Mild spoiler territory ahead.
by Paul Deeter
Similar to my article on Spiderman: No Way Home in which I dive into my history as a Spiderman fan, I want to preface things by saying that the Scream franchise was my teenage-hood. At 15, I borrowed the original Scream on VHS from my local library so often I think they ended swinging me my own copy (which I would burn down to the plastic). I showed the first film to all my friends and even a couple of girlfriends as I carried the DVD close to my bedside in my college dorm for immediate access. Conversations about horror would quickly turn into judgments and gatekeeping (on my behalf, guilty) of protecting my favorite movie ever. There's nothing like the Scream franchise despite other films' attempts to capture Wes Craven's meta self-awareness mixed with bloody thrills. Nothing's fresher than Scream and nothing else has been... outside of the sequel. Scream 2 is not just a sequel that out does the original film, it's my favorite sequel ever. As a film about sequels as much as it is a return to form for the original flick, it somehow expands the universe of Scream while existing as a part of it. This is hard to explain for an outsider, but consider Scream as a film in a world where its protagonists love horror films, and know the rules of how to survive them. And then, Scream and its events with the characters of the original film become the fictional movie Stab, which Scream 2 addresses as an adaptation of their reality. And mix in the fact that in Scream 2, we still follow our Scream Queen Sydney Prescott from the original, but in Stab where she is portrayed she is played by Tori Spelling. My favorite gag of the film is where we see Billy Loomis who is originally played Skeet Ulrich, being played by Luke Wilson in the film Stab. A truly 90s gag that, (well you just had to be there).
In my opinion, and this is not a popular opinion, Scream 2 is a better movie than Scream for many reasons. It's got better kills, a killer soundtrack and an overall sense of humor that dares to prove itself in the face of the now classic original. The follow-up Scream 3, not without its moments, just doesn't hold true to the original two. And then there's the fourth entry in 2011. Titled Scream 4, or Scr4am (yeah lets not) the 4th entry has the tough time to prove its worth over ten years later than its previous entry. It brings in new blood, with actors like Emma Roberts, Hayden Panattiere and Rory Culkin playing our various high school victims. With a leaning into a lesser known cast of characters and an out of place use of CGI, Scream 4 suffered critically from both professional critics and hardcore fans. This was so much of an issue (along with its lacking box office return) that the idea of a 5th and even 6th installment were put on temporary hiatus. This inspired the far less superior follow up Scream TV series on MTV. It pushed the dagger in deep and this was unfortunate because outside of its 61% on Rotten Tomatoes and hate from hardcore fans, Scream 4 is not a bad movie. I'd put it above 3, and give it credit for trying to refresh the concept with new characters and the risk that took. It also had the respect not to say "Don't Mess with the Original", in both a song title on the soundtrack and a final quote from this film's final girl. On top of that, Scream 4 brought back Dewey (David Arquette) our infamous reporter Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) and even Sydney (Neve Campbell). It's hard to knock that, but luckily Scream 5 also known simply as Scream is the answer to what the 4th entry could have been, and more!
Scream (2022) is not referred to in the fourth wall sense as a sequel, but instead as a requel. This is as our characters, who include "the doomed critic", discuss the meaning of Ghost Face's return. It's not quite a sequel, but its not entirely a reboot. And funnily enough its also an apology for the 4th film to the fans. Well this is in terms to the events of Woodsboro that happen decade after decade (this film being ten years after Scream 4) and the Stab films they inspire. The original massacre and film is sacred. Just like 4 there's no reason to mess with it, no need to break the rules or step outside of the game anymore than the franchise has with itself. In this film there are things simply too sacred to touch, and on top of that there exist fandoms that can only be described as toxic. I hate to point the finger back at myself but I know the feeling of protecting a film as sacred as Scream, while also having the gall to entertain the argument that its not the best in the franchise. Without sounding too much like a gatekeeper, I always considered Scream my franchise in an environment of Nightmare on Elm Streets and Halloweens, etc. So when 4 came out I was initially disappointed but not entirely surprised. Wes Craven (R.I.P.) had directed some absolute clunkers in the early 2000s. Albeit the idea of a reunion was special to me, ten years is a long time to wait and expect anything relevant to the original three. So as both a modern critic and also a product of sometimes fragile fandom, I don't know if I was too excited for this film, and in many ways I forgot it was being made. What was the last January release you could claim be the film of the year?
