You know, when we started this blog, as a fan of musical theatre and horror, I didn’t think I would ever actually manage to browbeat my delicious co-editor into turning No But Listen into what basically amounts to Spooky Camp on the Internet. But here we are! And I sure as hell am not complaining.
It’s been a while since we’ve jumped into a good ol’ franchise fanatic, a deep-dive into a horror franchise and everything that it means to the genre as a whole. And, with Scream 5 announced yesterday, I realized: I’ve never talked about the Scream franchise.
Which is a terrible oversight, given that I adore Wes Craven’s work, and Scream is perhaps the one with the most continued cultural relevance today. Though it’s not technically part of the franchise, I do want to draw your attention to the existence of Nightmare on Elm Street’s New Nightmare – it’s a proto-Scream movie, a meta experiment and no doubt a precursor to the exceptional victory that these movies brought to Craven’s filmography. If you like what Scream does, you’re missing out if you haven’t seen New Nightmare, too. And not just because Heather Lagenkamp, star of the first Nightmare movie, glowed the fuck up.
But now, to the Scream movies. Kevin Williamson wrote the first movie listening to the Halloween soundtrack, and it shows – this is a film, after all, with a deep respect for the genre first and foremost, and a brutal roasting of it secondary. It was shopped around a few directors before it landed with Craven, most of whom saw it as a straight comedy instead of the slasher that Williamson envisioned. Craven, at the time known best for Nightmare on Elm Street, was the only one the writer trusted to deliver the balance of horror and comedy, and he was right to trust his gut(s).
Scream first came out in 1996, and, even to this day, it fucking pops. From that innovative opening, killing off its biggest star in the first scene, to the perfect blend of horror and satire, the iconic duo of the actual Ghostface killers – it’s still one of the tightest, funniest, scariest, and most engaging horrors of the nineties. Craven was offered a two-movie deal before the film even hit cinemas, and that was, without a doubt, the right choice; his playful, experimental approach to horror fit perfectly with the changing place of the industry in the late nineties and early noughties, and with the gloriously satirical tone of the following movies.
The second film was a box office and critical hit, coming out the next year and capitalizing on the buzz around its predecessor; it also contains Courtney Cox’s best movie performance by far as the iconic queen Gale Weathers, and I will fight anyone who disagrees. Picking up on copycat crimes and with the inimitably likeable Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), it’s a perfect extension of what the original broke ground on.
The third movie, however, hit in the difficult period of 2000; the horror genre was in flux, with the release of The Blair Witch Project bringing the indie scene to the forefront, and the beginnings of extreme new wave torture porn, Scream 3, with the big studio backing and well-trodden ground, felt more like a hangover from the nineties than it did the anarchic newness it once had. Critical reviews were lukewarm, and the audience response was about the same.
Which probably explains why Scre4m (which I will never not pronounce as Scre-Four-M) took eleven years to follow up on the end of the trilogy. Written by Williamson and directed by Craven, the decades’ break had done the franchise some serious good. Horror had to go through its messy, self-serious adolescence (hello, yes, I am looking at all the “gritty” remakes of OG slasher films), and had come out into its young adulthood with more a sense of humour about itself than the early noughties had allowed. It doubled its budget at the box office, and balanced new stars and old ones keen to come back to pay their respects to a much-beloved franchise.
And I can honestly say that I’m worried about the next part of the franchise. I feel like Craven’s inimitable touch – he died in 2015, God rest his fucked-up little soul – is going to be keenly missed – many have tried to imitate, but few have actually succeeded in capturing his anarchic and joyful (and occasional disastrous) forays into horror. That said: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the directors of the brilliant Ready or Not, are about as close as I can think of to that balance between horror and comedy that the franchise requires. If anyone has proved themselves worthy students of Craven, it’s them, but I’m sure that the late-lamented and much-missed Craven’s touch will leave something to be desired.
But even though he might never helm the franchise again, Craven created something impossibly important to horror with the Scream series. He proved that you could make a movie that balanced love for the genre and loving criticism of it in a way that produces both a great horror, and a great satire on the horror world at large in one. Scream is still the gold standard for meta-horror, and long may it reign in that title.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via JoBlo.com)