This article features some spoilers for Scream 1-4
Another decade, another Scream is on the horizon. It’s hard to believe that last December marked the 25th anniversary of the seminal satiric slasher. As such, it would seem apropos that the 5th installment would have been released in December to coincide with the anniversary. But perhaps the January release is an admission that Paramount wanted no part of getting bulldozed by Spider-Man: No Way Home, much like how The Matrix Resurrections was crushed at the box office.
Speaking of Lana Wachowski’s latest, the 4th Matrix arrived at an interesting moment in the conversation regarding popular film entertainment, which of course, is defined by legacyquels like No Way Home and Scream 5. Establishing itself as a satire, Resurrections took aim at the legacyquel, our obsession with nostalgia, bad actors in the political spectrum, all while demonstrating an artist’s attempt to reclaim authorship of the meaning behind her signature work. I don’t think Resurrections really works as cathartic entertainment, but its themes and use of meta-commentary were admirable – thus drawing comparisons from critics to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994).
Horror fans know all too well that New Nightmare paved the way for Scream (1996) by breaking the 4th wall and interrogating the absurd abundance of Freddy Kreuger sequels, long after the disfigured monster ceased to genuinely frighten audiences. It was a long overdue moratorium for the slasher genre, at least for how we knew it in the 1980s. Two years later, Wes Craven would direct Scream, which would take the ashes of those 80s boogeymen and ascend the genre to its next step.
If the Golden Age of the slasher could be defined as straightforward tales of horrific monsters from our imagination, Scream changed the game by being a post-modern epoch that turns the camera toward the people who watch scary movies. Billy Loomis and Stu Macher are confused and rage-filled adolescents whose sadism is channeled through their fascination with horror films. Randy Meeks is an overzealous teen who distracts himself from his lack of sexual gratification through his love and knowledge of movies. Scream also redefined the Final Girl from the clutches of “Virginity = Purity,” taken from misguided readings of Halloween (1978), and turned the trope into a demonstration of the ingenuity, wit, and resourcefulness of the franchise’s protagonist – Sydney Prescott. Sydney’s survival instincts have nothing to do with her sexuality and everything to do with her ability to out-think the killer while proving she can be just as vicious as her attacker when push comes to shove.
However, as Scream perfectly satirized horror and pop culture simultaneously, the sequels would struggle to meet that quality. Scream 2 was a worthy, at times thrilling, the continuation of the themes laid by the first film – featuring a fresh setting, a fun ensemble cast, a well-executed love story, and Sydney’s struggle to balance her past with her future. Scream 3 was a boring nothing-burger, taking place in an inexplicably underpopulated Los Angeles (they couldn’t afford extras?). The movie didn’t have much to say about genre tropes other than “Trilogies, amirite?!” Parker Posey and Deon Richmond are seemingly the only cast members that are having fun, and the ending pulls the unforgivable sin of the “long lost brother” trope. Scream 4 is better than 3 but is a hodgepodge of ideas lost in a sea of meta gimmicks, poor humor, and an ending that goes on too long while being wayyyy more goofy than suspenseful.
Which brings us to Scream 5… or “Scream,” as Paramount insists on calling it. This will be the first in the franchise not to be directed by the late horror master Wes Craven. Instead, the film is directed by the duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) and is set 25 years after the events of the original. This time, we’re back in Woodsborrow as a new killer attempts to uncover the secrets of the town’s past. Franchise center figures Sydney, Gale Weathers, and Dewey Riley are back with a new, young cast of characters who have to deal with the rampage of a masked serial killer:
If anything, the trailer promises a kinetic slasher experience. “Something about this one just feels different,” Dewey opines. I certainly hope so, as sequels need to play with the rules of their own universe in order to remain interesting. Sydney Prescott is doing her best Laurie Strode impression, as she confirms she is strapped and ready to take on this new iteration of Ghostface. The question remains – what about Woodsborrow’s past could be uncovered in this new film? Surely, we’ve mined every last damn morsel we can get out of Maureen Prescott, Sydney’s late mother, and her sordid affairs. It more than lost its interest by the time Scream 3 arrived, so let that woman rest in peace. It’s also unclear if Jill, Sydney’s homicidal cousin, will be referenced or if fan-favorite Kirby could possibly return.
Nonetheless, the movie looks like it can hit that critical sweet spot of exciting yet familiar. The murder mystery/whodunit subgenre has a high floor of entertainment value based on concept alone. And the franchise’s inclination to comment on the trappings of current pop culture and entertainment is always a blast. Who doesn’t want to see a skewering of how the horror landscape has evolved, all while trying to guess who the killer is? Let’s just hope the reveals aren’t too egregious, like bringing anyone back from the dead – you’re not Marvel, Scream. I have to concur with Nancy O’dell’s line in Scream 2, as she excitedly bolstered, “I LOVE scary movies!” I do, too, and we’ll see if Scream (5?) is worthy of that love.
Scream opens in theaters everywhere on January 14, 2022.