I'm going to try to keep this relatively spoiler-free, but it doesn't help that one of the things that made this movie so good for its time means spoiling the opening entirely. But, seeing as this is now a 20+ year-old film, and widely considered a horror classic, I might as well just rip it off like a band-aid. IF you care, I would probably just scroll down to my rating and skip the rest. But with that said, I can only imagine you're here reading this because you're already a fan of the movie. So, let's get to it!
We meet high schooler Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) who, to make a long story short, sets things up by being the very first on-screen victim of the franchise. What was so great about this was the fact that at the time, we were all pretty damn sure Barrymore was our "survivor girl". As luck would have it, that was the original intention with her top-billing, but Barrymore, herself, chose to play Casey instead, as a means to pull the rug out from underneath the audience. It's one of the best examples of a movie that has you quickly realise that no one is safe! This murder sets into motion a police investigation and media circus invasion of Woodsboro High School.
In the middle of it all, our actual survivor girl of the franchise, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) deals with the one-year anniversary of her mother's violent murder at the alleged hands of Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). She's also constatly pressured by her boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) who wishes she could move on from her trauma so that their relationship can move forward. On top of everything else, she also has Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to deal with; a tenacious reporter who wrote a book about Sidney's mother's murder, claiming Cotton to be innocent, and spreading rumours and conspiracy theories about it.
Also involved in a group of mutual friends are the eccentric Stuart (Matthew Lillard), Sidney's best friend, Tatum (Rose McGowan) and the movie-loving, movie-rule-establishing Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who always plays an important part in these movies, giving characters (and the audience) hints, regarding what to expect in whatever volume of the movie we're watching. Here, the rules to follow are about surviving a standard horror movie. The bare basics include things like "Don't do drugs!", "Don't have sex!", and never, ever say "I'll be right back!", because you wont be.
As events unfold (including the disappearance of Sidney's father) and murder suspects seem to surround the small town of Woodsboro, California, investigations continue, and we follow along with the somewhat bumbling deputy Dewey (David Arquette). Gale ends up using him at first to try to get the inside scoop on things, but eventually, sparks fly, just like they did in real life (at least until like, 2013). But going back to Sidney, she soon finds herself in a bit of a whirlwind situation, and appears to be the main target of these attacks before long. Will she be able to survive despite perhaps breaking one or two of Randy's "rules"? Well, we're up to six movies now, so I suppose the answer is obvious.
This one is the bread and butter of the 'Scream' franchise - breaking new grounds by giving us a farcical horror movie without it being a comedy. To make it even better, horror legend Wes Craven sits in the director seat, having fun with a movie that quite literally pokes fun at his craft. Soon enough, it would be Craven's second big horror franchise (although he was far more involved with this one than 'Nightmare'), and would be a huge accomplishment in the resurrection of the slasher horror genre. Sadly this would clear a path for "teen horror", which involved a lot of similar casting of big names, usually "heartthrobs" of some sort, and were rated PG-13 a little more often than R. But the ideas and concepts behind 'Scream' keep it a classic. It's only a semi-serious horror movie that plays on horror tropes rather than simply use them.
I think that since it has been farced so many times, the original 'Scream' may have lost its lustre just a little bit. It's definitely "trapped" in the 90s, so it may be difficult for a newcomer to take seriously. The most shining example being that cell phones at that time were more like a luxury than the everyday items we take for granted today. In some ways, this may be a product of its time, but its overall execution is still a little something to be admired. For its time it was quite clever, as by 1996, the slasher genre was old news. It was interesting to see the use of pop culture references throughout the film along with an Easter egg here and there. In many ways, even though 'Scream' is a farce on slasher horrors, it's also a love letter.