(Audio version of the review available here)
In the 70s and 80s, the horror genre went through a golden age of a new genre; the slasher. Taking cues from thrillers of the past, such as Psycho, the slasher genre upped the violence, upped the blood and upped the nudity, creating shocking, straightforward films that could usually be made on a low budget. While many of the films had their own distinct voices and styles, most if not all abided by a set of unspoken rules that would define the genre for decades. If you were a sexually promiscuous teen who couldn’t keep it in your pants for 5 minutes, then you were as good as dead. If you were a quiet, bookish, responsible “virgin” (and also a girl) you were pretty much guaranteed to make it to the end to fight off the psychotic masked killer. As time went on and films continued to follow this established formula, filmmakers and audiences alike began to clue into these unwritten guidelines.
By the mid 90s, horror had entered what many would later refer to as the “post-modern era”. Filmmakers were now wising up, flipping the formula on its head and delivering slashers that built upon the established groundwork laid before them. However, horror legend Wes Craven, who previously brought the world A Nightmare on Elm Street, decided to delve even deeper into the genre’s tropes, using these pre-established rules to create a horror meta-commentary that would captivate the world once again. This film was 1996’s Scream.
On paper it sounds like more of the same; a masked killer going around murdering young teens when they least expect it. What makes this film different is that the victims are now aware of the slasher rules. They grew up on Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th. Some of the teens are what could be called “experts”, having enough smarts to know not to go in that basement by yourself while a killer is on the loose. This added awareness made it fun for audiences to follow along, as well as challenging the film itself to work around those guidelines to create a twist that few would expect. The film was and continues to a huge success, inspiring films like Scary Movie and Cabin in the Woods that also used these well known tropes to create new, entertaining stories.
Fast forward to today and the slasher genre isn’t really what it used to be. From the 2000s to now, everyone and their mother had made a slasher film, with the stories growing staler and staler over time. If it’s not a no-budget, direct to DVD movie, it’s a remake, reboot or sequel to an already established IP that usually falls flat with audiences and critics. Scream was no different, with it’s last addition to the franchise being Scream 4 in 2011. It got to the point where the franchise was falling into the trappings of the very tropes it set to dissect. It was obvious that without any new ideas or commentary on the state of horror movies, Scream was better off left to rest.
Now it’s 2022, and horror movies have once again gone through a renaissance in the past several years. A new breed of “elevated horror” movies have found their way into the mainstream, using familiar horrors and pumping them full of emotional and psychological anguish. I’ll admit, horror has gotten a bit more artsy and occasionally pretentious than one ever thought it could, but this natural evolution for the genre has been welcoming from fans and critics alike. With a new age of horror ushered in, the fuse was lit for the king of horror commentary to make a comeback and give us a new perspective on the changing horror landscape.
The appropriately annoyingly titled Scream, which we’ll just refer to as Scream 5, feels like the Scream of yesteryear. It takes a darkly comedic approach to masked serial killing while poking fun at not only the state of horror, but also the state of Hollywood clinging onto the past and riding off past successes to cheaply cash in on nostalgia. Ironic, considering this film isn’t exactly innocent of the very things it criticizes. Meant to be a dissection of sequels and the unoriginality that spawns from it, the film doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the genre or the franchise as a whole. It’s hyper aware characters are fun enough to follow, and the returning legacy characters are given a bit of time to shine, but overall it feels like whatever they were trying to critique in this story ended up bleeding into the pages themselves.
25 years after the events of the original Scream took place, a killer going around dressed as the iconic Ghostface is once again wreaking havoc on the town of Woodsboro. A high schooler named Tara (Jenna Ortega) is attacked in her home by the killer one night, but miraculously survives. This prompts her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) to return to town, with Sam harboring a secret that caused a ripple between her family years ago. With the killer still at large, Sam and Tara’s friends begin to become suspicious of one another, with the killer potentially being any one of them.
If you’ve seen the original than you’ll recognize a lot of these story beats. The killer causes havoc, the characters sleuth over who they could be, and the killer is finally revealed through a big twist. Not exactly a new take for the franchise, but a familiar one that undoubtedly works. The characters this time around are much more suspicious of one another, with passive aggressive comments flung any which way as they try to deduce who the killer may be. Armed with the knowledge of slashers of the past, the group begins to turn against one another as the killer adds to their body count. For how much they seem aware of all the tropes that usually gets characters killed, they sure do fall for them a lot. It could have been nice to see them using this knowledge to one up the killer more often, but the film still goes a predictable route of having its characters picked off one by one, usually as a result of a stupid decision. It makes everything feel a bit too familiar, which is funny considering how much they crap on Hollywood for doing the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see movies having self awareness about laziness in sequels and reboots, but when the movie doesn’t do much to deviate from the past, their meta-commentary really doesn’t carry as much weight. It’s fully aware it’s a sequel and acknowledges the shortcomings of franchises who have made similar decisions in the past, but then it goes and does the exact same things it just criticized. This attempt to appear meta begins to appear so shallow when you realize the formula is barely adjusted to subvert audience expectations. Having the killer’s identity be a shocking twist is now expected, so this trope is no longer as impactful as it was nearly 30 years ago. It jokes about nostalgia bate, but then brings back several returning characters like Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) to varying degrees of usefulness. Hell, it even jokes about the fact that it’s called Scream when the original shares the same name. Is it funny? Kind of, but how am I suppose to feel about it? Are the characters in this film who express frustration over modern horror movies relying on cash grab tactics right, or are they being made fun of? The film doesn’t really seem to have an answer, being meta for the sake of being meta.
If you ignore all that nonsense, the film is at least competent in its execution. The characters are entertaining enough to watch, like Tara and her A24 horror tastes and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and her borderline 4th-wall breaking awareness. The kills are pretty brutal, even if they don’t push the envelope very far. Even though each is preceded by an expected jump scare, the film has a ton of fake outs that are actually pretty funny. How many times have we seen someone open a door only to have the killer appear right behind it as soon as it closes? This subtle playfulness with these tropes are much more welcome than characters just snidely stating the obvious to the audience. There’s genuine tension in some of the scenes because the films knows how to manipulate your expectations in a way that doesn’t always feel cheap. By the time the climax rolls around, the blood starts to spill at full capacity, and while the twist isn’t exactly mind blowing, it’s fun enough to accept. Maybe that’s all this film is; harmless, simple fun.
The slasher genre is a shell of its former self, and it would be too much of a stylistic departure to simulate the more artsy horror movies dominating the market today, so this film’s existence just feels needless. The film is undoubtedly short-term fun, especially if you’re a fan of the series, but it either feels like the film didn’t know what it wants to be or it’s lying to itself. It’s commentary on the current state of horror isn’t any less valid, but it’s simply inconsequential to the narrative, almost like they took the original film and plugged in the updated dialogue. It plays out with little innovation and little surprises, failing to give the franchise the boost it needs to continue in an era of a new horror landscape. Scream, a film known for being on the pulse of past trends, almost makes the new Scream 5 look like a flatline not only for the franchise, but maybe even the slasher genre as a whole. Fans are sure to get a kick out of the callbacks, but even I can’t rationalize this one.
If Hollywood comes calling for a “requel”, maybe it’s best to not answer the phone.
There’s two things I associated January with: desserts and underperforming horror movies. I’m not sure what it is, but the cold weather outside somehow electrifies my sweet tooth, while horror movies studios assumingely have little faith in are dumped into theaters at the beginning of the year in hopes of getting lucky. It only seemed fitting to combine these two truths together to create a sweet, creamy and flavorful desert cocktail in the visage of Scream’s iconic killer, Ghostface. This rich cocktail carries a healthy balance of coffee, chocolate and mint flavors, topped off with a healthy shaving of bitter dark chocolate to further balance the drink out. Cocktail stenciling can be a fun but tricky way to spruce up any cocktail, so be sure to take time and care in measuring and cutting your stencil. The sturdier the material the better. Also, try to use a nice boxcutter or straight razor to make those delicate cuts. While kitchen knives are ideal for slicing and dicing teenagers, they’re a bit too much when it comes to stenciling.
- 2oz bourbon
- 3/4oz coffee liqueur
- 3/4oz chocolate liqueur
- 3/4oz creme de menthe
- 3/4oz half and half
- Garnish: Dark chocolate
- Before preparing the drink, create a Ghostface stencil. It’s best to use a sturdy material like plastic, but paper will also work.
- Combine the ingredients in a shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Using your stencil, grate the dark chocolate on top of the cocktail to make your image.