Reinvention has been the life blood of the modern franchises. Gone are the days where simply serving a larger portion of the same warmed-over meal was enough to satisfy one’s appetite. However, how does one stay relevant when it was reinvention that birthed you in the first place? This is the dilemma that the Scream franchise has had to contend with over the years.
In 1996, the release of the original Scream was like a defibrillator to the seemingly stopped heart of the slasher genre. Dominating the horror genre in the 1980’s, the popularity of slasher films had run its course by time the 90’s rolled around. Afterall, there were only so many ways that horny teenagers could be killed by mask wearing psychopaths and monsters who had blades for fingers.
What was, and still is, brilliant about Scream (1996), is that it found a rather ingenious way to make a slasher film feel fresh. Writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven made a horror film that deconstructed the formulaic beats of slasher films while simultaneously using those same tropes in inventive ways. From the moment Drew Barrymore’s Casey gets killed in the opening moments, boldly removing the biggest star of the cast at the time, audiences knew that they were traveling in uncharted territory.
Single-handedly reviving the slasher genre and spawning a new generation of teen-centric horrors films – several of which Williamson wrote himself like I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and Teaching Ms. Tingle – Scream VI had to carry the same burden of other successful blood splattered flicks before it by becoming a franchise.
Due to its “meta” aspects, once a ripe fruit for creativity that has been squeeze of every last drop by cinema at large, keeping the franchise fresh has always felt like a greater challenge for this series compared to others. As numerous Letterboxd rankings can attest, we have very little consensus after the original, the franchise has had highs and lows in its decades spanning journey. With the release of its latest instalment Scream VI (read Rachel’s review) this year, the Scream franchise seems to be taking lessons from the current master of cinematic reinvention, the Fast & Furious franchise.
Anchoring itself around the “Core Four”, a group of ethnically diverse survivors who have ties to previous characters, the film gleefully channels its inner Dominic Toretto by declaring it’s all about family. The funny thing about family is that it can be both liberating and confining. Moving the setting of Scream VI from the small town of Woodsboro to New York City, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett greatly expand the playground that their terrorized characters run around in. Whether in a Bodega or on a crowded subway train one must always be on the lookout for Ghostface. However, by creating a world where everyone must have familial relationships in some fashion, whether bounded by blood, trauma, or chosen tribe, one realizes that the sandbox they are playing in is still rather small.
While it can be argued that family has always been at the heart of the franchise, at least the sins of the parents and the fallout on the kids, the justifications for Ghostface was carefully crafted in the franchises on meta way. By pivoting to a modern franchise style cinematic universe, the old rules are thrown out the window. When Ghostface defiantly declares “who gives a f*** about the movies,” one feels as if the directors are proudly this sentiment as a badge of honour on its sleeve. The franchise now embraces a model where anything can happen; fan favourites can seemingly come back from the dead and Ghostface can literally be anyone, the number of folks who have dawned the mask was already nearing double digits prior to the film, as long as the person(s) is loosely connected in some way.
As entertaining as Scream VI is, one cannot help but wonder where the franchise will go next now that is as reinvented itself to embrace franchise tropes. Could we see Ghostface terrorizing folks in space next? Could once dead characters reemerge with a case of amnesia? Perhaps evoking scares on a globetrotting journey? Who knows, but as Toretto would say, anything is possible when you have family.
Scream VI 4K Ultra HD hits stores on July 11.
Bonus Features:: Commentary by Filmmakers, Death Comes to the City, The Faces of Death, More Meta than Meta, Bloodbath at a Bodega, An Apartment to Die For, The Night Train to Terror, Theater of Blood, Digital Exclusive: Gag Reel