I swear to you, I’m not a contrarian by nature. I love when people dig something, even if I don’t enjoy it myself. However, over the years I’ve developed some relatively strong and wildly unpopular opinions. I’ve never liked Pearl Jam or U2, I think Spider-Man 2 is (or maybe was) supremely overrated and I just don’t like the Scream movies as much as…everyone else? Sure, as a kid, I saw the first three films either in the theater or at friends’ houses as I would have been roughly 13, 14 and 17 when those flicks came out. I was just getting into horror at that time, so a lot of the references both movie- and genre-based would have mostly gone over my head, but I did think it was cool how they carried on this very non-traditional slasher story. Since then I’ve watched the fourth and fifth installments well after they came out, but with the release of Scream VI, I felt the urge to go back through the series and get myself a ticket to see the latest installment (in 3-D even!).
The Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson joint that is Scream (1996) is an unmistakable, undebatable hallmark in the history of horror. After the genre had fallen out of favor after years of bad slasher offerings filling video store shelves, horror seemed like it was done for. And then Craven and Williamson came along with an incredible cast and used tropes as plot points, an effort that both winked at older fans and helped shepherd newer ones into the fold. Of course, many of us fancied ourselves something of a Randy (Jamie Kennedy), so we paid very close attention to the rules. And which Jamie Lee Curtis films we should watch. And while I’ll always love the character of Randy, I don’t necessarily feel that way about the film as a whole, but let’s talk plot before diving into all that.
In the small town of Woodsboro, a masked murderer — soon to be known as Ghostface — begins a killing spree mostly aimed at teenagers. Ghostface wears the now-iconic mask and flowing black robes, likes to call his victims to talk about horror movies and favors a knife whenever possible, but also knows how to take advantage of what’s around. After a beautifully crafted and tragic opening scene built around the death of Casey — played by uber-star Drew Barrymore — we we meet Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and their friends Tatum (Rose McGowan), Stu (Matthew Lillard) and the aforementioned Randy. As things get bloodier and Sid’s friends become targets we’re also introduced to Tatum’s older brother, local cop Dewey (David Arquette) and reporter/true crime writer Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox). The closer Ghostface gets to taking out Sidney, the more we learn about this town’s dark secrets and the true identity of the murderer. I don’t know why I’m being coy with this, everyone knows these movies have two killers, so there’s that, but I’ll avoid the killer’s identities as we go.
When I first wrote about this movie back in 2009, I found myself asking a lot of questions about the mechanics of scenes, especially the one with Tatum and Ghostface in the garage. Now maybe I was feeling contrarian at that time (I didn’t say I NEVER take that position), but it’s not a good sign when you’re thinking about those kinds of things in a scene that is actually quite good and tense. This movie includes fantastic set pieces and scares, but at the end of the day — when I’m giving it another watch knowing the big reveal — it just felt overly written to me, like every single thing had to happen exactly in the right way to net these results, which would require an insane amount of planning from two killers who are, while devious and unbalanced, not the biggest brains on the block. You could argue that the same thing happens in Michael Myers movies with him taking the time to pose the bodies and whatnot, but I think it’s the fact that we’re dealing with two nutballs instead of one where the foundation starts to show cracks for me.
They wasted no time after Scream‘s success (it made over $173 million worldwide off of a $14 million budget) to get a second film in the works. Williamson was pretty swamped at this point with Dawson’s Creek and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but still wrote the script for Craven to direct. All of the important survivors came back for the new installment which found Sidney attending college with Randy and trying to put her past behind her while also living in a world that considered the tragedies of her life worth mining for books — by Gale Weathers no less — as well as the new movie, Stab. Once again, we start with an awesome opening that’s set at a raucous showing of the film that ultimately results in real murders. From there, Sid starts getting calls and the wagons get circled, bringing her together with Randy, Dewey and Gale to figure out who’s wearing the Ghostface mask this time. Could it be her new boyfriend played by Jerry O’Connell? Intense film students Timothy Olyphant and/or Joshua Jackson? Or maybe one of the sorority women played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart or Portia de Rossi?
