Reviews Video Vices

Video Vices Franchise Frenzy: Scream

Horror maestro Wes Craven passed away in 2015 but he left behind such an influential cinematic legacy. Craven created two horror icons who have left a lasting impression on the genre. One was the nightmare phantom Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and the other was Ghostface, an identity assumed by the various psycho killers in the Scream series of films. Unlike Freddy who was more of a terrifying force of nature, Ghostface was flesh and blood. They had no supernatural powers like Freddy, Micheal Myers or Jason. Fear, the mystery surrounding their identity, their cleverness and their viciousness are Ghostface’s trademarks along with the Grim Reaper robe and a mask based on The Scream painting by Edvard Munch.

The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

The hallmark of Scream though is that the franchise is self aware. It is constantly referencing the horror genre, other horror movies and all sorts of tried and true movie tropes. Unlike like some filmmakers today who frown upon referencing the past, the producers of Scream honour the history of horror and horror’s creative forces making the franchise a tribute to the genre itself.

In 2015, a Scream television series was produced by The Weinstein Company for MTV. The series began things anew in the town of Lakewood where another Ghostface is terrorizing the town’s populace. While the first season was praised for its vicious kills and curious mystery, the second and third seasons fell flat with fans and viewers.

With the latest sequel, continuation in the series simply entitled Scream hitting theatres on January 14th, here is our review of the series and the television show that followed it.

Scream’s Reoccurring Characters

Ghostface

The identity donned by the Scream killers.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)

The ultimate final girl. Sidney begins her journey as a frightened, confused heroine but through the course of the series comes into her own as kick ass Ghostface survivor.

Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox)

A tabloid television reporter who makes her living off the Ghostface killings. At the beginning of the series she is Sidney’s sworn enemy but their relationship evolves into a friendship. She marries Dewey Riley.

Dewey Riley (David Arquette)

Like the other Scream characters he experiences a lot of personal growth through the series. He begins as a well-meaning bumbling police officer and becomes a keen investigator.

Randy (Jamie Kennedy)

The horror film fan who is responsible for many of the references in the first film. He has a thing for Sidney and is very protective of her.

Cotton Weary  (Liev Schreiber)

Charged and convicted of murdering Sydney’s mom Cotton is later released and begins a new life as a talk show host.

Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven.
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Roger Jackson, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Kennedy.

Wes Craven, Freddy’s Dr. Frankenstein and horror fanatic, Kevin Williamson (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, The Faculty, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Diaries), join forces for a terror tour de force that celebrates their love of horror.

The small town of Woodsboro, California, becomes the scene of a string of savage murders committed by the masked Ghostface killer who is stalking mostly high school students. A student of the horror genre Ghostface enjoys playing cat and mouse games with his prey over the phone and those games often involve a punishment for wrong answers to their twisted horror trivia questions.

Student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) becomes Ghostface’s main target. Sidney’s mother was raped and murdered by one of her lovers, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). He was convicted of the crime. Sidney is not only facing off against a deranged killer and grieving on the anniversary her mother’s death but her father has also been declared missing after failing to check into a hotel while on a business trip.

While her classmates and friends are being knocked off one by one Sidney is also hounded by relentless and shameless tabloid television reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) who has been covering her mother’s murder since the beginning and cashed in by writing a book on the case.

Sidney’s friends horror fan Randy (Jamie Kennedy), police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Dewey’s sister Tatum (Rose McGowan) and her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) also try to protect and support Sidney but in doing so become targets of Ghostface as well.

Scream set itself apart from other slasher film by breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging, paying tribute to the horror genre and its fans. Williamson and Craven used Scream as a way to share their horror fandom. Perhaps the most straightforward example of this besides Ghostface’s telephone banter or Randy’s musings is a scene in which the soundtrack of John Carpenter’s Halloween playing on a television set in the background is cleverly used as the soundtrack of Sidney cautiously on the lookout for Ghostface after a house party.

Besides referencing the horror genre and other films, Scream’s success hinged on the “whodunit” mystery of Ghostface’s true identity, which like most slasher films was inspired by the Italian giallo films. The riddle itself although clever is nearly impossible to figure out. There really are no clues but if you watch the film a second time you will see some scenes in a whole new light knowing how things eventually play out and that goes to the fantastic storytelling by Craven and Williamson even if the mystery they craft is ultimately unfair to the audience who is trying to play along and guess who the killer might be.

The kills are carried out with much more nastiness than you would see in your typical slasher film. They aren’t as bloody as Friday 13th but they are a lot harsher than the early Halloween movies. My favourite is the death-by-garage door scene.

Craven and Williamson injected some reality in the genre by not portraying Ghostface as an ultra powerful killing machine. He is routinely knocked on his ass and thwarted by his victims. In one scene Tatum beans him with some beer bottles. One hits him in the “lower abdomen” with the expected results. These vulnerable moments may seem silly at first based on the slasher portrayals we have seen in the past but they really do make much more sense, ground Ghostface in reality making him much more of a threat.

The first film in the Scream franchise was responsible for reigniting and injecting new blood into the slasher genre which had become stale in the late eighties and early nineties. All in all, Scream is what the best horror films always are. Horror movies made by horror fans for horror fans.

Scream 2 (1997)

Director: Wes Craven.
Writer: Kevin Williamson
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Roger Jackson, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Kennedy.

Scream 2 proves it isn’t terribly good to be a close friend of Sidney Prescott’s. In fact, looking at the percentages of if you will end up in a body bag or not, it is a really, really bad idea.

Despite that, Sidney’s Scooby Gang and some new friends stick by her side as a new Ghostface shows up on her college campus slicing and dicing through the student population with an entirely different motive. Sidney even gets a new boyfriend in Derek Feldman (Jerry O’Connell). Laurie Metcalf from Roseanne, Jada Pinkett and Sarah Michelle Gellar, after appearing in I Know What You Did Last Summer (also written by Williamson), join the cast of friends and alternatively, are Ghostface suspects.

