The Cold Open Kill
Rule 1: don’t get attached to the first character you see
A good Scream (and even a bad one) blends laughs with scares, but our opening sequence teaches us not to underestimate the latter. Let’s discuss.
(Spoilers for the first ten minutes of Screams 5 and VI if you want to go in blind)
6. Scream 3
I’m willing to give it props for being the only Scream movie thus far to kill a previous cast member in the cold open. But it’s kinda basic and the kills are done very fast. Which honestly is an issue the whole way down. Apparently Columbine happened and the studio told Wes to tone it down but that was a bad call. Also it introduces one of the weaker elements: that the voice modulator has advanced from “sound like Roger L. Jackson” to “sound like a perfect impersonation of literally anyone.”
5. Scream 4
The opening kill might seem trite at first, two young women handling knives and exchanging quips on horror movies, but suddenly it turns out that this is, in fact, just the opening of Stab 4 being watched by two older blondes complaining about how trite it was. Which turns out to be the extra-meta opening of Stab 7. And only then are we into the proper opening, mirroring the first fake-out but harder hitting. And it’s a savage kill, too.
4. Scream 2
It’s the only one with no phone call, decide for yourself how you feel about that. And has the added terror that a crowded space isn’t safe. Okay, so, there is the slight issue of having our opening victims, who are black, point out how the genre has classically marginalized black people, and then also both of them die in the first scene. Actually 75% of their characters of colour don’t make it. But hey, that’s not 100%, sometimes progress is incremental. Anyway it’s very operatic, the main victim stabbed by a Ghostface in a room full of people in matching masks waving plastic knives, forced to confront the ugly truth of what they’re stanning so hard.
3. Scream (2022)
The first entry after Wes Craven’s passing also comes the closest the recreating the original opening kill. There’s the slow build of suspense, as the voice on the phone sounds like a normal, harmless caller at first, but is clearly enough Roger L. Jackson that there’s little doubt where this is going. The terror of the situation builds as the call turns menacing, Jenna Ortega plays the absolute living crap out of it, and then when Ghostface hits it comes close to matching the original in sheer intensity. Terrifying sequence.
And then… and then, the first new creative team since 1996 shows that they know a franchise this old needs to make some flexes, and so we get an absolute novelty for the franchise… the opening victim lives. Tara Carpenter is more than just our opening casualty, she and Sam are the heart of this new era… Tara just gets a rough intro.
2. Scream VI
So if it were just Samara Weaving getting a call from her Tinder date that slowly turns ominous, this would still rank high, because Samara Weaving is amazing and does so much to make me sad about what’s about to happen to her. Every flinch over an awkward attempt to phone-flirt is delightful. But then, twist, her killer pulls off the mask, and we follow him on his walk home, running into a protagonist he’s clearly targeting. One might think “Wait, are they going to just let us know who the killer is the whole time?” But then his phone rings… and suddenly our apparent new Ghostface is getting Ghostfaced. Love it. That’s way more innovation than you normally see in the sixth movie, even Fast and Furious 6 was just escalating what Fast 5 did.
Is it a surprise this tops the list? Every Scream sequel has been chasing this high. Every time the phone rings and an audience member flinches, it’s because of this scene. Drew Barrymore’s terrified performance was compared to Janet Leigh in Psycho. The moment the phone call goes from flirty to frightening is perfectly chilling and from there, I knew no peace until the scene ended. And bless her, she goes down swinging. They cannot all say that.
I love how they opened Scream VI but this scene is Wes Craven proving why he’s an icon in the genre.