Back in ancient times, when people still cared about blogs, it was confrontational titles such as this one that always generated the most of those sweet sweet clicks for me, as well as comments declaring that I’m totally wrong and/or old and bitter (valid criticisms, I’ll admit). But I never do this out of crass desire for traffic – obviously, I mean (gestures vaguely) look at this. And I rarely think negatively upon Halloween, horror, or anywhere that those intersect.
That’s why it pains me to declare that Scream 5 (yes, Scream FIVE) is not looking promising at all.
Way back when, I wrote a whole article expressing disappointment about Scream 4, Wes Craven’s final movie and one that utterly failed to make good on its promises to bring something new to the table. Ostensibly, the 4th movie was intended to comment on the already-tired trend of remakes and reboots, as well as disregard “plot armor” for the main characters. Lo and behold, the actual movie failed to accomplish any of that. Sidney, Gale and Dewey all survived yet again, and whatever lip service they paid to the concept of “remake rules” wasn’t reflected at all in the events of the film. We got yet another cast of interchangeable teen hotties, another whodunit mystery filled with red herrings, and another pair of killers with one having, yes, another personal vendetta against Sidney Prescott (seriously, why does everyone in the world want revenge on this woman?).
So, with another decade having passed, and a few more trends in horror cinema having fired up, while others have run their course, where could the Scream franchise possibly go in the 2020’s? Let’s watch the trailer and find out:
Alright, so here’s what I gathered from this trailer: Cast full of relatively unknown young hot people. Check. Sidney, Gale, and Dewey all returning (and looking old AF in certain cases…). Check. January release date (uh oh). And an example of the oh-so-trendy modern naming convention of titling a direct sequel identically to the original film in a franchise. Yucky check.
Rant Time: I hate this trend. Absolutely abhor it. The Thing 2011. Halloween 2018. Candyman 2021. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022. Now “Scream”. It’s a technique that is deliberately calculated to confuse audiences into thinking that they’re not going to see “just another sequel”. Some of the movies I named above are actually good, but I hate having to differentiate movies by release year; it’s so awkward. In fact, with Halloween Kills releasing this week, when somebody less versed in the machinations of the film industry asks me about “the new Halloween”, it’s hard for me to figure out which movie they’re talking about. That is why having unique titles is important.
In this case, we’re literally talking about Scream 5. There’s no ignoring previous continuity here. It’s not a “soft reboot”. It’s just the fifth Scream movie. Whoever worked on the official logo slyly elongated the downward point of the letter M to resemble a Roman numeral 5, but that’s the only acknowledgement we get about the true nature of this movie.
Anyway, this pretty much looks like another Scream 4. Unless it’s carefully tiptoeing around huge reveals, there doesn’t appear to be any radical new approach going on here. They’re hinting at a direct personal link with past killers and just… ugh. How did Scream become this? How did it move from being one step ahead of every slasher movie cliche to wallowing in its own unchanging formula time after time? The days of Scream movies being fun, unpredictable deconstructions of horror ended at the second entry. Now it’s just going through the motions.
I also can’t believe how utterly humorless this trailer is. The original Scream was half comedy. But just saying the words “there are certain rules to surviving” isn’t cutting it anymore. We know the “rules” of the Scream franchise quite well by now and it has thus far refused to break any of them. And that’s boring.
Look, it’s possible this movie has some huge trick up its sleeve. I sincerely hope it does. But the January release date is a gigantic red flag. With precious few exceptions, January is where studios dump the movies they have little faith in. It’s definitely not the month you want to see a long-awaited entry in a lucrative horror franchise. It’s a bad sign that the studio didn’t try to get this out in October, the actual film having been completed in July.
Horror fans might be wanting to counter my doubts by pointing out that this Scream was developed by the duo behind the excellent Ready or Not. But as we’ve all seen countless times in the past, handing the reins of a long-running franchise to a director hot off of one sleeper hit doesn’t always pan out. See Blair Witch 2016.
Anyway, precisely as I did after Scream 4, I shall now spitball a handful of ideas for what a fifth Scream movie could do to surprise all of us, so I can think about what could have been when Ghostface removes his mask and explains to Sidney that he’s Billy Loomis’s long-lost brother or some shit, and monologues until another character shoots him dead to the collective yawns of the audience.
- Kill off all three returning characters in the opening scene. I would LOVE this. It would be truly shocking, ballsy, and make the audience feel totally flat-footed in terms of predicting the rest of the story. Plus, it would nicely mirror the opening scene of the original Scream.
- Ghostface is just a copycat nobody. The killer(s) in every Scream movie always have a secret identity and some eye-rolling motivation for their killing, while always somehow failing to murder the true original target, which is always Sidney. I would love for them to drop this and have the killer be some deranged lunatic who doesn’t even have a clear motivation. The “this is why I did it” monologue is thoroughly played out.
- There are several Ghostface’s. The killer in every single Scream movie (except 3) was one mastermind and one accomplice used to deflect suspicion. This was a brilliant twist in the first Scream but is now simply part of the formula. We’re conditioned to expect two killers. So imagine if Scream 5’s Ghostface were some kind of murder cult and you never knew how many killers there were. It would be terrifying.
- Subvert the kill formula. The plots aren’t the only formulaic parts of the Scream movies. The kills themselves have a predictable rhythm now that’s held back the last three sequels. In fact, the trailers for these sequels kept promising higher body counts and more brutality, but they never managed to top or even match the impact of Drew Barrymore’s death in the opening of the very first Scream. To bring some of that shock value back, the formula needs to be thrown out. I don’t need to see another 15 minute cat and mouse game with Ghostface and some supporting character knowing exactly how it’s going to end up. It’s filler. Have Ghostface pop out and stab someone with no warning, no phone call, no tease. Have him kill someone in broad daylight. ANYTHING to shake up the formula would be most welcome.
- If all else fails, conclude this storyline. We’re now in an era where long-running movie franchises don’t even die when the sequels start producing less profit. When that happens we typically just get another clean-slate reboot. When that fails, a different kind of reboot. Basically, if something was ever profitable, it will keep getting milked one way or another until either the heat death of the universe, or somebody gets taken to court over rights ownership issues (see Friday the 13th). So, while concluding the existing Scream story wouldn’t be the most daring gambit, it would at least free a potential Scream 6 from the shackles of continuity. It’s just too bad they’ve already wasted the reboot title on #5.