Director Wes Craven’s Scream, which was released with little hype in 1996, catapulted the horror genre in a radical new direction. Whereas most scary movies featured protagonists who were earnest in their attempts to evade the killer—be it Freddy, Jason, or a slasher of lesser renown—the characters in Scream were postmodern and self-aware. They knew the rules of horror movies even as they inhabited one.

That approach made for as many laughs as it did scares, but the comedy/horror duality to the movie didn’t initially resonate with everyone. Skeet Ulrich, who played the highly suspect Billy Loomis, told Entertainment Weekly that he believed Scream was more of a straightforward thriller and didn’t understand why Matthew Lillard, who played his co-conspirator Stu Macher, and other actors were playing their scenes for laughs.

“I just remember thinking, ‘What are they doing?’ Don't they know?,” Ulrich said. “Like, ‘This isn't funny. This isn't supposed to be funny.’ And man, was I wrong.”

Clearly, writer Kevin Williamson’s script would have demonstrated that Scream had a satirical edge to it, but Ulrich said that he was hyper-focused on the motivations of his murderous character. “I think part of it was the mindset of Billy and me getting into that mindset,” he said. “I saw it as this very serious documentary about two killers in high school and I was researching serial killers and the psychology of them, so I didn't really key into the humor of the story until take one of day one.”

That approach wasn’t totally without merit. Williamson has said he was inspired in part by serial killer Danny Harold Rolling, who killed five college students in Gainesville, Florida in 1990. (Rolling was executed in 2006 and opted to sing for two minutes prior to his death by lethal injection.)

And while Scream was comedic, the film was also gruesome enough to nearly earn an NC-17 rating before Craven made edits.

Scream was a gigantic success, earning $173 million at the box office and spawning two immediate sequels, an MTV television series, and a 2011 reboot. Another entry, also titled Scream, is due in January 2022.

[h/t IndieWire]