Unlike the original film some of the killings don’t really figure in the killer’s grand plan, if you really think about it. Just like how Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler was rubbed out in the first film for effect rather than as part of the plot.

As expected Scream 2 plays off the history of movie sequels, metaphors and analogies. In my mind though, they didn’t take things far enough. Perhaps the idea would have if this rushed follow-up wasn’t completed in six short months despite having almost double the budget.

Cotton Weary figures more in the sequel as we learn about how he was framed for a crime he did not commit. Weary really wants to capitalize on his new-found fame, however, Sydney doesn’t want any part of it. She just wants to move on, leave the past in the past and live as normal a life as she can. That causes a fair amount of friction between them.

Scream 2 is better than it has any real right to be considering how it was pushed and rushed into theatres. The big reveal isn’t nearly as clever and neither are the kills or the rest of the plot. In less experienced hands Scream 2 would have surely become just a routine slasher movie.

Scream 3 (2000)

Director: Wes Craven.
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Roger Jackson, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Kennedy.

Kevin William didn’t write this sequel…and it shows. In the weakest film in the franchise Sidney has gone into hiding. She works remotely as a crisis counselor from home which on the surface would be the perfect job for her.

“Listen, I think, maybe, it’s time that you came home. I’m worried about you, kid. Out here all by yourself, you don’t go anywhere, you don’t see anyone. The only people you talk to don’t even know your real name. It’s as if you don’t exist,” comments Mr. Prescott, one of the very few people who knows where Sydney lives.

“That’s the idea. Psychos can’t kill what they can’t find,” Sydney replies.

Naturally, Sydney’s self-imposed exile doesn’t go unnoticed for long. Before you can say “Do You Like Scary Movies?”, Sydney is lured out of hiding by a new Ghostface who is terrorizing the set of the latest Stab movie, the movie within the Scream series.

Before long, old friends like Cotton, Dewey and Gale are dodging hunting knives and other assorted implements of carnage as they scour the set for clues as to who the killer might be…this time.

Even Randy makes an appearance via a video tape which is the best segment in a movie but the series is beginning to show its age under the current creative team. It is visibly running out of gas and new ideas. Even director Craven seems to be going through the motions not really adding any of his signature shots or stylings. The kills too are uninspired with the overwhelming majority being of the quick, stabby-stabby kind.

The motives of this Ghostface are like Randy suggested, tied to the past. We learn more about Maureen Prescott’s past and her missing years when she left Woodsboro behind to pursue her dreams in Hollywood. Her story and the Scream 3 mystery itself are not all that interesting which is perhaps why it was a good thing it took 11 years to make another sequel.

Scream 4 (2011)

Director: Wes Craven.
Writer: Kevin Williamson.
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Roger Jackson, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell and Alison Brie.

After a bit of a hiatus most of the principle Scream players return, minus those who got slice and diced in the previous movies. Williamson and Craven parody the series itself at times as they wind things back to the tone and flair of the first film.

Sydney has decided to share her story with the world in a new book with Alison Brie from Community acting as her PR flack. Sydney’s book tour lands her back in Woodsboro where she is implicated in a series of new Ghostface murderers.

Suffering from writer’s block Gale joins the hunt for the killer much to the dismay of Dewey. Sydney’s estranged cousin, Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) and her friends are the targets of this new psychopath. Jill’s life has been turned upside down and Sydney has arrived back just in time to lend her a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on.

Sydney is even more a bad ass here even rushing off to save one of Jill’s friends who is under attack before the police arrive on the scene, fearlessly confronts Ghostface numerous times.

Although it doesn’t eclipse the original, Scream 4 is far better any of the other sequels as it has much of the same energy and abject cruelty that made the first film such a hit. Williamson and Craven pull out every Scream, slasher trope they can. Where most of them would feel unoriginal in the hands of others they make them work even though they are being dusted off before being put back into play.

Scream (TV Series) (2015 – 2019)

Originally airing on MTV and then shifting to VH1 for its final and very short third season, Scream the television series introduced a new town and new teens for a new Ghostface killer to stalk.

The first season is the strongest of the three as it mirrors some of the intensity and imagination of the first film. Series star Willa Fitzgerald really shines as Emma Duval, who runs afoul of a slightly tweaked Ghostface killer. One of the big differences here is that Emma’s mom, Maggie (Tracy Middendorf), is the town’s medical examiner investigating the killings.

Carlson Young as the mayor’s daughter and Emma’s friend Brooke is another standout character whose life is more complicated than we first suspect.

The two characters who do not work are Bex Taylor-Klaus as Audrey Jensen and John Karna as Noah Foster. They are as unnecessary and as irritating as the Pet Semetary remake. Their overwrought and overplayed portrayals will have you wishing that Ghostface would rid your television screen of them both sooner rather than later.

The second season is watchable because of Emma and Brooke but it really lacks any originality or spark. The Halloween special which sends the entire Scooby Gang off on yet another murder mystery while on vacation on Shallow Grove Island. Switch the ‘O’ with an ‘A’ in Grove and you know all you need to know about what happens to them. The special entitled Halloween and Halloween II is predictable, dreadful and even just flat out silly. The producers should have just walked away with the season two finale instead of trying to stretch things out as they did.

The third season is only six episodes for a reason. Ghostface comes off as just an incidental plot point. It is like the network had a script for a new drama series kicking around and they decided to throw Ghostface into it in order to put it to good use. Like Ghostface’s blade, avoid at all costs.

Scream (TV Series): Season 1

Scream (TV Series): Season 2

Scream (TV Series): Season 3

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