Toronto Scene – Queer Fear Presents Scream (1996)

ghostface-scream

Last Wednesday, I went to the The Royal for Queer Fear presents Scream. Not only was it the first time I got to see it on the big screen, it was screened on 35mm (omg) and was preceded by drag performances (omfg). It was honestly one of the best night outs I’ve had in a while and I had a time celebrating one of my favourite horror films with an amazing, engaged crowd.

Even though I love horror movies, it took me years to build up the courage to actually watch them. I was reading Stephen King novels in grade seven, but watching a horror movie was something I was too afraid to do. It’s one thing to read about someone being stabbed, it’s something else entirely to watch it happen. The visceral experience seemed too intense. I don’t know what I was so scared of – maybe seeing something that I couldn’t forget? I was a sensitive child.

With coaxing and, frankly, peer pressure I finally took the plunge. It wasn’t the first horror movie I ever watched, but Scream was the one that changed the way I looked at horror and film in general. I loved it instantly and it made me want to be a filmmaker and writer. So it holds a special place in my heart.

I initially thought Queer Fear was presenting it because of all the homoerotic undertones between Stu and Billy. I totally forgot that Kevin Williamson, an openly gay screenwriter, wrote it. Fucking duh! He also created my favourite teen show Dawson’s Creek, which is why I think Scream resonated so hard with me when I was twelve – it’s the ultimate teen horror flick.

Its modern meta-take on the genre notwithstanding, Williamson just understands teen dynamics better than almost any other horror writer, IMHO. His screenplay navigates teen relationships that vacillate between friendly and antagonistic. His characters use a school shutdown and curfew as an excuse to party and blow off steam. They feel pressure to please each other at the expense of their own boundaries. All of us, to some degree, have dealt with all of these things in high school. But I also think that Scream really zeroes in on the teen girl experience.

The ultimate final girl, Sidney Prescott, is dealing with her mother’s murder while also trying to navigate a relationship with a boy who’s pushing her to go further than she’s ready to. As an adult now, it’s crushing to watch her apologize to Billy for being closed off at the climactic party scene – as if it’s her fault and he’s not a pathetic loser for not emotionally supporting his girlfriend. Once it’s revealed that Billy’s one of the killers, we can understand why he was being such a dick, but Williamson also knows better. This isn’t an unusual situation – many girls and women have been in this position without the men in their life being deranged murderers. It’s a situation that every woman I know has experienced, including me – apologizing for being “crazy” because a boyfriend doesn’t understand how to share the emotional labour in a relationship.

It’s also important to note that it’s only after Sidney has sex with Billy that she realizes who he actually is. It’s a standard trope for female characters that we’ve seen used before – the biggest example I can think of is Angel turning evil after he and Buffy knock boots in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – but it’s a trope for a reason. Losing your virginity changes you – it’s a rite of passage into the world of sexual relationships. And for a straight woman, the blinders can come off rather quickly, forcing her to see how sexual politics play out in a heterosexual relationship within the context of a patriarchal culture.

Basically, your boyfriend can become a total dick after sex is exchanged – and especially if he’s more experienced than you.

Having Wes Craven direct was the perfect choice. Queer Fear host Joshua Dare also brought this up at the screening and I totally agree – Craven is the most feminist male horror director. As a woman, I’ve always preferred his work to other male horror directors. His female characters are more grounded, curious, driven, and therefore feel more real than the female characters created by a lot of his contemporaries. I just see myself in his films.

The event also featured amazing Scream-inspired performances by drag queens Aura Nova, JuiceBoxx, and Leelando Mitchell. Special shout-out to Leelando for performing a Gale Weathers number, complete with red power suit, that was perfect. I gagged so hard I died and went to heaven.*

Before the film screened, Joshua made a point of how the film presents an attack on femmes and the feminine and I totally agree with him. Women are punished and pursued for not conforming strictly to ideals of female sexuality or femininity. Maureen Prescott is murdered by Billy for “fucking” his father and for “flashing her shit all over town like she was Sharon Stone or something”. Even though there’s a shot of Billy flirting with other girls at a video store, rich for a guy with a girlfriend, he takes it upon himself to murder Maureen for her perceived sexual transgressions. Tatum, a bossy bitch who thinks Billy doesn’t deserve Sidney, is murdered brutally via a garage door. Sidney is subjected to endless pestering from Billy about her frigidity and the fact that he can’t go as far as he wants with her.

Joshua also tied Scream and the act of screaming to the recent revelations of the serial killer in Toronto who targeted gay men in the Village (and the lacklustre police response to the whole situation, which frankly, is putting it mildly) and the AIDS epidemic (Silence = Death). I’ve always approached the film from a heterosexual female perspective, so it was an educating and poignant moment. When done right, horror films are an outlet to express feelings of rage, turmoil, and to comment on external political and cultural issues – like how the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre explores themes regarding the anxiety over the Vietnam War and industrial capitalism in the 1970s. Watching Scream from this perspective highlighted even more for me how the film tackles issues of femininity and female sexuality, but also how a scream isn’t just a sound of distress – it can also be an awakening.

Adding to those sentiments was a short film they screened before the main event, PYOTR495 by filmmaker Blake Mawson. It’s great and really nicely shot and you should totally check out here.

Toronto film lovers, specifically horror fans, should make sure they head to The Royal for Queer Fear. Check out their Twitter and Instagram pages for more info and to get the latest news about their next screening.

 

 

* I had nowhere to work this into my review, but I really have to talk about it because it was the most amazing thing to happen to me in recent weeks. When I went to the bathroom, I literally almost ran into one of the queens on my way back inside the theatre and got side-eyed. Like full on read and dismissed with just a look. It was amazing. I can die happy.

Featured image source: New York Daily News