Mainstream American horror films had become desperately sad by 1997. Yawn-filled predictability was the best you could expect. Then "Scream" came along. It appeared to be clever, dangerous, witty, and fresh, but it sadly became victim to the movies it mocked, even before it had ended.
A bravura opening five minutes winds the tension up brilliantly, as Drew Barrymore in a cameo becomes the first victim to a horrible masked killer. "What do you want?" she screams. "To see what your insides look like," hisses the maniac down the phone. Minutes later, she's gutted by the encounter, and in a miracle turn (or a sad development) for the horror genre, she's not had to expose her breasts in order to get brutally slain.
It's an important detail in a movie that's made up of teen characters who are all wise to the intricacies of what to do and what not to do in horror films. Multiple references to various movies of the genre litter a script that prides itself on being cleverer than the features it both mocks and reveres.
In for a particular bashing is the 80s slasher "Prom Night". For "Scream" to poke fun at "Prom Night" is a bit rich when "Scream" itself has an equally predictable stalk'n'slash plot that's barely justified by its knowing self-reference. Arguably, "Prom Night" is far less derivative as it was made back in 1980, the time at which the formula was still being perfected. After the initial jokes at the expense of such films, "Scream" runs out of humour, and in turn robs itself of the chance to get the audience to take the thrills and gut-spills it offers seriously.
Read a review of "Scream 2".
Read a review of "Scream 3".