Carry On Screaming
Standing outside the cinema, waiting to see Scream VI, a woman eyeing the film’s poster turned to me and said, “Six? Why would anyone want to see another Scream?”. That’s a good fucking question, not least because Scream V – or Scream as it was annoyingly titled, signalling its legacy sequel and franchise re-launch vehicle credentials, appeared to confirm there wasn’t much left to say about horror movies and the weirdos who love them.
The reprise updated the meta-commentary on slashers, but it all felt a little old hat. Post-modernism was cool in 1996 – Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson found a fresh take on the genre, a formula that acknowledged our genre-literacy while providing well-orchestrated thrills. Scream (2022) didn’t have much new to say, other than we’re living through a period of nostalgia driven hell, but it was a huge, brand reviving hit, and so, just a year later, we’re back with our new characters in New York City, and yet another Ghostface obsessive on the prowl.
That introduction may imply the series is all stabbed out, but that would be unfair. Scream VI works hard from the outset to find a point of differentiation, and succeeds by having a copycat killer kill the copycat killers who are plotting to kill the Carpenter sisters – that’s the troubled daughter of original killer Billy Loomis and her once-estranged half-sister. Still with me?
Getting the usual suspects – namely horror-literate teens with a psychopathic bent, out of the way early, is a nice touch, as it gives the audience hope that something new may happen across the next two hours. Does it? Well, not really. This is a Scream movie, for God’s sake, so it has all the elements you’d expect – red herrings, gruesome setpieces, family psychodrama, and self-reflexivity. Yes, there’s a speech about legacy sequels, and so much talk of the in-universe “Stab” franchise that the lines start to blur as the gory killings play out. No one mentions the horrific spoof series – Scary Movie, but that’s a trauma no fan of the celluloid arts dare confront.
Returning directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are not Wes Craven, alas. They don’t have the old master’s eye or intuitive understanding of space when it comes to putting together stalk and slash episodes. One of the meta-commentaries in the movie suggests that whereas originals are sacrosanct (all the genre-literate characters agree that Craven’s 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street is the best), remakes can stand alongside as equals (Candyman). In other words, their Scream series is the equal to Craven’s.
Well, not quite boys. Scream VI is a fine sequel with some highly effective moments, and a better, character-orientated motive for its sadistic murders than last time. One’s left with the sense that the series, with one eye firmly on the war for Sam Carpenter’s soul – the daughter still receiving instructions from her dead, serial-killing Dad, has some untapped potential. But if Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett want to match the old maestro, they’ve going to need the crucial ingredient their well-calibrated sequels lack: style.