With Halloween upon us once again, it’s time for another retrospective post on an iconic horror film franchise. Like last year, the decision on what franchise I would do for this year’s post came down to two choices. The one that I decided to go with for this year’s post was actually the franchise I was considering to do last year before I decided to review the ‘Evil Dead’ movies; the ‘Scream’ franchise. I was originally considering doing a retrospective on the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise mainly because I figured that it would be more relevant considering that this franchise is still going compared to ‘Scream’ given the last film in that series was released three years ago. But, at the suggestion of my co-panelists on ‘The Feature Presentation’, I decided to do ‘Scream’ instead due to the fact that ‘I would have more to talk about’ with these movies. Plus, there have been reports of a ‘Scream’ TV series in the works so I guess this franchise can be considered ‘relevant’ right now. I’ve noted before that I’m not a huge fan of horror films, mostly just because it isn’t really my thing. But ‘Scream’ is the first major horror film franchise that I’ve watched completely so at this point, I guess you can say that this franchise served as my main introduction to the horror genre. So without further ado, let’s look back upon the series of films that posed one simple question; ‘What’s your favorite scary movie?’ These are the ‘Scream’ movies.
The first ‘Scream’ movie, directed by iconic horror director Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, served as the revival of the horror film genre when it was released in 1996. Before that, the genre had grown tired and clichéd. So what did ‘Scream’ do? It made fun of this fact as the characters within the movie were all very much aware of the clichés of the genre. In other words, this was a screenplay that was full of meta dialogue and it is done to great effect here. But at the same time, ‘Scream’ is also a legitimately scary movie. Craven does a great job of establishing the mood and atmosphere right from the get-go with an opening sequence that back then clearly must’ve surprised anyone who thought that Drew Barrymore’s character Casey was going to be the main character. Although it is just a movie, this does feel like it could happen in real-life; after all, this was inspired by the case of the Gainesville Ripper. This film also benefits from where it’s set; in the scenic valleys of California. The finale takes place in a house in a rather secluded area, which really establishes a sense of tension and suspense as it feels like the characters are on their own, cut off from the rest of the world. All in all, ‘Scream’ is not only a great horror film but also a very smartly-written horror film that was very much self-aware of how repetitive the horror genre had become at the time.
SCREAM 2 (1997)
Just like its predecessor, ‘Scream 2’ pokes fun at the many clichés of the horror genre but with this, there’s an added layer when it comes to parodying the genre; horror sequels. As we all know, most sequels are never as good as the originals, especially when it comes to horror films. Thankfully, ‘Scream 2’ ends up being one of the best horror sequels to date. It maintains the same level as suspense and tension from the original as well as the ‘self-aware’ nature that made the first movie so great in the first place. Of course, as is common with pretty much every sequel, ‘Scream 2’ also ‘ups the ante’, moving from the quiet town of Woodsboro to a college campus while also progressing the story and characters (more specifically, those that survived the events of the first ‘Scream’) further. It may not ultimately be as good as the first film, and as we’ll soon see, the decision to kill off Randy (Jamie Kennedy), arguably the best character in the entire series, will ultimately end up working against the series. Still, ‘Scream 2’ manages to be another solid horror film and if anything, it’s one of the best sequels of the horror genre.
SCREAM 3 (2000)
‘Scream 3’ is the only film in the series not to be written by Kevin Williamson… and that is one of the key reasons why it is ultimately the weakest entry in the entire series. There are quite a few reasons as to why this is but the biggest reason is that after two films that did a great job of parodying the horror genre and its clichés, this film now falls victim to a lot of those clichés to the point where sometimes you wonder if this is even supposed to be in the same universe as the first two films (as I noted earlier, killing off Randy… not really a good move). And while the first two films both had a memorable cast of characters, this one doesn’t. Well, Parker Posey does manage to stand out amongst the new additions as the actress playing Gale in the fictional ‘Stab’ movies originally based off of the events of the first film (a ‘movie within a movie’) but for the most part it’s just your typical cast of ‘horror movie characters’ just there to be killed off. Save for Posey, you’re not going to remember any of them, especially the one who ends up being the main villain. Not only that, but the filmmakers also add in a twist connecting the killer to Sidney. This twist tries to connect the film to the events of the first film but ultimately comes off as being sort of unnecessary if you really think about it.
