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Details At A Glance

Category Horror Menu Audio and Animation
Theatrical Trailer (1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0)
Featurette - Behind The Scenes (10:43)
Featurette - Director's Comments (2:58)
Untitled Featurette (6:11)
Cast & Crew Interviews
Music Video - unnamed: Drop Dead Gorgeous (3:41)
Rating ma.gif (1236 bytes)
Year Released 1996
Running Time
106:35 Minutes
(Not 111 Minutes as per packaging)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (76:46)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Wes Craven
Miramax.gif (2746 bytes)
Magna Pacific
Starring Neve Campbell
David Arquette
Courtney Cox
Matthew Lillard
Rose McGowan
Skeet Ulrich
Jamie Kennedy
Drew Barrymore
Case Click
RPI $34.95 Music Marco Beltrami
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement Yes, moderately
Action In or After Credits Yes, some rather nice cast pictures during credits

Plot Synopsis

    Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, the horror genre was in something of a shambles because the genre was being flooded with endless recyclings of the same plot by the most mediocre directors in the business. Indeed, the fourth film in the previously much-loved Hellraiser genre was such an abomination that the director, whose real name I will not sully by repeating here, successfully applied for the Alan Smithee alias on the grounds that the film he thought he was making bore no relation to the finished edit. The classic Nightmare On Elm Street series had (finally) filmed its last episode, having gone from a film in which the villain was one of the scariest, creepiest things ever seen on the silver screen to a regurgitator of poor puns. The Friday The 13th series, described by one critic whom I normally severely disagree with as "the ultimate in recycling", had just filmed what we are still hoping against hope is the final episode. Then, in 1996, writer Kevin Williamson's pet project, Scary Movie, was released unto the public under the name Scream, with the great Wes Craven at the director's helm. Featuring the old Nightmare On Elm Street trademark of a strong female protagonist, as well as the Last House On The Left trademark of unbearable intensity (at least until the censors got hold of it), Scream gave the horror-thriller genre a much-needed revival.

    Yet, for such a celebrated horror film, the story is actually quite a simple one. It begins with Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) receiving a phone call from a stranger, during which she is questioned about her knowledge of "scary movies" as the killer, voiced by Roger L. Jackson, puts it. One of the most clever in-jokes of this film is Casey's claim that the first Nightmare On Elm Street is good, but the others sucked. This is not just a display of self-indulgent wankery on the part of Wes Craven, who directed A Nightmare On Elm Street and then sold the rights to the franchise before it was a hit. It was his way of striking back at the sequels that took his cleverly-researched idea and ran it into the ground (although he did have some input into the third episode of the series). Casey is then killed by a figure in a black robe and a goofy Halloween mask, which surprised a lot of the audiences when the film was exhibited on the silver screen. After all, Barrymore was one of the screen's biggest crowd pullers a few years beforehand, and in many minds the idea of featuring her name on the theatrical poster only to kill her off in the first reel was too ridiculous to even contemplate. However, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven obviously thought it was a better idea to kill off the most obvious choice for the film's hero and replace her with a complete surprise, a decision that they were a hundred percent correct with. Next, we are introduced to the actual hero of the movie, a young woman by the name of Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was brutally raped and murdered a year prior to the film's setting.

    When Sydney learns what has happened to Casey, she is confronted by the possibility that the man she had sent to prison for her mother's murder may not be the killer after all. This thought is made all the more unpleasant by reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who follows Sidney around and badgers her about the case until Sydney punches Gale's lights out in one of the most satisfying sequences of the film. For much of the film, Sydney is protected by her friends Stuart Macher (Matthew Lillard) and Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), as well as Deputy Dwight Riley (David Arquette). For a significant portion of the film, we are left waiting for the next death instead of the story simply being moved along by solely by creative gore, and we even start to care about the less important characters that make up this film. However, when these characters (including some great uncredited cameos by Wes Craven, Linda Blair, and Henry Winkler) are killed one by one, Sydney finds herself confronted by her mother's killer, and surprised by their actual identity. Indeed, I was quite surprised by the way the film ended by sheer virtue of the fact that it doesn't follow your typical happy fairytale finale as dictated by what seems to be Hollywood convention.

    Obviously, this is not the most complex or original idea to come out of a horror film, but it is one that works surprisingly well for a number of reasons. The first is a clever script by Kevin Williamson, which works well both as a parody of the often self-recycling horror/slasher/thriller genre, and as a serious story in its own right. The second is some clever direction by Wes Craven, who also directed Shocker (the film Fallen sorely wishes that it was), with a number of false scares and witty references injected into the story both on a dialogue and visual level. However, the best thing about this film is the acting and the character development, especially from Neve Campbell, whose only previous appearances in horror films were in such productions as The Dark, and an abysmally written piece known as The Craft. The characters are engaging enough to carry the film on their own, unlike what happened in the two sequels, and the actors seem to be caring about their jobs rather than going through the motions as in the other Scream films.

