Everything You Need to Know Before Seeing ‘Scream’

*This article contains spoilers for “Scream” (1996), “Scream 2”, “Scream 3” and “Scream 4”

“What’s your favorite scary movie?”

If you consider yourself a fan of 90s nostalgia or the slasher genre, then any chapter of the “Scream” franchise is a likely answer to that chilling question. 2022 kicked off movies this year with the release of “Scream” (2022) on Jan. 14. Many fans of the first “Scream” film and its subsequent sequels have been eagerly awaiting the newest addition to the series. Newer horror fans may be looking forward to seeing the iconic “Ghostface” killer make a triumphant return to the big screen. Regardless, this article is your one stop shop for everything you need to know before seeing the newest installment in the “Scream” franchise. 

In 1996, Wes Craven introduced pop culture to a new kind of slasher horror. His story follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a teenager grieving as the one year anniversary of her mother’s murder approaches. She finds herself stalked by the enigmatic ghostface killer. After the brutal slaying of her peers Casey (Drew Barrymore), Steve (Kevin Patrick Wallace) and Tatum (Rose McGowan), Sidney must confront the truth about her mother’s past and discover the face(s) behind the masked figure. In the final confrontation, Sidney comes face to face with her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and friend Stu (Matthew Lillard) as the killers. 

Drew Barrymore as Casey in “Scream” 1996. Courtesy of Dimension Films.

After seemingly escaping from her hometown trauma, Sidney must cope with the events of “Scream 2”, “Scream 3” and “Scream 4” and the continuous killings by a figure wearing the iconic ghostface mask. Along with supporting cast Dewey (David Arquette), Gale (Courtney Cox) and Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Sidney must confront the killer within the settings of her college, a film production set and her hometown 15 years after the tragedy. With the release of the new film, it looks as though Sidney is once again returning to her hometown of Woodsboro.

An interesting element of the series is that the Ghostface killer is not a supernatural creature or even a singular person. While each of the installments in the franchise are slasher movies at heart, there is a whodunnit aspect to the films that helps to keep audiences on edge. It is enjoyable to guess who might be the killer and frustrating to watch your prime suspect get a knife in their back. Another way to keep the public guessing is by having more than one killer work together. Audiences in 1996 were shocked to discover that there were actually two faces behind the mask. This trend would continue throughout the majority of the sequels. While there is no guarantee there will be two killers in “Scream” (2022), one can speculate on the number of Ghostface killers in the film and viewers should look forward to trying to guess the identity of the new killer(s).

A key aspect of the “Scream” franchise is its own self awareness of horror movies. Originally directed by Wes Craven, the opening scene of the first movie pokes fun at “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (one of Craven’s most notable projects). Additionally, characters mock classic horror tropes like the girl running up the stairs instead of out the door while a killer is pursuing her. This self awareness culminates in an evaluation of the rules needed to survive a horror movie. These rules verbalize how the “final girl” survivor of horror movies is traditionally a virgin who never drinks or does drugs. The sequels continue with this meta theme by establishing the “Stab” movies (the movies within the movies). While the self awareness of the films allow for comedic opportunities, it also makes relatable characters about whom we care. If you have conversations about scary movies with your friends in real life, it becomes far more impactful to watch fictional characters die after having similar discussions. One should expect an element of meta humor going into “Scream” (2022) as long as the film follows in the footsteps of its predecessors. 

Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed in “Scream 4.” Courtesy of Dimension Films.

The self awareness of the “Scream” franchise was a game changer for horror in the late 90s and early 00s. It allowed for characters to try to make more logical decisions and avoid getting caught by the rules established in the 1996 film. Additionally, Kevin Williamson’s screenwriting results in his fictional characters acknowledging fictional movies in order to ground themselves in reality. One can see the influence of “Scream” in popular teen horror films like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (also penned by Kevin Williamson) and “Fear Street: 1994”.

We also cannot ignore the creative storytelling and strong characters brought to life by Williamson, Craven and each actors’ respective character. These movies are engaging and have remained relevant in large part due to how they breathe life into a genre which can easily get swept up by what the character Randy would call “a very simple formula.” Additionally, media trends change over the years. We, as audience members, want to hear commentary on what the new rules of the slasher genre follow. With any luck, “Scream” (2022) will grant our wishes.

While we can bury ourselves in the meta-humor of the franchise, we should also acknowledge the series’ ability to be genuinely scary. “Scream” still utilizes the classic jump scare tactic and suspenseful scenes where we won’t know the outcome until we see what happens. The realism of the series also makes scary moments all the more terrifying. Get ready to laugh and scream as the result of an effective scary movie.

If you are unable to marathon the first four “Scream” movies before booking your tickets for the newest sequel, it is important to keep in mind the legacy and stand-out aspects that make the franchise what it is. You are going into a film based on meta-humor and reality. Expect the unexpected while characters have conversations about the expected. Get ready for twists and turns and hold on to your popcorn so it doesn’t go flying on the first jump scare.

“Scream” (2022) is now in theaters and “Scream” (1996) is available to stream on Peacock.

By Nicole Parisi

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