Spoilers for all the existing Scream movies, plus an assumption of familiarity.
We just did a re-watch, and I had completely forgotten that Scream 5 is in the works until we were midway through. I’m sure I’ll see it, but I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a unique situation in the genre to have four films with the same director, a consistent core cast, and three of the four written by the original creator. Even the same composer worked on all the films! The only comparable situation I can think of is the Phantasm films, where four of the five had the original director/creator, and all five starred Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm. So I have mixed feelings about Scream returning without Wes Craven at the helm, even if the series had the usual diminishing returns. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox are all set to return, along with Scream 4’s Marley Shelton … and I swear to God if there’s a love triangle I’ll, well, scream. It’s being directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, and written by Tyler Gillett, the team who did Ready or Not, so that's promising. In the meantime:
A slasher full of characters who’ve seen all the horror movies, and base their ideas about a killing spree in their town accordingly. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen this. I even bought the score. I used to have a coffee mug! And the script, published as a trade paperback. For the record, I was obsessed with Party of Five in the '90s, but never watched Friends, except an occasional snippet.
Most frustrating death: I think I’ve been mad about Tatum’s death every time I’ve seen it, all the way back to the first viewing, and I’m still mad. Her "Bam! Bitch went down!" scene, reenacting Sidney slugging Gale with a stuffed bunny, is still super-endearing, as is her general protective instinct toward her friend. And I feel like she should have done more damage with those beer bottles.
Cringiest moment: The mean girls gossiping about Sidney in the bathroom look way too old, and are so exaggerated, it’s like they’re in a different movie.
Cameo: Henry Winkler turning up was a real surprise on the first viewing, and he’s pretty fun as the creepy, ultra-vain principal constantly startled by the many mirrors in his office.
Personal favorite: I enjoy the early stages of the Gale/Dewey relationship. They have a really natural chemistry, easily falling into a rapport, and I like how Gale is clearly flirting with him as a manipulation technique, but that she also enjoys his company and starts genuinely flirting at the same time. It’s all pretty charming.
The twist: Good, actually. It was certainly a surprise at the time. Billy was such an obvious suspect, slasher conventions made him seem like an obvious red herring. But that convention was the red herring! I’m sure I never believed it was the father, though, so I honestly don’t remember who I thought the killer was.
Scream 2 (1997)
Ghostface goes to college. The survivors of the first film are trying to get on with their lives when people are murdered at the premiere of Stab, a movie based on their ordeal.
Most frustrating death: Randy. Over time, he’s definitely become the iconic character (far more than any of the killers under the Ghostface mask), especially with his speech about the rules. I guess his death lets us know that nobody’s safe, but still, once he’s gone, some energy goes out of the whole series.
Cringiest moment: When Derek sings “I Think I Love You” to Sidney in the college cafeteria. Eeg.
Cameo: Portia de Rossi in an early role as a sunshiny sorority girl, already showing off her comedic skills saying things like: “Hi! I really mean that. Hi!”
Personal favorite: The final confrontation has some great moments, possibly the best of the series, with Sidney saying that Mickey forgot one thing about his hero, Billy Loomis: “I fucking killed him.” Then Mickey tells Sid she has “a Linda Hamilton thing going … It’s nice. I like it.” That's a compliment near to my heart! Sidney and Gale totally blowing him away with massive overkill is also pretty great. Side note: Timothy Olyphant gives one of the funniest performances of all time in the underrated Santa Clarita Diet, as the uptight suburban dad flummoxed by his wife turning into a zombie, and it’s crazy to remember this as where I first saw him. I wonder if he and Drew Barrymore ever compared notes on their times in the Scream franchise!
The twist: Already getting to be a bit of a stretch. The presence of Laurie Metcalfe makes you think there's more to this character, but since she excels at playing the everywoman, she could have been a red herring to give Gale more to play off. However, it would have been more of a surprise if Mickey and someone else had just been copycats, and not tied back into that rat-looking mama’s boy, Billy Loomis. Insisting on that muddies the waters. If Mrs. Loomis’ whole motive was to get revenge on Sidney for Billy’s death, she could have killed her way more easily if they hadn’t orchestrated the Stab killings and gotten her into protective custody. I guess she also wanted to torment her and make her suffer, but doing that clearly made it harder to achieve her true goal.
