The Wayans brothers have always been scary funny, soaring to fame on the trailblazing early-1990s sketch series In Living Color. But in 2000 Shawn, Marlon, and Keenen Ivory Wayans set their collective talents upon something truly terrifying, Scary Movie. Even if their R-rated spoof of slasher flicks served up fewer actual scares than fears of Y2K itself, it really did pull off some shocking feats. The summer film exceeded all expectations at the box office, sparked a franchise, and paved the way for half a dozen imitators in the years that followed. Perhaps most impressive of all, it successfully skewered Scream, the seemingly untouchable, unparody-able satire of the horror genre itself. Even Ghostface’s jaw would have dropped further if it could have.
Here, the filmmakers and cast members take a look back on the goofy, gross, and (really!) groundbreaking horror comedy.
I Scream, You Scream
Shawn Wayans thought of Scary Movie when a deluge of slasher films hit theaters in the late ’90s. He pitched the idea to brothers Keenen and Marlon, who helped pen the script, which chronicled the murders of multiple teenagers by a masked killer with a taste for recreational drugs. Miramax’s Dimension Films snapped up the raunchy mocktail of horror hits even before the script was completed, despite it largely riffing on the studio’s own franchise, Scream.
SHAWN WAYANS (co-writer; Ray Wilkins): We just found these [slasher] movies to be kind of ridiculous, and I thought it would be funny to do a parody. But it was one of the hardest movies to write. It looks like a silly, slapstick film, but it was not an easy movie to execute.
KEENEN IVORY WAYANS (director): In a parody, you still have to tell a story. What people tend to do is write a bunch of jokes and just string ’em together. That won’t hold up; you have to create a narrative. To [Dimension founder] Bob Weinstein’s credit, he was very good about not being afraid.
BOB WEINSTEIN (executive producer): When I thought about it, I said, “Who better to spoof [the Scream franchise] than us?” [Laughs] Scream still stood on its own, because Scream was great. We had the guts to do it, I’ll put it that way. [Ed. note: The interview with Bob Weinstein was conducted in September, before his brother, Harvey Weinstein, was accused of sexual misconduct — including allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault — by numerous women. Harvey Weinstein has denied any claims of non-consensual sex; Bob Weinstein has claimed he wasn’t aware of his brother’s sexual misconduct.]
The hardest character to cast was the lead, but after a long search, Keenen chose a then-unknown Anna Faris.
KEENEN: The biggest surprise was Anna. And it wasn’t really a surprise, it was a gift. I had seen everybody, and I kept saying no to the point that the casting people were getting pissed. But I was looking for someone specific. I remember the casting person saying, “I read a girl that I think is right, but she’s never done anything before.” And I was like, [sighs] “Yeah, okay.”
ANNA FARIS (Cindy Campbell): I don’t think I even had a headshot. I didn’t have an agent. [After I got the role] I remember feeling this odd combination of total elation, dizziness, and loneliness. Like, “Has my life just completely shifted?”
KEENEN: The fact that she hadn’t done anything before was perfect, because she was going off of her instincts, and she had this natural innocence and was funny.
FARIS: It’s true, I had no idea what to say when he called “Action.” I turned to [co-star] Jonny [Abrahams] and was like, “So wait, what are we supposed to do?” And he was like, “Say your line.”
JON ABRAHAMS (Bobby Prinze): Anna was just amazing. I mean, to come in that green and to have that kind of comedic timing was bananas.
Die Like Jada
While shooting in Vancouver, the cast repeatedly watched scenes from the films they aimed to lampoon. Some tailored their performances to the original actors’ work.
SHANNON ELIZABETH (Buffy Gilmore): I tried to do exactly what Jennifer Love Hewitt did in [I Know What You Did Last Summer]. My favorite line was “Oh my God, we hit a boot!” [Laughs] I remember the movement, how she would pick something up and turn to the rest of the group.
REGINA HALL (Brenda Meeks): I just remember watching Jada [Pinkett Smith]’s scene in Scream 2, trying to get how she collapsed when she dies in front of an audience. I literally tried to die like Jada.
