What is your favorite horror movie?
To me it’s “Scream” and always has been. The 1996 meta-horror film revolves around Sidney Prescott (Neve Cambell) who is being stalked by a ghostface killer who harbors secrets about Sidney’s past. The gory slasher flick was the first major horror movie that many my age saw when we were young. It was just gory enough to be considered horror, but light-hearted enough that seeing it for the first time was a slightly early step into adulthood.
And that’s the point of “Scream” and its three (soon to be four) sequels (and the MTV television show unrelated to the series) – it’s not just a horror film with killing, death and rampage. It’s something more. It’s mostly a meta-commentary on the horror movie scene in general, as well as a movie that points to our modern world. While you may not like the darkness of “Scream,” the message is always worth embracing.
The latest version of Scream hits theaters this weekend. The 2022 film, titled “Scream,” is technically “Scream 5,” but the producers decided to name the film after the original title — a move that’s fairly common for modern horror movies to gently recreate the franchise to start or reintroduce.
The new “Scream” will bring back the main characters Sidney, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who survived each of the previous films. And yes, the famous killer Ghostface (often played by a different actor each time) will return to wreak havoc on both Sydney and her friends and the newcomers in this film.
“Scream” gets gory and horrific. It’s an R-rated movie that you shouldn’t take your kids to. But if you watch the edited version on TNT or the VidAngel version later, you should know that there is a deeper point to “Scream” that we should talk about. The film series – which often talks about the “rules” of horror films and how they should work – is known for rewriting the rules about what it means to be a horror film in our modern society. The Scream franchise keeps coming back to tell us something about the state of horror movies and our society’s relationship to them and technology.
Will the new “Scream” do the same? And what lessons will the new “Scream” have for us?
The Meaning of “Scream”
“Scream” changed the course of horror films in the late 1990s. Up to this point, you’ve had horror movies centered around big killers like Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees, and others. They had become typical, cliche, and in many ways outdated.
But Scream brought slasher movies back into the mainstream zeitgeist for a generation addicted to MTV and blockbuster date nights, according to Kendall Phillips, author of Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter and the Modern Horror Movie”.
“‘Scream’ added a funky sense of humor and focused on the media-savvy viewer,” said Phillips.
Director Wes Craven gave the audience a film that talked about the rules of horror. For example, don’t say “I’ll be right back” because you won’t be coming back. Scream turned those rules on their head, so you can still get killed, or at least scared, despite those rules. So in a lot of ways it rewrote the horror. It made the rules of horror and then worked to break them.
Scream wasn’t the first horror film to do that. followed a path originally laid out by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a 1994 metamovie in which Freddy Kreuger is a fictional character who invades the real world.
Scream follows in those footsteps, exploring “the blurring lines between horror film and reality, but reversing direction so that Sidney and her friends begin to realize they’re trying to survive in a horror film,” Philips said.
But the most important part of “Scream” has nothing to do with killing or murder. Horror movies have often been about watching a serial killer make his way through a city killing babysitters, friends, and bus drivers. “Scream” has taken a different stance. It’s not so much a film series about a serial killer gone mad as it is a series about a heroine trying to survive while trying to figure out who’s doing the murder. Essentially, “Scream” isn’t a slasher — it’s a crime story with heart.
In most horror series, the killer is the star. We remember Freddy Krueger. We remember Jason Vorhees. We can remember Candyman. But we don’t really know anything about Ghostface — the Scream Killer’s casual name because of the spooky mask — because he’s not a single person. In fact, Ghostface was a combination of women throughout the series (I won’t spoil their identities for you).
“In ‘Scream,’ the person in the Ghostface mask changes, but Sidney stays,” Phillips said. “She’s an ideal protagonist as she really evolves as the series progresses and continues to take responsibility for her situation rather than just being a scared victim.”
“Scream” is meta
The original Scream did so well it deserved a sequel. Although many of the “Scream” characters were dead, the sequel – aptly named “Scream 2” – revolved around Sidney while she was in college. And of course it made fun of sequels. Scream 2 focused on how to approach the dangers that sequels bring – bigger events, a longer and darker story. There’s a whole talk in the film about sequels like The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather II and how they aim to tell a bigger story. Scream 2 is also the introduction to the Stab series, a fictional film set in Scream that chronicles the events of Sidney’s life. So yes, it’s a movie within a movie.
“Scream 3” ended the trilogy. “Scream 3” told the story of Sidney confronting another killer. This time the killer murdered actors on the set of “Stab 3” – a fake movie-within-a-movie based on the original murders. nd “Scream 3” talked about the tropes of a trilogy – that the past will come back to bite you, much like it does for further trilogy conclusions. “Return of the Jedi” was given as an example.
And then you had Scream 4, which was about Sidney returning to her hometown while a killer came back to terrorize a member of her family. This movie was a meta comment on reboots and how reboots aren’t always as good as the original.
Scream 4 seemed to be the franchise’s first real attempt to connect with the world’s youth and change their path. The fourth film in the franchise appeared to be a soft reboot, one that focused on the technology that is changing our lives. The film was about how the killer would film all the murders and broadcast them on the internet. It made sense at the time as Facebook was at its peak and broadcasting live was becoming more of a thing. Watching the film in 2022 proves that “Scream 4” was something of a historical piece. Good for its time but of little importance for the future.
And “Scream 4” poked fun at gore and gore since it came out around the time the “Saw” series was at its peak and “Hostel” was hitting the box office.
The latest “Scream” – which debuts this weekend – also appears to be talking about the dangers of technology. One of the early trailers shows two young teenagers struggling with door locking technology. So it’s clear that technology will take center stage again.
“The films focus on trauma, isolation and the ways in which our mediated world both connects and threatens us,” Phillips said. “Anyone who has survived a full day of Zoom meetings will understand the dangers of media technology and the mystery of who is on the other end of the call.”
But there is another aspect that “Scream” could touch on. 2022’s “Scream” comes out at a time when horror has increased. Check out movies like Get Out and Us for an example of horror movies being a little more haughty. These aren’t fucking movies with slashers. Like “Midsommar” or “Heredity”, horror has become a bit more artistic and conceptual. And yes, strange. All of these movies have weird storylines. But the point of these films is to think about horror – not just watch it unfold.
That’s the beauty of the Scream franchise. Yes, there will be blood. There will be murder and death. But “Scream” often talks to us about our lives. In a way, Scream has always been the greatest anti-horror film to poke fun at the genre as a whole. This is what makes the film franchise so unique. It’s a horror film made for horror, and that’s something that still matters now.
“Scream” (2022) is rated R for heavy gory violence, consistent language and some sexual innuendos.