Cultural Analysis of the Horror Movie 'Scream'

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‘Scream’ is a movie where director, Wes Craven, utilizes multiple elements to create this movie and make it scary. One way he does this is by making everyone in the movie a possible culprit of the murders. This paper shows how the Craven uses certain parts of directing to emphasize certain parts of his movie. Specifically, he applies sound, camera shots, and mise-en-scene to incite fear into the audience. One of the most effective parts of Craven’s work is keeping the viewer wondering who the suspect is the whole film until it is revealed. Craven also represents women in a very common way seen in horror films. The typical horror movie where after the bad guy having sex with the women and then proceeds on to attempt to kill her. This has been seen in many scary movies in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. To survive many of these women have to follow ‘rules’ to survive a horror movie.

In scary movies, the audio is a critical part in the film. From the start of the film, the audio begins with eerie music. After the music goes away, there is a roaring bang. Then, the title of the film comes into the shot and makes a loud crashing sound. The next sounds produced in the movie are a phone ring, a knife cutting something, and a scream. All of this is sound is within the first minute of the movie. Craven implies that an unfortunate event is going to happen soon in the movie. The scene next goes to the outside of the main character house where the camera is pointed at unlit bush. There are sounds of animals from outside. During these noises, a loud creek is heard. The shot goes down and the audience sees what was making that noise, a swing is rocking making that noise. This sound creates two questions early in the film for the audience: ‘Why was the swing moving, and is someone out there?’. Another example of sound in the movie is when Casey is talking to the murder on the phone after being threatened by the killer. Casey says Steve, her boyfriend, is coming over and will fight whoever is calling her. The person on the phone asks if her boyfriend’s name was Steve and then a crashing noise is right after that question from the murderer. Eventually, Ghostface enters Casey’s house and she starts running away, she went outside and the only audio given is heavy breathing from Casey. She gets caught while trying to run and gets stabbed multiple times. During this murder, the only sound is her crying and screaming. She later runs away after this before being stabbed the last time and she tries to call her parents who were just walking to the front door. The sound was very muffled and could signify she was very close to death. She is later dragged along the ground and hanged. She did not follow the rules of the typical horror movie and died because of it. Later on in the movie, the main character, Sidney, goes her closet to get something. During this process, the sound is very low music and increases as she is going to open the closet. The sound creates tension and makes the audience possibly think that the murderer could be waiting in the closet and getting ready to strike again. One more important sound in the film takes place in the principal’s office after two students were caught running around school with the outfit the killer wears. The principal takes out his scissors and cuts up one the costumes and it sounds very similar to a knife cutting into something. The students were suspended and one mentioned it was not fair. The principal then holds the scissors to one of the students and says fair would be cutting your insides out. After this line, there is a ripping sound, but nothing happened. This scene shows the principal showing he can be somewhat vicious and again makes the viewers guess who the murderer is. Sidney later gets attacked in the school restroom which causes school to be canceled. Another character named Stu, throws a party because school was cancelled. At the party, they watched the movie ‘Halloween’, where a character explains these so-called rules of a horror film. Eventually people at the party find out that the principal was killed and his body was hung on the football field goal posts. Still at the party, Billy takes Sidney into the bedroom to talk where they proceed to have sex. This reinforces the horror film stereotype, where women are seen more of sexual objects. The killers are revealed in the film to be Stu and Billy. In the scene, the killers tell Sydney that they will be the only ones that have survived the killings. Sidney runs away and kills Stu, which actually goes against one horror film stereotype for women, in that they cannot kill anything.

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Women in the film are shown as weak and are in need to be saved. Throughout this movie and many other horror movies, women are shown in more of a sexual nature. In general, a woman always dies first. Craven shows Casey flirting with her eventual killer and shows her portraying a typical feminine trait in horror films. Throughout the movie you see women having to follow these so-called rules to survive. In this movie the rules are that you may not survive if you have sex, drink or do drugs, say ‘I’ll be right back’, say ‘Who is there?’, everyone is a suspect, and if you go investigate a noise. Sidney breaks all of these rules, but drinking and ‘I’ll be right back’, although she was meant to be killed.

Another element that Craven uses in the movie to reinforce the stereotypes of women is that he gives the viewer what he wants them to see in the current scene. He chose the shot about Sidney going to the closet earlier in the movie to get her bag. It is shot from behind with her back to the camera. In many horror movies, past and present, that typically means something bad is going to happen to that character. Another time that Craven shows this is when the killer calls Sidney and says that she would “die like her mother”. The next important camera shot is within very close range of Sidney’s face and it shows the fear in her face. This again shows that the women are targeted in horror films because they seem like easy targets. In the film, the killers generally target women, sometimes they try to sleep with them before the murder. A fact about closeups that Craven uses to his advantage is that it was found that close ups of faces play an important role in the human psyche and how they react to certain shots. Another close up in the film to get the viewer more engaged emotionally, is when the principal was being killed. While the principal was on the ground after being stabbed, there is a reflection in the principal’s eye, and it showed the killer in a Ghostface costume.

The last element that reinforces the cultural analysis is mise-en-scene. Mise-en-scene is the arrangement of how things are placed in the shot. Early into the movie when Casey is on the phone with Ghostface, she hides after he threatens to kill Steve. She hides behind her TV and puts herself down into a submissive state. She is packed behind the TV and hiding. This alludes to her being trapped in the house and ultimately dying that night. This scene shows how the women are seen as weak and hide. Almost as if they are unable and unwilling to fight back. Another part of the movie that uses great scenery/mise-en-scene, is when Steve is tied to a chair right under the patio light. Casey agrees to play a game with the killer, if she gets the question right, Steve lives. Casey is hysterically crying and eventually, Steve is killed because she gets the question wrong. Casey drops out of the shot to her knees, which can refer to her death within moments of this scene.

Throughout the movie, women are seen as weak and have to follow rules to survive. Craven shows this throughout the movie in multiple scenes. The sound, cinematography, and mise-en-scene is all used to allude the audience and keep them wondering who the real killers are. The women in horror films are seen as sexual objects in most situations and how the killer plays with them. In this movie, the only women to fight back is Sidney at the end when she kills Stu. This is the rare occurrence of Craven going against the stereotype he uses throughout ‘Scream’.

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Cultural Analysis of the Horror Movie ‘Scream’. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
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