“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Is it perhaps Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, or maybe even Peeping Tom from 1960? Whatever you fancy, we horror fans love them all! The thrill of a killer lurking in the shadows waiting for the moment to strike is always exciting, and seeing the ultimate battle between good versus evil is, without a doubt, a fun ride.
With the newest installment of the Scream franchise playing in theaters, we thought it would be a good time to revisit the franchise that changed everything about the horror genre. For the first time, a horror film was self-aware of what it was, and the characters were fully knowledgeable about horror movies. The script that was offered to the audience perfectly blended slasher violence and a mockery of the genre as a whole. Scream was violent, funny, and a joy to watch, similar to how Airplane! spoofed the disaster movie genre. With the original film released in 1996, everything would change for the horror genre. Today, we venture back to examine how the Scream franchise impacted the movie industry and how we, as fans, have come to admire the man behind the mask, the Ghost Face killer. Some spoilers are ahead for those who haven’t yet seen these movies, so be warned!
We begin with the film that started it all. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson was inspired to write his story based on his love of horror films, with John Carpenter’s Halloween being a personal favorite of his. The idea of Scream was inspired by the real-life Gainesville Ripper, who terrorized the South over a four-day period that left five people dead in 1990. A tragedy nonetheless. After reading the story and discovering an open window in the house that he was living in, Williamson would write a short story that would serve as the opening for Scream.
After numerous directors turned down the chance to direct the film, with some being Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, and even Sam Raimi, Wes Craven was offered the job based on previous films he already worked on that blended horror and comedy. Films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and The People Under the Stairs are notable examples of Wes Craven. He proved to be the perfect choice to helm the project due to perfectly balancing what the script brought to the table and would later serve as the director for all four Scream films. He would later pass away in 2015 due to brain cancer.
The story of Scream follows a series of murders that occur in a small town called Woodsboro. A killer is on the loose, and teenagers from Woodsboro High School are all wondering who the killer could be. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is worried because these murders are occurring precisely one year after the shocking death of her mother! It later turns out that she becomes a target and has to fight for her life not to become the next victim.
Some of her classmates are pondering who the killer could be, and one of those classmates is a horror whiz named Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). Since he was young, he has watched horror movies and knew that everybody should be considered a suspect. This character would even educate other classmates at a party to inform them of the rules to survive a horror movie. He knows these rules from watching other horror movies and understands many characters’ mistakes. If we don’t make these mistakes, we are sure to survive. That is partially true, but many of the characters that appear in the Scream franchise make new mistakes that end up getting them killed.
His character serves as the intelligent individual that would inadvertently reveal who the killer is and remind us of what to expect right before it happens. After all the murders, a bloodbath during the final act, the movie pulls the rug out from under the audience to reveal that there are two killers, a rare treat for horror fans. It’s a great twist and one that threw the audience for a loop.
Thanks to a witty script from Kevin Williamson, Scream was not only a clever horror film that offered plenty of laughs and in-jokes about other horror movies, but it was a movie that wasn’t afraid to try something different. Instead of casting unknown actors, which is typical for most horror films, the movie brings already established actors into the story. Most notably was Drew Barrymore, who was featured on the poster for Scream and was killed off in the film’s opening scene. This shocked audiences and relayed that if Drew Barrymore can be killed, anyone can be knocked off. Additionally, Courtney Cox, who portrays Gale Weathers, a mean and crass reporter, was popular on the Friends TV show.
When the movie was released in December of 1996, it became a big hit among horror fans and critics. It would gross over $173 million in the box office, making it the highest-grossing horror film ever, which held the record until the release of Halloween in 2018.
Scream would see a total of three additional sequels that were released over fifteen years. The best sequel was Scream 2, released just a year later and proved to be smart, hip, and even better than the original, if you agree. This was a great sequel that didn’t fall into the category of bad sequels. It was a movie that examined how sequels worked while being a sequel itself. Everyone’s favorite character, Randy Meeks, returned to inform the audience how a sequel works and what rules were in place to survive a second outing.
Kevin Williamson returned to write the sequel, and the script manages to include numerous characters that do get killed off, but these characters are written so that we remember them. These aren’t just disposable characters killed to raise the body count, but they are people we care about and want to live till the end. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Liev Schreiber return to this fun sequel with equal parts funny and more violent than the original film. Even the film’s opening equally matches the shock value of the first film with a murder occurring in a movie theater where the audience is unaware that a killer is among them!
