Wes Craven is clearly a master horror filmmaker, but aside from the first scene, not much about Scream falls into the horror genre. Instead, the film works best as a self-referential, meta-commentary satire of horror films and their tropes (similar to what Deadpool is doing to the superhero genre). Given his filmography and pedigree, there was arguably nobody better suited to tackle this than Craven especially considering he had dabbled in the meta-horror-world a bit already with New Nightmare two years prior.
Scream also works better as a whodunnit than a horror. Typically in horror films, the audience knows which character is the monster or villain and which is the good guy/girl that we should be rooting for to survive. While Craven makes it apparent that we should be rooting for Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), we are kept guessing as to who is hunting down all of the victims. While the mystery carries a bit more weight than the dread, there are enough kills and gore to keep everyone engaged as Craven proves he knows how to walk the line perfectly.
The opening scene is easily the best of the film and one of the best in the entire horror genre. There is even a case to be made that it is one of the most memorable opening scenes in all of film. It plays out almost like a short story prelude to the rest of the events to come. It is tense, full of terror, and embraces the horror roots the rest of the movie skirts as it satirizes. It is a bit disappointing that the rest of the film could not keep up the pace.
Scream redefined the slasher genre by poking fun at it and in turn, became the defining horror film for an entire generation of people. There is arguably no other movie that perfectly encapsulates the Gen-X 90’s and horror. Each generation has their quintessential horror franchises. The 1970’s brought us John Carpenter’s Halloween. The 1980’s featured a slasher showdown between Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street and the Friday the 13th franchises. And Scream took the mantle for the 1990’s.