DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Film

Scream: The genre-defining meta movie refuses to be killed off

In having yet another stab at this self-aware slasher, the makers of Scream are following the well-worn route of the "requel".

Scream (2022). Image: Paramount Pictures/ MoviesTo

A pet peeve of mine when it comes to contemporary films or TV shows is the idea that the characters have never seen or read any horror. Not that every genre product has to have some sort of meta awareness but I find it a touch frustrating when postmodern protagonists are being attacked by an illusive threat – be it a vampire, zombie, werewolf or masked murderer – and they act ignorant to the lore or tactics that might just save their lives. Or they simply refuse to call a spade a spade. 

Midnight Mass is a recent culprit. Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series is set in modern times with vampirism serving as a core horror element, yet not one person utters the word “vampire”. I might have forgiven Flanagan for this omission, which he explains was because his Angel of Death is really “representing fanaticism and fundamentalism,” which, you know, is fair enough and I enjoyed the series otherwise. But he chose to put a Scream poster in his key protagonist Riley’s childhood bedroom and that had me irked. If Riley loved that 1996 film enough in his youth to decorate his wall with Drew Barrymore’s frozen look of terror, as a horror fan, there’s no way he wouldn’t acknowledge the vampire in the room. 

That’s because Scream was The Movie™ (after Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) when it came to the in-world understanding of the horror tropes that had come to define a genre. Craven and Kevin Williamson’s metanarrative about a ghostface killer obsessed with scary movies, tormenting a group of highschoolers who are hyper aware of the rules of teen slasher movies – well, one geeky teen at least – but still frequently fall victim to the knife wielding onslaught was, and still is, hilarious, terrifying and ingenious.

That metaness got increasingly insular as the franchise expanded to reflect the pitfalls of horror sequels and also by including its own self-referential slasher film series, Stab, based on the events of the original and subsequent massacres that followed Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) around. Admittedly, each new chapter offered a depreciating return on investment but I do stand by Scream 2 and 3, not least because of Jada Pinkett Smith’s nerve-shredding death scene and Parker Posey’s outstanding comedic turn as the actress playing Gale Weathers (in the aforementioned Stab franchise) opposite Courteney Cox’s intrepid reporter herself.

Now, 25 years after the original, 10 years since the fourth film and the first without Craven’s guiding force, Scream is back in all its meta glory to hold a mirror up not just to itself, scary movies and the “requel” (a film that is both a remake and sequel) trend it now joins but also the fandoms fuelled by these genre franchises.

It’s the fourth film in four consecutive months to lean into this sort of nostalgic intertextuality with differing effect. First came Halloween Kills, which squandered nearly all of the goodwill it earned from its bodacious 2018 return Halloween, and it was followed by the abysmally necrophilic Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Then came The Matrix Resurrections, which raised the bar for the more recent run of legacy sequels, although even with a superior quality of original material, an overuse of references and footage from the 1999 film hampered what could have been a tighter, less bloated story. 

The new Scream similarly retraces steps to an exorbitant level with Neve Campbell, Cox and David Arquette returning to Woodsboro, again, where local highschoolers are being targeted, again, and several of them are directly related to dead characters from the original. Still, what I appreciate about both films is their efforts to interrogate, well, maybe not interrogate, let’s say poke fun at the way audiences interpret and misinterpret pop culture, and even claim ownership of artistic work too. 

Lana Wachowski did this by having a scene with a writer’s room throwing out all the possible meanings of what The Matrix “video game” was about, to make a sequel its creator, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), never wanted. According to reports, Wachowski was strong-armed into making this “requel” too. In the new Scream, writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick weave in a not-so-subtle response to the backlash Rian Johnson received over The Last Jedi, which angered a minority of fans for its deconstruction of the rigid parameters they had arbitrarily set for what makes a Star Wars movie.

So for what it might be lacking in imaginative death scenes and intriguing new characters – save for Jasmin Savoy Brown’s movie connoisseur – this Scream makes up for with a solid meta commentary of the cinematic culture of today and enough esteem for the past.

Scream is in cinemas now.

@HannaFlint

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Why Sasquatch Sunset is so much more than just a gross-out comedy in Chewbacca drag
Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Denek in Sasquatch Sunset
Film

Why Sasquatch Sunset is so much more than just a gross-out comedy in Chewbacca drag

Netflix's Hit Man is what we used to call 'a good time at the movies' – but times have changed
Glen Powell in Hit Man
Film

Netflix's Hit Man is what we used to call 'a good time at the movies' – but times have changed

Viggo Mortensen on Trump, corruption and why classic Westerns are like the best poetry
Viggo Mortensen in The Dead Don't Hurt
Film

Viggo Mortensen on Trump, corruption and why classic Westerns are like the best poetry

Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'
Furiosa
Film

Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know