Scream 2 has a lot of tricks up its sleeve featuring two killers, a memorable character’s death, and the return of the infamous killer’s voice courtesy of Roger L. Jackson. He’s the movie’s real star as his voice serves as the creepy caller on the other end of the phone. While the killer never says anything while wearing the mask, the phone calls are the highlights of each movie, and Roger L. Jackson perfectly captures the suave voice that can turn sinister at any moment. Fun fact, Roger L. Jackson was not allowed to meet the cast during filming. He was placed in a different location to avoid meeting the cast and talked to the actors on the phone. This would add the mystery of who the killer was and allow the actor to play out their scenes to perfection. Scream 2 is undoubtedly a highlight of the franchise, and now we have to turn the disappointing entry of the third one.
Scream 3 isn’t a bad movie per se, but it is a step down compared to the first two movies. First of all, the kills aren’t that creative nor memorable. The script, which Ehren Kruger wrote, favors comedy over horror. This was requested as this movie was in production just two months following the Columbine Massacre. The killer himself isn’t that interesting, and his motives undercut the sheer brutality of the killers from the first movie.
Another problem is how the killer can mimic other characters’ voices to trick them. I did appreciate the opening and the ending fight between Sidney and the killer, but unfortunately, Scream 3 is a big disappointment. The movie attempted to reference how the third movie in a trilogy works, but it isn’t as clever as it thinks. There are some surprise cameos in the film, which is nice to see, but nothing new adds to Scream’s uniqueness. That would be later fixed eleven years later with the fourth entry.
Scream 4 is an upgrade from the third movie and features two killers who both share a lust for brutality and an undying wish to become famous. Kevin Williamson wrote the script for this movie, examining how remakes aren’t as fresh and even poking fun at the endless sequels that showcase the fictional “Stab” movies inspired by Scream’s events.
What is enjoyable about this entry are the conversations between the killer and his potential victims. Roger L. Jackson once again remains the film’s ultimate star. The movie’s central theme is how no one makes original content, and the killers set out to recreate the murders that once plagued the town of Woodsboro by giving them a fresh spin via filming the murders. Sidney, Dewey, and Gale are back in action again to stop the killing and survive this ordeal once again. The problem with Scream 4 is that the movie itself falls victim to the very cliches that the original film made fun of. It feels like a slasher without the bite of the first two movies. Still, it’s a major upgrade from the third entry and would end up being the final film from Wes Craven. At least, he went out with a bang and enthralled audiences with one heck of an opening in Scream 4.
The Scream franchise introduced audiences to characters who understood horror movies and knew how to survive. Its clever premise, wonderful cast, and great direction from Wes Craven add up to a series that wasn’t plagued by awful sequels or overall poor decisions leading to a remake to “wipe the slate clean.” Even if the third and fourth entries aren’t as fresh as the first two films, these movies focused on a well-written script that didn’t treat the audience like idiots. Kevin Williamson created this series because of his love of horror movies, and his creation is evidence of that. It’s an absolute treat that Wes Craven stayed with this series, and while the tone was serious at times, he always found a way to make the movies entertaining and engaging. He was a director who enjoyed scaring the audience while making us laugh simultaneously.
With the sad news of his death in 2015, we saw a horror legend leave the stage with no one to fill his shoes. Although a sequel was being discussed before his death, nothing ever materialized. With the release of Scream, the hope is that Wes Craven’s legacy will live on and that he will not be forgotten. Before this film’s release, Kevin Williamson released a statement saying that “Wes Craven would be proud of this film.” Williamson served as Executive Producer of Scream but did not contribute to the script.
With the newest installment playing in theaters, it’s apparent that Ghost Face is alive and well and has not become a distant memory. Roger L. Jackson and the previous main cast return for this latest entry signaling that the franchise is in good hands. We surely can’t wait to witness what’s coming to the table, and we look forward to seeing the battle between good and evil once again.
One interesting fact to hold onto is the progression of the cellular telephone, as seen in these movies. The first film flagged suspicion on anyone who had a cell phone. The second entry made it a challenge to see who was on the cell phone to identify the killer. The third featured that goofy premise of mimicking someone’s voice to perfection. The fourth entry brought about the smartphone and webcam but never once did any of the characters ever let the killer’s call go to voicemail. It makes you wonder how the fifth entry will play on the ever-increasing technology of cell phones when a killer can manipulate them to his benefit.
What are your favorite moments from the Scream franchise? Who are your favorite characters? What do you love about Scream? Let us know in the comments below!