January 8. 2022 – Scream 5, or simply “Scream“, is set to debut on January 14th. To celebrate, I’m reposting a 2011 article from when this blog was on Open Salon. This article earned me an Editor’s Pick (soon replaced by a much better article from another OSer). Edited from the original because my writing is trash.
“Scream 4” is opening this weekend, and oddly enough, I’m looking forward to it. The burnout I had from dotcom era excess and self-referential teen horror is apparently gone.
Those were fun and weird and empty days, the late 90’s, full of partying and aimless misdirection. I’m not sure I’m more “directed” now, but a big part of aimless misdirection is watching any movie you want, whenever you want. This in turn led to the incessant consumption of the films in the wave of teen horror inspired by Scream.
We all know about the self-referential part of the Scream franchise. All the genre tropes that the character of Randy deconstructs so cleverly set the stage for a 90’s horror renaissance that ran with slick production, knowing in-joke genre winks and a glut of up-and-coming It boys and girls. It even managed to infect one of the top long-standing franchises of the genre from which it drew (Halloween H20).
I can’t do a recap or a review to save my life. But I can point out what struck me upon repeated viewings of the films. Particularly one overarching thread of the trilogy: Maureen Prescott, the mother of Neve Campbell’s character, Sidney Prescott.
If you look at horror films as a blueprint for social control, the plot thread of Maureen begins to stand out.
There are plenty of good reasons this film became a sensation. The non-horror fans found humor, eye candy, credible suspense, and a star from the era’s most beloved sitcom. The horror fan found justification and payoff for every moment of their life they spent watching awful slashers.
Setting aside the deconstruction and winking reference that made it unique, the thing to remember about the first Scream is that like the best of horror films, it did its job well by providing the thrill and pleasure of a tense mystery. Yes, there’s bloody kills too, but Williamson, Craven and crew took care to build a strong story and fully realized characters that if you don’t necessarily love (and I did), you also don’t cheer for them to be exterminated gruesomely by weedwhacker or hacksaw. Please don’t think me a sadist, but when watching a paper-thin slasher, one tends to root for the killer to violently silence the annoying, obnoxious teen stock characters. Okay, yes, I’m a sadist.
There’s also something relaxing and invigorating in small town horror, isn’t there? A crisp chill breath of fresh fall air, old colonial houses, murder afoot, mystery to relieve the doldrums. A killer who follows you around in his weird mask during the day while you’re inside a small grocery store. Why call the cops? They can’t help you. Doesn’t the whole thing make you feel more…alive?
But then, beyond that, we’re introduced to the story of Maureen Prescott and her illicit affair with Liev Schreiber’s character, Cotton Weary. An absentee mother for the highly beleaguered Final Girl. The reason a killer had to do what he did.
Cranking the mayhem to 12 and taking it to college, Scream 2 was a highly entertaining movie, if more of the same. Thrills, more gore, and over the top campy melodrama was all over this one. Sidney’s college thespian ambitions were a little laughable, even if the sequence with the Greek chorus was spooky. How about Jada Pinkett Smith’s ‘I Am Dying, Egypt!’ histrionics?
The most important thing to me about this movie was the killer, a killer in a tradition not seen since the very first Friday the 13th.
And again, who is implicit in Sidney’s tortured life? Who made a killer do what a killer’s gotta do? That’s right, Sidney’s mom. A killer here wants some Old Testament vengeance for Maureen Prescott’s adultery.
Another sidebar – I can’t watch Sarah Michelle Gellar in a horror film without expecting her to kick some ass. She’s Buffy, for pity’s sake. But that’s entirely my problem.
To me Scream 3 was an awful film that was simply going through rushed and tired motions in order to wrap up a story and milk a dying trend. I could be wrong, but I think by then, The Blair Witch Project had debuted and the focus was back on serious, high supernatural horror.
Carrie Fisher was in it, so was Dr. McDreamy, and there was a lot of speechifying about personal responsibility and “once again the media made me do it!” The thing to note is the backstory about a depraved Hollywood Babylon to make Roman Polanski blush. And at the center of it all, once again, the trilogy’s much maligned Hester Prynne, Sidney’s mother Maureen Prescott. A woman whose shamefully adulterous and sordid past led to her doom and cursed her family. Nathaniel Hawthorne could very well have written this.
Sidney’s mom was apparently in some movies in the 70’s, with fantastic sounding grindhouse titles. “Amazombies?” “Creatures From the San Fernando Fault?” I wanna see that!
Will Scream 4 continue or address this Puritanical slut shaming? As a film franchise obsessed with horror tropes and conventions, it runs with one that dates to the age gothic literature: familial secrets and sexual shame haunting bloodlines and descendents.
Neve Campbell’s Sidney is a much loved Final Girl. She survived the loss of her virginity, typically a slasher-film guarantee that you’re dead. So much is made about her triumphing and surviving and living her life without fear. So why is she perpetually paying for her mom’s sexual sins?
UPDATE: Scream 4
I just got back from the film. I very much enjoyed the meta-commentary in this one, which deals with remakes. There’s a clever string of opening sequences before the opening sequence – one which wants to have you believe that attractive young blonde teenagers become avid horror geeks.The movie itself is thinner in the character and scares department – a few good thrills here and there, better than “Scream 3”, but lacking an engaging story. A shout out to Haydn Panettiere. Her character was the only who showed any sort of a personality. While it was nice to have the original three stars back (Campbell, Arquette and Cox) they didn’t shine, and Sidney regressed rather than evolved.
