A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one or more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is a way to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, in honor of the 13 Days of Halloween, Branden revisits one of his favorite film series: Scream.
Scream (1996, dir. Wes Craven)
What makes a film a classic? Is it simply a combination of age, critical success, and impact? Well Scream, now eighteen years old, fits all three of those molds, but more importantly in my eyes, is the fact that I can watch Scream over and over again, and still find something new to enjoy about it. From the humor, which really hit me on this latest viewing, to the brutality and cleverness of the script by Kevin Williamson, who is still making a name for himself today thanks to television (The Vampire Diaries, Stalker, and The Following to name a few). Scream is a bona fide classic.
The more horror films I watch over the years, the more jokes I get in Scream. Williamson and director Wes Craven know the genre as well as anyone, and the script is filled with nods to the classics that came before it. Even better than the in-jokes, though, is the way the script is handled by Craven, which manifests itself through the performances. The climax, which comes quickly thanks to Scream’s perfect pacing, is both brutal and hysterical. Matthew Lillard, who does not get enough major roles these days (though he has made a fine living as the new voice of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo), is absolutely perfect throughout the whole film. His character is hilarious, and even when is going over the top, he is still a blast to watch, which really only hit me this time around. I have always enjoyed David Arquette as Dewey, Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, Jamie Kennedy as Randy, and Neve Campbell as Sidney, but this is the first time I really appreciated the work of Lillard. It should also be said that I still find Skeet Ulrich terrible as Billy, and I don’t see that changing.
Scream ushered in the rebirth of not only the slasher genre, which I am obsessed with mostly because of seeing this film at such a young age, but also the horror genre as a whole. The early ‘90s was one of the low points in the history of horror, at least at the box office, and the vast majority of my favorite films of the decade come after the release of Scream, which shows the impact that this film has had on the film industry. I love Scream, and can’t imagine that many horror fans would disagree.
Scream 2 (1997, dir. Wes Craven)
Scream 2 is interesting because it is clearly a lesser film than the original, but still filled with a lot of great moments. In the sequel, which takes place two years after the original, sees the return of Ghostface. Sidney and Randy have moved on to University life. Sidney has a new boyfriend, and Randy is still infatuated with her. A new film is premiering, and it is the story of Sidney’s life – Stab – and it brings out the return of Ghostface. After a brutal killing in the theatre, Gail Weathers sees another book opportunity, so she makes her way back to Sidney, as does Dewey. In other words, the gang’s all here, and the sequel is ready to take off.
The best thing about the sequel has to be the acting. The cast is stellar, from the original four to all the new characters: Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joshua Jackson, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, and Jerry O’Connell. It really is a star-studded ‘90s casting job, and they do wonderful work with the script. Unfortunately, the script itself is weaker than the first, and it erroneously assumes that the Stab film will be enough to make the movie “clever”. Sure, it is fun, but it doesn’t last the length of the film, and it turns into a straight slasher film for most of its runtime, which isn’t terrible by any stretch, but not as refreshing as the original.
Scream 2 gets a lot of love, especially around the Cinefessions crew, and I can see where this stems from, but there is something missing from the flick as a whole that deludes it a bit. The reveal at the end is quite solid, though, and the kills are good enough. It also adds to the whole of the Scream universe, which is always a positive. Scream 2 is a good movie; it just cannot live up the standards set by the original.
Scream 3 (2000, dir. Wes Craven)
It is a new millennium, and the third sequel of the Stab series is filming in Hollywood. Cotton Weary (played excellently in this film and the last by Liev Schreiber) is making a living as a cable talk show host, and is seemingly living the good life. On his way one night, he receives a phone call from what sounds like an attractive female fan. He starts talking to her a bit, and the unknown voice quickly turns familiar, as it is Ghostface, once again stalking the former citizens of Woodsboro. This time around, Ghostface has the ability to sound like virtually anyone he wants to, which will be a major plot device throughout the whole film.
After Ghostface attacks Cotton and his girlfriend, this brings Sidney out of hiding, which, of course, brings together the whole gang of Sidney, Dewey, and Gail. Much like the second film, Gail and Dewey start out the film as “enemies”, which seems even sillier this time around. Fortunately, Randy makes an on-screen cameo in this film to let the cast know about the rules of a trilogy, which is a really cool moment.
The main thread throughout Scream 3’s story is the main cast trying to tie Sidney’s mother to Hollywood, and figure out why the killer is now terrorizing the young cast of Stab 3. What surprises me most about this film is that I manages to make the unlikelihood of the story work, which is a feat in itself, and if this were a true trilogy, it would be damn near perfect in terms of the story.
