Author: vanessamaki

November 29, 2021

More than Slashers: Analyzing the first 4 Scream Movies

Slasher franchises don’t always have the deepest of messages. There are some that are deliberately campy and fun. And there’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying some mindless entertainment. Want to watch an old-school style slasher like Hatchet? Go ahead! Even the slasher franchises like Halloween have their own Halloween: Resurrection (2002), aka movies that aren’t remotely as thought-provoking. The Scream franchise however is packed with social issues and at least attempts to engage with the commentary. 

Scream 5 is gracing us in January 2022 and it’s amazing to get a Scream movie that was birthed in this decade. Especially since there’s no doubt current social issues will be tied in. And the teens are much more diverse this time around. But as far as the first 4 films are concerned, there’s still much to talk about before Scream 5 gets here. Below is what I’ve come to take/get from them. 

Scream (1996)

Not all of us had the pleasure to watch Scream when it first came out. But at this point most horror fans have seen it. The movie breathed new life into the horror genre. And we owe a lot to Kevin Williamson and the late Wes Craven for their contributions to horror. 

Scream isn’t just your run-of-the-mill slasher. It’s not a relatively unloved Friday the 13th film (Jason Goes to Hell, anyone?) or your least favorite in the Saw franchise. No, Scream is incredibly meta. The movie pokes fun at horror (not in a disrespectful way though) and also explores how horror affects regular life. 

Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu (Matthew Lillard) are intense examples of glorifying ultra-violence. They truly do take their love for scary movies too far. Especially considering how they messed with Sidney (Neve Campbell)’s life, all for reasons that had nothing to do with her. Which is classic white male anger. 

Another aspect to Scream that isn’t as discussed is Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) as a character. Her cutthroat behavior wouldn’t be seen the same if she were a man. While she is a white woman, thus giving her privilege, she does scrap to be the best. Gale’s persistence would be deemed as admirable in a white man. Yet she’s labeled as a bitch throughout the movie. Something that’s intentional and gets the point across. 

Scream 2 (1997):

There are folks who prefer a good sequel over the original. And for those who do prefer Scream 2 over Scream, you’re not off base. The opening scene is rattling in a different way than Scream’s is. They are both iconic for their own reasons. With Scream 2 it’s showing the aftermath of glorifying real-life violence. 

Instead of having Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Phil (Omar Epps) be a white couple going to the movies, they are a Black couple. Which isn’t ignored, in fact it’s woven within their dialogue up until their deaths. Their blackness isn’t forgotten about or used for diversity points. It’s obvious they are examples of Black  folks dying first or quickly in horror. 

Obviously the affects of violence in cinema on real-life carries into this sequel. But Scream 2 also explores race a lot. From the opening scene, to Sidney’s roommate Hallie (Elise Neal) upholding the Black best friend trope, and Gale’s cameraman, Joel (Martin) representing Black individuals who wouldn’t stick around for the chaos. Everything feels and likely is deliberate. 

Lastly there’s Mrs. Loomis who, in my opinion, represents people (in this case mothers) who excuse the violence committed by white cis men.  

Scream 3 (2000):

Without a doubt Scream 3 is the least liked in the franchise. It took on a more comedic tone (in response to the Columbine High School Massacre), went through many rewrites, and was written by Ehren Kruger instead of Williamson. Personally it doesn’t hold a candle to the other movies in the franchise. But there’s still a few things to unpack. None of which involve Courteney Cox’s bangs. 

More of Maureen Prescott’s past comes into play in this film. Which reveals something sinister, tragic, and all too real about her life. Before she met Sidney’s dad, she was trying to make it as an actress. Ultimately leading to her being gang-raped at a Hollywood party and becoming pregnant as a result. Rather than raise the baby, she chose to leave everything behind. 

Taking into account that Harvey Weinstein was executive producer of the Scream films, it’s interesting this was woven into the plot. 

Of course Maureen’s son, Roman Bridger (Scott Foley) is full of white male rage directed at Sidney. All over the decisions their mother made. Even a movie like Scream 3 had a few things to say about Hollywood, abuse of power, and the aftermath of trauma.

