Thursday, August 15, 2019

Off Script: Scary Movie

Film: Scary Movie
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who comes to this website that I haven’t really been that into putting up reviews lately. This is despite the fact that I have probably six dozen or so written and just waiting to be posted. My heart hasn’t been in it lately, and it’s been a struggle to even put up the Oscar posts on Monday and Friday. Don’t worry—I’m not shuttering the blog. In fact, I’m going to try to do the opposite and posting regularly again. It’s been a tough few months, and I want to feel like this is important to me again. That being the case, a mostly-comedy horror comedy like Scary Movie, a genre that is more often miss than hit, was probably not the best idea. But it was better than a 150-minute epic tonight. Baby steps, right?

Scary Movie is obviously a parody, mainly of Scream, but also of films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, The Sixth Sense, and similar hacky-slashy teen horror films. There are going to be direct references to films like The Blair Witch Project as well as more classic horror films like Halloween throughout. Also, because this was made in 2000, there’s going to be a reference to The Matrix, specifically the bullet time sequence.

So, if you’ve seen Scream and Scream 2, you know where this is going. There’s an opening parody where Carmen Electra gets stalked and killed by a killer in a Ghostface-style mask. He’ll eventually kill her, but not after getting her stripped down to bra and panties and, of course, stabbing her and pulling out a silicon breast implant like a Christmas plum.

The story is going to focus on Cindy (Anna Farris), whose name is naturally a near-homophone of Scream’s Sydney. While our killer is modelled on Scream, virtually everything else is from I Know What You Did Last Summer. We’ll have a beauty pageant, a group of friends who killed a man the previous year and more, and our killer’s preferred weapon is a fishhook.

I’m not going to go through all of the various parodies here. In a large sense, Scary Movie desperately wants to be something like Airplane! where the jokes come as fast as possible, but it’s not smart enough to do that. The reason is simple—it’s not specifically making jokes, but attempting to parody films that its audience is going to have seen. There are very few jokes here that aren’t a reference to another movie, and that’s disappointing.

The main reason that’s such a disappointment is that this was directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans, who was responsible for I’m Gonna Get You, Sucka, one of the better parody movies from its decade. This explains the presence of both Shawn and Marlon Wayans in the cast. It’s also a movie that for some reason gave a start to Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the talentless duo who went on to make movies like Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans. They learned exactly the wrong lessons from this and created a series of hack movies where there were no jokes, but only references. While Scary Movie has some good moments in it, this is where those two learned the formula.

Because Scary Movie is essentially concerned with making as many references as it can, it’s not a movie that has aged particularly well. Seeing James Van Der Beek pop up for 10 seconds as his character from Dawson’s Creek was mildly funny in 2000 and doesn’t track at all in 2019. Similarly, the fight choreography from The Matrix was already dated in 2000, but in the movie’s defense, it probably couldn’t have been made without it. A lot of the references simply fall flat today. Watching Marlon Wayans make fun of the “Wazzup” Budweiser commercials is so far off the comedy radar that it’s virtually incomprehensible now, not even a call-back or a dated reference.

Because of this, Scary Movie has aged really poorly. Movies like Airplane!, parodying the Airport series, and Wayans’s own I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, parodying the Blaxploitation movies of the ‘70s, still work today for an important reason. The same is true of the much more recent Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. These movies do make some specific references, but they don’t rely on them. They work without knowing the references, but knowing them makes them work better. If you don’t know what this is spoofing, it’s not funny at all.

So, I get why people liked this in 2000. I’m not sure why they still do.

Why to watch Scary Movie: It has it’s moments, even if many of them are now dated.
Why not to watch: It indirectly spawned a shit-ton of terrible movies that shouldn’t exist.


  1. I saw this in the theaters and enjoyed it mainly because of my crush towards Shannon Elizabeth at the time (which is why I also went to see... ugh... Tomcats which was one of the worst films I had ever seen). I was only 19 when the film came out and thought it was funny though it would probably dated. Plus, I hated the fact that it helped spawn the careers of Friedberg/Seltzer who don't deserve the right to be called filmmakers or even bad filmmakers. Calling them trash would be a disservice to the word trash.

    1. The worst part of the Friedberg/Seltzer connection is that it came circuitously. Scary Movie came from a combination of two scripts that were roughly approaching this--one created by Friedberg/Seltzer. According to Keenan Ivory Wayans, virtually nothing from their script made it into the final version of this one.

    2. If that is true, then thank God. Those guys are the lowest of the lows. Porno filmmakers are more respectable than those 2 asswipes. Say what you want about porn, at least they're able to do something with the small budget they're given and at least try to create some nice visuals. Friedberg/Seltzer are given carte blanche and they end up with nothing.

    3. What's irritating is that their movies are so slipshod and cheap that they are made for nothing, so even when they get terrible reviews and leave the theater after two weeks, they've more than made their money back. It gives them that carte blanche because they always return on the investment.

  2. You hit the nail on the head. This movie, and the entire "movie" franchise (Scary, Epic, Date, Dance, etc.) all rely solely on references. Actually, it's worse than that. They rely on whole scene recreations and differentiate themselves by adding something gross, vulgar, impossibly dumb, and/or some combination of the three. In the case of this particular movie, it has another problem. In using Scream as its foundation, it's spoofing a movie that's already a spoof, and a far better one at that.

    1. What makes Scream work is that it's not just a spoof. It is, clearly, a film that plays with all of the tropes and ideas of slasher films (just as the sequel plays with ideas of being a sequel). But, if you don't know the tropes and cliches, Scream still works really well as a slasher film. It's why Hot Fuzz is so damn good--it's a great and loving parody of buddy cop action movies, but it's also a great buddy cop action movie in its own right.

      Scary Movie has none of that. When I include stuff from the They Shoot Zombies list on this site, I tend to classify them as horror even when they aren't really simply because of that list. I couldn't with this, because there's no way to call this horror at all, and that's why it ultimately fails.