The problem with Scream 3 is that it parodies itself too much. I know this may sound like I’m being hypocritical because I implied that the lack of self-parody was a negative in Scream 2, but there is a line when it comes to this, and Scream 3 goes way too far the other way at times. Even in some of the kills, the fight scenes can be goofy, which takes away from the gravity of the film. The young cast of Stab 3 is played way over the top, which I actually liked because that is a theme that all the films use. Parker Posey, who I absolutely love, is hysterical in Scream 3 as the actress playing Gail Weathers. She stands out above the rest of the new cast.
What I love about Scream 3, though is that it starts out extremely well, with an opening that trumps Scream 2’s in every way, and ends with an incredible final climactic battle that is better than the finale of both the previous films in terms of action alone. The reveal is also great. Though this is a far cry from the first movie, there is a lot to enjoy about it if you can get past the goofiness of the middle act.
Scream 4 (2011, dir. Wes Craven)
I’ll never forget how I excited I was to see Scream 4 after it was announced. Me and a couple of my buddies from grad school all got together to see it in theatres the weekend it came out, and we all had an absolute blast. It was awesome getting to revisit Woodsboro’s most infamous residents, and I wrote a solid three and a half star review of the movie. I’m happy to report that seeing this film again for the first time since that theatrical viewing in 2011, I still think that virtually everyone else is wrong, and this is a really great movie that does nothing but add to the Scream universe.
On the tenth anniversary of the Woodsboro massacre, Sidney has decided to return to her hometown to do a book signing for her brand new bestseller about her life. To no one’s surprise, Ghostface has decided to make her stay as uncomfortable as possible, and the killings start again, this time being even more brutal than anything that has come before. This time around, we meet Sydney’s cousin, played really well by Emma Roberts, and her group of friends. The eye candy is off the charts as not only is Emma Roberts in, but also Hayden Panettiere, Alison Brie, and Marielle Jaffe. Needless to say, it is a very pretty cast.
This is another film with a great script by Kevin Williamson. It is a perfect mix of humor and brutality, which makes it feel like a mix of Scream 2 and Scream 3. The result is the best slasher film since the original debuted in 1996. There are some wonderful moments in the script, but the one that stands out most is when Hayden’s character rattles off a list of all the remakes and reboots that have been released in the last ten years in order to try and answer one of Ghostface’s questions. I was rolling in the theatre when I saw this scene, and was again on this second viewing.
The way that Williamson and Craven bring this series to the next generation is flawless. There is a lot of use of webcam, which works because it allows the killer to film his or her acts and broadcast the brutality around the world. This fits so well with today’s mentality of finding quick, easy fame while having zero talent. Rory Culkin plays Charlie, who is the Randy stand-in, and the one who explains the new rules of the horror film. Craven is not afraid to poke fun at himself, and especially the remake generation, which makes Scream 4 even more fun for those of us who grew up loving horror during that time.
Scream 4 is a ton of fun. It is hilarious, sexy, and brutal, often at the same time. The story works well in this universe, and though we may not have “needed” another sequel in this franchise, it’s a welcome addition. I want to see Scream 5, but it’s starting to look like that may never happen. That’s upsetting as this was a planned trilogy, and one that has the potential to trump the original trilogy in almost every way. Until then, we will just have to enjoy an excellent “quadrilogy”, and a potential television series (though rumor has it that they are not using the Ghostface costume in the TV show, which makes me question why in the hell they are even calling it a Scream TV series).
I cannot recommend Scream 4 enough. It is a perfect display of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s talents, and rights every wrong that some believe Scream 3 may have committed.
The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)
Best Picture: Scream
As much as I love Scream 4 there is nothing that can top the impact and excellence of the original film.
Worst Picture: Scream 2 (2000)
It is silly to say that Scream 2 is the “worst picture”, but it is the one I liked the least this time around. It misses the mark on a couple key elements, but is still a good movie.
Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: “What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie” Scene (Scream)
There are a lot of good scenes in this series, but this is a no-brainer. The fact that Craven kills off the poster girl in the first 13-minutes is nothing short of brilliant, and there’s a reason why everyone knows what movie the line “what’s your favorite scary movie” comes from.
Best Actress: Neve Campbell (Scream 4)
With age comes experience, and Neve Campbell’s work in Scream 4 is my favorite iteration of Sydney. She is subtle, wise, and strong in this film, and though she always does a nice job in this series, Scream 4 is definitely her best effort.
Best Actor: Matthew Lillard (Scream)
Lillard’s work in Scream is something special, and I’m shocked that took me this many viewings to truly appreciate him. He plays his role with incredible believability and finds the humor in all the right places.
The average film rating for the Scream film series is 3.38 stars.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.