Apr 21, 2022


Time capsules like these are always amusing and occasionally irritating to revisit. If you came of age in the late '80s and early '90s like I did and grew up watching the titles featured in this exposé, you'll note immediately how wrong-headed much of the talking points are, collected from alarmed parents and so-called experts who are clearly grasping at straws and making points after having seen, at best, five horror films. 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is specifically noted as being one of the first films to introduce the aspect of graphic violence to the horror genre, essentially putting to bed more chaste films like Psycho and Frankenstein. Of course, if you know a single thing about the genre, you'll know that Chain Saw Massacre is actually very low on violence, at least on-screen, and features exactly one chainsaw murder, most of which is left to the imagination. Though these parents admit in the same interview that they had "no idea" how graphic some horror films were until they sat down and watched them specifically for this report, they still managed to rattle off oversimplifications of horror's main thrust, which is "rape and torture," in which most of the victims are females, and that most of the kill scenes have a sexual connotation behind them. I dunno, you tell me: this was the '80s, after all, a time in which the majority of on-screen sexual trysts featured a girl and a boy. You mean to tell me the boyfriends escape the killer while the girlfriends fall victim? Have you seen a slasher movie before?

Though this report does feature notable pro-genre people like Linnea Quigley and critic Chas Balun, both of their collected soundbites are limited to out-of-context blurbs that only support the main thesis. Quigley rattles off every way in which her characters bit the dust in her past movies while Balun just sounds like a mimbo, telling the audience kids want faster and louder horror experiences because of MTV. Good grief.

Refreshingly, the report ends with a level-headed and rational argument for why horror films aren't the scourge of society that most of the talking heads argue and shouldn't be blamed for motivating real-world violence...which comes courtesy of a ten-year-old kid. Go figure.

Apr 7, 2022

SCREAM (2022)

There have been a half-dozen different terms that all mean the same thing: remake. While they've been part of the Hollywood system since the 1930s, it didn't become a machine until the early 2000s after the success of The Ring and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre opened the floodgates and inundated audiences with the maltreatment of their most beloved titles. That led to re-imagining, ushered in by Rob Zombie’s woeful Halloween and Zack Snyder’s much better Dawn of the Dead — movies that contained mainstay characters, settings, or concepts of their originals but otherwise explored different directions utilizing different tones. Then the makers behind 2011’s The Thing tried a new tactic of flat-out lying by hiding behind the false flag of prequel, but beyond giving most of its supporting cast Swedish accents (“They’re Norwegian, Mac”) and putting an ax through a door, it otherwise followed very closely in the snowy tracks of Carpenter’s movie right down to its moniker. Following that, 2018’s Halloween came along to rebrand the term once more, calling it a recalibration or, ugh, a rebootquel – something that resurrected an old franchise, retconned it just a tiny bit, and created a world where old met new. So what do you do when returning to a franchise like Scream when it’s been in on the joke this whole time? When your horror franchise is the equivalent of the kid in the back of the classroom throwing insults at all the other horror franchises for all the ways in which they’re cliches, how does a filmmaker find a fresh spin? Well, you do what you’ve always done: embrace the warts of this wacky genre while giving it a fresh coat of paint. And given the Scream franchise’s meta approach that saw it sending up slashers, sequels, trilogy cappers, and remakes, 2022’s familiarly monikered Scream necessitated a new term for a franchise rebirth that still acknowledged every single one of its previous entries. Anchored by a new primary cast with supporting duties from the old guard (including minor characters from previous sequels you’ve forgotten about), and with all of them being terrorized via phone by the gnarly voice of Ghostface once again, Scream ‘22 called itself a requel

But you could easily call it a redial.

Whatever you want to call it, Scream '22 is a true return to form for the franchise and the best entry since 1997’s rushed-but-satisfying Scream 2. Free from the meddling hands of former rights-holders Dimension Films (aka the Brothers Weinstein) and under severe pressure to follow in the footsteps of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) and writers James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) and Guy Busick (Castle Rock) have proven themselves eerie chameleons, recapturing Williamson’s snappy dialogue and mind-bending knowledge of the genre’s rules and Craven’s fastidious eye for creating misdirection and off kilter unease, right down to his dramatic Dutch angles. (Williamson serves as executive producer and creative consultant.) With a new cast that spiritually embodies that groundbreaking first film’s crop of savvy teen characters (brought to life by Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Mikey Madison, Mason Gooding, and Jack Quaid, among many others), but with a new and more psychologically complex (and sympathetic) layer, the Scream name is back, updated, and most thankfully, in capable hands. 