The film also does a poor job in handling the characters of Sidney and Gale. In the case of Gale, she’s gone from being the hard-nosed reporter that she was in the last two films to being incredibly dependent of Dewey for pretty much the entirety of this film. As for Sidney, it’s nothing about her actual character but more of the fact that she’s not in the movie as much. This is due to the fact that, at the time this was being filmed, Neve Campbell was busy with other projects. This means that she was only on set for about 3 weeks, resulting in a much more limited screen-time compared to her fellow cast members. I didn’t note this with either the first or second film but I feel that Campbell and the character of Sidney are the main highlights of the franchise. Sidney is a very likable character and we sympathize with her given her tragic backstory; that being the death of her mother. That and Campbell does a fantastic job in the role so in short, the best scenes are ‘Scream 3’ are when she’s on screen and the movie genuinely loses something whenever she’s not on-screen.
I’m guessing that with this film, most people will put the blame on writer Ehren Kruger, who has since gone on to write the much maligned ‘Transformers’ sequels and while I have made it very much clear that I do like those movies, it’s never been for the writing. However, in the case of ‘Scream 3’, it’s not really Kruger’s fault as he was brought into a franchise he was unfamiliar with. In reality, the main one to blame here is the studio, Dimension Films. They were basically rushing the film so that it could be finished on time for the planned release date. This is why Kevin Williamson was unable to return to write the film as he was busy with another project. This is why Neve Campbell was only able to be on set for 20 days, hence why the character of Sidney isn’t in the movie as much. ‘Scream 3’ is, to put it quite simply, the Hollywood-produced version of ‘Scream’ and not the smart referential meta-horror movie that its two predecessors were. What the studio should have done was wait a bit so that Williamson and Campbell could both be involved in the project full-time. Whether or not that would’ve actually made the movie better is up for debate but if you ask me, it would have been a step in the right direction. As is, ‘Scream 3’ is a pretty weak and incredibly disappointing follow-up to two rock solid horror films. I don’t really hate it as much as others might but that doesn’t mean I like it that much either.
SCREAM 4 (2011)
A decade after the release of ‘Scream 3’, the series returned for one more film with ‘Scream 4’. This time, Williamson returned as the film’s writer, resulting in a film that improves on many of the problems of the previous film. The ‘self-aware’ nature of the first two films returns with this one, which now focuses on how nowadays the horror genre mostly consists of remakes. Because of this, this film can pretty much be referred to as a ‘remake’ of the first film, even though it’s technically a sequel, right down to the fact that this film even re-creates certain sequences from the original ‘Scream’. It also does a better job in regards to handling the characters of Sidney and Gale. Gale’s ‘no-nonsense’ attitude returns here, having been sorely missed in the last film, and Sidney has much more screen-time here than she did in ‘Scream 3’. As for the new cast of characters, they’re much more memorable than the ones in ‘Scream 3’, with the main stand-out of them being Hayden Panettiere as Kirby, who you can pretty much refer to as the ‘Randy’ of the new cast given the similarities between the two of them. The reveal of the killer is much better than in ‘Scream 3’ and also makes much more sense, without any awkward twists. And while I’ve heard some people say that the finale is just ‘crazy’, I’ll admit I like it if only because of one awesome line said by Sidney; “You forgot the first rule of remakes… don’t f*** with the original”. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
But despite all that I just said, why then is this film ultimately not as good as the first two films? Well, ultimately I think it’s because of one simple reason; ‘franchise fatigue’. It’s not really the fault of the film; this happens to a lot of franchises with more than three films. If you really think about it, ‘Scream 4’ wasn’t exactly needed. Sure, ‘Scream 3’ wasn’t really that good but at least it was the finale to a ‘trilogy’. Granted, ‘Scream 4’ is a far better film, but it’s sort of one of those cases of ‘one film too many’. After all, all four ‘Scream’ films have almost identical plots with not many differences amongst them. So in other words, like how the horror genre had become tired all those years ago before the release of the original ‘Scream’ due to the fact that a lot of them were pretty much the same, ‘Scream 4’ doesn’t really offer much new compared to the first two entries in the series and it rather lacks the same amount of scares and suspense that the first two had. Still, this film at least manages to get the bad taste of ‘Scream 3’ out of our mouths for the most part and, if anything, it’s a far more fitting conclusion to the series than ‘Scream 3’ was. Thankfully, it seems like this will be the last ‘Scream’ film… we really don’t need another one.