Being born on the day that I was made for an interesting way of keeping track of time with regards to school when I was a kid. One of my dearest friends was born on October 27th, which meant that she spent her childhood believing that her favorite movies, which were all Halloween-oriented, came on television in honor of her, which leant her younger years a little bit of magic that was sorely needed. My birthday always landed during or after the last week of school, so much so that I turned 18 the day after I graduated from high school, and my college graduation was also exactly one day prior to my birthday. I know this will finally be the thing that dates me after I’ve played so coy over the years about how old I am, but I finished fifth grade in 1998, and one of my classmates came home with me for a birthday sleepover. My next-door neighbor, a girl a few years older than I was, secretly snuck me a VHS tape of a movie that she had recorded off of HBO, for us to watch on the tiny TV/VCR combo that I got for my birthday that year. I didn’t know it, but my whole world was about to change, not because I was turning 11, but because an extremely meta horror film was about to stab me in the brain and change everything that I thought I knew about how movies worked. It’s been 25 years, and I’m still just as in love with it, as well as (all but one of) the sequels it spawned in the intervening time. What’s your favorite scary movie … franchise?
Scream VI is a delight. After a fairly decent return to the world of Ghostfaces and voice changers in 5cream, this new installment lands on its feet despite the departure of the franchise’s main lead, Neve Campbell. Don’t get me wrong; I love Neve Campbell, and I love Sidney Prescott. In fact, I went to two separate screenings of Scream VI just 48 hours apart because I overbooked myself, and I wore a different Sidney Prescott t-shirt to each one, which is a testament to the fact that she is my favorite final girl. Somehow, despite her leaving this series after the last film, Scream VI manages to not only soldier on in her absence, but feel complete in spite of it; in fact, her absence is barely felt at all. This loss is mitigated by several mentions of her and the agreement between the lone veteran of the first film, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and new lead Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) that Sidney “deserves her happy ending” with her husband and children far, far away from whatever Ghostface copycat shenanigans are happening in New York, to which I also whole-heartedly agree. It’s a shame that the studio wasn’t willing to meet her salary requirements (a friend asked me how much Campbell asked for and I have no idea what her fee would have been, but she is worth every penny that they refused to pay), but if she’s not going to be in it, I’m hard pressed to think of a kinder send-off than she got. The news that VI would bring back fan-favorite Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) was the only thing that kept me from writing this sequel off when it was in development last year, and her return is one of countless elements that make this film feel like it’s living up to the franchise’s legacy in spite of the loss of its star.
It’s been a year since the events of the last film, in which Sam Carpenter returned to her hometown of Woodsboro, a town that’s rapidly heading towards overtaking Cabot Cove as the murder capital of small town America. After years of running from her past after discovering that the man who raised her was not her father and that she was actually sired by infamous serial killer Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich)—who, alongside Stu Macher (Matt Lillard) went on a spree in 1996 that formed the plot of both Scream and its in-universe adaptation Stab—Sam returned to the town to protect her sister from the latest killer(s) to don the Ghostface mask. In the intervening twelve months, she has become the subject of a widespread online conspiracy theory that she, as Billy Loomis’s daughter, was the true mastermind behind the 2022 Woodsboro spree and that she framed the guilty parties. Now living in NYC with her younger sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), who attends Blackmore University as a freshman, Sam is struggling not only with PTSD but the fact that it felt good to kill her tormentors, and she’s worried that it’s her father’s legacy still living inside of her. Also at Blackmore are Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding), twin niece and nephew of Sidney’s friend and classmate Randy, originator of “the rules.” Aside from these characters, introduced in the last film, we also meet: Quinn (Liana Liberato), the sex positive roommate of the Carpenter sisters; her father, Detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), who transferred to the NYPD when Quinn went off to college because of his guilt over the loss of his son, her brother; Ethan (Jack Champion), Chad’s shy, nebbish roommate; Anika (Devyn Nekoda), Mindy’s under-characterized girlfriend; and Danny (Josh Segarra), Sam and Tara’s neighbor, whom Sam has been snogging in secret.
