Scream is the horror franchise to slay them all

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When I heard the iconic Scream franchise was set to be revived for a new generation with last year’s Scream and the new Scream VI, I was beside myself. I took to dropping “Have you heard, Ghostface is back?” into conversation sat random, only to be met with confused references to Scary Movie, or an incredulous “They’re still making those?” It became increasingly clear that the four original Scream films – released between 1996 and 2011 and centered on a series of murders in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California – do not loom as large in the collective consciousness as they do in my own.

I was introduced to the franchise while still in my single-digit years by a wildly irresponsible babysitter who let me stay up and watch Drew Barrymore get sliced and diced, leaving me haunted but hungry for more. In contrast, Scream director Wes Craven was raised to believe that movies are the devil’s work, and did not see a non-Disney film until college when he risked expulsion to hitchhike to a cinema a town over from his ultra-religious university. I guess the moral of the story is don’t restrict your kid’s media consumption, or they’ll double down and one day unleash the most terrifying and brilliantly self-referential slasher universe the world has ever known.

It’s time to show our respect for the Scream franchise.

Scream’s most defining characteristic is its self-awareness, which immediately sets it apart from its iconic slasher predecessors such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. Multiple characters are horror movie buffs who provide meta-commentary on the sick and twisted nature of teenagers watching other teenagers get massacred on-screen for fun.

During a movie marathon, Scream’s number one film bro Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) lays down the rules for surviving a horror movie to his peers: “Number one: you can never have sex. Big no no! Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs (the sin factor)… And number three: never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, say ‘I’ll be right back!’”

This is but one of many examples of Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s ability to poke fun at the often predictable and silly nature of teen slasher films, while simultaneously offering an incredibly satisfying contribution to the field. The vibe is: “We are going to terrify you, make you reflect on why you enjoy being terrified and what that says about you and our sick society, and make you laugh, all at once.” In short, they just get it!

While the films play on deeply held fears of an unknown assailant terrorising an otherwise peaceful suburbia, the killers are consistently revealed to be people close to the central protagonist Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). In the OG Scream, soon after Sidney makes the rookie mistake of having sex with her dreamy boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), him and his sidekick Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) are revealed as the murderous culprits. While Stu cites “peer pressure” as his reason to kill, Billy was enraged by the breakdown of his family following an affair between Sidney’s mother and his father.

Drew Barrymore in Scream.Credit: Syookued

With each sequel, the killers and their motivations get wackier and wackier. In Scream 2, Billy’s mum disguises herself as a journalist and teams up with a random film buff to avenge her son’s death, while Scream 3 and Scream 4 feature plot twists involving Sidney’s long-lost half-brother and jealous cousin, respectively. Family dynamics are always complicated, but Sidney truly cannot catch a break! Apart from being delightfully absurd, the murderers’ motivations are in conversation with the current affairs of the time. For example, Billy’s mum is angry at how the media blames parents for their children’s crimes, which was topical amid increased fears around teen violence in the ’90s. Regardless, the prospect of your psycho ex-boyfriend’s mum plotting to kill you is far scarier than, say, an assailant with knives for fingers (Freddy Krueger) or a psychotic babysitter-hunter with obscure motives (Michael Myers).

Scream not only slayed half its characters but also slayed fashion. While the Ghostface mask that launched a million Halloween costumes is clearly the sartorial star of the show, the franchise is not short on killer looks. Take ruthless journalist Gale Weathers, with her colourful Versace and Moschino power suits and heavily highlighted hair that cry out for the attention she so craves. Amid a sea of girls next door, Sidney’s bestie Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan) awes in plaid and psychedelic print miniskirts, crop tops, plaits and the general hot girl style that assures her untimely demise. (And no, she was not wearing fake nipples in the cat flap scene, it was cold that day). While Drew Barrymore’s time on-screen as Casey is brief, her blonde bob, dark lips, mum jeans, and unassuming white sweater (all the better to show off all that blood) will live forever. And finally, Billy’s centre-parted hair and skater-boy wardrobe of crisp white t-shirts, flannels, and jeans almost make you forgive him for chopping up half the townsfolk.

Still, wondering why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily witness a tongue-in-cheek bloodbath as entertainment? When asked why people want to go to the movies and be scared, Craven responded, “People don’t want to go and be scared, they already are scared. Movies just evoke those fears and provide some resolution.” If, like me, you’re ready to admit that you’re scared and seek out some safe, highly controlled and satisfying violence in your life, get ready to throw some long-overdue respect on the Scream franchise and welcome Ghostface into your living room.

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