"Wanna play a game?" No, not Jigsaw's game, Ghostface's game! A game that's been around for over 25 years!
It was 2003, and I was a relative newbie to horror films at the time. I had rented the classics from Blockbuster like the original Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and had enjoyed those. The 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake scared the absolute shit out of me. On the other hand, the straight up silliness of Freddy vs Jason also told me that horror didn't always have to be pants-shitting-scary, but it could be fun too. This was when one of my very best friends introduced me to her favorite horror franchise:
I remember watching the original Scream late one Friday night. My friend and I were watching her copies of the trilogy set on VHS. Having seen a few of the classics, I had a relatively decent knowledge of horror film tropes and rules that I had caught throughout those films. But Scream was the first film that made me realize that not only were these rules something that every horror film followed, but how much fun you can have acknowledging those rules. It goes without saying that Scream completely changed the horror genre.
In fact it SAVED it.
In the late 1990's, the horror genre was dying. After the slasher craze of the 1980's, the market was flooded with sequels far removed from the once great films that had birthed them. Franchises were running out of steam with box office bombs like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. And there were very few original horror films that stood out.
But Wes Craven, horror auteur and director of The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) returned in 1996 to save the day. By adding a slightly self-aware, satirical slant to the horror proceedings, and by framing the film as a "who done it?"mystery, Scream gave the genre the shot in the arm it needed. It was a box office smash! Not just an audience hit, but a critical one too. This victory ushered in a new age for horror (a self-aware age) and gave birth to a new horror mega franchise!
And over 20 years later, Scream is still just as sharp as ever! So with the release of the newest film, Let's take a look back at the entire franchise! So be sure to brush up on your horror movie rules, and DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE! Because this is:
Scream: A Franchise Review!
But first, let me ask you a question:
"What's your favorite scary movie?"
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR EVERY SCREAM FILM
The original Scream has been dissected and discussed to death ever since its release in 1996. But still to this day, it remains just as sharp, witty, and thrilling as it was when it was released. So what sets this film apart from everything that came before, and all the imitators that followed? It boils down to two things:
Kevin Williamson's script and Wes Craven's directing.
Kevin William's script for Scream was one of the very first horror films that acknowledged the existence of other horror films. Before we created the term "meta", Scream gave us characters that were aware of horror movies and demonstrated a knowledge of the films and their tropes and cliches. And if I'm being honest, it's still one of the very best examples of meta writing to this day. But in 1996, this concept was brand new for an audience.
How many times have you shouted at the screen "don't go in there"?
By doing this, Kevin created characters that the audience really connects with because they have the same knowledge we as the audience do. Scream was at the perfect time for this. VHS rentals boomed in the late 80s and early 90s. This was the first generation of kids raised on films they could watch in their own homes. Under their own terms. What does that do to a young mind? And how would someone who knew the cliches react in those very situations?
Scream walks a very fine line, and it's the reason it's so effective. The script points a finger at the cliches, but it never parodies them. Characters may be aware of the situation, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. This is a testament to Wes Craven's masterful directing. He's no stranger to the genre; any lesser director would have veered too far in one direction or the other, making Scream either too serious, or too silly. Wes holds a up sign tele-playing the cliches of the genre, only to use them as a distraction for the true scare. He uses the tropes for great trickery.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't have fun. Many scenes seem like an open middle finger to horror films of the past. Like the scene where principal Himbry (played by the great Henry Winkler) threatens two students with a giant pair of scissors. Wes plays very loud and obvious SHHING, sound effects every time the scissors wave throughout the air, reminding us that in any other horror film, these would be used as a weapon.
And of course, there's the classic scene with Randy shouting for Jamie Lee in Halloween to turn around, completely unaware that Ghostface is behind him; all the while the cameraman watching through a hidden camera shouts at Randy to do the very thing he is shouting at the television.
Wes also doesn't overdo on the blood and gore; giving us a much leaner and meaner thriller in the vein of a Hitchcock film, rather than an outright gore-fest like Friday the 13th. He also uses the now classic Ghostface mask to hide a real flesh and blood killer. This keeps the image in line with other genre-defining masked killers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, while giving us a completely new kind of killer. This isn't an indestructible behemoth of evil, but a very real person with very real motives and issues. This element of mystery has become a staple of the franchise, with the killers' reveal and motivation eventually becoming its own trope within the films.
