As any horror fan knows, the 90’s were iconic with the resurrection of the genre. After hitting a plateau of endless sequels that were going “direct to video” and senseless rape-revenge films, Scream arrived in 1996 to and thus sparked the rise of 90’s meta films.
Whilst the audience was tired of seeing the “drugs + sex = death” motif on screen, Scream brought fun into the mix. It had the characters saying those words loud and clear for the audience to know they were going to break the existing rules and write new ones.
The rise of 90’s meta films showed that film is a work of fiction, referencing other films and playing with the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
And although Scream carries the title for being the ground-breaking film during this period, Wes Craven had directed a meta film previously (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994), where the actors from the first A Nightmare on Elm Street are being visited by a living Freddy Krueger. However, due to Scream’s popularity, it holds the crown.
Introducing 90’s meta films
These revolutionary films, that continue to hold their place in countless horror lists and in our hearts, have one more thing in common: they were teen films. And, as we approach the end of 2018, some of those films are leaving their teenage years behind and entering adulthood.
In 1998 many relevant films were born, such as Ringu, Halloween H20, Bride of Chucky and Blade.
Some poor choices were made as well, as we can see from the remake of Psycho by Gus van Sant, starring (God only knows why) Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates.
Pushing those films aside and focusing on the teen films that turned the genre upside down, the list that follows is a tribute to those films that have impacted the horror genre and are turning (shock horror!) 20 years old this year:
“I’m not an alien, I’m discontent”
The Faculty starts off with a very promising ensemble: Kevin Williamson as writer and Robert Rodriguez as director, just a year after his first considerable success with From Dusk Till Dawn.
The cast also includes Salma Hayek, Elijah Wood, Clea DuVall, and Josh Hartnett as well as veterans Piper Laurie and Robert Patrick.
The opening shot warns the audience what they are about to receive: with the soundtrack of The Offspring’s ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ blasting over the football coach, Joe (Robert Patrick), screaming at his jocks – enough to alert the audience of the dangers to come (especially those who remember the actor from Terminator 2).
This film relies heavily on the American obsession with teenagers and high school. This was not the first nor the last film to depict the high school food chain with the famous archetypes of the jock, nerd, emo, cheerleader, and drug dealer.
Much like any other teen film, the teenagers are not the only ones who follow archetypes – the grown-ups in the film are the embodiment of discontent and anger towards teenagers. There is also the nerdy science teacher who has a soft spot for the geeks who are bullied, the loser teacher who is harassed by the students, and, as mentioned before, the coach who yells at everyone.
The interesting thing in this film is that it brings to the table a subgenre that isn’t the focus of the decade but still delivers a very good result. This film isn’t a slasher, more closely resembling The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing.
The cast and the brains behind this project are enough to make it a meta film. And the film doesn’t hide that fact it draws from horror classics. Also, the characters have an in-depth discussion about horror and sci-fi films – Spielberg’s name is thrown into the mix, alongside The X-Files, ET, and Sigourney Weaver.
Hartnett’s character, Zeke sells VHS tapes (remember those?) to other fellow students and says they contain sex scenes with Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer). This not only mentions actresses of two of the most famous teen horrors of the decade but they were also written by Kevin Williamson.
The Faculty embraces its roots and creates more to come – the final scene in the swimming pool reminded me of Jennifer’s Body (2009) and It Follows (2014).
“Ah, had yourself a little frat boy protein shake, did ya?”
Urban Legend is bad. The acting is bad, the writing is bad, but I think that that’s what makes it so important – it’s an iconic film. It fits with the other 90’s teen horrors. I’d describe this film as the little brother of Scream; the one who desperately wants to join in.
Unlike the first film of this list, Urban Legend was written and directed by unknown filmmakers and, somehow, they ended up with great actors, including the future academy award winner, Jared Leto.
Although it’s bad, I do like it. I loved it the first time I watched it and was genuinely scared, especially during the first scene – “there’s someone on the backseat!”.
Whilst The Faculty relies on the American obsession with high school, this film evolves a little and explores the archetypes of university students.
There’s something intriguing about starting someplace new, where no one knows you and this lays the ground for the plot of the film. The killer takes advantage of the fact that no one knows who she (yes, she!) is and that’s how she can walk around unnoticed and manage to kill almost everyone.
For all intents and purposes this film is a slasher, a neo-slasher to be precise and, just like its subgenre rules, sex is celebrated.
As I mentioned before, this film is not a great one, but I appreciate how it falls around other neo-slashers of the decade.
The cast is presented with horror legend, Robert Englund as a professor, and the villain is Brenda, played by Rebecca Gayheart from Scream 2 (little by little it becomes a meta film).
It mentions other films such as When the Stranger Calls, and in one scene, a man gets a phone call. which he instantly assumes is a prank since the first thing the caller says is “Do you wanna die tonight?”. His reaction is to dismiss the phone call by looking the number at the caller ID, exactly like Sidney does in Scream 2.
Halloween is a constant presence in this film. It is a recurring joke in this film that if one must keep safe, they must “mind their children” and in class with Robert Englund, the students come to a conclusion that the cultural admonition is don’t babysit.
Other references fall flat: a victim is dressed as Tiffany from Bride of Chucky,a police officer is obsessed with Jackie Brown and the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack plays when Damon (Joshua Jackson) is in his car. I mean, I appreciate these references, but they don’t
Plotwise, this film is lazy. It relies too much on jump scares and deceiving the audience. Like Ghostface’s mask in Scream and the hook in I Know What You Did, this film has the killer wearing a winter coat and the only thing I could think was “I this damn jacket on sale?!” because the safety of the plot twist is to build up expectations showing someone wearing the jacket and then revealing there was someone innocent wearing it.
Urban Legend would by no means stand on its own, but as part of the teen-wave, it does its job. It can be entertaining and, at times, gory.
“What’s your favourite radio station, Julie?”
I love I Know What You Did Last Summer. It holds its own against Scream. It has Kevin Williamson, Sarah Michelle Gellar (aka Cici Cooper from Scream 2), Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr., who would become the generation’s heartthrobs. And Jennifer Love Hewitt, at the time famous for her role in TV show Party of Five, with none other than Neve Campbell.
However, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is a much more confusing film.
Why the fisherman wants to lure Julie to an isolated island? To finally kill her, of course, but why the Bahamas other than the fact that it is a beach and it fits the fisherman’s dream scenario? I don’t know. This is one of the many questions this film poses and doesn’t answer.
If I’d thought Urban Legend had many false alarms, I Still Know doubles it. They are great to build tension, but when they happen every two seconds, it’s too much.
It’s unfortunate that this is all that can be said about this film, since the first one was so relevant to the changes the genre was going through. But this sequel offers nothing worth mentioning.
If Urban Legend is the little brother trying to fit in, I Still Know is the distant cousin we are forced to interact with during Christmas but, come Boxing Day, is already long forgotten.
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