the motif of trust and betrayal. We see this when Billy, in the Ghostface mask, is able to attack Sidney in her home, run away, then appear without the mask, acting as if he was there to help. Mask on, he’s murderous. Mask off, he’s the caring boyfriend. It’s a very literal application of the poetic concept that people wear many masks.
The mask also allows Billy and Stu to separate themselves from what they’re doing, which plays into the reality and fantasy dynamic. When the mask is on, they’re in character as the horror movie villain. They have the voice. They play the games. But when it’s off, they’re “normal” and can live life as if the other stuff had nothing to do with them.
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Are there more motifs you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Scream? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider them for the guide.
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