What’s your favorite scary movie?
For me, it’s “Scream” and it always has been. The 1996 meta-horror film centers around Sidney Prescott (Neve Cambell), who is being haunted by a ghostface killer who holds secrets to Sidney’s past. The bloody, slasher flick was the first major horror film that many my age watched when we were young. It was just gory enough to be considered horror but lighthearted enough that watching it for the first time was a somewhat early step into adulthood.
And that’s the sort of the point of “Scream” and the three (soon to be four) sequels (and the MTV television show that is unconnected to the series) — it’s not only a horror movie with kills, death and rampage. It’s something more. Most often, it’s a meta-commentary on the horror movie scene in general, as well as a movie that makes points about our modern world. So though you might not enjoy the darkness of “Scream,” the message is always worth embracing.
This weekend, the newest iteration of “Scream” will hit movie theaters. 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 pretty common among modern horror films as a way to softly reboot or reintroduce the franchise.
The new “Scream” will bring back main characters Sidney, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who has survived each of the previous films. And yes, the famous killer Ghostface (who is often played by a different actor each time) will return to cause havoc on Sydney and her friends, as well as the newcomers to this film.
“Scream” will be bloody and horrific. It’s a rated-R film that you shouldn’t bring your children to. But if you catch the edited version on TNT or the VidAngel version down the road, you should know there’s a deeper point about “Scream” that we should be talking about. The film series — which often talks about the “rules” of horror films and how they should work — has been known to rewrite the rules about what it means to be a horror film in our modern society. Time and time again, the “Scream” franchise returns to tell us something about the state of horror films and our society’s relationship with them and technology.
Will the new “Scream” do the same? And what lessons will the new “Scream” have for us?
The importance of ‘Scream’
“Scream” changed the trajectory of horror films in the late 1990s. Up until that point, you had horror films that centered around major killers like Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees and more. They had become typical and cliche, and, in many ways, outdated.
But “Scream” brought slasher films back into the mainstream zeitgeist for a generation hooked on MTV and Blockbuster date nights, according to Kendall Phillips, author of “Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter and the Modern Horror Film.”
“‘Scream’ added a wicked sense of humor as well as a focus on the media-savvy viewer,” Phillips said.
Director Wes Craven gave audiences a film that talked about the rules of horror. For example, don’t say “I’ll be right back,” because you won’t be back. “Scream” turned those rules on the head, making so that in spite of those rules, you can still be killed, or at least scared. So in many ways, it rewrote horror. It established the rules of horror and then worked to break them.
“Scream” wasn’t the first movie to do this in the horror genre. followed a path originally laid out by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” a 1994 meta film where Freddy Kreuger is a fictional character who invades the real world.
Following in those footsteps, “Scream” explored “the blurry boundary between horror film and reality but reversed the direction, so Sidney and her friends slowly realize they are trying to survive inside a horror film,” Philips told me.
But the most important part of “Scream” has nothing to do with the killing or the murder. Horror films have often been about watching a serial killer work his way through a town, killing off the babysitters, boyfriends and bus drivers. “Scream” has taken a different stance. It’s less of a film series about a serial killer gone mad than it is a series about a heroine trying to survive while also trying to figure out who is doing the killing. In essence, “Scream” isn’t a slasher — it’s a whodunnit story with a heart.
In most horror franchises, the killer is the star. We remember Freddy Krueger. We remember Jason Vorhees. We can remember Candyman. But we don’t really know about Ghostface — the casual name of the Scream killer because the ghosly mask — because he isn’t one person. In fact, Ghostface has been a combination of women across the series (I won’t spoil their identities for you).
“In ‘Scream,’ the person inside the Ghostface mask changes, but Sidney remains,” Phillips said. “She is an ideal protagonist in that she really evolves over the series and continues to take ownership of her situation instead of just being a terrified victim.”
‘Scream’ is meta
The original “Scream” did so well that it warranted a sequel. Though many of the “Scream” characters were dead, the follow-up — aptly titled “Scream 2” — centered around Sidney as she visited the college. And, of course, it poked fun at sequels. “Scream 2” focused on how to tackle the dangers that sequels bring — bigger events, a longer and darker story. There’s an entire conversation in the film about sequels like “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Godfather II,” and how they aim to tell a bigger story. “Scream 2” is also when we’re introduced to the “Stab” series, a fictional movie in “Scream” that tells the events of Sidney’s life. So, yes, it’s a movie within a movie.
“Scream 3” closed out the trilogy. “Scream 3” told the story of Sidney facing down a killer once again. This time, the killer was murdering actors on the set of “Stab 3” — a fake movie-in-a-movie based on the original killings. nd “Scream 3” talked about the tropes of a trilogy — that the past will come back to bite you, much in the way it does for more trilogy conclusions. “Return of the Jedi” was listed 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. That movie was a meta-commentary on reboots and how reboots aren’t always as good as the original.
“Scream 4” seemed like the first real attempt by the franchise to connect with the youth of the world and change its path. The fourth film of the franchise appeared to be a soft reboot, one that focused on technology reshaping our lives. The film was about how the killer would film and broadcast all of the murders on the internet. At the time, it made sense since Facebook was hitting its peak and live broadcasts were becoming more of a thing. Watching the movie in 2022 proves that “Scream 4” was something of a period piece. Good for its time but little importance down the road.
And “Scream 4” poked fun at gore and blood since it came out at the time that the “Saw” series was at its peak and “Hostel” had made a box office run.
The newest “Scream” — which debuts this weekend — seems on par to talk about the dangers of technology, too. One of the early trailers shows two young teens struggling to work with the technology door locks. So it’s clear technology will be at the center once again.
“The films focus on trauma, isolation, and the way our mediated world both connects and endangers us,” Phillips said. “Everyone who has survived a whole 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’s another aspect that “Scream” might touch on. The 2022 “Scream” is coming out at a time where horror has become elevated. Look at the films like “Get Out” and “Us” for an example of how horror movies are a little more high-minded. They’re not bloody movies with slashers. Like “Midsommar” or “Heredity,” horror has become a little more artsy and conceptual. And, yes, weird. All of these movies have weird storylines. But the point of these movies 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 murders and death. But “Scream” is often talking to us about our lives. In some ways, “Scream” has always been the biggest anti-horror film, poking fun at the genre as a whole. It’s what makes the film franchise so unique. It’s a horror film that digs at horror, and that’s something that matters even now.
“Scream” (2022) is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.