How does he do it? Well, as one of the characters in the movie exclaims, Theres a formula to it. A very simple formula. Everybodys a suspect! This paper will discuss how Craven uses sound, camera shots, and mise en scene to scare the viewer and keep them guessing as to who is the murderer(s). In horror movies, sound is an intricate part of the movie. Scream is no exception. From the very beginning of the movie, sound is present. The movie starts out right away with creepy music in the background as Dimension Films slowly comes out of the darkness. It is followed by a rumble, as if several doors are being shut.
While the eerie music is still going the title of the movie is stretched out and comes back together with a loud crash. This is followed by a phone ringing, a heart beating rapidly, a terrifying scream, a knife slicing into something, and finally followed by more screams. The ringing phone ties it into the first scene. The caller picks up the phone and the music, the beating heart, and the screams vanish. This is all done within twenty seconds of the film. Craven has already played on the viewers senses. Theres the apprehension that something bad is going to happen.
Another example of sound is in the beginning, when Drew Barrymores character hangs up the phone for a second time from the mysterious caller. The scene changes to the outside of the house where the camera is focused on some tree branches. Theres the sound of some crickets, frogs, etc. In those noises, a creaking sound is heart. The camera travels downward and the viewer sees that its a swing swaying back and forth thats making the noise. The rope is rubbing against the branch. It creates a feeling of tension because amongst these peaceful night noises is this odd creaking noise.
It also leaves the viewer wondering perhaps, is there someone in the tree? Wes Craven is setting these small elements up to scare the viewer. Yet another example of sound being used is when Drew Barrymore (Casey, as her character is known) is talking to the mysterious caller. The caller had already threatened her. She tells him that her boyfriend is coming over and that basically, hell beat him up. The caller responds with, His name wouldnt be Steve, would it? Casey stands stunned as a loud boom follows. It emphasizes the last comment even more.
The viewer realizes that this call is not a silly prank. Wes Craven is adding layers. Each passing moment more tension is added. Hes scaring the viewer little by little. Then, when Casey is being chased by the killer, she goes outside and all the viewer can hear is her breathing. Her breathing is rapid, full of gasps and sobs. This again creates more tension. Later on, in one of my favorite scenes, Sidney, the main character played by Neve Campbell, goes to the closet to get a bag. Theres some music playing quietly in the background.
When she opens the door to the closet, the volume increases. It makes a swooping sound. It sounds like a mixture of voices and instruments. Its really eerie. It makes the viewer think that someone might be hiding in the closet. She closes the door and viewer realizes that no one is in the closet. Wes Craven is again playing with the viewer. He never gives the viewer more than a couple of minutes to relax. He always has the viewer wondering whats going to happen next. Finally, one more sound element that should be mentioned takes place in the principals office.
The principal angrily lectures two students for running around at school in the costume that the killer wears. He finds it insensitive that they joke about this when their fellow students have been brutally murdered. He takes the scissors out and they make this clink sound that is obviously added. This sound sounds very much like a knife slicing into something. The principal viciously uses the scissors to cut up the costumes. All the while, the viewer hears the slicing sounds. One of the students complains that its not fair when the principal suspends them.
The principal retaliates by holding the scissors up to the students. The viewer can hear lots of clinging sounds, like knives hitting each other. The principal holds the scissors up to one of the boys shirts and says fair would be to rip your insides out. When he says rip, there is a ripping sound, although the principal doesnt rip the shirt or anything. These exaggerated sounds make the principal seem capable of being violent. This makes the viewer wonder for a second, could the murderer be the principal? Often when watching a movie, people dont pay that close attention to it.
The subconscious is aware of it and picks it all up. Wes Craven knows this and uses it to his advantage. Different shots give the viewer information about what is going on in the scene. Wes Craven chooses his shots carefully. For example, theres a full shot of Sidney from behind. She has just gone in the closet (mentioned above) and the camera follows her from behind. After watching many horror movies, the full shot with the characters back to the viewer can mean danger. Sidney is right in the middle of the shot, leaving both sides of her open. The murderer could jump out at her and tackle her.
This shot could also be of the killer following her from behind. Again, Wes Craven is setting up the viewer. Another shot is the close up. The killer is talking to Sidney on the phone. The shot is from the shoulders and up. Sidney thinks the caller is a friend playing a joke on her. Shes about to hang up when the caller says that if she does shell die like her mother. The shot then goes to a close up of Sidneys face. The viewer can see that Sidney realizes that the caller isnt a friend playing a joke on her. The viewer can also see that shes frightened.
Close ups deal with psychological effects. The viewer sees a character upset, they will react to it. This close up just made things scarier. Finally, my favorite shot in the movie is an extreme close up. The principal has just been stabbed by the murderer. The murderer wears this costume called Father Death. As the principal lies on the floor dying, the camera cuts to an extreme close up of the principals eye. In the reflection of his eye, the killer appears (in costume, of course). This shot is a really cool effect in general. I believe the purpose of the shot deals with death.
The very last thing the principal sees is death looming over him. Its symbolic. The last of the elements this paper will talk about it is mise en scene. The way objects are placed carefully within the frame affects how the viewer views the scene. In the beginning of the movie when the viewer is with Casey, theres a wonderful use of the frame. Case is on the phone with the killer. The killer threatens to kill her boyfriend, Steve, if she doesnt play a game with him. As he describes the game, Casey backs up into a space between the television and a wall. Shes in the middle surrounded by objects.
Shes in a position similar to that of the fetal position. Shes cramped in. Theres the sense that things are closing in around her and that shes trapped. Another wonderful scene is right after Steves death. Casey looks outside on the patio, where Steve is tied up. She sees that hes been killed. She shrinks down in the frame until her whole head disappears out of the frame. This scene is alluding to her death which happens minutes after. Another example of mise en scene is when Sidney is on the phone with the killer. He threatens her and she locks her door.
As the viewer sees her lock the door, theres just enough room to the right of her. This is where the closet is. A second later, the killer pops out of the closet. The viewer sees the killer behind her and if she doesnt turn around, shes going to get stabbed. Craven is adding more tension and more possibilities to be frightened. Finally, another great use of the frame takes place in a bathroom. Sidney is at school in the bathroom when she hears a noise. The camera focuses on the bottom part of a stall. Theres no one in there until a big, black boot comes down, followed by another.
Then, the robe of the costume that the killer wears falls gently on the boots. Each little bit adding more fear into the viewer. Something that Wes Craven does very well. These are just a few elements Wes Craven uses to scare the viewer. He likes to play with the viewers head, making them question everyones motive. But dont worry, its just a movie. Or, as Sidney says to her boyfriend Billy, But this is life. This isnt a movie. To which Billy responds, Sure it is, Sid. Its all, its all a movie. Its all one great big movie. But you cant pick your genre.