Though I grew up on a diet of ‘80s slashers mostly consisting of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, even all of their newest entries were nearly ten years old by the time I’d discovered them. Before their own ‘90s-set sequels and retcons, those franchises were, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried – grandfathered into my world in the same way everything else in existence had been. Scream was entirely different. With that first film hitting in the ass-end of 1996, and with two sequels coming along at a steady clip (Scream 2 opened a mere seven months after the first film left theaters), Scream became the slasher franchise of my generation – one with several entries released during my teen years that gave me the opportunity to see them unfold in an auditorium of like-minded people in the same way other lucky folks had the thrill of experiencing Friday the 13th sequels on a yearly basis. For me, the Scream series was happening in real time – it was in-the-moment as opposed to once-was – which imbued a different experience but also a different set of expectations. Having watched Scream in 1996 and seeing characters who were modeled to be just slightly older than I had been landed differently than watching Scream '22 and seeing new characters who are twenty years younger. Seen from a young age, Scream '96 exaggerated the pains of the coming transition from adolescence to adulthood – think The Breakfast Club but everyone gets stabbed to death. To an adult, Scream '22 doesn’t have the same effect; as your adult mind is analyzing the motives of the newest killer(s), part of you can’t help but think, “Oh, brother,” finding difficulty in accepting the outcome. While the motive(s) of the newest Ghostface(s) is admittedly clever, it doesn’t carry the same emotional weight as the original…because this time it’s not personal. In Scream ‘96, Billy and Stu used horror movies as a scapegoat to achieve other ends; in Scream ‘22, the sanctity of horror movies themselves is the driving motivation. And that right there is the number one issue brought forth by sequels, remakes, or any other label that resurrects your favorite franchises: the impossible task of experiencing the natural extensions of the originals you love, but having to process them with a mind that now thinks and feels differently thanks to twenty years of horror’s evolution and one’s own accumulated awareness. You can fall in love with a movie after a first matinee showing, but it takes time, sometimes years, to understand why – to deconstruct the way that movie feels, isolate its DNA, and identify its essence. Scream ‘22 recaptures the largest and most important parts of that unique Scream essence, and though it doesn’t recapture everything, it seems superficial to pick apart its shortcomings.

Scream ‘22 also lessens the bloat the franchise accumulated over the years, which got a little too big for its britches with 2000’s uneven and unmemorable Scream 3, a production plagued by constant rewrites, leaked endings (the return of Matthew Lillard as Stu would’ve been WILD), and Craven and co’s over-willingness to have “fun.” (The Jay and Silent Bob cameo still makes me barf.) With this Scream story set back in Woodsboro, organically allowing for the presence of the next generation of characters with familial ties back to those from the first film (though it occasionally relies on soap opera hysterics to enable this), murder and mayhem is once again occurring in plain sight, beneath the bright sun, in broad daylight. The illusion of safety at which the Scream franchise always excelled has returned, whether it be in high school hallways, quiet suburbia, or your best friend’s rural farmhouse. But of course, no one is safe. 

From the opening scene, Scream '22 plays with audience expectations. Whether the series is old hat or a brand new experience, you never quite know what’s coming; similarly, surprises are in store for the old guard characters and the new, though for the old guard those surprises are going to register in more emotional ways. The kind of character who would most certainly die may just survive the night, whereas the kind of character who has always survived may not be so lucky this time. In spite of some minor plot contrivances, for the most part, once the characters know of the danger they’re in, they’re no longer running up the stairs but directly out the front door; however, once they discover their safe haven was never out that front door to begin with, that’s when the Scream series is most at home – and Scream '22 is the fresh and fun reminder that audiences and the franchise needed. Even the film’s score by composer Brian Tyler, taking the reins from former franchise keeper Marco Beltrami, acknowledges audiences are in new but familiar territory: the track that opens the flick is called “New Horizons,” which is not an eerie, ethereal theme we’ve heard before, but a soft and pensive ballad, and the score itself revisits some of Beltrami’s older themes while injecting some new ones into the mix. (Amusingly, it even adapts a theme famously used in Scream 2 that wasn’t an original composition, but had been lifted from Hans Zimmer’s score for Broken Arrow.)

Most interesting, while Scream ‘96 was a riff on Halloween ‘78, Scream ‘22 acknowledges Halloween ‘18 while adhering somewhat to a new set of rules brought forth by this newest craze of resurrecting old horror properties – the “requel.” Being that Scream ‘96 satirized the first wave of creators, appropriately, Scream ‘22 satirizes all the different ways in which those initiators of the genre come back from the grave, along with whoever's along for the ride. Seeing Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and especially David Arquette, who has always been the heart and secret weapon of the series, return time and again, even for the lesser entries, and even in the face of towering odds, feels right, and even necessary. A more traditional series would have eventually been forced to say goodbye to them, either by killing them off or writing them out, but Scream's own DNA doesn’t have that problem – that trio is an integral part of the mythos, and every new killer that comes along KNOWS this. If Ghostface is the Joker, then Sidney, Gale, and Dewey are Batman, and he is always going to make sure they’re involved, thematically, in his newest scheme. It’s just not Scream without them, just like it’s not Halloween without Jamie Lee Curtis. And upon Campbell’s first appearance in the movie, in which she says, “I’m Sidney fucking Prescott, of course I carry a gun,” one can’t help but picture a gray-haired Laurie Strode doing target practice in the back of her Haddonfield compound. There’s a symbiosis in the horror world, and one that’s potent enough to exist without the need for official but forced “shared universes.” That Halloween inspired ScreamScream reverse-inspired Halloween: H20, and that Halloween ‘18 is considered not just horror canon but provides a means for dissection in Scream ‘22 is the ultimate proof of that. However, unlike the Halloween series, which had the luxury of wiping away forty years of nonsense and directly sequelling the first film, Scream, luckily, already has its own Halloween-like, in-universe franchise to mirror that: the "Stab" series, through which Scream is able to not only critique the genre in general, but also critique itself in fun but honest ways. (One of the flick’s best bits has some of its characters watching footage from "Stab 8" on Youtube, which shows a muscular Ghostface laying waste with a flamethrower, as they remark that the series has really gone off the rails.) Though seeming like a funny, throwaway moment, it actually embodies what this new Scream is about: the harrowing goal of making a fan-driven movie for fans while knowing they’re going to hate you no matter what you try. But it’s also about saving a fledgling franchise after the piss-poor Scream 3 and underwhelming Scream 4 and returning it to its former glory…by any means necessary. 