ABRAHAMS: All horror movies are slightly ridiculous, but these were being melded with popular teen movies. For a good part of Scream, Skeet Ulrich’s character’s main objective is to get laid. [Laughs] So I played into that.
CHERI OTERI (Gail Hailstorm): Spoofing these movies was perfect. It was just, like, young people getting killed one by one, and the sexier the better. I laughed so much.
DAVE SHERIDAN (Doofy/the Killer): I’ve met [David Arquette, on whom his character is loosely based] a couple of times in passing, and I remember thinking, “I think he wants to kill me.”
Shoot for the Ceiling
The writers continued tweaking the script during filming, as Keenen encouraged improvisation.
LOCHLYN MUNRO (Greg Phillippe): Keenen was all about, “What do you have? What can you bring? Just do it!” He made it comfortable for us to let loose and not worry about making a fool of ourselves. If we fell on our faces, he would just kind of chuckle from behind the monitor.
ELIZABETH: Keenen said, “I want to shoot what’s on the page, and then I’m going to let you guys do anything you want. At the end of the day, I’m going to use whatever’s the funniest and the best, and I, as the director, will get credit for it.” [Laughs] I absolutely loved him for that.
MUNRO: All of a sudden you would have a scene that on paper was pretty funny, but then after you were in the trenches, it just became hysterical.
FARIS: Oh, I was too terrified to try much. There’s a moment where I’m flailing through the cafeteria and that was when I felt like, “Maybe I’m starting to get the hang of this!” But I would go home at the end of the day feeling like, “Oh my God. I’m not funny.”
KEENEN: Anna got really nervous about the scene where she gets blasted up onto the ceiling [by semen, during a sex scene], so I took her for a little walk, and I said, “I will not be the one to decide whether this stays in the movie. The audience is gonna decide. If they’re laughing, then you will have nothing to be embarrassed about. If they’re groaning, I give you my word, I’ll cut it out of the movie.” She took a deep breath and committed 100 percent, and the rest is history.
FARIS: Keenen told me two amazing bits of advice. One was that there’s no vanity in comedy, and two, don’t wink at the audience. You have to be willing to embrace the idea that the audience is going to think you’re an idiot. That was an important lesson to me.
OTERI: It felt like we were kids playing in a sandbox, but with a parent there saying, “Not funny enough.” [Laughs] But Keenen was always smiling. There was a sense of peace about him.
SHERIDAN: Keenen’s not just editing the film, he’s editing the filmmaking itself. He’s making tweaks just as a tailor does. A tailor doesn’t make the suit — he adjusts. That’s how he viewed directing.
Box Office Killing
Scary Movie topped the box office its opening weekend, raking in $42 million, a then record for an R-rated movie that surpassed even the Scream films and more than doubled its own $19 million budget. It would go on to gross $157 million — breaking the record for a film by an African-American director — and launch four equally raunchy sequels, three of which starred Faris and Hall.
FARIS: I owe everything to that movie. After the premiere I flew back to Washington state and saw the movie in a strip mall with my parents, and it was sold out. I couldn’t believe it. People were going a little crazy for it. I had to have a talking-to to myself about enjoying that experience a little too much. [Laughs]
CARMEN ELECTRA (Drew Decker): Honestly, I had no idea it was going to do so well. I got tickets to go see the movie in the theater, and I sat in the back with a real audience, and I remember after my scene, everyone cheered! It was the coolest thing ever. [Laughs] To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a movie where that happened. Well, maybe Star Wars?
WEINSTEIN: Other studios were going, “What just happened?” It was like winning the Super Bowl. Just the most unbelievable thing.
KEENEN: It was a really, really great feeling. For me, it was sort of redemption after having to move on from In Living Color.
HALL: It was huge to have an African-American director open an R-rated comedy that was that big. It broke the ceiling for what was possible. It was a movie that was really diversely cast, and we saw young audiences gravitate toward that. It wasn’t a white film, it wasn’t a black film, just, “Oh, Brenda’s black, Cindy’s white.” It was just a movie.
SHAWN: It was the right movie at the right time done by the right people. [Laughs] That’s really what I feel like it was… And you never know, another one can happen. There’s always room.