In Praise Of… The Scream Series.
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
Warning: contains spoilers of the Scream series.
Horror movies, to me, are rather unpalatable and insipid affairs – a cash cow for filmmakers all around the world. You can, quite fittingly, make a killing from dishing out the blood and gore to moviegoers. But the Scream franchise is a completely different beast. Rather than depict a demonic infant or an exorcism of some kind it chooses to play on the well-worn genre, turning it to its own advantage. Then why am I writing about Scream, one of the most famous horror movies of the last century? Because, as I say, it’s something really different: a funny, not too grisly and hugely enjoyable series.
Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott is an ideal heroine – a valorous and gutsy lead that was so well rounded by Kevin Williamson and Ehren Kruger’s scripts you could truly empathise with her. Female protagonists in horror flicks have traditionally been dull and characterless but Sidney was something else. Prescott could go from being a damsel in distress to a tough but enervated woman, fighting back at the incumbent Ghostface. Because of the rich and satisfying continuity in the Scream series (and Campbell’s participation in all four movies) we see Sidney grow as a person, hardened by the events of the films. In Scream 3 she’s living reclusively after being so scarred by the initial Woodsboro murders. Eventually after being taunted by Ghostface over the phone she emerges from hiding only to face another killing spree. Then in the following instalment she returns to her hometown, stouthearted to go back to the place where she witnessed so much mayhem. At the climax of Scream 4 Sidney is undaunted by the corpses left by Ghostface, she’s been exposed to bodies so many times. Campbell puts in effortless performances in each film, adding yet another layer of characterisation to the enduring Sidney Prescott.
Whilst I’m oft-disgusted by the bloodbath of the Scream films I am strongly attracted to the whodunit element of the series. Ghostface is an interesting serial killer compared with the nauseating Freddy Krueger or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees because the person behind the terrifying mask always has a cogent reason for murdering characters. Admittedly you have to suspend a certain element of disbelief for a couple of the resolutions but, in general, the Scream movies always provide a satisfying denouement.
Billy Loomis, aided by Stu Macher, are the original killers and men behind Ghostface. Loomis’ father had an affair with Sidney’s mother (who was raped and murdered, by Loomis and Macher unsurprisingly, before the events of the first film) and so the deranged teens decided to take revenge on the entire Prescott family tree. They planned to frame Sidney’s father for the Woodsboro murders and take down Sidney as well. Granted, the aforementioned homicides were unnecessary but Billy’s sadistic taunting of Sidney really showed he and Stu were mentally disturbed (Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard’s superlative performances sealed this).
The second instalment of the slasher franchise had a lot to do. Kevin Williamson, screenwriter to Scream, had to compose a script that neatly carried on the themes of the first film and provide a bridge between the two. Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell were all returning, providing solid continuity but how did Williamson explain why there were more killings by an identical disguised murderer? The idea that Mrs. Loomis (mother of Billy and played rather excellently by Laurie Metcalf) wanted revenge on Sidney was a basic one but filmgoers didn’t see it coming. Loomis was abetted by Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) who wanted to get caught as Ghostface and subsequently gain fame and the limelight from his deeds. Unfortunately for Mickey Mrs. Loomis betrayed him and slaughtered him too. Williamson had to perform extensive rewrites on Scream 2 and considering this wasn’t his intended ending you really do have to praise him.
JK Rowling is forever commended for how intricately she set out the Harry Potter books. Red herrings and clues laced from the first book were only resolved in the last book and Rowling is hugely acclaimed for this. Scream 3 did something very similar (not at all to the extent of Rowling) and managed to back up it’s own history. The killer of the third – and then last – film was Roman Bridger, director of Stab 3 (a delightful in-universe poke by the writers at the Scream franchise). Bridger was the child of Sidney’s mother Maureen and thus her half-brother. He was born in Los Angeles when Maureen was working as an actress in Hollywood and given up for adoption. As an adult he traced her whereupon she deserted him again and so this sparked Bridger to kill her. Rather than doing the villainous action himself he passed evidence of Billy Loomis’ father’s affair to the teenager himself causing Billy and Stu to kill Maureen. So this triggered the events of Scream and Scream 2. It’s an ingenious piece of writing by Ehren Kruger (and not Kevin Williamson) and definitely brought the series full circle until director Wes Craven opted to revive the franchise once more…
When Scream 4 was released it was pushed up against the likes of other spine-chilling horror flicks and no longer cornered the slasher flick market. Therefore it needed to up its game and keep its content relevant. Williamson returned to pen the fourth (and, at the time of writing, last) outing of Ghostface and Sidney, providing a refreshing satire on movie remakes. Just like the in-joke of the Stab movies, Scream 4 was, itself, a jibe at the capacity for filmmakers to constantly revamp movies (Craven had it done to his immortal freak show A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010). The Ghostface of Scream 4 was murdering people in the same vein as Scream – or the ‘original’. Eventually after a startling amount of killings Ghostface was revealed to be Jill, Sidney’s cousin (a chilling performance from typically ‘good girl’ Emma Roberts), who wanted to become ‘Sidney.2’. She was jealous of the fame Sidney received after the murder of her mother and her continuous survival so decided to finally bump off Prescott and become the Sidney of a new generation.
Sidney Prescott, by Scream 4, effectively became just a name. An adjective for a survivor of a murder spree and so the original, as played by Neve Campbell, was so sought after. People wanted to kill her so they could become her.
Campbell injected Prescott with such an embitterment and tenacity that she became a famous and, in my eyes, hugely likeable heroine in horror movies. But what worries me most is the closing scenes of Scream 4 when Sidney, after lodging a final bullet in Jill’s chest, lay back on the floor, gazing up at the camera, glassy-eyed. She’d suffered countless wounds and so my question is: did she die? Has Sidney, one of my favourite heroines in anything, really popped her clogs?
I sure hope not.