Horror and comedy have always had a…fascinating relationship, to say the least. One could debate that horror-comedy is the most divisive sub-genre in horror, specifically parodies. On one hand, it can make a horror movie more fun and accessible to the everyday movie fan. It can also upset horror purists, who already have a hard time bringing legitimacy to horror without films poking fun at it. Parody films usually end up going one of two ways: a loving homage to the material being parodied (Young Frankenstein) or a clever subversion of the material (What We Do in the Shadows). 18 years ago, one film managed to be neither and both, bringing spoof/parody films back to the mainstream. Let’s talk about Scary Movie.
A year after disposing of the body of a man they accidentally killed, a group of dumb teenagers are stalked by a bumbling serial killer.
The Wayans Brother project roared on to the scene in 2000 to mixed reception, but was a box office smash hauling in over 278 million dollars worldwide. The success was a surprise, as director Keenan Ivory Wayans had no prior experience in the horror genre. He did have experience in the parody department with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, so what was his motivation for crafting the film? The spoof goes back and forth between paying homage to classic slasher films with hilarious scene recreations and poking holes in horror movie logic. Though it riffs on many horror movies, the film primarily serves as a parody of iconic 90s slashers Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. So when trying to classify Scary Movie between the two types of parodies I described above, it leans more to the homage side. But does the fact that it is parodying a movie already satirizing the horror genre make it a clever subversion? Again, it’s kind of both which makes this movie unique.
The screenplay, primarily developed by Shawn and Marlon Wayans, is fairly lighthearted. Though it pokes plenty of fun at classic stereotypes, it never attempts to really deep-dive the standard tropes that have plagued the genre. It’s more about the ridiculousness of the characters and situations, specifically its prime targets. Upon a re-watch of Scream, my appreciation of Scary Movie grew when I realized the accuracy it did with its scene recreations and mirrored characters. The jokes of the film weren’t designed to make fun of the Scream or any of the other films, but more to compliment them. The homage to a scene was used as the set-up, with the punchline coming in the form of a slight humorous alteration. The execution could be hit or miss, but the jokes (or the film in general) never came from a place of attacking horror movies or really praising them either. Scary Movie was literally in it just for the gags, and this movie provides a lot of them. The “let’s play psycho killer” scene is absolutely hysterical.
The Reluctant Trailblazer
Scary Movie as a film has a bit of a tarnished reputation due to its sequels, which eventually lost its identity after the three Wayans brothers departed after Scary Movie 2 and grew increasingly outlandish. The appeal of the first two, where they had a sense of focus and narrative (as thin as they may have been). The franchise eventually would become a third type of parody: a soulless, cinematic vomit of poor pop culture references without any thought or intent. They were no longer about fun, only money. And unfortunately, the latter never stopped as every sequel made substantial profit. This successful run of the franchise led spoofs outside of the horror genre, such as Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, and Superhero Movie to name just a few.
But revisiting this film 18 years later, I almost feel bad as it was indeed a loving letter to the horror genre rather than the comedic low points its sequels were. But this has been somewhat lost over the years, driving a wedge further between the dynamics of comedy and horror. Some of this has been somewhat repaired in recent years, with higher concept parody films such as Cabin in the Woods or Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. These parodies would go on to add layers to iconic horror movies and tell new stories, rather than build off previous ones. Today, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground anymore. It’s either you’re a masterful satire or a tasteless rehash. Scary Movie was one of these films that fell in the middle and is severely missed.
Looking back, Scary Movie best serves as a hilarious time capsule to the state of horror at the time. Being in a recent horror renaissance, we sometimes forget the dark days of the 90s. This movie poked fun and shed light on horror tropes still being used today, so the satire of the film definitely holds up. From successfully recreating one of the most iconic cold openings of all-time to keeping the names of most the characters the same, Scary Movie was subversive without even trying. The movie also birthed a comedic star in Anna Faris, who would go on to dominate the early 00s. With like movies Deadpool finding success, another cool aspect of this movie was how meta it was which doesn’t get enough credit.
Scary Movie wore its influences on its sleeve, being unapologetically original and unoriginal at the same time. The spoof remains a paradox in the horror genre that deserves to be revisited. It has become cool to take everything serious in the horror genre, but kick back and relax to what I believe to be a classic in its own unique way. Scary Movie was released on July 7th, 2000!