But the real MVPs of Scream are the characters. Sidney Prescott is one of the most layered and nuanced leading ladies in the horror genre. Neve Campbell plays her perfectly. You can see multiple gears moving behind her eyes throughout every scene. Sidney's trauma and past with her mother (Maureen) is evident in everything she does, everything she says. Skeet Ulrich shines as Billy, the greasy boyfriend and original Ghostface. Even having seen Scream multiple times, I forget that Billy is the killer; a testament to the film's ability to misdirect.
His motivation also feels so very real and raw. Sidney's mother's past hasn't just affected Sidney, but Billy as well. Revealing Billy as Maureen's killer adds and extra level of depravity while also making it even more personal. Matthew Lillard's Stu Macher shines. He's just so energetic and fun and funny. Even when he's trying to kill Sidney, or complaining that Billy cut him too deep, Lillard keeps Stu bubbly and unassuming. He would be a great goofy friend, if we wasn't a serial killer. (I'm still waiting for him to come back from the dead in another sequel.)
Of course we also have Courtney Cox's Gale Weathers and David Arquette's Dewey Riley. Cox is great as the hard headed opportunistic reporter. She's a character you really love to hate in this first film. Meanwhile, Arquette is the film's heart. Dewey will forever remain a character favorite throughout the franchise due to his inherent sweetness. Jamie Kennedy also appears in one of his most well known roles as Randy Meeks, the completely self aware horror movie junky who knows all the rules, and uses them to asses the dangers of the film.
One thing that does bring the film down slightly is it's aesthetic, which has not aged well. As good as the cast is, it's painfully obvious they are far older than the characters they are playing. To the point where parody film Scary Movie openly mocked how old the actors look. The lighting is also fairly over-lit, and costumes are also very much of the time. And let's be honest, the 90s were not a great time for fashion.
Basically the only problem this film has is the fact that it was made in 1996.
Scream is a horror masterpiece. Not only is it a wild and thrilling good time, but it's importance to the genre it saved cannot be understated. And even though a slew of imitators have tried to mimic the magic, none of them were able to capture this film's winning formula. Featuring smart writing, excellent performances, and stellar directing, Scream is pretty much a perfect film that's only brought down by some of the production woes of the time period in which it was made.
When Scream made over $170m against its modest budget of $14m, a sequel was immediately green-lit, and within a year of the original, Scream 2 was released! But how does this fast-tracked sequel hold up to the first film? Really great actually!
Scream 2 finds Sidney at college when another Ghostface appears and starts killing coeds with names that match the victims of the first film. But writer Kevin Williamson adds in an extra element of self-awareness by establishing an in-universe film based on the events of 1996 titled "Stab". The killer is not only recreating scenes from the first Scream film, but the in-universe adaptation of those same events, taking the "creating a real-life movie" motif the first film played with and elevating it to full-blown meta commentary.
By adding this movie-within-a-movie, Kevin takes direct potshots at Hollywood's exploitation of tragedy, and America's obsession with the macabre.
Scream 2 is very self aware. But Wes Craven ratchets the tension up so high that the jokes and references don't do much to ease the viewer's nerves. Just see the extended chase sequence with Gale hiding in the school's voice recording bay for an example of edge of your seat tension. The film barely takes a break. But when it does, it gives us very memorable scenes of character; like Derek's singing in the cafeteria, or when Gale's cameraman reads her book and discovers the fate of her pervious partner.
Speaking of Gale, she is front and center in this film's character drama. Having exploited the events of the first film by writing a best selling novel (which then got adapted into the film-within-a-film "Stab"), Gale has gone from being disliked to being full on hated by nearly the entire cast. But this tension gives us some really sweet moments where her genuine affections for Dewey break through.
Speaking of, David Arquette is just as adorable as he was the first time around.
Randy gives us the rules of a sequel, which boil down to "bigger and bloodier", but the film never truly takes advantage of that second part. The car crash sequence is the film's goriest moment, but I honestly expected just a little more guts in this follow-up. This is of course due to the incredibly strict rules of the MPAA of the time. Scream 2 was not the first, nor the last film to be heavily affected by the ever-tightening restrictions. And so while the film cannot be blamed for this lack of ooey-gooey, it does mean that its edge has been ever so slightly dulled (which honestly wouldn't even be noticeable if they didn't directly bring it up).
