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Panic (1996) | Slasher Metalanguage and Renewal



Don’t answer the phone. Do not scream. Try not to panic. This is how the modern classic Pânico, written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, came out when it launched in Brazil. In the plot, a mysterious character, Ghostface, brutally murders the youth of Woodsboro, a fictional town with a recent dark past, full of stories involving false appearances and betrayals. With metalinguistic elements, the murderer, or murderers as we know from the result, invest in dialogues about horror films that make the narrative self-referential. These are debates around Friday the 13th, The Nightmare on Elm Street, Death Invites to Dance, Halloween – The Night of Terror, among other striking slashers. In the development of Panic, the filmmakers embrace all the clichés we love so much about these films, while also criticizing them. It’s a delightfully tense and clever saga, tasked with taking terror to the next level, in a demonstration of the possibility of being clever and daring, something that is not expected in a film like this, which is usually neglected by specialized critics, unfair and short-sighted in its ability to reflect carefully on the stories, without being content to remain within the norms of analysis.

Here we are?

The classic opening scene. Drew Barrymore plays Casey Becker, the character who dialogues with Ghostface on horror films, before being brutally murdered. Note that the filmmakers share the image of the actress with a popcorn in preparation, a metalanguage for entertainment and the setting up of a narrative film that goes beyond the references to the many films mentioned. There’s even a self-reference, with the character saying the first A Hora do Maladelo is cool, but the rest is good shit. Wes Craven says that here we have a fiscal situation in relation to what happened with Psychosis, which is that the supposed protagonist of the story dies right away in the opening scene, in a sinuous curve of the story towards other dramatic cores. By pulling the knife off the bench in this passage, Drew Barrymore is already hinting at his future fate: death at the hands of Ghostface.

Another reference in this opening passage is the classic When A Stranger Calls, a film about a young woman terrified of a psychopath threatening her over the phone, someone who is supposed to be in the very house where the girl is located. as a nanny. Production design and photography direction work together here, with an emphasis on exploring spaces as much as possible and conveying to viewers the dangerous climate experienced by Drew Barrymore’s character. Note that the windows and glass doors are elegant, but they reveal that there is a lack of security when placing the girl in a situation far from the imagined protection. In voice, the team managed to name Roger Jackson as head of Ghostface over the phone. With a background in radio, the vocal interpreter helped to create the oppressive atmosphere of the passages of the film.

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Another passage which reveals the lack of security of the house, in the face of the Ghostface attack. Windows and glass doors make the character more vulnerable. And more: for the director, the progressive popularization of cell phones allowed the anguish to be even greater, since the murderer in his privilege of mobility could be anywhere. Wes Craven said that to amplify actress Drew Barrymore’s sense of horror in this famous scene, he told her a story about a dog dying, an event that made the girl sad every time and he made it possible to cry more copiously in the passages which asked for her, representation of despair.

The blue background on the TV screen indicates, in a metalinguistic way, that a movie screening is about to begin. In the other passage, Sidney looks at the chair where his roommate used to sit, now more, given the brutal death at the hands of Ghostface.

The architecture of the glass houses triggers the vulnerability of the characters. Sidney, a character who we’ll know to be the last girl in the tale, a protocol breaker in Pânico’s metalinguistic slasher, lives in a house that, when it comes to the security elements, doesn’t help the character, as the danger around it is constant. Below, the film makes the first presentation of Maureen Prescott, a character who will be prominent in the hotspots of the franchise’s first three films, initially slated to be a trilogy, but who won the excellent fourth film in 2011.

In this scene, Sidney confronts the psychopath on the phone, initially thinking he is Randy, the stupid friend obsessed with horror movies. She discusses the slasher’s predictability with him, pointing out the flaws in this type of film by saying they are insulting to the intelligence of even the ordinary viewer. In the next scene, Dewey is presented at his art direction-defined workstation with items that make him a silly guy, without the seriousness expected of a firmer, more manly cop, by standards.

Gale Weathers, a Courteney Cox character, shows that he’s not joking in Woodsboro and decides to try and answer Sidney Prescott’s awkward questions. Below is more metalanguage, now in a brief stint from Linda Blair (of The Exorcist) as one of the media reporters trying to extract testimony for her sensational stories about the crimes shaking the city.

Gale Weathers and Sidney Prescott find themselves in a brief, enlightening dialogue. The journalist believes that the young woman is no longer so sure of the terrible story surrounding the murder of her mother. Taking this weakness from the girl, the smart and unscrupulous reporter realizes the sensational potential that can be extracted from this story and is excited about the possibility of enjoying the events that will reverberate in future films in the franchise.

Two passages referring to the legacy of Wes Craven. The first is the director himself on stage, as a cleaning assistant at school, wearing a costume that reminds us of the monster from A Nightmare on Elm Street, the famous Freddy Krueger. Later, Sidney and Tatum chat with the young woman and in the dialogue, the friend of the last girl says that the events will not turn out as imagined, because they are not in a film by Wes Carpenter, also referring to the director Halloween, creator of Michael Myers, the epitome of the slasher referenced in other parts of the film, when the characters discuss the rules of survival in a slasher.

The maximum environment of cinema at the time. Video libraries, a dream territory for the characters. In the scene, Randy and Stu are talking about the suspects and the first one, one of the most moviegoers of all, points out that police should watch horror movies to better understand why certain things are happening. If everyone saw Death Invite to Dance, solving crimes would be a lot easier, says the young man.

While having fun at a party in a remote area, kids learn the basic rules of survival from Randy in a slasher movie. Not having sex or saying “I’ll be back soon.” Here are some of the basic steps. To explain the subject, he uses the final clip from Halloween – The Night of Terror, 1978, to better explain these rules. The metalanguage, in these excerpts, reaches several different levels and demonstrates how conscious Panic is when he flirts with the clichés he criticizes, embracing them without leaving aside the critical sense.

Here, the latest daughter Sidney Prescott breaks protocols and surrenders to her boyfriend. When she loses her virginity, can she be a candidate for the position of survivor? This is what we will know later, in the twists and turns of the story. Randy, in the next passage, can’t imagine the sequence of horrors that is still about to set in. In the scene, Jamie Lee Curtis appears in the background, in one of the most iconic parts of Halloween – The Night of Terror.

Ultimately, we find out that Billy and Stu are the killers. Sidney confronts them, manages to uncover the location of his missing father, and fights for life alongside Randy and Gale, survivors of the massacre. Box office and critical success, Pânico revitalized the genre and became a blockbuster franchise, with resonances in the slasher fever that emerged after its launch. We can understand, in fact, the reasons for success. Clever, shrewd and fun, the film demonstrates how terror is fertile ground for mixing entertainment and social criticism. With characters more developed than usual in this subgenre, the Ghostface saga continued in three more films.

Ready for the next adventure with the Pânico franchise? Will we understand more about the second chapter of the Ghostface saga in the next text, combined?

Follow Leonardo Campos on Instagram!

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