Scream 4 (2011):

Dismissing a sequel like Scream 4 isn’t doing anybody any favors. Denying one’s self of a horror character like Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) is silly. Not to mention Scream being set in (what was) a modern setting is incredibly enjoyable. Especially since technology and internet fame are huge components of our current culture. 

Even the true opening scene of the movie nods at the girls who survive in horror movies. Ghostface tells victim, Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden): You’re the dumb blonde with the big tits, we’ll have some fun with you before you die. Jenny’s response isn’t that of air-headedness, instead she says: I have a 4.0 GPA and 135 IG,asshole. While Jenny does meet a grisly end and goes against the horror rules (running up the stairs instead of out the door), her brief exchange with Ghostface says a lot.

The rest of the movie takes on that typical self awareness. Everyone in the film settles into their tropes and it works. Though there’s a certain snake in the grass that ends up surprising Sidney. Cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) isn’t final girl material after all. She ends up being one of the killers because of her aggressive jealousy towards Sidney. Wanting some fame for herself and delivering iconic line: I don’t need friends, I need fans, we’re forced to see how desires to be famous can manifest like this. 

Real life cases of people doing anything for internet fame and attention have persisted since 2011 too. There are Jill Roberts in the world that would do anything to be famous. 

July 21, 2021

Not every survivor’s cup of tea: Rape and revenge horror

*spoilers and TW: mentions of sexual violence and discussion surrounding it

The world of horror is wildly vast and exciting. From all the sub-genres and a plethora of movies that rattle our brains as fans, there’s always something new to learn about horror. It’s still an under-appreciated genre and quite frankly mocked by the haters. Though we know the truth: Horror is queer and political by nature. Meaning horror often covers the hard topics directly, such as sexual violence. 

Now, rape and revenge horror isn’t for everybody. And there’s nothing wrong with needing to avoid that kind of body horror. But what’s strange to do is tell survivors of sexual violence that we shouldn’t watch those films. That somehow it’s glorifying that type of violence. When it’s usually quite the opposite, meaning it’s empowering to see the survivor get revenge. Horror has managed to give survivors that empowerment. Whereas other genres don’t always get it right. A recent example is Promising Young Woman (2021), which didn’t handle the subject matter properly. And instead centered the trauma of a straight white woman, who consistently put herself in dangerous situations on purpose,  and wasn’t even the survivor of sexual violence. 
Though even with empowerment comes the possibility of being triggered. And many rape and revenge horror is triggering for viewers. Such as films like the original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) or the remakes that came long after it, American Mary (2012), or The Perfection (2018). Then there are the rape and revenge films where the victims aren’t the ones seeking revenge. Controversial horror like The Last House on the Left (1972) or even the 2009 remake (which features an even more gruesome rape scene). In the original there’s no survival for the victims, they are brutalized and murdered. Whereas the remake is still brutal but one of the victims manages to survive. Resulting in the same outcome as the original – her parents seek revenge for her.

The concept of taking back control and reclaiming your body after it’s been violated is a radical act. It’s powerful to experience and to witness in horror. While returned violence is seen as not justifiable to people who have cookie cutter ideals – it’s certainly satisfying to some. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) is a perfect example of someone, a woman in this instance, who reclaims her body. And she uses that power to destroy those who took from her in the first place. It’s a graphic horror movie, but it displays how explicitly political horror tends to be. There’s not a lot of subtext in this movie because it’s direct with its intention.

Unfortunately rape revenge usually is written off as too controversial. Sometimes even banned because of the content (occasionally that’s a good thing as there’s a line between glorification and otherwise). The Last on the Left (1972), written and directed by the iconic Wes Craven, could be seen as too horrific and tragic. Which of course it is tragic and gruesome, but it’s also the otherside to rape and revenge horror. Victims don’t always make it to the end of the film. It’s something that makes people ask: why watch rape and revenge horror that has no payoff? That question can’t be answered the same for everyone. For myself it’s an unfortunate reminder of those who don’t survive. And maybe understanding that truth is just as important.

Vanessa Maki horror fan, writer, and Afro Horror contributor.

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