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Wes Craven’s Scream opens with a self-contained master class in horror

The opening scene of Scream, which lasts an unlucky 13 minutes exactly, can comfortably exist as a coherent (if sadistic) short film. It has more tension, and character development, than anything Eli Roth has directed. But as a prelude to the rest of the film, an introductory lesson that sets precedents and offers clues, it remains one of the best scenes of American horror. It opens with haste, the film’s terse title flashing in a graphic that could only come from the mid-’90s. A telephone rings. “Hello?” Drew Barrymore answers. Her character’s name is Casey, but that’s irrelevant at this point. Barrymore’s presence, and her face, is what matters: She was the purported star of the film, adorning the promotional material, the posters, the trailer. She was at the advent of her career comeback after her post-E.T.problems. Less than 10 seconds in and we’ve already been played.

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