As with the previous installment, this one deals with generational trauma not so much about the choices of parents can hurt the children, but how the opposite can also be true. Of course, you also have the whole obsessed movie person who wants fame or to totally change how these stories go. Does this motive sit well with anyone? I know adults have been blaming movies, video games and rock music for kids doing awful things, but have the kids themselves ever actually said that and meant it? My gut says no, but I guess the ones who did would be pretty off balance mentally speaking to begin with. Whatever the case, the killers this time around will always be the worst to me because of what they did to Randy…even if he was deeply annoying in this entry.
Before moving on, I want to talk about the whole Stab thing. First off, it was great to see Heather Graham, Luke Wilson and Tori Spelling involved in the movie-within-a-movie. Normally, I love that stuff, but it gives me pause now. First of, aside from maybe Amityville, there has never been a series of films based on true events unless you count the countless projects supposedly based on Ed Gein. I know we live in much more sensitive times now than when these movies were made, but it seems ridiculous that something like Stab would exist, especially with the survivors still living. Okay, even if it did though, how do they have exact lines spoken by two characters who were dead before Gale Weathers even got to Woodsboro? “What’s your favorite scary movie?” was said to Casey…and maybe Sid, but would she have told Gale? Maybe the cops? I dunno, but the whole thing feels wonky to me, even though I love the opportunity for cameos. And, of course, that whole idea sets up the next installment, so maybe I should stop complaining!
And you know the weirdest part about my Stab rant? I really like Scream 3. Even more than I did when I revisited it in 2012. I think it’s because the plot centers around the idea of the films without showing elements that made me scratch my head. For this installment, Williamson was unavailable so Ehren Kruger stepped in. Yeah, the guy who did Reindeer Games, the U.S. version of The Ring (which I’ve written about here and here), a trio of Transformers movies I haven’t seen and Top Gun: Maverick, which everyone loves, but I also haven’t seen. So, in the third installment, Sid’s living a secluded life working for a helpline. Before going on, I want to give this series a great deal of credit for going a long way to show how Sidney has worked through and grown from her trauma. She’s gone down a much different road than Laurie Strode as seen in the three latest Halloween films, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. It becomes all the more fascinating when this modern version of Sid quite literally walks through the locations of her past as recreated in a Hollywood studio. Campbell, whose work I realize I’m not familiar with outside of this series, really does a fantastic job presenting all of that, often wordlessly to the audience.
Sidney makes her way to Hollywood when a new Ghostface starts taking out people related to the latest Stab movie. Dewey’s already out there because he works for Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey) who is playing Gale in the film. This does not sit well for the real Gale when she also finds herself in La La Land. While out there, we meet a whole bunch of new characters played by the likes of Scott Foley, Lance Henriksen, Roger Corman, Patrick Warburton, Carrie Fisher, Patrick Warburton, Emily Mortimer and Patrick Dempsey. And a cameo by Jay and Silent Bob which makes you wonder what it means for the Scream films that they exist in the same reality as Dogma.
With generational trauma once more at the forefront in this one, we come to learn much more about Sidney’s mom Maureen and the life she lead as a young woman (seems like there’s potential for a whole series of Maureen movies if they wanted to go that route). There’s also an interesting element that ties back to one of the killers from the first installment. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but I realized after watching Scream 3 that there’s an element of this series that seems to imply that women are more adept at dealing with and working through trauma compared to the men who go through it and wind up damaged murderers. There’s also something about the fragility of toxic masculinity in there, but I’m only smart enough to partially recognize it.
While I don’t absolutely love these films, I am really enjoying my journey through them and appreciate the worldbuilding in place and all the connections there are (with far more to come in the back half of the series). If you’re reading me write that and wondering why I still feel disconnected from the series, I think it’s simply because I only watched them once or twice. While I did see these when I was young, they did not work their way into my brain like the other slasher franchises, including the concurrent Final Destination series, which I do unabashedly love. All of that has translated into an interesting case where I find myself enjoying each subsequent sequel more than the previous. As they go, they feel less WRITTEN and a little more natural. Additionally, it’s impressive to see any series that keeps its main cast members and most of the creatives for as long as this one did.
And with that, I’m going to wrap this post up. I’ll finish out the series tomorrow after I watch the sixth film! I gotta tell you, I’m excited not just to see a horror film on the big screen (something I rarely do) but also to see my first Scream film in that arena since 3! Here’s hoping the trend continues and I dig it big time!
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