    I was going to say that if you only buy one Scream film on DVD, buy this one, but Magna Pacific's treatment of this film leads me to recommend you buy none at all, unless you're interested in importing DVDs from Japan (see the R4 vs R2 vs R1 comparison below). Scream 2 may suffer from a mediocre script that severely hinders the actors, and Scream 3 was obviously rushed through production at the expense of plot development, but their DVD versions are far more preferable to look at.

Transfer Quality


    I had been screaming out the question of why Scream 2 and Scream 3 have been available on DVD months and years in advance of the vastly superior original that they follow on from, calling for whomever owns the rights to Scream to bring this great film to our beloved format. Unfortunately, the treatment that Magna Pacific have given this DVD makes me wish I hadn't bothered.

    The transfer is presented in the Pan & Scanned aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. I didn't buy an eighty-centimeter television set with a selectable 16x9 mode so that I could watch Pan and Scan transfers of a film that appears on my list of most highly anticipated releases. Wes Craven is quite adept at composing for the ratio of 2.35:1, in spite of having only previously used it once, and I have even taken to calling Pan & Scan transfers of such films "half the film", i.e. "I'm watching Scream right now, well, half of it".

    The transfer is sharp, but not nearly as sharp as we have every right to expect from the DVD Video format, and even looks somewhat soft in comparison to the noticeably overcompressed Scream 2. While the backgrounds are not as soft and ill-defined, the foregrounds have a certain haze that looks halfway between an all-digital transfer and a recycled VHS master. Adding to this is the fact that panning shots lose a great deal of definition, with any camera movement reducing the resolution in direct proportion to its speed. The pitch of the audio made me repeat several shots in slow motion in order to check for that once-a-second judder, but it didn't seem to be there. I will expand on this point later. The shadow detail of the transfer is good, although I felt that it could have been slightly better. There is no low-level noise in the transfer, and a virtual absence of grain.

    The colour saturation of this transfer appears to be somewhat on the muted and dull side. Having seen this film on VHS a while ago, I felt that the colours in both formats suffered the same problem, in that the greens are not really green, and the reds are not really red. However, flesh tones look natural, and there is little evidence of bleeding or misregistration.

    MPEG artefacts were not especially prevalent in the transfer, but watching the film in slow motion to check for judder revealed that there is a moderate problem with motion blur. A camera pan across a brick wall soon dissolved into a blurry mess, and it doesn't take much distance from the camera to lose the sharpness that was somewhat incomplete to begin with in the foreground. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing in fine lines, but this artefact was quite well-controlled, all things considered. Film artefacts were also a very well-controlled artefact, with only a handful of black marks appearing in the entire feature.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 76:46, between Chapters 11 and 12. Given that this is right in the middle of the sequence in which Sidney discovers the identity of the murderer, I could think of a number of better places to put the layer change. The fact that the music pauses noticeably during this layer change does not help matters.


    You know an audio transfer is in trouble when you can honestly say that the VHS cassette you viewed a few years ago had more life and channel usage than a current-generation DVD version. Now, as most regular readers of this site are well aware, when it comes to transferring a film into the PAL format and retaining the correct pitch, there are two basic options. One is to play the twenty-fourth frame in each second of the film twice, which results in a completely intolerable artefact known as judder. The other method is to digitally process the film's soundtrack, which in essence shifts the pitch down a semitone in order to compensate for the rise that results from the four percent speedup caused by playing back twenty-five frames in the same space where there should be twenty-four. A hard look at several panning shots for signs that the first method has been used failed to turn up any results, and there is more concrete evidence that the latter option has been used in the form of occasional pitch-shift related distortions.

    There is only one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. This is simply pathetic, as the VHS version of the film was quite heavily encoded to take advantage of the somewhat limited surround space offered by the Pro-Logic format. Much of this film contains opportunities to spread creepy, haunting, and disturbing sounds throughout the soundfield, truly engulfing the viewer in the action. All of these classic opportunities have been passed up in favour of a transfer that defies any notion of regard to the people who have been waiting for this film to arrive for countless months. Thankfully, the dialogue is always clear and easy to make out, although some limitations are posed upon this by the channel constriction at times. Furthering my theory that this soundtrack has been processed in order to compensate for the effects of PAL's speedup is the fact that much of the speech in the film seems out of sync by a very small percentage of a second.

