Because Ghostface is a different set of people each time, the Scream franchise has perhaps never achieved parity with the other great slasher franchises. I’m here to address that imbalance. Let’s do it…
6. Scream 3 (2000)
The conclusion of the original Scream trilogy was pretty much doomed from the start. The loss of screenwriter Kevin Williamson combined with the Columbine Massacre de-fanged a franchise that had always stayed just the right side of horror/comedy. While Scream 2 had moments of silliness, Scream 3 is basically a shitty comedy dressed up in a cloak and a ghost mask. As much as I love Kevin Smith, no horror film needs a cameo from Jay and Silent Bob. Nor does it need to be self-referential to the point of inanity.
Scream 2 is by no means perfect. It’s too long and elements of the plot are nonsensical, but compared to this piece of shit, it’s a veritable masterpiece. Despite boasting a cast featuring Emily Mortimor, Patrick Dempsey and the usually reliable Parker Posey (who is unspeakably terrible here), there is nobody who matches the wide-eyed intensity of Matthew Lillard or Timothy Olyphant from previous instalments and the result is a film that feels flat, and worst of all, tired. A huge misstep in an otherwise exemplary horror franchise. Although not as much of a misstep as Cox’s notoriously terrible haircut in this movie it has to be said.
5. Scream 4 (2011)
Now we’re talking. All the good stuff is back. The primary cast of course, but also Kevin Williamson returns on scriptwriting duties and brings with him buckets of blood, gore and violence. Scream 4 actually feels like a Scream film. Cox is much improved after sleep walking her through the third instalment and both Neve Campbell and particularly David Arquette seem revitalised having had a break from the characters. The excitement at returning to Woodsboro is palpable.
As with the original, horror maestro Craven recruits a number of young, up-and-coming actors in order to supplement the existing cast members with Lucy Hale, Anna Paquin, Kirsten Bell, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts joining the party. Roberts in particular is an excellent addition as Sidney’s virtuous niece Jill, and Craven does a great job in wrapping up both the actual Scream franchise and the Stab franchise that exists only in the universe of the movie, while also finding time to engineer a satisfying resolution for Sidney, Gale and Dewey. Tragically, Scream 4 would prove to be Craven’s final film following his passing in 2015, and it proved to be a fitting end to a life and career that changed the horror landscape forever.
4. Scream VI (2023)
Tara (Jenna Ortega) is trying to enjoy her life as a college student in New York but her volatile and unstable sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) keeps her on a short leash. Mindy and Chad return also, as does Gale Weathers (Courtenay Cox), of course. Our new characters/suspects include Chad’s geeky pal Ethan (Jack Champion), Tara’s slutty roommate Quinn (Liana Liberato) and Sam’s love interest Danny (Josh Segarra). Rounding off a starry cast is Dermot Mulroney as a no-nonsense cop and a returning Hayden Panettiere as fan favourite Kirby Reed.
The absence of both Dewey and Sydney (the latter because Neve Campbell dropped out over a pay dispute) is handled gracefully and with warmth, as are the nods to the other films in the Scream franchise. More than any other entry, this one really digs deep into the lore of the other movies. It also helps that the violence from the previous entry is maintained, and I would also argue that this is the most downright frightening Scream film since the original.
There are some genuinely uncomfortable moments here and the humour, while welcome when it does arrive, is mostly kept to a minimum. It should also be said that the directing team of Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have done a great job in ensuring that the torch has been successfully passed from the legacy characters to the new blood. Sam and Tara feel like Scream staples now and while it’s nice to have Gale around for old times’ sake (and because Courtenay Cox continues to be great) it feels like the franchise is in safe hands going forward. A word also for voice actor Roger Jackson who continues to be the series’ unsung hero as the voice of ghostface.
Scream VI is a dizzying, thrilling horror movie that confirms the fact that the Scream franchise is now the best slasher franchise of them all. And I do not say that lightly. It is also packed full of geeky horror references for everyone to argue until the inevitable sequel.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
With this hastily constructed sequel, Wes Craven returned to a concept that he first explored in his final contribution to the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. That film was a meta film-within-a-film that succeeded in spite, or perhaps because of, its ambitious concept. With Scream 2, Craven reintroduced this framing device with the Stab franchise – a series of movies that take place within the Scream universe. While this would eventually become a heavy cross to bear in later sequels, it works well here, as does the change of setting from the small, cosy town of Woodsboro to the more metropolitan Windsor College. This allows the whole thing to feel bigger whilst still retaining the high school sensibilities of the first film (never more obvious than in Jerry O’ Connell’s goofy Derek serenading Sidney in the college cafeteria).
Elsewhere, Dewey (David Arquette), Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Gale (Courteney Cox) and Cotton Weary (Live Schreiber) return, the latter in a much expanded role, and are joined by a strong supporting cast featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, Jada Pinkett, Portia de Rossi and Joshua Jackson (for this truly was the ’90s).
From Pinkett’s gut-wrenching death in the opening scene right through to the big reveal at the end, Scream 2 retains the high intensity of the source material whilst still managing to stay the right side of knowing irony. Sure, the murderous duo of Mrs Loomis and Mickey doesn’t quite make sense, but Olyphant is so good as the latter that they just about pull it off. One of the more successful horror sequels of the era.
2. Scream (2022)
What’s the point of a reboot anyway? If it’s to keep the fans happy whilst trying to attract fresh blood then this film fails miserably. This is a love letter, not to the slasher genre like the original Scream film was, but to the Scream franchise itself. Sure, there are numerous nods and references to other horror films throughout (Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th are all namechecked either directly or indirectly at some point), but the real purpose here seems to be to shoehorn in as many references to other Scream films as humanly possible. This is clearly a film made for the fans by the fans. And so… I loved it.
The magical trio of Dewey, Gale and Sid return to Woodsboro, of course, with only Wes Craven missing behind the camera (a considerable loss but one more than made up for by the formidable directing duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) and indeed, it is Dewey’s death scene that provides the movie’s most affecting moment. The new cast members do a decent job in harking back to their forefathers with Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera particularly effective as the Carpenter sisters, and the screenplay from James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick stays just the right side of homage.
While there is still room for another sequel while ever Sidney Prescott roams the earth, if this does prove to be the final Scream movie than there is no denying that it has successfully secured the legacy of one of the all time great horror movie franchises.
1. Scream (1996)
Scream was the second horror film I ever saw (after A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) and it is at least partly responsible for the almost three-decade love affair with all things horror that still very much continues to this day. It was also the first horror film that felt like it was mine. The aforementioned Elm Street sequel felt a little dated even back in 1997 when I first saw it. Scream was something else entirely. The heady mixture of violence, gore and pop culture references revived the horror genre and reawakened the whole concept of the slasher movie – a subgenre that was on its knees by the time Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson revitalised it.
Watching it again for the first time in years was more than just an exercise in nostalgia. This is very much a film that still holds up. Not only does the script still feel fresh and innovative, but Scream’s huge influence still infests every corner of the horror landscape. This is a film that genuinely changed the game. Its influence cannot be understated.
Now… do you like scary movies?