long readsDo you remember where you were when you first watched Scream?
Talk to any millennial and they have a story about how they first came across the iconic slasher. My older sister snuck it in on a trip to our grandparents’ house when she was a little too young and insists she’ll never watch it again, even at the age of 34. I was at a friend’s 12th birthday sleepover and we all clutched our sleeping bags in horror every time someone got stabbed. Later, her mum prank-called us from the other room and hysterically laughed at all our terrified screams. Scream is more than just a movie, more than just a franchise. It is a cultural zeitgeist.
Scream 6, recently hit Australian cinemas and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. For those on the outside of the horror genre and who may not have an interest in slasher films, it could seem pretty bemusing.
“I’m going to predict someone gets stabbed,” one friend said to me after I told him I was off to see the latest instalment. He was right — that definitely happened. But what also happened was the comeback of a perfectly scary, at times funny, and always self-aware addition to the Scream catalogue.
The Scream origins
The first Scream movie was released in 1996 and garnered praise from critics for its self-aware characters as well as Wes Craven’s deconstruction of the stereotypes and clichés that plagued the slash genre in the late ’70s and ’80s.
The follow-up, Scream 2, was also a box office success and continued to follow protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) in her attempt to move on from the masked killer known as Ghostface, who wreaked havoc on her life.
Scream 3 and Scream 4 also heavily centred around Prescott being targeted by various iterations of Ghostface, with other main characters like Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) coming along for the ride whenever mysterious murders started to take place and Ghostface reared his or her ugly head.
The franchise lost its way around the third and fourth instalments. While they were still commercially successful, and were later touted as more self-aware than what they were given credit for at the time, reviews were mixed, with fans and critics saying the movies became ironically clichéd, and the characters appeared two-dimensional. A review in the Canadian paper Toronto Sun went as far as to say Scream 4 was “nowhere near the hip, serrated-edge blast of newness the original was in 1996. Suddenly it’s the horror thriller that your parents are excited about.”
It was a nail in the coffin: if it was better suited for your parents, Scream was officially not cool anymore.
The Rebirth of Scream
Then came a decade-long break. Scream as a film franchise was almost a nostalgic thing of the past until it was announced that a fifth instalment of the franchise would premiere in 2022 under the name Scream. It was heralded as a rebirth and a relaunch of the beloved series. New characters would be introduced, familiar faces would return, but old ties would remain the same. The storyline could still be traced back to its origins in Woodsboro and Ghostface would be back with a new vengeance and new motive.
Scream takes place decades after Sidney first encountered Ghostface in Woodsboro. On the 25th anniversary of — spoiler alert — Billy Loomis and Stu Macher’s killing spree, Woodsboro high school student Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is attacked by Ghostface and left hospitalised.
As Tara’s estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) returns to Woodsboro after the attack, it’s revealed that Sam is the biological daughter of original Ghostface, Billy Loomis, and that she left Woodsboro after discovering this as a teenager.
The relaunch brought back the self-awareness Scream was originally praised for: in the fifth instalment, the movie didn’t shy away from poking fun at the resurgence of legacy franchises. The film also tapped into one of the hottest commodities of the late 2010s and early 2020s: good old-fashioned nostalgia. Old characters like Gale, Dewey (may he RIP) and Sidney were all lured back into the mysterious murders of Woodsboro, 25 years after appearing on our screens for the first time — and original killer Billy Loomis (played by an effectively de-aged Skeet Ulrich) made an appearance in the hallucinations of daughter Sam.
A little over a year later came Scream 6, hot on the heels of the successful relaunch. While the new sequel (the requel-sequel) no longer had Neve Campbell reprising her role as Sidney, the new cast (now known as the Core Four) continue to breathe new life into the franchise with the film appearing more meta than before — in fact, it was often the butt of its own jokes throughout.
Set on a campus in New York City, the requel-sequel pays homage to its Scream 2 counterpart: the references and monologues to horror movie genres and rules are still in place, but even the most self-aware will face the wrath of the new Ghostface who has become more stabby than ever before. The Ghostface scenes bring back an element of suspense that had been lacking in the latter half of the franchise as, after the murder of Dewey in Scream 5, no one is ever really safe. The new setting in New York City also adds an enticing element which is proven in a particularly tense Subway scene set during Halloween where Ghostfaces are aplenty and the Core Four have broken the rules and split up.
Scream 6 brings back the slasher genre’s nail-biting suspense, quick-witted humour, and the Carpenter sisters prove that the franchise can continue without its leading lady Sidney. Having said that, old or “original” characters like Gale and the once-thought-to-be-deceased Kirby (Hayden Panettiere in an alarmingly bad wig) bring us the nostalgic element the franchise is so good at providing.
It’s official, Scream is cool again: the sequel-requel hits perfectly and surpasses its predecessor, leaving plenty of room open for Scream 7 — let’s just hope it’s Neve Campbell getting the callback, not Hayden Panettiere’s wig.