If I was a detective in the lovely little town of Woodsboro, I’d have local cutlery salesfolks on speed dial.
Also, costume shops. Oh, and whoever sells those little sound-altering devices that make you sound like voice actor Roger L. Jackson. Because you know, sooner or later, you’ll need to figure out who the latest Ghostface is.
It’s been more than 25 years since the original Ghostface terrorized the otherwise quiet California hamlet and inspired a rather distasteful slasher movie (Stab). Billy Loomis turned out to be the first Ghostface—a surprise, given that he was so suspicious and all. He and pal Stu killed seven people during their rampage, only to be foiled by resourceful teen Sydney Prescott, pushy journalist Gale Weathers, and the much-stabbed sheriff Dewey Riley.
New incarnations of Ghostface go on a few more killing sprees, appear in a few more Stab movies and haunt about a bazillion nightmares—most of those dreamt by poor ol’ Sydney. Sure, Woodsboro’s been mercifully free of masked serial killers for, oh, a whole decade now. But as any fan of slasher flicks could tell you, these guys are like mold in your shower: You think you get rid of it, but it keeps coming back.
It’s 2022 now, and no one has a landline anymore—except for Tara Carpenter. She’s more into “elevated horror” movies like The Babadook than rote slasher flicks, so perhaps you can forgive her for not seeing what’s coming. When the landline rings, she answers it—and she’s asked to play a game of Stab movie trivia. She loses—the game, a working leg and a pint or two of blood.
But she survives to be wheeled off to the hospital. And when Tara’s estranged older sister, Sam, hears about the attack, she buzzes right back (boyfriend Richie in tow) to Woodsboro to save her slashed sib—and maybe correct a few wrongs while she’s at it.
See, Sam has a secret that she’s been meaning to spill. Even though she was born after those original Woodsboro killings, she’s intrinsically tied to them. And sometimes, she sees Billy Loomis himself … who’s always happy to give her some timely advice.
Positivity in slasher flick always feels a bit relative. I mean, escaping the clutches of a knife-wielding serial killer is a positive thing for the survivor, right? And this movie does include a few such survivors. So, yay to them.
But it’s also nice when someone survives and dives back into the fray again in an effort to rescue others. We see that a time or two as well, and a few folks who choose to challenge Ghostface have multiple movies-worth of both literal and emotional scars to overcome.
Also, we should say a word or two about Sam and Tara’s relationship. Yes, Sam deserted Tara when the latter was still a kid. That sort of abandonment isn’t something you get over immediately—even if Sam insists she did it for Tara’s own good. While Sam’s rationale for leaving in the first place might’ve been shortsighted, she’s back now, and Sam shows a willingness to give Tara a concentrated dose of sibling love and protection.
Unless you want to get into the spiritual undergirdings of the name “Ghostface,” we don’t have a lot for you here. (Some characters do namecheck more spiritually tinged horror movies, though.)
Every Scream movie has rules, and Rule No. 1 in this chapter is simple: “Never trust the love interest.” We see plenty of love interests not to trust.
Mindy Meeks-Martin is apparently a lesbian, and we see her making out passionately with another girl on a couch. She also accuses another high schooler—Amber, Tara’s best friend—of having a crush on Tara.
Mindy’s twin brother, Chad, has an ongoing relationship with a provocatively dressing lady named Liv. They, too, make out on occasion, and we hear conversation about them getting involved on “the most intimate level.” And while that “level” turns out to be not quite what we think it is, it opens the door to plenty of conversation about sex, too.
As mentioned, Sam brings her own beau (Richie) to Woodsboro: They kiss at times and, while they don’t get overly frisky on screen, they talk about the sex they’ve had in the past.
A guy makes a pass at a woman at a shady bar: We hear that he’s habitually trying to, um, interest the woman in whatever he has to offer. We hear some crass discussion about sexual acts and erectile dysfunction drugs. We hear that someone got pregnant in high school, and her daughter imagines that the relationship and pregnancy must’ve been very romantic. Someone snidely quips that being “sexually available makes [women] empowered these days.”
Knives are not as efficient as you’d think for killing people. Many victims here are stabbed repeatedly before they finally expire—and even then, it doesn’t always work.
But what the knife lacks in efficiency it tries to shore up with plain, flat-out disgusting visuals.
