1996 Scream
Empire Australasia|September 2019
THE ONE THAT MADE HORROR SELF-AWARE
Alex Godfrey, Chris Hewitt, James Dyerala, Nick De Semlyen, Ian Nathan, Al Horner, Liz Beardsworth

Corin Hardy, director of The Hallow and The Nun, recalls how seeing Wes Craven’s meta murder-thon for the first time blew his mind.

WHEN WES CRAVEN decided to — spoiler! — murder Drew Barrymore in the opening ten minutes of Scream, it was just the start of a series of smart and very considered wrongfooting that would play on the common traits of the slasher movies of the past 30 years (from Black Christmas, through Halloween and Craven’s own A Nightmare On Elm Street). But ultimately Scream would draw in a much wider audience than the films it had satirized, leading to a mega-meta franchise and changing the landscape of scary movies from that point on.

That point was 1996. I was in my second year of a Theatre Design Degree at Wimbledon School of Art, majoring in Special Effects For The Stage & Screen. Effectively I was training to become a monster maker, prosthetic FX artist, sculptor, and possibly even a horror filmmaker. A little bit like Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy from the film, I was the geeky guy that knew everything about horror movies.

However, I heard about Scream from someone else, a girl on my course who wasn’t a horror fan, and this kind of threw me. I can only liken the feeling to when one of your favorite lesser-known bands scores a hit single; suddenly everybody loves them and you get a little bit sad or maybe even angry because you know that from that day on, the world will be different. Of course, in Scream’s case this was ultimately for the absolute better, but as I walked to the cinema the following night, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience.

Even at the Wimbledon Odeon, the energy at that screening was palpable from the off. A few seconds into the film — as the title appeared in red — everyone started to scream and then immediately laugh. And that repeated throughout the movie’s entire runtime, like a maniacal drug.

So I’m sitting there, the battle-hardened horror fiend surrounded by this mainstream crowd, trying to play it all cool and eat my popcorn, maan, when suddenly the film starts satirizing all the things I loved about horror and turning them upside down. I felt my world marginally beginning to shift. I could feel that this was a significant moment for a genre I loved — Craven had done something risky and dangerous and clever as sin. And I think only he could really have done it that well because he had lived inside its constraints for so long.

Scream was responsible for opening up the world of horror and exposing its flaws but in a respectful, knowledgeable and bitingly brilliant way, whilst managing to pull off a crazy-fun, genuinely scary, coherent story, as well as creating another iconic anti-hero in ‘Ghostface’ — a mask based on Edvard Munch’s famous ‘The Scream’ painting.

When I finally made my own first and second horror movies [The Hallow and The Nun], I came to fully appreciate how important it is for horror to be able to transform and transcend and reinvent.

I never met Wes Craven, but if I had I would have thanked him for creating some of the most indelible horror movies of all time, and for deftly walking a genre tightrope, balancing horror and the mainstream so that we could all benefit. There is maybe no better example of this connection than Scream.

Craven is the master.

1997 TITANIC

THE ONE THAT MADE JAMES CAMERON KING OF THE WORLD

1997 WAS A cool year for the cinema. What were the auteurs doing? L.A. Confidential. Boogie Nights. Jackie Brown. Lost Highway. This was independent spirit writ large, the indie boom having blossomed big-time. Even the blockbusters — Face/ Off, Men In Black, The Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, Con Air — were postmodern, satirical and hip (as always, let’s forget Batman & Robin ever happened). But the biggest film of them all? It was so wonderfully uncool.

Until this point, James Cameron had been pretty cool himself — all of his directorial output was genre work, sometimes sci-fi, sometimes action, mostly both. Now, though, he wanted to make an old-fashioned romantic drama. Nobody expected this to work, including, eventually, Cameron himself: as the troubled production dragged on (160 arduous days), the budget ballooned (to a then record-breaking $200 million) and the release date loomed like a lethal iceberg, he became convinced his period epic would lose the studio $100 million. The film, said everyone, would be as disastrous as the ship.

Cameron, though, stood by his guns throughout, and his gamble blindsided everybody. It takes a dead heart not to succumb to Titanic’s purity, its charm, its astonishing absence of cynicism. Even ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (performed by Celine Dion in just one take, as a demo) is the business. There was no room for cool here. This was one for the ages.

Boat-sinking spectacle aside, Titanic hinges on Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s chemistry, and they are not heartbreaking together, particularly, of course, at the end: that tragedy is, surely, what makes the film endure. If you’re not welling up at the mere memory of it, you’re a danger to society.

The first film to hit a billion at the box office, by 1998 it had become the highest-grossing film of all time, ending up with $2.187 billion (including re-release money, twice, but still). It won 11 of its 14 nominated Oscars, resulting in Cameron’s misunderstood “I’m the king of the world!” moment on stage — even if you do read it as a lack of humility, you have to hand it to him, taking home the big ones for the film everyone bet against.

DiCaprio went stratospheric after Titanic. An indie darling up until then, he’d become a heartthrob thanks to 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, but that was small fry compared to this. Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg all came knocking. Winslet, meanwhile, retreated, favoring a smaller spotlight with indie fare like Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke. Both of their careers would find balance in time.

Cameron’s Titanic keeps on sailing, forever being parodied — Empire had The League Of Gentlemen’s Tubbs and Edward take it on for a photo shoot a couple of years ago, while James Corden and Celine Dion recreated it just a few months back. It is truly iconic.

Do they make films like this anymore? Not really. Then again, they weren’t making them in 1997 either. But Cameron’s never been one to follow the herd. He wouldn’t direct a feature film for another 12 years. He didn’t need to. ALEX GODFREY

1998 BLADE

THE ONE THAT SET MARVEL FREE

A MAN DONNING a baseball cap shouldn’t be significant. But when Mahershala Ali walked on stage in Hall H at the tail-end of Marvel Studios’ Comic-Con presentation just a couple of months ago, and nonchalantly placed a cap on his head with a logo that revealed not only that Marvel was planning a Blade movie, but that he — a two-time Academy Award winner, no less — was going to play the title role, it was laden with significance.

Because Blade is where, in a roundabout way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began.

When discussing the origins of the MCU, and the larger comic-book movie bubble (which still shows no signs of slowing its expansion, let alone popping), the ill-informed will often cite Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. And yes, that film was a huge hit, with a record-breaking opening weekend and a host of copycats in its wake. Or they’ll go back two years before that, to Bryan Singer’s X-Men. But before either of those, another Marvel movie paved the way. The first Marvel movie, in fact.

Blade is not anyone’s idea of a top-tier Marvel character. Back in 1998, when the movie came out, no kids were going to school with Blade lunchboxes. Unless they were deeply cool/weird (delete as applicable). Blade is, after all, not a particularly kid-friendly character, being a half-human, half-vampire whose driving purpose in life, made easier by an ability to walk around in daylight, is to rid the world of bloodsucking bastards.

Undeterred, Marvel set the movie up at New Line Cinema with David S. Goyer — then an up-and-coming writer — at the keyboard, Stephen Norrington, an in-demand music video director, at the megaphone, and Wesley Snipes at the silver stake.

Snipes had tried to get a Black Panther movie off the ground, to no avail, but jumped at the chance to bring Blade — real name Eric Brooks, so you can see why he prefers the flashy nickname — to the big screen. (There’s a sense with Blade that racial politics aren’t as much to the fore as they are with Black Panther, but it still seems important that the lead of the first major Marvel movie was African-American, 20 years before Black Panther finally arrived.)

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