With the new Scream television series already renewed for a second season, it seem unlikely Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette) will return to the big screen anytime soon. Bob Weinstein has even said so in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, conscious not to flood the market as the franchise transitions to a different medium. Of course, the studio big wig can always change his mind, should the show gain enough traction to revive the brand, but I, for one, could stand to wait a few years, if only so Scream 5 can feel like an event.
It’s easy to forget how much impact the original Scream had in 1996, the way its makers ushered into the mainstream both slasher cinema and the postmodern aesthetic. Few horror directors can claim to have defined the genre for an entire generation. Somehow, though, Wes Craven has managed it twice, establishing the “dead teenager” formula with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and then picking it apart just twelve years later. Of course, he’d deconstructed the scary movie before in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), but it took screenwriter Kevin Williamson to capture the cynical, pop-culture-obsessed zeitgeist of the nineties.
To get an inkling of the film’s influence, one need only look at the posters that filled theatres in subsequent years, each with their own row of sexy, nonchalant youths staring straight at the camera. From Urban Legend (1998) to Valentine (2001), these knock-offs all focus on the whodunit plot and the suspects spouting off snotty zingers like TMZ correspondents. However, as Scream 2 (1997) demonstrates, the true appeal of Williamson’s voice lies in his characters’ warmth, how their savvy dialogue echoes our own passion for cinema. When Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) argue over the merits of Aliens (1986) as a sequel, we mostly laugh because we remember having the exact same conversation with our friends.
In a way, the Scream franchise’s biggest contribution to slasher cinema was to bring the heroes back to the forefront. Whereas Freddy, Michael, and Jason remain the same monsters throughout their respective series, Ghostface changes motives and identity with each new instalment, leaving the returning survivors to serve as our focal point. For all its flaws, even Scream 3 (2000) sticks to this model, providing Sidney with a full arc that draws an amusing parallel between her traumatic “final girl” status and unwanted fame. I just wish substitute screenwriter Ehren Krueger had shown more teeth in his satire, given how savagely the first two instalments skewered anti-horror activists for confusing media exposure with moral high ground.
Then again, perhaps the joke had run its course. By the turn of the century, Scream had left such an indelible mark on scary movies that all them meta-comments were starting to feel incestuous. Wisely, Craven and Williamson waited a full decade before revisiting the well, allowing the genre to evolve with the likes of Saw (2004) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). The advent of torture porn and gritty Platinum Dunes remakes provided Scream 4 (2011) with a clear mission statement: to remind us that heroism still has a place in horror. As if in protest of current slashers, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey came across less like savvy insiders than bemused veterans, and I think they should remain that way.
Let the cast from the MTV show speak for millennial teens. Not only are Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) and her friends the correct age, they’ve proven themselves worthy characters in their own right. I had my misgivings about the pilot episode, but Scream: The TV Series has won me over with its tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a generation that lives and dies on smartphone screens. I mean, say what you will about the killer’s goofy-looking mask (imagine the original Ghostface giving a blowjob); the notion of our baddie taking a murder selfie is both unsettling and hilarious in a way that truly captures the spirit of Scream.
What the original characters offer, though, is an opportunity to pass judgment on tomorrow’s slashers from yesterday’s perspective. Imagine, six years from now, Sidney and the gang returning to poke fun at a whole new gamut of clichés, all the while piecing together how we, as a culture, got to this place. Heck, throw in the MTV kids for a generational crossover wherein every victim has got enough of a following to break our hearts! You see, Scream has become part of history both from a cinematic and cultural standpoint, but I see no reason why it can’t turn up in our future as well…
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