Scream 3 (2000)
Cartoonishly meta at points, this one’s set in Hollywood, centered on the set of Stab 3, the sequel-within-a-sequel.
Most frustrating death: Parker Posey, no doubt. Her Gale Weathers is the best thing in the movie, and I wish the option was open for her to return.
Cringiest moment: At the time, I’d have named the creepy, stalkery vibe given off by Patrick Dempsey’s red herring cop. But now it’s the existence of a whole casting couch/executives raping young actresses subplot in a Weinstein film. That's really unpleasant.
Cameo: Despite the presence of Roger Corman, Carrie Fisher, and Jay and Silent Bob, my fave is definitely Heather Matarazzo as Randy’s sister. We should have gotten to see more of her!
Personal favorite: Everything with the two Gales. “Are you gonna help Gale Weathers or not?”
The twist: It’s not as egregious as Freddie Krueger suddenly having a wife and daughter he’d never thought about before, six or seven movies in, but it’s getting there. All the Scream killers to this point have had specific blame-the-victim mentalities, which is kind of weird. Sidney’s targeted for having killed someone in self-defense. Her mom was a target because she gave a kid up for adoption, and then had an affair, while the men involved (like her just-as-guilty lover) are barely mentioned, I guess the sleazebag who hosted the party where she was raped does get his throat cut, but it seems more like part of the plot to frame Sid than the killer caring about it. Also, here and in Scream 2, the killers have elaborate plots, contingent on all sorts of coincidence and dumb luck, which involve grooming catspaws to do their killing for them, when they’re perfectly willing to kill people themselves, and no one would have any reason to suspect them. I mean, if Billy and Stu hadn’t been killed in the first movie, they'd have sold out Roman in a second!
Scream 4 (2011)
Somehow this one is so undistinguished, I kept referring to it as Stab 4. Several years later, Sidney returns to Woodsboro on a book tour, on the anniversary of the original murders. She acts above all the exploitative promo stuff, but come on, she knew that wasn’t a coincidence, but timed for maximum press.
Most frustrating death: Mary McDonnell. Come on! Casting the President of the galaxy just to waste her in such a nothing role is downright bizarre, especially since she functions as a never-before-hinted-at aunt for Sidney right there in Woodsboro. Apparently just to explain why there’s a cousin to position as an heir to scream queendom. But she gets one line about “hey, the murdered Maureen Prescott was my sister, so I have trauma too!” Then a line about shopping when she’s stressed. And then she’s dead. So wasteful.
Cringiest moment: Maybe the whole vlogging thing? No, wait, it’s the guy who says the only way to know that someone will survive a horror movie these days is if they’re gay. I’m still trying to figure out what his evidence for this is.
Cameo: Anna Paquin and Kristin Bell from the opening. I am equal parts both characters, so having the “I dunno, I enjoy a dumb scary movie” woman stab the critical, analytical one was like a scene inside my own brain.
Personal favorite: Alison Brie’s performance really hits the same notes from Community, but it’s admittedly fun to see a version of Annie who’s so foul-mouthed and gleefully insensitive.
The twist: It’s okay, I guess. I’m not sure I suspected Jill the first time, but it does smack a bit of “the kids today.” Which, to be fair, was also a thread in the original, about desensitization and whatnot. There is an interesting, if barely noticed, nod to the gendering of violence and the assumption of female innocence when Sidney asks her cousin how she could do this to her friends. I don’t think anyone has ever, at any point, questioned how Billy and Stu could have done the same to their friends. For young men, it’s taken as more of a “why not?” And “there’s always some bullshit reason to kill your girlfriend,” as Randy pointed out so long ago.
Overall, while they're all enjoyable, it's hard to look back and understand why I was so deeply invested in the Scream movies. All the '90s copycats, with their glossy surfaces and attractive young casts plucked from TV, certainly dulled the freshness of the original. In retrospect, the first film does have an unusually strong sense of place. Filmed in California wine country (my cousins went to high school in the building used as the Woodsboro High School!), the real locations give it a dual impression of affluent ease and unsettling isolation. And you really feel the relationships: Dewey and Tatum snipe like real siblings, and Sidney genuinely seems like she's known Dewey all her life. There's a lot of little warm touches in the performances, and that all works for me. It probably helped that, for example, the very worst Halloween sequel, The Curse of Michael Myers, had just come out the previous year, so a lot of us were pretty desperate for something new to come along. And that might be enough to explain the phenomenon.