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31 Days of Halloween

How 90’s horror helped deconstruct a generation

Kevin Williamson created characters that encapsulated the 90’s

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

The 90’s can easily take a person back to the days of flannel shirts and angsty music. I often reflect on it as a simpler time, which is strange because people in the 90’s acted like they lived in really difficult times. We were all so young and dumb. Anyway, the 90’s with its cool detachment, anti- school spirit, and smarter than the previous generation attitude ushered in a change in television and films. Those happy nuclear families of generations past became a little edgier. Six almost slept with Joey on Blossom. The Party of Five kids had to raise themselves and Beverly Hills 90210 was a sex circus. Living Single showed how in a 90’s kinda world, you should be glad to have your girls.

The world was changing. Friends debuted on NBC, it was a comedy where single people had casual sex, lived their lives, and were just young and living judgement free. They hung out at a coffee shop, a 90’s staple. Coffee shops became synonymous with quirky, artsy,  and brainy types. Seinfeld reigned as clever show about nothing when really it was about so many somethings.  All of this paved the way for emerging teenagers sitting on the cusp of Generation X and Millennial status, which led to a new spin on the classic slasher genre.   A strange thing happened in the mid 90’s with the release of 1996’s Scream, written by Kevin Williamson. 

Scream was a slasher film for the generation. Cool high school kids with absentee parents are hunted by a ghost faced killer. The killer calls them and quizzes them about horror movies. Movies are a huge theme in this film. Scream is self aware and repeatedly assures the audience it’s not like an 80’s slasher. Despite this tongue in cheek approach, Scream is funny, sad, and scary. The audience may be laughing while Casey Becker flirts with the killer on the phone, but they will be gutted (haha see what I did there) as Casey’s parents race around their home, panicked looking for their daughter who has already been brutally slaughtered. Although some characters are  detached and others are overly analytical, the victims are exposed for what they really are, frightened children. 

How 90's horror helped deconstruct a generation

If you think about Scream, you have to think about its writer, Kevin Williamson. If you think about Kevin Williamson, you have to think about Dawson’s Creek which premiered in 1998. Dawson’s Creek was centered around  Dawson Leary, an aspiring filmmaker who would pal around with his friends Joey and Pacey. Together they hung around being hyper introspective, dropping psychological and philosophical references, and topping each other in the vernacular department. The show often made fun of itself  using the same self-awareness of Scream while also displaying the openness and sensitivity of the starring characters.  

Dawson wanted to be the hero he had seen in movies. His writing, often autobiographical, was an open book about his feelings. Sometimes you root for Dawson, sometimes you cringe for Dawson. We all remember the crying scene, nevertheless,  Dawson embraced his feelings 100%. As annoying as one may have found the characters,  there is a sincerity to them. This is seen in Sidney Prescott and even Billy Loomis of Scream

Williamson’s characters are honest and too smart for their own good. The characters in Scream overthink everything, which is possibly the result of Billy Loomis’ madness. Skeet Ulrich’s performance is memorable for many reasons. He is an interesting character, to say the least. Instead of working through his abandonment issues, he fixates on blaming Sidney’s mother for his father’s infidelity.

This is an easy jump, but his youth and inexperience do not allow him to see the value of human life. He is thinking small and big at the same time. Billy enters Sidney’s window (just like Joey enters Dawson’s!) and gives Sidney a speech about their relationship’s rating. He says they are now edited for television, but he would at least like to get to third base. 

Billy may be a psycho killer, but he is oddly respectful of Sidney’s sexual boundaries. We learn that Billy is targeting Sidney because her mother broke up his parents’ marriage. We also learn that Billy killed Sidney’s mother a year before the film’s setting. The characters in the film are likable. Casey, Sidney, Tatum, no one wants them to die. However, if Billy wasn’t so caught up in planning murders  and framing life through movies, he may have been more successful in bringing his vengeance full circle. If only he had been driven by a simpler motive? As Randy suggests, what about the millennium? 

How 90's horror helped deconstruct a generation

The end of the decades brought in a rush of horror movies starring the rising stars of network television. Neve Campbell of Party of Five  played Sidney in Scream while another Party co-star, Jennifer Love Hewitt, starred in I Know What you Did Last Summer. I Know What You Did Last Summer also starred Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scream 2 where she starred alongside Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek who starred alongside Katie Holmes, who starred in Disturbing Behavior. The late 90’s is like Seven Degrees of Kevin Williamson. While Williamson is not directly affiliated with all these works, his characters’ sensibilities and attitudes permeated the screen . The protagonists in all these films have something very similar in common. They all overthink their situations. Which is not bad, overthinking sometimes saves lives. 

Teenagers were extra snarky, extra smart, and full of pop culture knowledge. The 90’s watched a generation grow up trying not to care about anything and culminated with anything meaning everything.  The need for self-analysis and mockery led to something bigger.  Where Dawson saw himself as the hero of a film, Billy saw himself as the villain.  Maybe in a generation’s quest to cement its profundity, 90’s horror taught us the most important lesson of all. Death does not care about your Tower record visits, your JNCO’s, or scoring astronomically on your SAT verbal. It comes for all of us. Being a smarty pants, doesn’t make you an alive pants. 

Cryptids also made a comeback in 90s!

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