After a fun and effective twist on the opening scene formula that I won’t spoil here, Sam becomes a primary suspect in the slaying of two of Tara’s classmates, including “chode” Jason (Tony Revolori), a noted Argento freak (he even dies wearing a 4 mosche di veluto grigio shirt). The sympathetic Bailey is heading up the investigation and reveals that the killer left a Ghostface mask at the scene of the crime, which forensic evidence indicates was one of the masks used by the killer(s) in the previous installment; he gets an unexpected assist from Atlanta-based FBI agent Kirby Reed, who shows off the scars that Ghostface 2011 gave her. Despite some bad blood between herself and the Carpenters as the result of portraying Sam as a “born killer” in her latest book, a major crack in the case comes from longtime Ghostface opponent Gale Weathers, who finds a shrine to all of the previous killers and their victims in an abandoned theatre. From there, bodies start to rack up and more Ghostface masks are left behind at the scenes like Easter eggs, counting down from the killers in Scream 4 to 3 to 2, etc., leading up to a climax where no one is safe and no one can be trusted.
What is your favorite scary movie franchise? Obviously, mine is Scream, but that wasn’t always the case. For many years, I was a Nightmare on Elm Street kid, through and through. What Craven’s earlier franchise had that made it stand out from so many other slasher empires was an increased focus on the continuity of characters between entries. Even though Nancy Thompson didn’t make it out of Dream Warriors alive, she effectively passed the baton to Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette in Warriors, Tuesday Knight in Dream Master), who passed it on to Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox), who becomes a final girl par excellence, in my opinion. The Scream franchise has remained one of the most consistent with regards to its core cast and with its content, with every film (other than Scream 3) being good-to-great and subverting the trend of recasting characters between films that was common in earlier slasher series (see above, re: Kristen Parker, but also Tommy in the Friday the 13th films, Andy in the Chucky movies, Mike in the Phantasms, Angela in Sleepaway Camp 2, and on and on). People didn’t go to the movies to see Jason Lives because they cared about the characters from A New Beginning; they went to see Jason Voorhees kill a bunch of teenagers. Scream isn’t about that; it’s about commenting on that phenomenon, and as a series, it’s important to remember that the ever-changing killer behind the infamous mask allows for Scream to reinvent itself by evolving its storytelling and maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the genre of which it is both text and annotation. Nightmare laid this groundwork by straddling this line, with Nancy and Alice as characters that one cared about alongside the primary franchise driver in the form of Robert Englund’s Freddy. Scream is this concept in culmination; 5cream being willing to kill off Dewey (David Arquette), a character who has been with us since 1996, not only reiterated that no one was safe but also that horror isn’t just about fright and suspense and terror and surprise, but also about sorrow. I won’t spoil anything, but Gale takes some real hard hits in this one, and because I’ve known Gale since I was a child, I felt a profound sense of possible loss, which isn’t something you can say about Dream Child or Jason Lives (or Hellraiser: Hellseeker or The Curse of Michael Myers or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, etc.).
In the year since 5cream, one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about the film had to do with Melissa Barrera’s purported lack of acting ability, and although I never participated in the spread of that complaint, I must admit that I agreed. I’m happy to report that I have no such complaints about her performance in Scream VI, where she really shines. Last time, Sam was wooden, unyielding, and didn’t seem to have chemistry with a single one of her co-stars; this time around, a large part of the film’s emotional weight requires a real sense of sisterhood between Ortega and Barrera, and the latter brought her A-game to the table this time. There’s a veritas and a humanity to the way that Sam worries about her younger sister’s refusal to process their shared trauma, and there’s just as much honesty in the way that Tara feels smothered by her long-absent sister’s overprotective return to her life; it would be easy for either character to seem unreasonable, but neither does, and that’s good conflict to find in the middle of this latest slasher sequel. It’s interwoven beautifully with the actual text as well, as, in the finale, both girls’ survival demands that Sam literally let Tara go, which is a nice touch.
Overall, this is a strong sequel in a very strong franchise, possibly the horror franchise with the best hit to miss ration (5:1, in my book, and even the dud has Parker Posey to liven it up, so that’s something). Even though there are moments that are questionable (some of the people we see attacked should not have survived what happened to them), there are more than enough great sequences, character beats, and thrills to make up for them.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond