SCREAM Stabs in All Right Places

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So, I’m going to try to be vague on details but still get points across. I do try to do this in all my reviews but especially so for Scream as the series functions as much as a murder mystery as a slasher and I dare not tip my hand at revealing anything. (Murder mystery, black-gloved killer revealed in the final act, motives often based on the repercussions of sexual violence?… is Scream a Giallo?)

Scream 1996 is a very important film for me. Like many people of my age group, it was a seminal film for falling in love with the horror genre. I was 14 at the time of the 1996 original’s release. At the time I enjoyed the genre, having already watched a solid amount of horror films (usually on TV, thanks to “Up All Night” and Joe Bob!). But Scream made me LOVE it. Scream turned me into a diehard horror fan as I started to try to fill in the missing bits of the genre that the characters referenced, and then dug deeper and deeper.  Twenty-five years later, I’m not done digging that movie hole.

At the Jaycees haunted house I scared at with my friend Brian from 96 to 03; we often switched off Ghostface and Michael Myers. It was so much fun to play up the movements and actions of the characters.

So, yeah, Scream is an important movie to me.

And in 2017, I was on a panel at Crypticon about the film (Matthew Lillard as a guest that year, a heck of a nice guy) where I met Kim and we became fast friends and now both write and podcast here! I guess you can thank Scream for this whole website!

The original 1996 Scream still holds up, after countless viewings. That it remains a cultural touchpoint is a testament to the strongly written, sharp satire spin on slashers. At the time, Scream reflected the teens of that day. We were the first generation to grow up with cable TV and VHS. The back catalogs were readily available or at least what was chosen to show. Media saturation in this way brought a deeper understanding of the ways of film, left alone to soak it in or just run to Blockbuster to pick up whatever was wanted. The writing was smart. The characters are iconic. And the climax is still one of my favorites. The film has an amazing build and a weight to it. Not merely a slasher, the backstory to Sidney and why what’s happening gives an emotional heft. While the squeals are fine, they were lesser; often bringing up ideas of sequels/remakes without really following through (especially Scream 4 in this regard). I’ve only seen some of the TV show, so I can’t bring that into this at all. We all know how it revitalized a sagging genre.

Scream 2022 is easily the best of the sequels. As a “Requel” (a term used in the film for films like itself, sequels that also essentially remake the original for a new generation), it stands as a loving tribute to the original film (and nods to sequels) but also revamps the premise for today as in touch as the original was over the generation raised on VHS tapes to modern teens. Today’s kids are more aware of “elevated horror” such as The Witch, The Babadook, and Ari Aster’s films; with the endless slasher series (the in-film series based on the previous murder, Stab, is up to its 8th installment – the joke of how this one landed is barbed) regulated to barely remembered jokes. The reflection on modern culture, fans, and horror is more than mere lip service but serves the story and characters in delicious ways (and will no doubt piss off “fans” I’m glad to piss off).

Scream 2022 follows many of the same beats of Scream 1996, but not completely- thankfully. Starting with a lone girl being asked trivia questions about horror to survive the night (now the questions relate to the Stab franchise, of course) to a bloody house party, it’s familiar. But reflectively and welcomingly familiar. But as it’s Scream, it is familiar with your familiarity. Likely the most meta of the films, it mines meta and nostalgia in thoughtful, smart manners, playing on reputations and expectations to the fullest effect. (An aside: I’m not one to love something purely for Nostalgic reasons. Halloween Kills, Matrix Resurrections and No Time to Die all let me down majorly, despite my franchise appreciation).

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (also known as Radio Silence) showed in the gleefully bloody horror-comedy Ready or Not they had a deft understanding of the genre with audience expectations, making them a perfect choice for the new film after Wes’s death. (I’m also a big fan of their V/H/S segment 10/31/95, and Southbound. Devils’ Due is awful though).

In Scream, they handle the character’s patter well and create memorable, tension-filled scare sequences. The highlight is an extended bit in a nearly empty hospital. It wouldn’t be a horror hospital without being strangely devoid of staff and patients – there’s a reason here but still a favorite trope. At least it isn’t a town of people screaming EVIL DIES TONIGHT a couple of hundred times chasing down someone who obviously isn’t Ghostface. If nothing else, this sequence should solidify the strength of the film to viewers. But all the sequences are satisfying and fun, leaning into audience expectations to gleeful delight. The whole of climax of the film literally had Kim and I squealing and cackling in delight.

I really appreciate the simplicity of the kills. Shying away from complicated set-ups or Jason-like variety of fun weapons keeps it grounded but feels brutal, even with just a knife. The wounds are felt, and that goes a long way.

The pair didn’t write Scream, with James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick taking over for series creator Kevin Williamson (who also wrote all but part 3). They have a variety of credits, good and bad, though outside of Busick being a co-writer on Ready or Not, there isn’t much to indicate they’d be good picks. But they were, crafting a script that mostly works well, balancing the old and the new, the laughs and the scares, but ultimately delivers as a great Scream film. I do believe the twists and turns mostly add up, compared to Scream 2 having Mrs. Loomis and Kim’s boifrand Timmy Oly-pants know exactly what their victims are going to do. Not everyone, there is one HUGE “wait, why?” but I’ll give it a pass. I give them credit, while I saw one reveal quickly, I was honestly guessing at the rest.

Like other requels, a new set of characters form the backbone, with the legacy characters present to build muscle, give credence to the whole affair, but also to reinforce what worked previously and pass onto the new generation. Thankfully, the new characters aren’t just analogs to the originals, mostly. And when they are very similar, it’s called out in clever ways that don’t just feel like lampshading. In the center is Melissa Barrera as Sam, who returns to Woodsboro after her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked in the opening sequence. She brings with her a boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), and they meet up with Tara’s friends: ex-boyfriend but still close Wes (Dylan Minette), bestie Amber (Mikey Madison), twins Mindy (Jasmin-Savoy Brown) & Chad (Mason Gooding), and Chad’s girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ammar). Barrera is a little wooden, and Madison reads off, but Brown and Ortega almost steal the whole show away to balance it out. One issue is the side characters vanish from the narrative for a long time while Sam and Richie investigate on their own. I wanted more of them!

The returning main three in Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Dewy Riley (David Arquette) along with Scream 4’ Judy (Marley Shelton) are used well, neither feeling like extended cameos nor over-shadowing the new characters. They serve a purpose and do so well.

Scream 2022 builds on the impact of Scream 1996 (and to a lesser degree the sequels) for my first “I love this!” film of 2022. It’s a great update to the formula, reflecting on the series’ legacy brushing against the modern era. It delivers on what the audience wants without lowering to poor fanservice. The attacks and sequences around them are tense and often brutal. A fine way to start the year and revisit a favorite franchise.

A

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