    The score music in this film is credited to Marco Beltrami, although the contemporary music used in the film, including that distinctly ordinary Nick Cave number, has much more presence. This can be partly blamed on the fact that the makers of the film obviously went to a lot of trouble to make sure that the record company affiliate's picks of the moment got their thirty-second ad spot, but it also has to do with the timing of the score in combination with the limitations of the soundtrack. The lack of any separation between the music, sound effects, and dialogue means that all three elements have to fight very hard for ease of listening, and the score music is the big loser. This is not to say that the score doesn't slot into place within the overall composition of the film, but the odds are quite stacked against it when it comes to making an impact.

    Being that this is a straight stereo soundtrack, there is no usage of the surround channels, which is just criminal when the number of sound effects that would be quite stunning in the proper format is taken into account. Thankfully, the subwoofer was still present to add something of a bottom end to some sound effects, but its timing seemed to be just a little off.


    All the extras in the world cannot make up for the complete disregard shown towards the virtues of the format.


    The menu contains some animation and audio, but does little to build anything resembling an atmosphere. The between-menus animation is so haphazard that it will give you a painful jolt to view and listen to it.

Theatrical Trailer (1:57)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this is a passable two-minute theatrical trailer.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes

   Presented in what appears to be Full Frame, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, this is little more than a string of cursory shots from behind the camera.

Featurette - Director's Comments

    This is basically a three-minute interview with director Wes Craven, presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A poor substitute for the commentary that appears on the Region 1 version of the disc.

Untitled Featurette

    Another Full Frame featurette with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, the fact that the DVD's authors were too lazy to even give it a title should say it all.

Cast Interviews

    A sub-menu containing interviews with Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, and Drew Barrymore, in which each of them answer three lame questions.

Music Video: Drop Dead Gorgeous (3:41)

    The fact that the authors forgot to put the band's name in this video is very revealing. The video is presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R2 vs R1

    Several versions of this film exist on DVD, Laserdisc, and VHS around the world, because this film was unfairly butchered by censors everywhere. Director Wes Craven complained in one interview for Ralph magazine that the MPAA kept specifically targeting the intensity of the film, saying "this section is just too intense", with a blatant and idiotic disregard for the fact that a horror director's primary job is to create intense moments. I am therefore also going to list the features of the Japanese Region 2 version of this disc for reasons which will become apparent shortly:
Region 4 (Australia)
Region 2 (Japan)
Region 1 Dimension Collector's Edition (USA)
Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 (Pan & Scan) 2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced) 2.35:1 (Not 16x9 Enhanced)
Sound Format
(Original Dialogue)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Dolby Digital 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1
Video Format PAL NTSC NTSC
Casing Soft Brackley CD Jewel Case Amaray
Edit MA-rated cut (equivalent to USA R-rated cut) Director Wes Craven's preferred cut, restoring the intensity of five murder sequences USA R-rated cut, with five key murder sequences toned down
Extras English Menus
Theatrical Trailer
Cast & Crew Interviews
Production Featurettes
Music Video
Production Featurette
Theatrical Trailers (in Japanese)
TV Spots (in Japanese)
Behind-the-scenes footage
Cast & Crew Interviews
Cast Biographies
Film Trivia
Japanese Menus
Audio Commentary by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson
Production Featurette
Theatrical Trailers (in English)
English Menus
Transfer Quality
(According To Reviews)
Watchable, but little different in quality terms from a laserdisc or VHS copy, with haze in the foreground and resolution loss in backgrounds and panning shots Issues with "extensive grain" and resultant minor pixelization, as well as small amounts of aliasing; still preferable to the R1 and UK R2 versions according to DVD Debate Rather diffuse due to the lack of 16x9 Enhancement, with pixelization in light and solid colours, as well as some colour bleeding and more noticeable aliasing; backgrounds taking on a "frozen" look, which may be compression-related

    To cut a very long story short, the Region 4 version of this disc is a loser and should be avoided like the plague. The Japanese Region 2 version of the disc is by far the best version simply because it is mostly immune from all the shortcomings of the other versions. It might be expensive and hard to get hold of, but if you really must have this film, it is hands down the only version of this film worth owning for the time being. If you're on a tight budget, buying the Region 1 Dimension Collector's Edition also makes sense in spite of the absurd censorship and lack of 16x9 Enhancement.


    Scream is one of the better pieces of work on Wes Craven's resume, but it is left in the dust by A Nightmare On Elm Street or Last House On The Left. The DVD presentation is simply unacceptable in its present form, and has only succeeded in destroying the enjoyment I had previously been able to derive from this film. We are being short-changed in the extreme here. Sorry, Magna Pacific, but this is not how you put together a transfer of such a heavily demanded film!

    The video quality may have been acceptable (just) on VHS, but it is quite unacceptable on DVD.

    The audio quality is (just) reasonable, but strongly suggests some kind of digital pitch alteration.

    The extras have that telltale ring of desperation.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
November 3, 2000. 
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer