Heather Knight is a lifelong fan of horror with a special fondness for remakes and reboots, no matter how terrible. She also loves true crime and spends way too much time on Twitter, so frankly, Scream 4 felt like a gigantic personal callout. Well done, Wes Craven (also R.I.P, you are sorely missed). She mostly reads comics and Stephen King novels, drinks a lot of coffee and likes to watch scary movies first thing in the morning. Sidney Prescott and Laurie Strode are her heroes. Also shout-out to everyone else who had very confusing feelings about Billy Loomis in the ’90s. Catch her on Twitter @moriarteas for more horror talk and general ramblings!
As a teen, I was that weird girl who was obsessed with scary movies. The Randy Meeks of my high school, if you will. Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th. I loved and appreciated all the classics, but Scream was my first.
It was instrumental in my passion for the entire genre, opening my eyes to many of the horror movies it pays homage to throughout the film. It also showed me the incredible depth and potential in horror stories, and the humanity in them that really makes them special. On the surface, Scream relies on clever horror movie references and pop-culture trivia to make its point with an unforgiving, self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s also a thoughtful, unique tribute that deconstructs while redefining the slasher genre itself. It might not be the most sophisticated movie ever made, but at its core, Scream is a very human look at personal trauma and loss. It’s also about the legacy it left behind.
The opening scene is one of the most iconic and chilling of any I’ve ever watched. Major star Drew Barrymore’s blonde character being killed off in the first scene, a nod to Janet Leigh in Psycho, masterfully sets the tone for a movie that plays into all of the classic horror movie tropes while also letting the audience know that it’s still in it for the genuine scares. In one scene, it taps into some of your deepest fears. The home you’ve grown up in is no longer safe. The rules of nature don’t care that being a parent should mean you won’t have to bury your own children someday, and Casey’s mother’s anguished words of “Not my daughter” will always be a little devastating no matter how many times I watch it.
Horror that can make you feel something other than detached fear is the best kind.
It’s easy to make a horror movie full of one-dimensional characters you never get around to caring about and impersonal kills that leave you mostly numb to the experience when you’re not reacting to the cheap jump scares. Scream has plenty of the latter, but they aren’t the only thing that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It makes things personal.
The movie itself has a very simple formula that you can find in a lot of horror films — like a group of teens stalked by a masked killer and a Final Girl with a tragic past that comes back to haunt her. Scream somehow masters walking the line between ridiculous and sinister; the killer calling its victims and asking them what their favorite scary movie is shouldn’t be as creepy as it often comes across. However, the film often succeeds at being genuinely terrifying even while it’s poking fun at horror movie cliches. But nothing shines brighter than Scream’s Final Girl.
Sidney Prescott is my Final Girl. Before Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson or Sally Hardesty came into my life, Sidney was the one. We watch her deal with things like a lot of kids in high school — malicious gossip, the pressures of sex and finding out that the guy you’re dating might not be who you thought he was, all on top of the fact that a psycho killer in a mask starts targeting her and her friends on the anniversary of her mother’s murder. But even with the odds stacked against her, Sidney always finds a way to keep fighting. We never see her give up. As a teenager myself, Sidney taught me something about being brave.
Scream’s legacy is also built on the social commentary of violence in the media, done in an over-the-top meta fashion with its killers even claiming inspiration from the violence they’ve seen in the scary movies they worship and won’t stop quoting. It’s also known for its self-awareness, mimicking the general structure of a horror movie to criticize the industry’s habit for recycling and remakes. It’s a film of the ’90s but its critique on the obsession over pop culture as the politics of the 21st century — and how our society consumes it — remains relevant 20-plus years later, and I still see its influences today. Scream left a mark that made way for fellow teen slashers I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, as well as more recent films like The Final Girls, The Cabin in the Woods and It Follows, as well as updated remakes including Sorority Row, My Bloody Valentine, and Prom Night that follow the classic horror-movie formula while also being brave enough to take some risks. In so many ways, Scream broke the mold.
The first Scream follows the pattern of the virginal Final Girl, pitting her against the standard “rules” that you’re supposed to follow in order to survive a horror movie. Archaic rules like “Don’t have sex,” “Don’t drink or do drugs” and “If you’re being chased by a psycho killer? Don’t go up the stairs, idiot, run out the front door!” The same rules that Scream’s Final Girl breaks before she starts making up her own. She gives up her virginity and still survives, ultimately taking control of her own life in a big middle finger to the misogynistic laws of horror movies that have plagued the women in their stories for decades.
Sidney is the perfect Final Girl for a more modern age, one who punches back instead of just running away. Over time, we see how she’s learned from her past mistakes and outgrown the classic tropes. She evolves. She’s not just another Final Girl by process of elimination; the film really wants you to know who Sidney Prescott is — what she’s been through, what motivates her. By the end of the first movie, rooting for Sidney feels personal, and that relationship between her and the viewer only grows stronger in the later films.