It’s been said that this newest crop of horror franchise rebirths – Halloween, Candyman, Ghostbusters, and now Scream – lean too heavily on fan service and nostalgia as a means of forcing an emotional connection with the audience that it might not have necessarily earned. (Halloween Kills is the guiltiest of this.) Regarding Scream ‘22, as with anything else, your mileage may vary. You may love the callbacks, cameos, and re-quotes, or you may think they’re lazy and heavy-handed. You may think the familial ties the new characters share with the old ones are bordering on eye-rollingly convenient storytelling, or you may remember that this is Scream, and if there’s ANY franchise that’s allowed to break those rules, you’re looking at it. Though I don’t think fan service and nostalgia is the scourge of modern cinema that others have been quick to proclaim, I will say it doesn’t sit well when it feels manipulative or uninspired. Scream ‘22 does the best at towing this line, and not just because its own genetic makeup allows for it. Regardless of how you may feel about each rebirth of your favorite horror property, I have no doubt each new generation of filmmaker genuinely loves the franchise they’ve resurrected, and were raised in video stores in the same way we all were, or even literally grew up on the sets of its previous movies like Ghostbusters: Afterlife director Jason Reitman. And when the filmmakers of this new Scream go to the trouble of bringing in a dozen cast and crew members from the previous films to lend their voices to a scene in which a fallen and aptly named friend is toasted at a high school house party, resulting in an emotional salute of “To Wes!,” the admiration for departed filmmakers, beloved characters, and long-running franchises can’t be justly denied. If you’re a fan, then you’ll know a small piece of trivia like that. Because you went looking for it. Because you read about it, or listened to a podcast, or watched an interview with the directors. It wasn’t on the screen and staring you in the face, waving to you from a place of plain sight. It was knowledge you had to earn, to validate your fandom, to know that little extra tidbit most others will never know – all to enrich this experience of revisiting a thing you’ve loved for so long.

Wes Craven may be gone, but he’s left behind an awfully large shadow. Against every odd, the makers of this new Scream were able to fill it. He would’ve been proud.

Apr 6, 2022


I don't know what to say other than this makes me want to sob. I can't believe they waited forty years to make...this. As someone who adores the original Dark Night of the Scarecrow, this feels so wrong. Synopsis below and very upsetting trailer at the end.

The wait... is over! The Scarecrow is back with a vengeance. The sequel to J.D. Feigelson's pitchfork- perfect DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, "...one of the best made-for-TV horror films ever..." (Donald Guarisco, AMG Review) and one of the highest rated TV movies of all-time is finally here!

Corn rustling, cicadas screaming, a crow watching as a farmer hears strange noises in his barn. He enters and looks around. Nothing. Suddenly a long, sharp scythe whisks through the air catching him between the eyes. Into this environment, Chris Rhymer (Amber Wedding) and her young son Jeremy (Aiden Shurr) have recently moved. It's a small country town in Stubblefield County. To locals she is a mystery. "Why", they asked themselves would she move to this backwater? Chris finds work in a country store and Jeremy is watched after school by an older woman, Aunt Hildie (Carol Dines). Hildie and Jeremy form a close relationship at the expense of Chris. One day, while looking for Jeremy, Chris comes upon an old, weather-beaten Scarecrow. Seeing how sad it looks, she puts a flower into its lapel to brighten it up, and thinking it only an inert effigy, she whispers her troubled past life into its seemingly unhearing ear. That night a dark figure enters her room as Chris sleeps and returns the flower. Unrealized by Chris, Jeremy has fallen under the influence of Aunt Hildie. We see that she is manipulating the Scarecrow through Jeremy. With his spirit, mentally challenged in life, the scarecrow only responds to children like Jeremy. Then the terror begins. As locals and Chris's past come to destroy her, they are met with horror and grisly death from . . . the Scarecrow.