The Killers' reveals and motivations are also hit or miss in this film. Mickey is fairly obvious as Killer #1 due to the fact that he does very little on-screen. But his motivation claims that he's not doing this for the kills, but for the trial. Following in the footsteps of O.J. Simpson and Ted Bundy, Mickey seeks out fame through the entire justice system process. This was a very timely commentary on the state of America's fascination at the time with serial killers and our tendency to turn trials into circuses. And this still feels fairly relevant, as the hype of certain trials followed by the inevitable Netflix docuseries (I'm looking at you Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal) continue to dominate many of our televisions.
So Mickey is a hit.
Then we come Killer #2 - Mrs. Loomis. She has a much better reveal than Mickey, as no one would suspect the older annoying reporter; with a true identity that still remains shocking. In the vein of Friday the 13th, Billy Loomis' mother (Nancy) has returned for revenge upon the girl who killed her son. This is a great emotional motivation. But as Sidney mentions, Nancy abandoned Billy years before. I'm not saying she still doesn't love her son, but that information does impact my emotional reaction. It doesn't hit as hard because she wasn't around when Billy died. In fact, maybe none of this would have happened if she hadn't left.
So that's a bit of a miss.
Scream 2 is an excellent follow-up. Wes turns the tension up to 11 in his second Ghostface outing, delivering a film with a visceral pace. This is a sequel that is very nearly as good as the first film. It really is only brought down by a slight lack of blood flow, a fairly obvious reveal for Killer #1 and a motivation for Killer #2 that was probably a little more impactful on paper than in execution. Still, it stands as one of the best horror sequels ever made by keeping character front and center while also doubling down on the tension and twists.
After Scream 2 broke the box office open for a second time, a third film was inevitable. But sadly, producer Harvey Weinstein (yeah, that asshole) didn't want to wait for writer Kevin Williamson's schedule to clear. Williamson was in the middle of his new television show Dawson's Creek (maybe you've heard of it?), but Harvey refused to put his cash cow on hold.
Thusly, Scream 3 ended the original trilogy without its original writer.
But fear not! By taking place during the making of "Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro", Scream 3 is the most satirical of the bunch; making fun of its predecessors, other film trilogies, even the trials of its own production. The film is constantly mirroring the script of the film-within-the-film to great effect. Actors and actresses die in the order of their characters, set pieces are copied, etc. In a very eerie scene, Sidney visits the set only to find that it is an exact recreation of her own home. Carrie Fisher even cameos as a woman who very nearly got the part of Princess Leia, but lost to "the slut that slept with Lucas."
This opens the door to Scream 3's greatest asset: its commentary about the disgusting nature of Hollywood itself. Lance Hendrickson's character, producer John Milton, reveals some unsavory details about Maureen Prescott's involvement in one of his "parties" during his heyday. The film never gives too much away, keeping the grosser details to the imagination. But at the same time it never dulls the knife of sexual assault. The few words used to discuss what happened to Maureen before she married Sidney's father are more than enough to paint the sad picture. And the irony of Milton essentially being a stand-in for the film's very producer, Harvey Weinstein, is not lost on the viewer.
Wes is being loud and clear.
The first Scream established that Maureen was very "promiscuous", leading to the affair with Billy's father which led to Nancy Loomis leaving, Billy feeling abandoned, and eventually Maureen's own death. In keeping with one of the rules of film trilogies, we discover there is more to that story than we thought. Not only are we given new context behind why Maureen was promiscuous, but we also discover the repercussions of that fateful party at Milton's: Roman Bridger, Maureen's abandoned child and Sidney Prescott's unknown brother. The discovery of Roman is a shock to be sure, but it's his retroactive inclusion in the events of previous films that brings it all together. Roman was the one who video-taped Maureen and Billy's father, starting the whole chain of events that led us here. All of this comes down to Roman and his reaction to the truth about his mother.
If the MPAA dulled Scream 2's knife, they outright bent Scream 3's blade. Released mere months after the Columbine tragedy, Scream 3 received massive studio cuts; excising many of the bloodier and gorier scenes. This included cutting the reveal of the second Killer, meaning Scream 3 is the only Scream film with a single Killer. As director of the "Stab 3" film set, it makes sense that Roman would be able to use set trickery to make it appear as though he's in two places as once. The story may work better with one Ghostface, but the film's edge is sorely missed. Scream 3 trades it's blood for satire.
And while that isn't outright bad, it does cause the film to feel slightly neutered.
