Disclosure: Ryan Turek, the writer and director of the documentary being reviewed, is a friend of mine.
The major franchises - A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween - have had retrospective talking head documentaries already. Even Psycho, which most people don’t identify as a ‘franchise,’ has had its turn. So it makes sense that the movie franchise explicitly commenting on and riffing on those series, Scream, would get its moment in the spotlight.
Still Screaming is only about the first three films in the series, with a brief mention or two of the existence of Scream 4 buried in the interviews, but that’s for the best. Writer/director Ryan Turek hasn’t put together a blowjob doc, and the distance from and perspective on the first three Scream films is what makes this better than your average retrospective. Still Screaming gives the lion’s share of its attention to the seminal first film, some less time to the second and doesn’t stay overlong with the third, which is just how it should be.
There’s a lot of honesty on display in Still Screaming, and that’s what I’m always looking for from these sorts of retrospectives. I want to know the real stories behind the scenes, and while that’s easier to get with franchises like Friday, whose main participants are well outside of Hollywood at this point and don’t have careers to consider, the folks behind Scream offer up plenty of juicy and interesting details. David Arquette, looking sort of menacing, talks about how his real life relationship with Courtney Cox echoed their relationship in the movies, Wes Craven talks how an internet leak partially damaged the quality of Scream 2 and Ehren Kruger admits to being a horrible writer and the reason Scream 3 is bad. Just kidding, he says the movie didn’t do well because it came out a whopping two years after Scream 2.
The best part of any of these retrospective docs is always the anecdotes, the little funny stories that film fans will fold into their own repertoire of trivia; Still Screaming wisely pulls these out on their own with ‘Quick Cuts,’ small segments that focus on funny, weird or cool bits, like the fact that Courtney Cox, who is insinuated to not quite have gotten along with Parker Posey, actually punched out her co-star in Scream 3. The Quick Cuts also work structurally, giving Turek little segues in and out of ideas in the larger documentary.
Still Screaming is hurt by two things: the lack of Kevin Williamson, whose original Scary Movie script started it all, and the fact that the Scream series is one of diminishing returns, but not in the silly way that Friday the 13th or Halloween are. The doc handles those diminishing returns well by shortening the time spent on each film, and the talking heads help by being fairly upfront about Scream 3 (they appear to have mostly made it up as they went along, and even Wes Craven has to admit that the final killer reveal doesn’t make a ton of sense).
But there’s no getting around the lack of Williamson. While Williamson’s later output was never the same (remember Teaching Mrs. Tingle?), he was central to Scream and his absence is felt. Everybody talks about what Williamson meant or what he wanted to do, but without the man himself commenting, there’s a central void unfilled. I’m sure Turek et al tried their best to get Williamson on camera, but the lack of him does put something of a lie to the subtitle’s claim to be the ultimate retrospective.
You can’t have a Scream doc without getting a little meta, and Still Screaming opens with a couple of ingenues settling in to watch… a documentary about the Scream films. I love the idea of taking the series’ conceit one step further, and I actually think this opening works better than Scream 4‘s.
Still Screaming is available on the Scream: Five Film Set (yeah, what a name, especially because it doesn’t include Scream 4!), which comes out tomorrow. Or today, if you’re reading this on Tuesday. Or in the past if you’re reading this after Tuesday.