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Scream (1996)

Horror Rated R

Maybe not the first metamovie, but certainly the one that popularized that self-referential genre. No longer defined by insider Hollywood showbiz dramas (Sunset Boulevard), homage-laden art flicks (Breathless) or silly spoofs (Airplane!), the metamovie is perfected here: Scream actually is a horror movie about horror movies. A minor distinction, perhaps, but the fact that the picture can both comment on such a durable genre and function as a slick example of it is what makes the film extraordinary. It’s simultaneously scarily clever and cleverly scary. Credit the pairing of new, snarky screenwriter Kevin Williamson and veteran horror director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). In the opening scene, Williamson has us giggling as a killer asks his victim, “Do you like scary movies?” At the same time, Craven is wringing tension out of a ballooning pan of popcorn that’s been left on the stove. For horror fans and movie geeks, Scream is an irresistible one-two punch. With Drew Barrymore (briefly), Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Skeet Ulrich, the latter of whom offers my favorite horror-movie reference: a pitch-perfect impersonation of Elm Street-era Johnny Depp.