Though slightly belated, FilmsFilmsFilms fifth movie marathon was a Halloween celebration, a post-modern romp through all four Scream movies back to back. Becoming a companion piece to John Carpenter’s classic Halloween (1978), Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's Scream (1996) was a modernised and post-modern tribute to Carpenter's slasher movie initiator. Eighteen years after Michael Myers first outing the slasher movie was dead and buried. But Craven took the genre west, swapped rainy Haddonfield for sun soaked Woodsboro and provided the slice and dice picture with an unexpected rebirth that saw slasher films once again clutter the box office as the twentieth century drew to a close
I was fifteen when Scream (1996) was first released and Craven’s movie became my generation’s Halloween. Ghostface was our Michael Myers and Sidney Prescott was our Laurie Strode. And just as the Halloween pictures became repetitive, so did the Scream offerings. Not that there was anything wrong with that; there's something comforting about a two hour visit to Woodsboro and the predictable escapism that follows. We knew what we were getting in both the fright and laugh departments but we were thankful for it just the same.
Was it really sixteen years ago?
Slipping the first in the four movie saga into the dvd player, its depressing and comforting in equal measure to know that Craven’s movie is now sixteen years old. Scream is now the same age Halloween was when Ghostface first sliced and diced on a cinema screen, and just like Carpenter's film, the fashions, the hairstyles, the music, and the setting for Craven's movie look equally aged. Scream is still a brilliant movie though, packed with clever tributes, genuinely funny moments, and most importantly moments that scare you stiff. Our group of movie marathoners had all seen the film before but we still jump in all the right places. Neve Campbell remains one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on screen and I swoon almost as much as I did when I was mid teens. We all marvel at how no one was able to guess that Skeet Ulrich was the ultimate villain first time around, given his shifty glares and god-awful greasy haircut; hiding in plain sight as it were. The only bum note is Jamie Kennedy’s Randy whose presence is about as welcome as an ice-cream headache, something that we don't remember being an issue first time around. When did his loveable nerd act become so grating?
A double Ghostface attack; now there's a sequel idea.
Scream 2 (1997) saw Craven and Williamson both return. They swapped the suburban setting for another familiar slasher locale, the college campus. In the spirit of The House On Sorority Row (1983) and Sorority House Massacre (1986) Ghostface gets stabby in frat houses and university halls. Traditional it may be but the first sequel fell quite away behind its predecessor. The reasons were twofold. First was Jerry O’Connell crooning on canteen dining tables, one of the most painful moments of the franchise. The second was the final reveal; watching Timothy Olyphant trying to do a Billy Loomis / Stu Macher impression as justification for going nuts was even worse than O’Connell’s singing. Then Billy’s mother turns up. At the end of Scream we were told Mrs Loomis abandoned him, so why is she now kicking off about the fact Sidney sent him off to meet his maker? The film's original ending had Derek, Hallie, Mrs Loomis and Cotton Weary all teaming up as a quartet of killers but after an internet script leak Williamson had to change his plans. The ending he went with feels cobbled together from lesser script ideas. Following this iffy climax Sidney just wanders off into the fresh morning air, the police apparently not wanting to have a word with her after a night of full-on homicide.
Edvard Munch would be proud
My own Scream 2 pessimism has thawed over the years though. The Sidney and Hallie crashed police car escape scene with an unconscious Ghostface in the front seat is one of the tensest set pieces in the series, Liev Schreiber’s extended presence as Cotton is a welcome addition, Randy, who annoys even more in part two, is thankfully offed in messy fashion, and British horror perennial David Warner pops up to.
Scream 2 takes us to school
Moving on to Scream 3 (2000) the first thing we notice is Courtney Cox’s hair; her hideous fringe turns just as many stomachs as the slicing and dicing does. Hollywood and the 'Stab' film-set replaces the college setting, and whilst the frights have subsided a bit, there are some great laughs in their place, including the best line in the entire series from the sarcastic Detective Wallace "He was making a movie called Stab ... he was stabbed”. Though Randy’s beyond-the-grave video warning offered a tantalising tease about all bets being off and everything you thought was true being turned on its head, the resulting twists were alas not that spectacular. Whilst the reveal of Sidney’s half brother still makes for a better twist than part two, it still wasn't the jaw-dropping revelation fans were hoping for. Sidney’s visions of her dead mother are also a welcome Nightmare On Elm Street-esque addition. Interestingly Williamson’s first script was to see the third film made entirely as a 'Stab' film-within-a-film, returning Ghostface to the original Woodboro setting. But this intriguing post-post-modern take was deemed far too paradoxical for audiences.
Should have run up the stairs ... or even better, out the front door
It was eleven years before Craven and Williamson returned to the series with Scream 4 (2011) but the decade break failed to provide much inspiration. Watching all four films back to back it’s startling to see just how samey the Ghostface chase scenes are. After six hours they start to blend into one long marathon of yelling, running and stabbing. Part four's new additions add very little. Erik Knudsen’s Robbie is a poor man’s Randy and just as annoying, while Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby spends most of the film being condescending to anything in trousers before cracking onto a lank haired Rory Culkin in the last act for reasons none of us can fathom. The single biggest failing of part four though is the big final twist. Emma Roberts plays Sidney’s cousin Jill gamely; no one can fault her effort. But Jill’s motivation for picking up the knife ruins her good work. Apparently Jill has plotted to slay half of Woodboro just because she’s jealous of all the attention her cousin has gotten over the years. In the believeability stakes its a stretch too far even for Scream.
They're doing a Scream 5? Kill me, kill me now!
Still, Ghostface is why we tune into a Scream film, and the intervening years have allowed for some much gorier slaughtering. Campbell, Arquette and Cox (the latter two having drifted through an entire Hollywood marriage and divorce across the four films) also have their Scream movie skills down pat and are just as watchable now as they were back in the mid-nineties.
As we all commented when the marathon started, we’re now almost eighteen years from the release of the first Scream film, the same amount of time it took for a Halloween successor to come along. Reaching the end of Scream 4 we wonder if the next slasher film revival is just around the corner. If so, what form will it take? A deconstruction of Scream, which itself deconstructed Halloween? Surely that’s a film so intentionally clever it’ll disappear up its own smart arse.
Whether there’s room to extend the Scream marathon we have our doubts. It’s been a fun four film trip and as a horror fan I could watch Ghostface and Sidney run around until their shoe leather wears out. But as a workable film there doesn’t seem much else to add to the series and even less to be said about the state and make-up of a slasher film. Craven has stated that he has signed on to direct a fifth and sixth instalment, though Williamson has recently announced that he won’t be involved. There’s even talk of a television series. Whatever the case, if Michael has taught us anything its that with a mere four films under its belt the Scream franchise is probably far from dead yet.