Given how ubiquitous the genre of “blockbuster parody” is today, it’s hard to remember a time when a picture like Scary Movie seemed groundbreaking. Well, lets be fair here, the idea of Scary Movie—tossing various popular movies of the time into a blender and molding the resulting pile of references and parodies into a vaguely coherent movie—was never that unique. Direct parody has always been prevalent in pop culture, Scary Movie’s creators were just the first to bank an entire movie on incredibly on-the-nose references.
Scary Movie has a lot of significance to the trajectory we’re on this month. A direct descendant of Airplane!, this one delves far more deeply into the copied worlds of specific movies than its predecessor in the genre. Evidently, this is the format countless movies following would take on, ditching the surreal straight-faced humor of Airplane! in favor of more obvious winks and nods to established blockbusters. A quick search of IMDB shows dozens of ___ Movie movies, enough to form an entire genre in itself. Whether or not it was intended to be, Scary Movie has become one of the most confoundingly influential films of all time, spawning a massively popular subgenre and a five movie franchise.
This is all really weird because, honestly, Scary Movie was never that good. The film centers on a group of teenagers slowly being picked off by an unknown killer. It’s about as generic a premise as you can get for horror movies, but I guess you could argue that this is the point. There’s a weird amount of similarity with 1996’s Scream, with an identically masked killer, a borderline identical plot, and similar interests in subverting the genre. But where Scream criticized the absurdity and repetitiveness of the genre by breaking the fourth wall and taking it all to its extreme, Scary Movie blindly embraces the dumbness of the genre, with shamelessly random references to the year 2000’s hottest movies. Scary Movie isn’t as much a movie as it is a collection of skits, with no real pacing to speak of.
This isn’t a great look, and Scary Movie doesn’t pull it off well. Extended sequences parodying The Matrix are poorly-acted and ill directed to the point where it’s mostly just embarrassing for everyone involved, and jokes about the mentally challenged just seem mean-spirited. It’s almost like the entire movie was created by a race of aliens, and this is their attempt to prove they understand American culture. It’s not as much saying anything about the genre as it is continuously reminding the audience they are aware of its existence.
Scary Movie squanders a lot of opportunities. Horrors movies are perhaps the most inherently ridiculous genre, with a weirdly slavish devotion to cliche and formula. Instead of really doing anything with this, Scary Movie seems content to make another…well…scary movie, just slightly more over-the-top. This would be fine, but for the most part, the jokes veer between “flat” and “embarrassing”. Especially in light of Scream, a movie it seems so intent on replicating, Scary Movie just seems needless and poorly executed, a dull retread of ideas that have been done far better elsewhere.
Next Up: We skip ahead thirteen years to The Starving Games, and see the hellish landscape Scary Movie brought us.