Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on July 7, 2000, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

The problem with Scary Movie becomes apparent in a scene set in the office of a butch “female” gym teacher, who is played by what appears to be a man in drag. While a group of girls can be seen working out through a window in the background, the coach’s “secret” is revealed to a student, in the form of (prosthetic) testicles that drop from under his/her skirt. As the camera returned to the dangling organs again, and again, I kept glancing at the exercising girls to see if some background gag was going on. No dice; as happens too often in the film, cleverness of detail is ignored in favor of in-your-face crudity.

Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, Scary Movie is an attempt to combine an Airplane!-style spoof of the recent slasher trend with the gross-out strain of comedy that reached its apex in There’s Something About Mary. All the familiar characters are represented here, as teenaged Sidney Campbell (Anna Faris) and her friends are stalked by a ghost-masked killer while repressing the memory of an ill-fated joyride the previous Halloween. The early scenes are promising, as a clever parody of Scream’s opening setpiece is followed up with a funny Dawson’s Creek joke, and the movie scores with a few moments of sick humor.

The longer the film goes on, though, the more it abandons knowing in-jokes in favor of bad taste for its own sake. Unlike the Zucker Brothers’ work, it doesn’t keep up a rapid-fire joke assault, and unlike in Mary, its sex-and-bodily-function comedy isn’t rooted in the kind of recognizable human insecurities that would give it an edge. The movie piles on sex jokes, fart jokes, gay jokes and the most explicit anatomical humor to ever receive an R rating, yet its most extreme moments are much funnier to hear about than to watch.

Take, for example, the film’s Nightmare on Elm Street sendup. Instead of a bed sucking down Johnny Depp and spewing out a shower of blood, here Cindy mounts and rides her boyfriend until she’s blasted into the ceiling by a geyser of semen. This may sound audaciously hilarious in the telling, but it’s just gross and queasy in the actual presentation. The moment also carries an unfortunate undercurrent of misogyny, one that runs throughout the movie; while both guys and girls are subjected to overstated violence, the female victims get it a lot worse and a lot longer. Especially unpleasant is a scene in which Sidney is beaten up by one of her friends, and kicked while she’s down, for no particular reason. Lacking a satiric point or purpose, this bit comes across as more offensive than anything in the recent straight slasher films.

It’s a shame, too, because Wayans proved an adept farceur with his blaxploitation spoof I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. The difference is that there, he was sending up not only individual movies, but the state of mind behind a genre. Here, he and the writers are content to just sprinkle a few easy references through the film and mostly aim for the lowest common denominator. Plenty of opportunities are let slip away; for example, a busty student played by Shannon Elizabeth is named Buffy, so why not have her be a demon-slayer who’s undercover at the high school to stop the killer? Instead of simply having the actors comment on how they’re all too old to be believable high-schoolers, why not explain it in a funny way? For that matter, how about an English teacher named Mr. Williamson, who encourages his students to write homages to their favorite films?

Not everything in Scary Movie is a bust; the many different ghost masks the killer wears provide some chuckles, and as in any film of this nature, the scattershot throwaway gags occasionally hit home. Too often, though, the Wayanses and company simply take the easy way out. Scary Movie is actually the product of two scripts that were purchased separately and combined by Dimension; watching the film, it’s hard to imagine they even used one.

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