The Scream Trilogy, "Hyperpostmodernism," and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film

By Wee, Valerie | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Scream Trilogy, "Hyperpostmodernism," and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film

Wee, Valerie, Journal of Film and Video

IN "GENERICITY IN THE NINETIES: ECLECTIC IRONY AND THE NEW SINCERITY," published in 1993, Jim Collins examined a number of popular genre films released in the early 1990s,1 remarking that "what we have seen of postmodernism thus far is really a first phase, perhaps Early Postmodernism, the first tentative attempts at envisioning the impact of new technologies of mass communication and information processing on the structure of narrative" (262). In December 1996, Dimension Films released Scream, a slasher film that went on to resurrect and redfine that dormant genre for a new generation of teenagers. The Scream trilogy (Scream 2 [1997], Scream 3 [2000]) also marks a later phase of postmodernism than the early postmodernism highlighted by Collins. I have labeled this more advanced form of postmodernism "hyperpostmodernism," and in the Scream trilogy it can be identified in two ways: (i) a heightened degree of intertextual referencing and self-reflexivity that ceases to function at the traditional level of tongue-in-cheek subtext, and emerges instead as the actual text of the films; and (2) a propensity for ignoring filmspecific boundaries by actively referencing, "borrowing," and influencing the styles and formats of other media forms, including television and music videos-strategies that have further blurred the boundaries that once separated discrete media.

The Slasher Film: Emergence and Evolution

The teen-oriented slasher film came into its own in the 19705, with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978), and became one of the most popular horror subgenres in the decade that followed (Clover 24; Ryan and Kellner 191; Tudor 68-72). It was in the 19805 that the familiar conventions of the teen slasher film were established. These conventions include: a group of young, often teenage, characters as potential victims; imperiled, sexually attractive young women being stalked by a knife-wielding, virtually indestructible, psychotic serial killer; and scenes of unexpected and shocking violence and brutality. Teen slasher films also originated the trend toward spin-offs, sequels, and imitators, sparking a rash of successful slasher film franchises.2 With the release of each installment in the series, the conventions of the genre were repeated and consolidated. The growing popularity of these films was in fact tied to the increasing familiarity of these conventions. As Andrew Britton argues, film audiences were drawn to the very predictability of the plots, so that "the only occasion for disappointment would have been a modulation of the formula, not a repetition of it" (qtd. in Clover 9).

The genre was especially popular with teenage boys. In examining the audience for slasher films of the 19705 and early 19805, Carol Clover notes that "the majority audience, perhaps even more than the audience for horror in general, was largely young and largely male. . . . Young males are also . . . the slasher film's implied audience, the object of its address" (23). The films' obsession with the torture and often brutal killing of nubile young women appeared to be a particular draw for this audience.

By the mid-1980s, however, the slasher film appeared to reach a point of exhaustion. The formulaic nature of subsequent low-budget, independently produced slashers, and the excessive repetitions in the form of the sequels, remakes, and imitations, inevitably made the audience overly familiar with the genre, so that "by the end of the decade the form was largely drained" (Clover 23). Consequently, many of the films released in the late 19805 were the final installments of franchises that had been popular in the previous decade, and a large number of these were straight-to-video releases.3

By the late 1980s, it appeared that the cycle of teen-oriented slasher films had played itself out. Despite the impending demise of that cycle, a number of these later films did begin displaying characteristics, such as a tendency to blend humor and horror, and self-reflexive "winks" at the audience, that would eventually find significant representation in the resurgent slasher cycle of the late 19905.

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The Scream Trilogy, "Hyperpostmodernism," and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film


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