How Modern Horror Movie Rules Have Changed In The 20 Years Since 'Scream' Was Released
With it's witty self-awareness and sharp deconstruction of modern horror tropes, Scream was a truly groundbreaking horror movie when it was released in 1996. By subverting audience expectations of a genre which had long become repetitive and formulaic, the movie managed to be unpredictable and delivered iconic scares alongside some refreshingly wry moments of comedy. Horror movies have undergone big changes in the 20 years since Scream was released however, and though many of the movie's references were spot on for its time, it's doubtful whether they still hold true. The horror movie rules of Scream, though quintessential for the mid-'90s, feel a little dated when considered against those of contemporary movies. And that's because the rules of modern horror movies have changed since Scream was released.
For starters, the slasher genre which informed Scream and it's myriad of meta-references is one which has fallen out of mainstream movie favor. In the rare occasions that a slasher film has been released in the past decade or so (such as Eden Lake or All The Boys Love Mandy Lane), they've been unique reinventions of the genre, adding contemporary twists to old tropes.
Instead of the standard slasher movie which dominated much of '80s and '90s horror, modern movies of the genre have instead focused on paranormal presences, bodily possession, home invasion and the endurance testing brutality of torture porn. And with that in mind, do the three examples of horror movie rules laid out by Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream still stand a chance of being relevant? Let's take a look...
Rule #1: "You Can Never Have Sex"
Anyone who happened to see any of the Friday The 13th or Halloween movies could easily agree with Randy's assertion that "sex equals death" in horror. And certainly, the modern reboots of both movie franchises still hold true to that fact, with various post-coital slayings of once-thirsty teenagers. Surprisingly, this is an idea that modern horror still clings to, albeit in a slightly different manner.
In movies like Hostel and Under The Skin, for instance, it's the entice of sexual desire which initially lures the male victims of the movies to their place of death. Similar to Under The Skin, however, movies like Jennifer's Body and Ginger Snaps gleefully revelled in showing this idea from a female perspective, with lead characters given agency over their sexual blood-lust. Most importantly in these films, the women are presented as the predators, not the prey.
The most recent movie to explore the connection between death and sexuality in horror is It Follows, however. Showing death as a threat made transferable through sex, the movie presents it as a dangerous act, but not one which will automatically kill you. Despite the lingering threat, lead character Jay (Maika Monroe) is still shown enjoying sexual gratification in spite of it's dangers, just as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) did in Scream.
Rule #2: "You Can Never Drink Or Do Drugs"
As Randy states in Scream, this rule is basically "an extension of number one" because "it's a sin," and much like the first rule, it still stands true today but in a very different manner.
You can see the evidence of this rule, for example, within the movies of the Saw franchise. Though murderous puzzle enthusiast Jigsaw is hardly gatecrashing parties and slaughtering teenagers mid-bong hit, he does punish several characters for being alcoholics or drug addicts, something which he takes as proof of them not appreciating their lives.
In Unfriended, on the other hand, the event which incites all of the violence of the notoriously nightmarish Skype call is a party gone too far. When a humiliating video of a young women passed out at the party circles online, it's later revealed that she was sexually assaulted after having her drink spiked. The twist here isn't so much that the teenagers are punished for drinking or doing drugs themselves, but for forcing their hedonism on somebody else in a violent and humiliating manner.
Two powerful modern subversions of this rule are the movies Eden Lake and The Purge. Here, it isn't a pack of teenagers who are the ones being picked off, but rather they're the ones doing the killing. They drink and do drugs while their respective targets of an adult couple and a family in their home, are as clean cut as they come.
Rule #3: "Never Ever, Under Any Circumstances, Say 'I'll Be Right Back,' Because You Won't Be Back"
Of course, whenever someone says "I'll be right back" in a horror movie, it's usually so they can wander off into an isolated area to stupidly investigate a weird noise or to try and call for help. Though that worked in older horror movies, a lot of modern ones have a completely different sense of place which render this rule slightly redundant.
Movies like Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Conjuring and Insidious all feature highly contained, domestic horror in which people (mostly families) are isolated with a horrifying presence in their own home. As a result, there's definitely fewer instances of the "I'll be right back" cliche in action. That's because characters are often left to investigate paranormal presences completely alone or because they simply have nowhere to be back from — they're at home already.
The rule still holds true, however, for home invasion movies like The Purge, The Strangers and You're Next. Whilst in paranormal movies, families are faced with discovering and removing evil presences from their home, home invasion movies see an evil human presence come from the outside to attack.
By doing so, the threat doesn't just encompass the home itself, but also the surrounding area, much as it did in slasher movies. As a result, there's usually at least one scene wherein a member of the family or couple being targetted bravely makes a dash for freedom to get help, uttering this phrase (or a version of it) in assurance to their loved ones as they leave. And sure enough, though they might come back in some form (and usually mortally wounded), they very rarely survive their return.
Clearly it isn't so much that the rules of horror movies have dramatically changed since Scream was released, but more that the rules have been adapted to fit the changes of both horror and of society itself. While horror movies from the '90s were deeply invested in the lives (and deaths) of high school students, modern horror is more interested in reflecting the broader concerns of society itself.
And as proven by modern movie franchises like The Purge and Paranormal Activity, we no longer worry about a singular evil presence like Ghostface, but the multiple evil threats that can infest within our homes, neigborhoods, communities and country, in general. And that's a threat which no set of rules could sufficiently cover.
Images: Dimension Films; Universal Pictures; Giphy;