One victim is stabbed essentially on the side of the throat: We see the blade ram through one side and come out the other, looking a bit like a steely bit of woven basket material. Others have the blade rammed into meatier parts of the neck, leading to streams of blood running from both the wound and from the victims’ mouths. One guy gets quickly stabbed in the side of the neck and allowed to bleed out. His throat is also slashed open, just apparently for variety’s sake. Another person suffers a horrific (though non-lethal) injury to the hand. Still another seems to be practically disemboweled: The victim lies in a disturbing lake of blood.
Many die (or are injured) by other means. Several people are shot—sometimes several times after they’re already apparently dead. (Talk about overkill!) Others clearly perish from gunshots to the head—at least judging from the amount of carnage splashed against the walls behind them. We see someone shot a couple of times, and the power of the bullets’ impact sends that person careening onto the top of a flaming stove: Naturally, the person lights up as if made of gasoline, resulting in some grotesque scars and charred hair.
Someone has a foot snapped. We hear about the terrible injuries someone suffered in previous films. Clips of various Stab movies play, including one depicting Ghostface with a flamethrower. A hallucinogenic version of Billy Loomis appears in a T-shirt pocked with blood stains. Several people speculate on just who might be the killer. Someone explains away bruises as the result of football practice.
Nearly 90 f-words and nearly another 20 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “pr–k.” God’s name is abused about 10 times, half of those with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused eight times. Obscene gestures are made.
A teen hosts a massive party for her peers, and the house is filled with beer and alcohol (and a number of impaired teens). A couple of different characters ask where they can get more. The answer, of course: the basement.
A character or two smoke as well, and a scene takes place in what appears to be a bar. Sam says that after she discovered a shocking family secret, she started using pretty much every drug available to her before she came clean. We see her take some pills in the present day, too—though those turn out to be antipsychotic meds. A character quips, “Every time I get attacked, [the hospital gives] me better painkillers. (She admits to being “so high right now,” too.) We hear that Sam and Tara’s mother was an alcoholic.
A man urinates on the side of a building. We hear some crass talk regarding various private body parts.
Scream? You could just as easily call the franchise Wink.
Well, OK, Wink might give viewers the wrong idea. Wouldn’t unsuspecting moviegoers be surprised to go in expecting a flirtatious romcom and instead see blood splattered across the screen! Ha ha!
But still, the point is valid. The Scream flicks have always been oh-so in the know. The franchise knows that fans know all the genre’s bloody beats—the ill-advised trips to unlit basements; the crescendo-ing music to queue a jump scare; the knowledge that the stories tend to be (again, in their own curious ways) morality plays, where having sex or doing drugs or acting like a jerk is a good way to get literally axed.
But as Scream rested its smart-alecky, too-cool-for-horror-school wit for the last decade, the horror genre changed. Sure, it’s still filled with jump scares and (often) bloody deaths. But it’s smarter, too, with fear flicks serving often as metaphors for more real horrors. Society has changed as well. Social media has brought us closer together even as it has driven us farther apart. Streaming services can dump gallons of fabricated blood on our screen on demand. We’re more cynical than we were even in the self-aware ’90s that gave birth to the original Scream. And perhaps, we’re more savage as well.
So Scream has upped its game. Not only does the film satirize horror, but the movie industry as a whole—chronicling how sprawling, multigenerational franchises do their things now. How powerful fans are in pushing franchises the way they want them to go. The series most on Scream’s mind isn’t so much Halloween or Friday the 13th, but Star Wars—with a fairly clever call-out of the divisive Last Jedi installment. Fans don’t want their beloved franchises to explore new ground: They just want those franchises to cover that same ground—again and again. And the same, it seems, could be said for Scream.
“You’re telling me I’m caught in the middle of fan f—ing fiction?!” someone says.
But there you go—an f-word lodged in the middle of a salient quote where it’s wholly unnecessary. And that illustrates our takeaway point: No matter what new ground this latest iteration of Scream hopes to plow, it’s still stuck in familiar, woefully gratuitous territory.
Scream doesn’t need its nearly 90 f-words to draw a laugh. It doesn’t need all that blood to make a point. Why, it doesn’t even need, frankly, to be scary. But there it is, whether it’s needed or not. It’s expected of Scream movies. Perhaps its own fans demand it. And if this is, on some level, fan fiction, the foul language and buckets of blood are as inescapable as Ghostface itself—and infinitely harder to kill.
Toward the end of the movie, franchise figurehead Sidney Prescott says that she hopes she’ll never be terrorized by an in-the-know serial killer ever again: “After this, no more books, no more movies, no more … Ghostface.”
We can only hope that she’s right.