Comedy is the most subjective of all movie genres. The things that will elicit laughter from people are contingent upon personal experiences, individual moral convictions, and, most specifically, those ineffable variations in senses of humor. A great example of this happens to be releasing its fifth iteration in theaters this weekend. There are those among us, this writer definitely included, who have never liked the Scary Movie franchise. However, this series has managed to garner enough popularity to remain financially solvent for thirteen years.
That being said, there are so many jokes in any given Scary Movie that it seems impossible that even the most stalwart detractor wouldn’t find something to make them chuckle. Bearing all the subjectivity of comedy in mind, and in light of the release of Scary Movie 5, this detractor thought it was time to revisit the first four films and dole out any credit where credit may be due. It’s not exactly a more objective approach, but this quartet of flicks has officially been given the benefit of the doubt.
As our lead couple, Anna Faris and Jon Abrahams, recreate a tender scene from Scream, a very lost James Van Der Beek, prompted by the playing of the song “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” appears briefly in the window before noticing he’s on the wrong set. On the one hand, this reference to Dawson’s Creekdoes immediately date the movie, one of the franchise’s biggest problems, it also astutely acknowledges how inextricable from late 90s romance that song became.
White Folks are Dead
During the on-campus media circus that followed the opening murder in Scary Movie, one news network had the foresight to abandon the story lest they become a part of it. It is true that this gag is not the most racially sensitive, but it has been well-established that the track record for African-American characters making it to the end of horror movies is abysmal. Therefore, when the camera slowly pans to the van for “Black TV,” and the anchor states that they are leaving the area immediately because “white folks are dead,” it was clever enough to prompt a chortle.
Moreso than any other character from Scream, the first Scary Movie brutally mocks David Arquette’s oafish Deputy Dewey. They reduce him to a drooling, mentally ill caricature that would be insurmountably offensive if not for the great final moment he is granted. As Cindy sits in the police station in the aftermath of the killing spree, she notes that the real killer had to be someone close to all the victims who could move about without being noticed. In a sharp nod to Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, she realizes it was in fact Doofy. The Keyser Soze payoff is quite nice; guffaws abounded.
Scary Movie 2
Though even fewer jokes seemed to resonate in Scary Movie 2 as did in the first, one moment that absolutely delighted involved a nod to, of all things, a former member of the juice crew. As the whacked-out butler, played by Chris Elliott, is showing Cindy a line of portraits of members of the ill-fated Kane family, suddenly they come upon the painting of 80s era rapper Big Daddy Kane. Given that a vast majority of the non-movie references made in this franchise are for commercials, TV shows, and celebrities that are only relevant exactly at the time of production, this allusion to Kane was a breath of fresh air.
What Lies Within
Ordinarily what tend to be the weakest gags in any Scary Movie sequel are the direct recreations of scenes from the movies they are lampooning. However in Scary Movie 2, one imitation of What Lies Beneath was enough to kick-start a cackle. As a possessed Cindy straddles the Professor (Tim Curry), she utters the recognizable line, “I think she’s starting to suspect something.” From there, Scary Movie 2 offers an entertaining twist on the supernatural other woman switcheroo from What Lies Beneath. It’s the execution and timing on this gag that elevates it above the Scary Movie franchise’s typical twist on notable genre scenes.
Scary Movie 3
The Face of Fear
It could be argued, and we certainly intend to, that Scary Movie 3 is the strongest entry in the series. It’s not great, but it was the first to pull in the legendary David Zucker (Airplane, The Naked Gun). One of the best sight gags in Scary Movie 3 has to be the one that plays with the horror convention of warped photographs as portents of doom. Cindy thinks the twisted face of the young man in the photo is a supernatural occurrence, until she sees him in the flesh, and his face is actually warped. Such a smart, tongue-in-cheek joke that elicited a full-fledged belly laugh.
Can’t Get a Handle
There are ironically very few moments in which the Scary Movie franchise feels like actual parody. More often than not these films are simply pop culture coat racks. However, one of the best, and most insightful, jabs the series has ever taken at contemporary horror has to be Scary Movie 3’s knock on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. When told that the invading aliens will not be able to get to his family barricaded in the basement, our hero, played by Charlie Sheen, ponders the logic of the shortcoming that keeps the extraterrestrials at bay. In so doing, he is undermining the leaky script for Shyamalan’s film. Call it what you will, it was hilarious.
Stroke of Genius
Nine times out of ten, any movie featuring Jeremy Piven is worth watching if only for his moments on screen. Few films better illustrate this principal than does Scary Movie 3. Though he doesn’t have a huge role, Piven plays a hapless news anchor spouting off the nonsense that scrolls across the teleprompter as someone leans on the keyboard in the control room. It may sound like he’s have a stroke at times, but Piven commits to the bit so intently that one can’t help but be tickled. O shizl gzngahr indeed, sir.
Scary Movie 4
Leaving it All on the Line
Scary Movie 4 unfortunately seeks to undo all the favorable progress that was made by Scary Movie 3. However, it too is not without its moments. During the onset of the alien invasion, in what will become a long-running reference to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the denizens of a quaint suburb look to the skies at the coming storm. As the camera pans across, every backyard appears to have clothes on a line. Just as the audience notices, an off-screen voice cries out, “why don’t any of us have dryers?” It seems a throwaway joke, but it’s actually a subtle dig at the cliché methods by which filmmakers can create mood even when those methods don’t conform to logic.
Though most of the jokes in Scary Movie 4 that center on “parodying” M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village are just woeful toilet humor. However, the town counsel scene is priceless. The elders conduct their business in what can only be described as farcically archaic old English. There are so many prepositions injected into sentences merely to avoid ever ending with one. It’s a joke at the expense of the elaborate means by which the characters in The Villagetry and maintain their 19th century ruse. In any event, it’s worthy of a snicker or two.