Sorting the Screams

I wasn’t always a horror fan.

I have seen zero Child’s Plays, one Halloween in my projectionist days, and feel like I saw the porn parody of Texas Chainsaw Massacre before I’d seen the original. Which endeared me neither to chainsaw massacres nor porn movies.

Sure, sometimes on a childhood sleepover we’d rent a Nightmare on Elm Street and it wouldn’t necessarily give me nightmares, per se, but still unpleasant dreams and maybe some inexplicable vomiting. By university, I’d seen two Nightmares on Elm Street, two Fridays the 13th, and one Phantasm that didn’t start with Mask of the, and I did not care for that last one at all. Shouldn’t have skipped the first one, I was lost.

Then Scream happened.

And even though the first reaction I recall having, filled to the brim with terror for poor Drew Barrymore, was “Why did I choose to do this to myself,” suddenly I was a 90s horror fan. Even the bad ones! I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Final Destination, fucking Valentine, gimme ’em all, I said.

And then Scream 4 came out and I just… never got to it. For over 11 years.

But having been swept up in the 2022 Horror Renaissance (Barbarian, Smile, The Menu, X, no, Prey For the Devil, not you) and having recently binged the entire Conjuring franchise on… whatever you call a dare when nobody was pressuring you and didn’t really care if you actually did it… and with Scream VI right around the corner, I decided it was time to get back into the franchise.

And it turns out, I really like Scream movies.

From the original gang of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale to the Carpenter Sisters and their Core Four, Scream movies are, more often than not, a good time. It might not be Wes Craven’s most iconic horror franchise, but I think it’s the most consistently good. Probably because it’s the one he stuck with the longest.

So I decided to binge the whole franchise and report back my thoughts. And to help organize said thoughts, I’m-a rank order these movies on the following categories:

  1. The Cold Open Kill. A franchise staple. Someone gets a phone call, maybe gets asked their favourite scary movie, and gets horribly knife-murdered.
  2. Ghostface’s Motive. What makes a person or pair of people decide to do a Ghostface, something with a 100% fatality rate (we think)?
  3. The Setpiece Kills. Look if you’re judging horror flicks (that aren’t Conjuring or Babadook) and not rating the kills, what are you even doing?
  4. The Randy. Someone has to be a giant film nerd, in order to convey…
  5. The Rules. Self-awareness of the genre they’re in is a staple of this franchise.
  6. The Third-Act Reveal. We’ve learned why Ghostface is, sure, but how hard were we hit by who Ghostface is?
  7. The Improbability of the Surprise Survivor. Scream is not about “final girls,” even if it reliably has a leading contender. There are always a handful of survivors, and almost always one fakeout kill. Basically if you don’t see the life leave their eyes, don’t count them out. And I’m never mad about the Surprise Survivor, but how likely was it?

You’ll note there isn’t much on the characters, and I’ll quickly explain why. Most horror franchises live or die on their iconic killer: people want to see Jason, Michael Myers, or very specifically Robert Englund as Freddy do their brutal thing. New Final Girls spring up every one or two movies, but the rest of the cast is just grist for the mill. But since Ghostface is an idea (and the voice of Roger L. Jackson), Scream needs to thrive on its core characters, and with only two writing teams across six movies, they’re pretty consistent. Sidney is the survivor trying to escape a cycle of violence; Gale Weathers is the lynchpin of the franchise because she isn’t Final Girl material, she’s opportunistic and abrasive and her refusal to die throws more than one Ghostface’s plans into chaos, I love her; Dewey is a bit of a goober who just wants to help; Tara is a fighter who never asked to be one; and Samantha… oh, Sam you might yet be my favourite. They’re all good, often great, but hard to rank film by film.

Obviously several of these categories have spoilers. So I’d suggest you, too, hop onto the internet and binge these movies and then meet me on the next page. Or skip the ones that are gonna give big things away.

Actually even the posters spoil some stuff so if you really care about that, go ahead to the next page.

To begin, a summary of our contestants:

A killer in a ghost-faced mask begins targeting local teens, especially Sidney Prescott, whose mother was brutally killed a year ago, and who may have fingered the wrong man as her murderer. Sidney, her best friend Tatum, Tatum’s deputy sheriff brother Dewey, and tabloid reporter Gale Weathers have to find a killer before the killer finds them.

After giving meta-horror a spin in New Nightmare, Wes Craven leaves Freddy Krueger behind to take the idea to a new level, and man alive did it work.

Kill Count (not including Ghostfaces): 5

Years later, Sidney is now off to college, and Gale’s book on the Woodsboro Murders has become an apparently highly anticipated horror movie called “Stab,” this will be important for some time. Someone’s out to homage the original killings, with the ultimate goal of finishing what the original Ghostface killers started. Our survivors and Cotton Weary, the man Sidney falsely accused of killing her mother, have to figure out who the new killers are and what they’re after before the killer hunts them all down. Assuming none of them are the killer. Not a safe assumption.

Also I’m not surprised Sarah Michelle Gellar got offered horror movies early in the run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I am surprised she never got a Final Girl. It’s like the horror genre thought she owed a debt for killing all them vampires.

Kill Count: 8

A new Ghostface begins attacking the cast of the in-production Stab 3, and it’s not long before Sidney, Dewey, and Gale are drawn into the hunt for the latest killer. But whoever it is keeps dropping photos of Sidney’s late mother, suggesting this new killer has a connection to the murder that started it all. Because trilogies have to go full circle, they think. Or at least have a connection to the past.

Kill Count: 9

Eleven years after the Stab 3 massacre, right before the anniversary of the original Ghostface murders, Sidney returns to Woodsboro to promote her new autobiography/self-help book, but finds a new Ghostface is targeting the friend group of her young cousin Jill. Someone’s out to reboot the franchise, meaning more deaths, more twists, and more meta-commentary. Also somehow there have been four other Stab movies in the last 11 years, how did that happen. If Todd Phillips snapped and killed the entire principal cast of Joker: Folie a Deux, I would not expect further Joker sequels.

Kill Count: 9

First off I enjoy that even the script of this movie calls out that it absolutely should have been called Scream 5.

Eleven years after the last Woodsboro killings, a new Ghostface emerges, with a wave of attacks that appear to be targeting sisters Samantha and Tara Carpenter (and those around them, obviously), who have been estranged since Sam left town after learning a terrible secret: her real father was one of the original Ghostfaces, and now she’s hallucinating him guiding her into being a killer like he was. And, of course, if there’s a new Ghostface in town, Sidney Prescott and crew are going to take an interest, if reluctantly. Someone’s out to requel the Stab franchise and everyone close to the Carpenters is either at risk or hiding a big knife.

Kill Count: 6

Looking too closely at that poster is in itself a bunch of spoilers.

A year after surviving the Stab requel, the Carpenter sisters and their friends have moved all the way across the country to New York, but the internet has decided that Sam was the real killer, and she’s still trying to hold Hallucination Murder Daddy at bay, so things aren’t going great. Which only gets worse when a new Ghostface shows up, feeling Sam must be punished for her role in last year’s events. Who can the Core Four trust? Is Tara dealing with last year healthily? Is being a Ghostface Sam’s destiny?

Kill Count: 10 (counting some Ghostfaces, I’ll explain), but only four are actual characters of note. Four are barely more than featured extras, and two we never actually saw alive on screen. I’m not mad, knifing a few randoms along the path is a perfectly acceptable way to boost your kill count, I’m just saying.

Okay. Let’s begin. And along the way, since Scream movies love the rules of horror movies, let’s look at some rules of this specific franchise.

Next page: The star you shouldn’t get attached to

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *