Editorial: The Disingenuous Fandom of the Scream Universe

Major Spoilers for Scream (2022)

“If you ask me, this whole franchise goes off the rails at number 5.”

Anyone who lurks around social media on a Friday the 13th is bound to find an onslaught of opinions and rankings of the titular slasher classic. As of 2022 there are twelve movies that the horror community shuffles around on their Letterboxd rankings, heralding the various entries on the conditions of the Jasons, the tits, the kills, and the quality of the movies themselves. The fun of this comes down to how everyone has greatly different opinions, especially in regards to which Friday the 13th is the best. Many champion The Final Chapter and Jason Lives while defending A New Beginning and the 2009 remake in their top five slots. And while the bottom tier sequels such as New Blood or Jason Takes Manhattan are known for being boring due to script or location issues, horror fans will still take the time to point out the positive attributions of each film because half of the enjoyment about the franchise is just talking about it with other fans.

The same can be said for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Child’s Play, (maybe sort of) Hellraiser, and so on. This isn’t to say that any of these franchises are exempt from having “bad” sequels. In fact, the majority of slasher franchises are completely derailed by sequels of poor quality. To say which ones, well that depends on the viewer. But considering we’ve had new Halloween and TCM sequels in the past few months that have both been met with wildly polarizing reviews, they are proving that these slasher stories aren’t really as elastic as the studios want them to be.

And yet a “bad” reputation hasn’t really stopped a horror movie fan before. 

“You just didn’t understand Malignant!”

Which brings us to the one other slasher franchise that I haven’t mentioned just yet, the Scream series. The latest Scream (Scream (2022)/Scream 5), now available on streaming through Paramount+, is considered by many as one of the best of the franchise. Since most of us will agree that even the weaker Scream movies are solid entries, having a new sequel released 11 years after the fourth that still maintains that level of decency if not flat out enjoyability that the rest of the series has offered is rather respectable. Especially without Wes Craven’s presence and a script by Kevin Williamson.  

Instead, the film has been penned by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick of Ready or Not fame with Radio Silence directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet behind the camera. And what this team came up with was a slasher-riff on the arrogance and entitlement of online film discourse, particularly in regards to…Star Wars fans.

If the overt reference to the number one enemy of Star Wars that isn’t Kathleen Kennedy wasn’t clear enough, Rian Johnson is name-checked in the film’s dialogue as the Knives Out director and more importantly, the director of the in-universe’s highly despised Stab 8. This being the crux of the motivations for our dual-murderers this time around, Richie (Jack Quaid) and Amber (Mikey Madison), two very disturbed and dissatisfied movie fans who feel it is their place to right the wrongs of the derailed Stab franchise by rejuvenating the series with brand new murders to draw from. [Credit where credit is due, I missed the first time that “Stab 8” was actually just called “Stab” in the same vein as the 2018 Halloween sequel and…well this movie]. 

So the disappointment with movies and the ridiculous expectations fans set up for themselves in anticipation for their most treasured IPs is not exclusive to the horror genre whatsoever. As the film even proves, the killers were brought together through the Stab subreddit, where their interactions were created in an echo chamber of talking all about this one series and how much the last Stab movie sucked. And instead of bemoaning a franchise that has since run its course and is derivative and out of ideas—or in the case of the latest Stab, too outlandish and obtuse with its original ideas—the only solution Richie and Amber can come up with is to round up some Ghostface masks and knives and start the killings again. 

But what does Star Wars have to do with any of this? 

The reaction to the latest crop of Star Wars films took a rather nasty turn in 2017 with the release of Rian Johnson’s film The Last Jedi, where a vocal minority of criticism lobbed towards the film escalated to the point of harassment. The director himself faced a lot of heat for turning the tables on audiences when his sci-fi outing went in directions and decisions that not only didn’t appeal to many viewers but also seemed to undo a lot of what the previous film, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, had set up. More viciously though, the fandom outrage retaliated against the cast and crew, specifically Kelly Marie Tran who ended up deleting all of her social media because of the extensive harassment she received. 

Even now as we are nearly five full years out from the disastrous TLJ online diatrabs, the slightest mentions of “Broom Boy” or Luke Skywalker tossing away his lightsaber will reignite the bush fire of debates across social media for at least a few hours. This being said, why did Scream (2022) choose to base at least some of the origin on its murderers with the knowledge of The Last Jedi vitriol as opposed to a more pointed statement on horror fandom specifically? 

As I mentioned, reactions to the “requels” (semi-reboots and semi-sequels) that the film brings up such as David Gordon Green’s two outings with the Halloween series and the very new Texas Chainsaw Massacre have been incredibly mixed and garnered a fair bit of online shouting matches too. The entitlement that fans have towards those movies has absolutely come out of the woodwork because something about one or all of these movies did not uphold to the standard that fan(s) have in their head. Whether that’s a blatant disregard for the continuity, the implementation of modern colloquialisms and social commentary, or that the usage of intense gore and violence just isn’t enough of a supplement to a patchwork script. The fans at some point or another with these franchises or the next, feel wronged. 

And for what it’s worth, Scream (2022) makes it very clear that it does not agree with this sense of entitlement that Richie and Amber have towards the Stab movies and by extension all of fandom in general. Richie spits out in the climax about how it’s impossible for fans to be toxic because “it’s about love”. Their love for the series is what motivates them to behave so abhorrently and violently, much in the same way that these Star Wars fans loved their series so much that they sent death threats to an actress who did nothing to ruin the series for them other than sign a contract to act in a film called Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

The other side of the coin here, and the missed opportunity with Scream (2022) though, is that as far as horror movie fans are concerned, we do embrace the sequels and tend to be a lot more forgiving of movies that don’t completely work compared to other genres. Yet for some reason, Scream (2022) carries this throughline that has actually been present in the entire series going back to the very first phone conversation in the original Scream where Casey (Drew Barrymore) says as much about A Nightmare on Elm Street being great even though all the sequels sucked.

Casey clearly fell asleep through all of Dream Warriors

This continued in Scream 2 when Randy (Jamie Kennedy) declares very matter-of-factly in his film class that sequels “by definition alone, they’re inferior films.” While here in the new Scream, Randy’s very own niece Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown) reiterates the sequels-are-bad notion in the middle of the movie by going as far to call them as “shitty inferior sequels”. Now granted, I can’t speak for the Stab franchise which has amounted to a total of maybe 15 minutes across all of the Scream films, but this idea that horror sequels are bad is an unfair assessment. Especially in regards to Scream, which is one of the stronger horror franchises. 

So outside of the logic that Richie and Amber are just psychopathic outliers, it’s a shame that Scream (2022) has a bit of a reductionist and generalized interpretation of what horror fans look like. Yes Mindy and her brother are horror fans, but she seems to only care about the original movie. The killers also only care about recreating or at least heavily borrowing elements from the original movie, disregarding anything that happened after. For example, Billy Loomis’s mother is one of the murderers in Scream 2, but sequels suck, so therefore that idea doesn’t matter anymore even though Scream (2022) factors in family members very heavily to its plot.   

Regardless, many of the qualities that would make a movie “bad”, are often a reason to be celebrated as far as the horror genre is concerned. Have you ever read Roger Ebert’s review of Hellraiser II: Hellbound? He eviscerates it, but I and plenty of other fans would say it’s just as good as the original. There’s some appreciation for horror as the underdog genre because it is often dismissed in broader film and media discussion because it isn’t cultured enough or academic enough or it’s too sleazy and demoralizing, or what have you. Which is why I think a more distinct argument is the differentiation between modern horror and older horror films and how the term “elevated horror” has this elitist connotation attached to it that separates those films from “inferior” horror films.

This is ultimately why the general thesis of Scream (2022) falls a bit flat for me, because it’s diverging into an interesting topic on fandom, but it’s not actually about horror fandom. It’s about asshole Star Wars fans. And if that’s the direction the movie wants to take with its concept of toxic fandoms, then why not truly steer into it more? After 1998’s The Phantom Menace, child actor Jake Lloyd was humiliated out of show business and the universal hatred for Jar-Jar Binks nearly drove actor Ahmed Best to suicide. Dare I even bring up Rick and Morty fans? 

There is a collective mob mentality that has only been strengthened by online discourse and criticism that has affected not only Star Wars but all of pop culture in general. That is a very apt topic to base a horror movie around, but Scream (2022) doesn’t want to get specific in regards to what horror fandom is actually talking about in the 21st century nor the broader scope of how wide and diverse fan culture has become. Its focus is much more about treading within the confines of the original 1996 film’s legacy, which is fine…except that Scream 4 kind of already did that eleven years ago.

But sequels suck right? I mean, Rise of Skywalker is pretty terrible, so maybe Randy was right.