I logged on to your blog and saw the EP.. OMG I am thrilled for you.
Not going to see Scream though. I will wait until it comes out on DVD.
CONGRATS rated with hugs – Linda Seccaspina APRIL 15, 2011 11:47 AM
I very well may go see Scream this weekend. I have a terrible fondness for the series, it was just fun. And yes, I do wonder how this will be Maureen Prescott’s fault this time. Good post! – stumpynat APRIL 15, 2011 11:53 AM
Hey there Chiller. Congrats on the EP! I don’t know if you know this but you were one of my first readers when I came here almost a year ago. I was thrilled to see your avi on the cover with a story about your passion…all things ghoulie and horrific. Very well done! – bluestocking babe APRIL 15, 2011 02:05 PM
Go you!! Awesome to see the EP. Can’t wait to see Scream 4. I loved 1, 2 was ok (learned today it was filmed at my friend’s college the summer before she started) and didn’t see 3 because I was having scream burnout. But, now, I am ready!! bring it. – may20780 APRIL 15, 2011 02:28 PM
Interesting analysis… particularly with regard to the mother. Scream stands out to me as one of the important films in the progression of the post-modern horror genre.. Whereas films like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Halloween (arguably culminating in Saw) gave rise to the viscerality and violation of the body, Scream really pushed the envelope in terms of reflexivity. Rounded out by Rob Zombies stylistic use of pastiche and framentation, I think these films really make the case for a distinct mode of post-modern horror.. Will be interesting to see what happens with the new installment.. My fear is that we have moved beyond the Scream moment.. Because it was an important and influential seminal work, it almost feels like moving backward to revisit it in a new movie… unless they do something dramatically different, in which case it’s almost incidental that it’s part of a series. Gonna check it out at the drive-in this weekend! C Wright APRIL 15, 2011 03:09 PM
@stumpynat – Thanks! Like I said, I think this is the one that the non-horror fans will flock to for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else.
@bluestockingbabe – thank you so much! It’s been my pleasure to follow your blog this past year (a year already????). Let’s have dueling True Blood posts when the show starts back up!
@may207 – some hidden sense tells me you are a troublemaking brunette fatale……hmmm!
@C Wright – great comments. Now that I think about it, you’re right about Rob Zombie and his grindhouse pastiche, although I don’t always care for it (Halloween II comes to mind). I think the “Scream” moment has passed, but now the torture porn genre might be ripe for the same kind of deconstruction. I think we’re back to a high gothic supernatural phase in horror right now – lots of demon movies.
@ Big Baby Jesus – so then, can I assume the ghostface killer will use golf balls to murder people?
@Nick – me too, haven’t read any reviews yet.
She will always pay for them because the mother was the source of her life’s blood. The mother teaches the daughter even if she is not with her all the time. Therefore, the child will pay for the mother’s sins by default through hurt, shame, and remorse for her mother. Unless the Mother cares enough to be discreet and keep her love life private. – My Heart on a String APRIL 15, 2011 06:28 PM
Congrats on the EP! My husband likes the movies and wants to see them again. I told him, not on my time. You’ve given a good argument to go ahead and indulge. – Maureen Andrade APRIL 15, 2011 07:06 PM
@Heart on a String – very poetically expressed.
@ReiMomo – thanks, and glad I helped your husband get a pass!
thx. Yeah, I think we’re passed the torture porn phase too, and I’d love to see more of a return to supernatural horror.. I’m hoping the several bad “Haunting of” films and the eye gougingly absurd sparkling sunlight dwelling vampires don’t kill it before it’s begun. I didn’t really care for Halloween II, but I think the socio-psychological realism in Zombie’s remake of the original Halloween was great.. House of 1000 Corpses is one of my favorite horror films of the past 10yrs, though, so I’m biased on that account. Are they still working on a remake of Argento’s film Demons? I thought the 2009 remake of Night of the Demons, one of my cult 80’s favs, was fun. – C Wright APRIL 17, 2011 12:15 AM
@C Wright – great points and possible future blog topics. No clue about Argento’s “Demons”, and I didn’t see the “Night of the Demons” remake – does it have that awesome dance to Bauhaus’s ‘Stigmata Martyr’?
@Trudge – thanks for stopping by!
Loved your analysis of the phenomenon, which I never really “got” until your essay. Not a fan of the franchise — but at least I understand it now! Thanks to you. – Monsieur Chariot APRIL 17, 2011 08:10 PM
@Chariot – I wish I could report on various luminous and resplendent Mademoiselles for you in the bloody franchise, but alas…
@VariousArtists – thanks, and just posted some quick thoughts. Nothing great, but interesting commentary on the remake phenomenon.
I think the Night of the Demons remake is up on Netlix streaming now.. I’ll check on the status of the Demon’s remake.. I loved that film when I was a kid… but I think it was all about the lush, over-the-top, unapologetically B movie Argento atmosphere. – C Wright APRIL 18, 2011 04:31 PM