Scream 3 also suffered from production challenges during filming. Weinstein's insistence on a rushed timetable can be felt throughout. Pacing isn't as tight, and Wes' directing doesn't feel quite as strong this time around. Changes to the script were constant. So much so that several moments in the film itself mock how ridiculous the process of filming was. Characters complain about too many script changes, and at one point Roman says that the studio forced him to direct "Stab 3" instead of his passion project (a direct reference to what happened with Wes this time around).
But the film's biggest strength is it's ability to laugh at itself and roll with the production punches. This is a testament not only to Wes as a director, but to the film's cast. Neve Campbell is great yet again as Sidney. She gets to stretch her acting muscles and show a more intense emotional side when she learns the truth about Roman. But due to the hurried timetable (thanks Harvey!) she had to have a slightly reduced role this time around. That means Dewey and Gale get extra time to shine! Dewey continues to be this series' heart... and pin-cushion. Seriously this poor guy just gets wailed on in every movie. And Gale is definitely more likable this time around. Even if her hair isn't.
But the true star of Scream 3 is Parker Posey! Parker plays Jennifer Jolie, the actress playing Gale in "Stab 3". She is absolutely hysterical throughout the entire film; copying Gale's mannerisms and constantly comparing herself to the "real life" version. The duel Gales start off fighting over Dewey, but their eventual team-up is one of the film's highlights. Parker certainly offers the biggest laughs of the film before she bites the dust. The way she jumps into the arms of her bodyguard (played by Patrick Warburton) never fails to make me laugh.
Scream 3 is the black sheep of the franchise. I can understand why some dislike it, but I find it one of the most entertaining of the entire series. It's one of the Scream films I return to the most. Even if it's technical aspects are the weakest in the franchise, the crew pushed production woes aside as best they could and delivered a scathing satire of the business. That is it's biggest strength. And sadly, in the years since the film's release, the satire has only gotten stronger.
The year was 2011, and a Scream film had yet to be released since 2000. However, the popular thing at the time was big budget remakes of classic horror flicks. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist... if you named it, it probably got a remake. And seeing as how remakes followed their own rules in an attempt to subvert expectations, Scream 4 (spelled Scre4m in the marketing campaign) found the perfect set up for the big screen return of Ghostface. And it did NOT disappoint.
Scre4m might be the most meta and satirical of the group. But unlike Scream 3, this film does NOT trade in the blood and guts for laughs. The mid-2000s finally saw the MPAA relax a bit, so Scre4m embraces the bloodier and gorier aesthetic that most horror remakes featured in that time. Ghostface butchers his victims with great brutality.
This is the first Scream film since the original to feature a disembowelment!
The film starts off fast and hard, immediately jumping into a meta on meta film-within-a-film-within-a-film-within-a-film joke that sends up overly-meta movie tropes. And honestly, the opening has only become more and more accurate as films become more and more self-aware. It even laughs at the fact that we've pretty much seen everything at this point. But after Scream 3 set the entire film on the set of one of the in-world "Stab" films, this was the logical next step.
The script doesn't just mirror the original Scream film; it openly mocks sequel and remake conventions throughout. From attempts to "outdo" the original with a bigger and badder party, to the fake-out climax, to the most important rule "don't fuck with the original," no remake trope is left unscathed. I particularly enjoy seeing Dewey watch Gale plant her cameras and echo her camera man's words to Randy all those years ago. But it doesn't end there. Other characters are open satires of specific film cliches that have overtook not just horror films, but general cinema: such as all the cops dying unless they are Bruce Willis.
The reason this film works so well is yet again a testament to Kevin Williamson's script and Wes Craven's directing. Williamson is in top form. And Wes proves that he's still got the edge. This turned out to sadly be Wes Craven's last film, but I can honestly say that he went out on a very high note.
Not only is Scre4m well made, but to end your career on a meta "remake" of one of your best and most popular films is also extremely ballsy.
Yet another reason this sequel/remake works so well is the characters. Neve Campbell is excellent as Sidney in her fourth stab at the character. Also, both David Arquette and Courtney Cox shine as older versions of Dewey and Gale. This film establishes that they did get married after the events of the previous film. But the resurgence of Ghostface may spell doom for their relationship as Gale sinks back into her old ways to get the story.
