Scary Movie

Gross-out comedies are now as much a tradition of the summer movie season as
the special-effects blockbusters — and sometimes the two are hard to tell
one from another. Scary Movie, which shot to the top of the list of box
office grosses (if you’ll pardon the expression) in the week after it opened,
purports to be more than just another gross-fest in the style of the Farrelly
brothers by sending up some of the familiar conventions of recent teen
movies — especially the Scream and I Know What You Did Last
series. It doesn’t seem to have mattered to the Wayans brothers, and
in particular Keenen Ivory Wayans, the director, that Scream etc. were
already send-ups of generic teen slasher movies, even as they belonged to the
same genre themselves. After all, it’s the gross bits that they were interested

Well, what can the critic say but that they succeed in being quite
astonishingly gross — though only intermittently funny? The fact that the
film managed to get an R rating is absurd, though hardly surprising given the
vagaries of the system. I wondered if there is a new double-standard by which
the R can be awarded in spite of the presence of an erect penis so long as the
female nipple-count is zero (though there is one joke involving the use of a
chainsaw to trim female public hair). It’s hard to stay mad even at such details
as these, however, as they are not self-important or self-consciously “arty” but
just a part of the general purpose of grossness, which clearly obliges the
filmmakers to do whatever they can get away with.

For that is obviously the purpose of this kind of film. Things that are not
all that funny in themselves, or in some cases not funny at all, elicit nervous
laughter when we see them in public, in mixed company, and magnified to several
times life-size on the silver screen. This is an unexpected place in which to
see things that are normally kept private, and the humor obviously depends on
the unexpectedness. And, of course, on the fact that we know it will offend some
people. But if we are neither of the party that seeks to offend, nor of the
party disposed to take offense, we are likely to feel, as in fact I felt during
this film, that we do not belong there. We are mere spectators of the passionate
conversation of two other people on a subject that is not nearly so interesting
to us.

What is interesting is the satirical element, but like so many other pictures
these days, this one suffers from its exclusively cinematic frame of reference.
The hooded figure in the Munch “Scream” mask is well and truly ridiculed and
made fun of, but he is, after all, only a character in a movie, corresponding to
nothing in the real world (if we thought he did, of course, he wouldn’t be
funny). Even the movie-makers who first thought up this ridiculous killer are
not to be thought of as guilty of artistic sins in need of the Wayanses censure
and comic correction. Like all the other movie references in this
movie — which include The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch
, The Matrix and others — it is just a peg for hanging the
gross bits on. If you’re into shocking, or being shocked, then this is the movie
for you. Otherwise, not.

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