But with our new blood, this time slightly more interesting than the ones in 4, we have a better reason for returning to Woodsboro. Early in the movie (SPOILERS) we reveal that our lead Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is the son of Billy Loomis, who was one of the original two killers in Scream. We see him in Obi-Wan-esque ghost appearances here that almost become too silly to enjoy. But its cool to see Skeet Ulrich back too! And like the fourth film, our golden three leads are back. But this time I believe they're utilized less as cashgrab cameos to get old fans back in the theatres, but instead quintessential characters in the new storyline. In fact, I cared more about their arc outside of Samantha's and her younger sister Tara who is almost Ghost Face's first victim in the film's introduction.
And let's talk about the introduction! In the style of Scream (1996), we are in a kitchen with a ringing phone and a creepy voice berating our alone female character, just like Drew Barrymore was in the original. This time we have slightly better technology of course, as smartphones and electronic locks are utilized in defense. But what a treat it is to be put back in the seat of the original. I felt the same nervous tension I did while also feeling the comfort of knowing that in the hands of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, our co-directors, I was safe. Safe to know that my franchise was headed back in the right direction, and knew its audience wanted that original feeling back. In the opening with Tara, we also get the sly sense of awareness when she is questioned about her horror movie knowledge. Is her horror movie expertise enough to survive Ghost Face? Well, her idea of a good horror film is elevated horror. I.E. The Babadook, Hereditary and a few other a24 ones threw in for a good laugh. Its a fun poke at the idea of a modern slasher film, and also comes up in the movie's critic character when she talks about how fans don't want social commentary or politically correct horror. Again this is awareness not just of the slasher genre's slow decline in relevance, but also the struggle modern horror movies have with their audiences. Hell, this is a struggle any franchise has with some of its more toxic audiences. I won't go into spoil any details or twists about the killer, but the idea of the true horror coming from the furious fans is pretty heavy-handed here. And I love it.
And like I mentioned, Dewey, Gail and Sydney are huge elements in the twisting plot of the film and also involved in some of the funniest jokes as well. This film didn't necessarily always hit home with me humorously (outside of one of our leads watching Stab on Netflix from his phone) but the overall joy of seeing everyone at their best and looking great kept me elated. And for fans, there are plenty of returns outside of those that will satisfy their satiation. We've got Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" being played in a radio before a vicious kill; a song that is almost synonymous with every soundtrack in the series. It doesn't fall into CGI excess territory (thank God), and the action remains as taut and fun as ever. One of my favorite moments was where a character is in danger of being murdered in a shower. Sound familiar? Well this is a male character, getting his own almost Psycho moment along with the female gaze that comes with it. I loved this reversion of the stereotype, proof that horror can be funny and fresh while reviving classic tropes nonetheless.
As one of the characters mention in the third act: the stakes have to be higher. And with some emotional twists and turns in Scream 5 we realize that even though the original is honored, nobody is truly safe. Will our final girl stay safe? The movie keeps you guessing in between its filler killer sequences of our no-name teens getting slaughtered in creative and normally memorable ways. Halfway through the movie I nearly gasped at one of the film's biggest decisions, and the stakes were clear. This isn't just a franchise film for fan service, its a bit dangerous too. It also leaves us with the question of whether or not we'll get that sixth film, without the feeling that it would be unnecessary. Ghost Face is eternal like any of our other slashers in Hollywood, because he/she is always a different character. He's more of a concept, and yet his appearance is as recognizable as the hockey mask is for Jason at this point. As long as the franchise finds fun and creative ways to implement Ghost Face relevantly, I'm all there for it.
I recognize that almost every franchise has a toxic presence in its audience, and that includes Scream. And in that recognition I know that there is no perfect answer to the Scream fandom. We can't always have a No Way Home style reunion movie for cheering audience members to react to. Our three reunited characters are introduced quietly and aged (although they all look great). We've got our share of horror action and solid kills, but I still sense some disagreement to the film's choices and worse some toxicity towards the film's newly diverse cast. And I think of myself in the early 2000s with that VHS copy of Scream. Am I upset by some of the movie's choices? Of course, but I'm aware of the fact that seven years after Wes Craven's passing we're in protective hands with the new codirectors. Short and simple I loved it beginning to end, felt it had plenty to offer and hope that new audiences stumble into it and find their own (not VHS) copies of the original trilogy. Because fandoms are sacred, but they're also diverse. Toxicity will always exist among it, but fans aren't in creative control of their franchises. The rest of us can trust that we're in for a good time. And with a Number 1 Box Office charted opening release beating out Spiderman: No Way Home, it looks like slasher films aren't as close to irrelevance as I feared.
Do we like scary movies? Oh hell yes we do.