Scream 2’s brilliance is in the character work while being an overall mediocre film, illustrating how the survivors trying to move on have been left physically and psychologically scarred. Sidney is in college, opening herself up to dating someone new after her ex-boyfriend tried to kill her. When a new killer shows up to terrorize her and her friends, Sidney re-learns some hard lessons and prevails again.
In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the irony that Scream 3 was produced by Harvey Weinstein isn’t lost, while the message of Scream 3 resonates with a brutal line like, “Hollywood is full of criminals whose careers are flourishing.” The film itself is a scathing picture of corruption in the film industry and how women are treated in Hollywood, illuminating the kind of exploitation and violence that still persists today. It also doubles down on Hollywood’s obsession with sequels and reboots, as well as its habit for shamelessly capitalizing on trauma for sales in true meta form as you watch Scream characters collide with stars of the fictional Stab series based off of the real-life horrors that took place in their teens. Sidney is battling PTSD and has isolated herself from the world, working anonymously as a women’s crisis counselor until a killer emerges with a vengeance and she once again fights for her life.
Scream 4 brings us full circle with a new generation of characters and some of the old favorites. Ten years later, it’s Scream for the social media age, a reflection on our obsession with media to the point that it’s left us desensitized to real world violence. With a killer who films the murders to put them online for a chance at fame, it examines the lengths toward which people will go to get famous and America’s morbid fascination with serial killers in a post-Bundy and Manson world where fame and murder often go hand in hand. Now as an adult, Sidney’s on a book tour that brings her back to her hometown of Woodsboro for the memoir she wrote about her traumatic experiences — called Out of Darkness — when another Ghostface killer appears and bodies start dropping in the place where it all began.
Over the years, I’ve watched Sidney Prescott punch her attackers in the face, kick and claw her way to safety, I’ve seen her take a hit and get right back up again. This Final Girl is a PTSD survivor who, through four films, is actually allowed to evolve. She’s a fighter. She was the first to make me realize that when bad things happen to you, you don’t have to just lie down and take them. You can fight like hell to stop them. What Would Sidney Do?
Delusional boyfriend and serial killer Billy Loomis insisted in the first film that all of life is one big movie, only you don’t get to pick your genre. But Sidney openly defies that idea of not being in control at the end of Scream in declaring “Not in my movie,” right before shooting Billy in the head. Because that’s the kind of Final Girl she is. Sidney Prescott is a Final Girl we desperately need — flawed, scarred, but radiating strength and perseverance. Her journey is on par with Laurie Strode’s ultimate transformation into the kind of take-back-the-night-wielding badass we see in the latest Halloween film, parallels that further convince me of Sidney’s vital role in the history of the Final Girl. She’s been through hell but she never stops fighting, and by the end of the fourth film we see how she’s taken her life back.
Scream redefined the slasher genre under the direction of the late Wes Craven, inspiring a generation of horror films over the next 20 years — including a TV series in addition to the three additional films — but the first movie will always hold up as a solid original. The combination of comedy, tragedy, camp and genuine horror makes it something unique and impossible to replace, reiterated in Scream 4 after an earlier claim that you make a reboot to outdo the original and our heroine Sidney Prescott triumphantly says, “You forgot the first rule of remakes. Don’t fuck with the original” after putting down another Ghostface killer in a surprisingly excellent fourth film that also amplifies the legacy of the first film.
Ultimately, it’s the really personal ways in which Scream uses horror to reach its audience that keeps me coming back to it well into my 30s. There’s always something new to learn: Everybody’s a suspect,. Never investigate a strange noise when you’re home alone. Sometimes your boyfriend will end up dead, or the killer, but you’ll get through it.
For me, horror movies have never been about the scares. They’re about hope and survival, testing your limits and finding your strength. Scream does this while showing us how to break the cycle and start making up our own rules to survive. The movie might end in tragedy, but there’s also a real feeling that there’s something after all the horror and the violence. Scream is about trauma, grief and finding your way out of the darkness.
And let’s face it, we all want to be in the sequel.
For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is everyone’s No Sleep October.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2018
Blue Sunshine — James Ledesma
Spoorloos (The Vanishing) — Andrew Kimmel
The Devil’s Candy — Joshua Hull
FYFF Horror Marathon 2018 — Evan Dossey
Cat People (1942) — Aly Caviness
The Child’s Play Series — Salem
The Shining (1980) — Dave Gutierrez
Hellroller — Richard Propes
Poltergeist III — Greg Lindberg
The Witch — Rick Dossey
The Frankenstein Cycle — Lou Harry
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors — Sam Watermeier
Eastern Horrors — Alex Holmes
Unfriended — Austin Lugar
Freaks (1932) — Alys Caviness-Gober
As Above, So Below — Jonathan Curole
The Beyond — Nick Rogers
The Dentist — Mitch Ringenberg
The Halloween Franchise — Evan Dossey