I sat in the hallway, far past my bedtime, as I watched Scream on the family room television. My mother influenced my love of horror but this was my choice to sneak out of my room to see what she was watching. I watched as a young woman fought for her life which included hitting the killer in the groin with a beer bottle. It showed me that horror wasn’t all violent and could have laughs right before I watched that same girl die in a garage door after getting stuck in a doggy door. It’s where I learned the rules of horror. It always felt like Wes Craven’s playbook was meant to find me because after that day, I always found myself standing doe-eyed in front of his masterworks of horror. But Wes is gone, horror has changed, and so have the rules. Now I’m an adult and I’m seeing the first Scream without Wes’s fingerprints directly on the reel itself. How does Ghostface hold up when the creator himself’s ghost lingers through the entire genre?
Scream did something different for horror on a mass scale. It showed that horror could provide a meta-commentary on the world, the film industry, and horror itself. I won’t say it was the first meta-horror film but Wes Craven made it an art form. That changed things. Horror changed forever. Scream created a legacy for itself as many other iconic slasher series like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th did. What Scream did differently, though, was elevate the genre.
From there we got new subgenres that took the spotlight. One such being the torture porn of a post-9/11 America obsessed with gruesome imagery on their televisions that bled onto the screen. That was around where Scream 4 left off, with the torture porn of the early to late 2000s but again, horror has changed.
We’re in the age of “elevated horror” which often explores themes of trauma and love through a more artistic and less gore-o-rama drenched lens of the years before. Films like Hereditary, The VVitch, and other films distributed through A24 are all that’s talked about with film bros and film Twitter at large.
There are those who believe that because these films have more of a sophisticated approach to them that it makes them worth more than a simple slasher.
We’ve also begun to see a new subgenre appear with that almost at its roots. Films that are billed as “direct sequel” have been the mainstay of theaters in the past few years. They pick up on familiar characters like Laurie Strode in Halloween. They bring back the stories that so many people love but with the additional pain of subtext that viewers weren’t looking for before despite it being there. This is the middle ground between the film snobs and the others, who are far worse. Scream is aware of all of that, even its numerical missing title is a commentary on the naming conventions these not-reboot, not-true sequels have. Scream gives the genre a name but I dare not spoil that or else I’ll be getting a call looking to play a game.
Before, I mentioned there is another side to horror and film today. We are in the age of toxic fandoms who tear apart sequels or new installments in their favorite IPs. They go so far as targeted harassment of actors, filmmakers, and anyone they can aim their sights on. The largest example being Star Wars, where multiple stars have been harassed off of social media with racism, misogyny, and other horrors because a film didn’t cater to white men’s power fantasies of “their” series. Scream‘s themes on this are done with strong satire backed by incredible performances and great writing. While they poke fun at how snobby horror fans can be, they stab a knife directly into the heart of the trolls and bigots that lurk in the darker corners of the internet.
Scream knows what the genre has become; it knows why you’re in the theatre and it uses every piece of that knowledge to draw you in. It often tricks you with familiar tropes to come at you from a corner with a scare, but it doesn’t shy away from the jump scares that you are almost lulled into because you’re saying to yourself “they wouldn’t”. We get the legacy characters who have emotional connections with long-time fans who will smile ear to ear when they appear. We get the newcomers with their own connections to this legacy who are written so sharply with snark that almost every line they have lands spectacularly. One of this next generation is played by Jack Quaid who is the furthest removed from the legacy so his role is almost that of an outsider which leads to some very funny observations on the whole situation. The film’s lead, Melissa Barrera, is a highlight of the film as she struggles with legacy and what she must do now that she’s in Ghostface’s sights after leaving home.
Ghostface’s presence is lifted with new composer Brian Tyler’s use of strings almost like a weapon of his own. With James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick’s script being directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, they bring everything together in one of the best showings of the franchise to date that captures so much of the energy and themes of the series.
Art builds upon itself. Some stories build upon themselves. IP builds upon itself, over and over. These things create a legacy. Slashers leave a legacy through their iconic costumes, motives, and kills. Scream’s legacy is that of a franchise that lampoons the legacy of all of that. It even mocks itself multiple times in the newest film.
Without Wes behind the camera, Scream still stays true to the ideas and humor introduced in Craven’s original film. It does its best to take a slash at everything going on in horror, film, and the world around it in an extremely satisfying way.
No longer am I a child, watching from the hallway as Ghostface stumbles, trips, and falls his way through a killing spree. I am a 29-year-old, sitting in a Dolby theatre where the seats vibrate with the action on screen as Ghostface stumbles, trips, and falls his way through a killing spree. The rules change, horror changes, and the world itself changes. But Ghostface? Still a clutz.