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By Jesse Fox Mayshark

Killing Me Loudly

It took me awhile to figure out why I didn't like Scream (1996, R), the self-consciously clever slasher flick that comes out on video this week.

It's not just that the movie promises a lot more than it delivers. Directed by Wes Craven, whose gore-fests of the '70s and '80s culminated in the Nightmare on Elm Street films, Scream is supposed to be some sort of deconstruction of the psycho killer genre. In reality, it's just another psycho killer movie, with some cute dialogue thrown in. As disemboweled bodies pile up in a small town, the sassy teen residents make lots of comments about how this is just like being in a slasher movie and talk at length about the various dumb things slasher movie victims do; then they promptly go off and do those things themselves.

As far as these films go--and that's not very far, in my book--Scream has some real assets, mostly in the casting department. Party of Five's Neve Campbell as the heroine and Friends' Courteney Cox as a tabloid TV reporter are appealing, and Drew Barrymore and Henry Winkler make entertaining cameos.

But there's something innately cold and mean-spirited about the whole enterprise, even by slasher standards. More than its predecessors--the Jason and Freddy films--Scream presents aimless killing as the ultimate adolescent kick. It left a bad taste in my mouth, which only worsened when I read that the movie has become a teen cult sensation, with high school students (like the ones in the movie) watching it six or seven times. In a society plagued by horrifying juvenile crimes, I can't see how Scream is helping anything.

If you're looking for a movie that delivers both chills and chuckles, you'd be much better off with Mute Witness (1995, R). Smarter, funnier, and scarier than Scream, Mute Witness is a joyride through Hitchcock territory from first-time director Anthony Waller. As an American film crew shoots a low-budget thriller in Moscow, the film's props director stumbles into a particularly seamy side of the Russian black market and ends up with most of the Muscovite mafia on her trail. The main gimmick--the heroine is mute--is milked in frightening and imaginative ways. The movie has nail-biting suspense, inventive humor, and more cinematic homages than you can shake a butcher knife at.

Less impressive but still intermittently fun is Curdled (1996, R), the latest release from Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Productions. It's about a childlike naïf (the coy Angela Jones) with a perverse serial killer obsession. The first hour is kind of slow, but hang on for the jolting final 30 minutes.

--Jesse Fox Mayshark

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