The teenage characters are also very well written. And this time they actually look about the right age, and not like a bunch of 30-year-olds paying 18. Anthony Anderson, Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen are excellent additions to the cast who bring a sense of reality to their characters. But the real standouts here are Hayden Panettiere as Kirby and Emma Roberts as Jill. Hayden is immediately likable as the spunky 18-year-old with short hair. Kirby is a girl that is instantly recognizable as the popular girl, but also shows she has a real nerdy side. She also features some of the film's best laughs due to her impeccable line delivery.
Emma on the other hand is the perfect dark mirror of Sidney. Her motivation is a particular favorite of mine, as it takes the piss out of my generation: the internet generation that would rather get famous through circumstance than hard work. And in the years that have followed, this satire has only gotten stronger with the addition of the TikTok generation and the myriad of platforms that offer everyone a shot at 15 minutes of fame.
Scream 4 (Scre4m) is an absolute riot from start to finish. It is a scathing satire of horror remakes, Hollywood cliches, and over-privileged teenagers. This culminates in a film that is a welcomed breath of fresh air to the slasher genre (much like the original was in 1996). Wes directs his final film with elegance, grace, and plenty of buckets of blood. The script is tight, the jokes are hilarious, and the kills are brutal, giving us a fantastic follow-up that only improves with time. It's my personal favorite of the franchise, and the best made Scream film aside from the original (so far).
Eleven years after Scre4m came and went in the theaters, a new set of writers and a new set of directors gave it their all to bring Scream back to the big screen. And even though Wes' particular eye is sorely miss, Scream 5 (AKA Scream ) was a great return to form.
Of course a Scream film is nothing without a slew of recent horror tropes off of which to build. This newest film rightly satirizes the recent string of "Legacy Sequels": sequels that are connected to the original film, but branch off and build their own new story. Films like Halloween (2018), Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, Creed, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), and Candyman (2021) saw the return of fan favorite characters, while simultaneously introducing new leads that could carry on the franchise.
Scream (2022) builds off of this formula to great effect.
This film hits the ground running by giving us a brand new lead character, Sam Carpenter (played by Melissa Barrera), secret daughter of the late Billy Loomis. This is a great new angle, and lets Skeet Ulrich return to the part after 25 years. His presence is very welcome, and adds an element of uncertainty to the proceedings. Is Sam the killer? Is history repeating itself? Or will Sam fight off her father's tendencies? All of these questions are addressed. Sam also has a sister name Tara played by Jenna Ortega. The opening attack on Tara brings Sam back to Woodsboro, setting the whole story in motion.
Scream (2022) also does right by its legacy characters. Dewey is of course the most emotional return. Seeing him alone again adds even more empathy to this already sweet character. It makes me sad to see he and Gale didn't work out. It seems like Dewey isn't just a physical pin-cushion for the franchise, but the emotional one as well. Gale is back and she's up to her old tricks, but I sensed a sense of longing and regret when she returns to Woodsboro. I think Gale is starting to realize just how lonely her life as a reporter has become. And even though Sid may not live in town anymore, she still comes calling when the shit hits the fan to offer some help.
Of course not all of these legacy characters will make it though this "requel". Our lovable Dewey sadly bites the dust in Scream (2022). It sucks. Not because it's bad, but because we love Dewey so much. It's the right choice, as it's the most emotional decision the movie could have made. It hurts even more because Dewey dies attempting to follow the rules.
"Gotta shoot them in the head."
This film shows that simply following the rules won't save you anymore. And even though it is the most emotional choice, saying goodbye to Dewey hurts more than you would think (and I was already expecting it to hurt a lot). It also doesn't help that the second he turns around, you pretty much know he's done for. This brings me to my biggest complaint in the film: the editing. The moment with Dewey is a big one, as the shot almost teleplays this is Dewey's demise. It makes it slightly less impactful, as we as the audience feel like Maureen on opening night of "Stab" shouting at the screen "Don't go back, Dewey!"
Another moment that gets under my skin is the sequence featuring the deaths of Sheriff Judy and her son, Wes. In a vacuum, this scene is extremely tense. It features a long stalking sequence and multiple surprises and misdirects. The problem is the scene goes on for too long within the film surrounding it. And considering that Judy calls for police backup at the beginning of the sequence, it really makes you wonder just why the hell the police are taking so long to respond to the Sheriff's own home. For real? It feels like a manipulation because we know the cops can't catch the Killers just yet.
Also, was anyone wondering why the hospital was deserted? Woodsboro General Hospital must have had a real staffing problem after the events of Scre4m because there isn't a doctor, nurse, or any kind of staff in sight. Not even another patient!