The original Scream was my gateway drug into the world of genre conventions and subversions, slashing knives, masked figures and final girls. As a 13 year old, it was first introduced to me by my (super lovely, but highly protective) mother who came home from work one day, somewhat agitated by what her colleague had told her.
This was early 1997, so I might be paraphrasing quite a lot here…
“There is some new movie where two teenagers are gutted in the opening 10 minutes. Judith from work saw it with her husband, and they said it was so heinously repulsive that they stormed out of the theatre. It’s called Scream and you are never to see that film, Shayne.”
I’m sorry. That’s the wrong answer.
Fascinated not so much by the gutting itself (although I was curious), but by the idea that a film could have such an adverse effect on audiences, this knowledge switched something in my adolescent brain. I had to watch this film and any other film that held such power on the viewer. My mother’s disapproval fuelled instant rebellion. I know, a huge plot twist for a teenager.
And a minor obsession was born. After tracking down and secretly watching Scream and shortly after, Scream 2, I started to hunt and forage through my local video stores, ticking off every film that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson referenced. The Howling, Prom Night, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and so on.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Scream franchise has transformed from gateway drug to comfort food. Binging the series to prepare for the latest entry, filled me with gleeful, bloodstained nostalgia.
I was ready to return to Woodsboro and so to is this film.
NOW FOR THE ACTUAL REVIEW:
This new Scream, that wittingly drops the 5, identifies itself early as a “requel”. A fusion of a reboot and sequel (think 2009’s Star Trek, 2018’s Halloween). An amalgamation that allows legacy characters (Sidney, Gale, Dewey) to exist and continue their journey somewhat, but is designed to invite new characters to take centre stage. Adopting the original’s title, although initially confusing to a casual movie-goer, is key. In order for the franchise to move forward with new filmmakers (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) and new voices (James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick), they want to ensure they pay adequate and loving homage to the legacy of Ghostface and the man responsible for elevating it to the status of horror icon; the late Wes Craven.
And full circle, this film doth venture. A masked-snake coiling around itself, to eat its own tail. Or in this case, stabbing itself repeatedly with a razor sharp knife.
After being dormant for a decade, this new Scream opens with Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter (yup that’s a wink) accepting a phone call with Ghostface and engaging in a conversation about the death of the dumb slasher genre, and preferring elevated horror (The Babadook, The Witch, It Follows). As is the formula, things escalate and much terror and slashing ensues.
We quickly meet our new generation of potential victims/possible killers led by an excellent and steadfast Melissa Barrera as Sam, the new object to Ghostface’s ill-fated affection. The other newcomers, all with genuinely engaging personalities, include Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Sonia Ammar, Mikey Madison are all welcome additions, with the absolute standouts being on-screen twins, Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown (our new conduit to the world of horror trivia).
As Ghostface begins to carve up the local population yet again, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette all return to the screen with over 25 years of experience dealing with hooded killers who watch far too many scary movies. Arquette’s Dewey is afforded the most screentime, as the only OG member who remains in Woodsboro and agains fills the screen with his endless affable charm. Cox’s Gale remains a laser-focused and tenacious bulldog of a journalist (of sorts). While Neve assumes her role as the utlimate Scream Queen (outside of Jamie Lee Curtis). Cast perfectly in 1996, Campbell continues to evolve her character as Sidney. The resolute, ultimate survivor.
“Hello Sidney, it’s an honour.” I couldn’t agree more.
This new vision is easily the most violent and brutal of any entry. The opening sequence features a bloodthirsty knife attack and multiple visible bladed penetrations. Throughout the film, the camera doesn’t hide the intimacy and impact of this violence, at times lingering from a wider angle to make the audience squirm for a few extra agonising seconds. There was always a nasty streak in how Craven staged these moments of murder, and the new directors have cottoned on to this, and are upping the ante and then some.
Original screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s absence along with his witty penmanship is somewhat felt, but his scathing dissection and mockery of horror tropes remains mostly intact thanks to some clever writing from Vanderbilt and Busick. In a series known for its winking meta-commentary, Scream understands audience frustration and franchise fatigue, and weaponises it. Armed with four previous films who consistently revealed that the killer was a friend, the new cast sit each other down and outright call this fact out to one another. While the edginess of this deconstruction lost a fair amount of its shine and newness two decades ago, this along with many other wink-at-the-audience sequences still prove to be wildly joyous and entertaining for fans of the series and the genre.
Where the script does excel and help to justify this requel’s existence, is the connection and commentary this film has with its own in-universe doppelganger, the Stab series. In this world, the Stab sequels lose sight of what made the original so special. They betray the spirit and unwritten codes of the original. Ghostface has a flamethrower now? Outraged/entitled/toxic fans hiding under their own masks as “true fans” are foaming at the mouth that the 8th entry became too “woke” and killed their childhoods. Sound familiar?
Loving a particular slice of popular culture, either in healthy reverence or with defensive toxic vitriol, anchors much of what makes Scream and its messaging so pertinent and engaging. Returning to Woodsboro and revisiting the original film isn’t nostalgia-bait forced by some creatively bankrupt studiohead. Scream revisiting Scream, with all of its callback revelling is not simple postmodern replication, it’s about uncomfortably analysing the audience’s relationship and dependency with the media they hold near and dear, and the toxicity and danger of such reliance.
Part love letter/part scathing social commentary, I have no doubt Wes would be proud of his legacy.