Everybody is a Suspect: Three New Rules For SCREAM
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Everybody is a Suspect: Three New Rules For SCREAM

April 13, 2021
Matt Donato

So you’ve survived four entries into a horror franchise that’s still grinding its gears based on box office profitability and nostalgia hounds who cackle-clap whenever they see a familiar title card with a higher number. Congratulations! Thanks for proving that Laurie Strode isn’t Haddonfield’s iconic fluke, but now face your most unpredictable obstacle yet—a fivequel. The Killer Cinco. Fivequel Goes West. The powers that be won’t allow Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, yet here you are waltzing onto the battlefield again like you’re hotter than Danielle Harris. I mean, you’ve seen Alien³ and what David Fincher did to poor little Newt alongside hero-boy Hicks. Death comes for all of us: scream queen, shriek king, survivor person, whatever. Ask Final Destination’s Devon Sawa or Ali Larter.

Through three Woodsboro massacres, Randy Meeks outlined the rules for surviving consecutive horror movies. In a fourth stab-athon, some little AV punks botched the ceremonial meta-duties by not even adhering to listicle format while scoffing at Gale and Sid’s trauma like comment section “purists” did every “gritty” 2000s remake. IN ANY CASE. The formula has already been subverted, tropes thrice revamped, and new generations even resurrected old ghosts with upgraded technology—how can writers, villains, and producers justify a landmark fifth installation? Judging by historical horror data, the answer isn’t dependable.

Jason was exhausted after Friday the 13th’s quadrilogy—final chapter be damned—and sat out A New Beginning. Freddy became a sicko babysitter in The Dream Child. Leprechaun dared venture into “the hood,” oddly enough after he went to space? Chucky became a father and cranked it to a FANGORIA magazine issue. Resident Evil tossed a bunch of fan-favorite video game characters into an Umbrella simulation of greatest hits carnage because hey, look over there! It’s Kevin Durand as Barry Burton! The consensus around successfully delivering a fifth franchise entry is to follow Mad Libs blueprints—continuity an afterthought—and swing harder than Jose Canseco. Chances are you’re not drawing new audiences in, and existing viewers have seen it all.

“Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior,” in a matter of words.

That said, you have the master of ceremonies back in charge now. Those headcam wannabes botched Randy’s ticket-tearer “charm” almost a decade ago, which I’m not letting happen this time around. In the snickery-sneery-smart vein of Randy Meeks, allow me to impart three more golden rules—this time for surviving a slasher flick for the fifth freakin’ attempt.

  1. Everyone is fair game—alive or dead.

Why classify between the living and deceased? Narratives are grasping at chewed-flat straws by now, and the almighty dollar dictates what happens next. Maybe that means a nasty shakeup by way of any beloved lucky-duck still breathing finally meeting the sharpened edge of a hunting knife. Perhaps an affable doofus lawman who already cheated increasingly gruesome faux-fatalities too many times? Or the return of an undersung angel long thought deceased, now back in focus thanks to the magic of retconning and continuity ignorance. It’s not like we saw the wisecracking video store clerk who got snatched into a news van definitively die—a lot of things look like blood dripping onto the pavement.

It’s about spiking an unexpected tremor that’ll leave enough fallout intrigue to pack theaters for further installments. If that means defying someone’s unspoken invincibility spell to prove that Scream will still happily mock its own rules? So be it. Or maybe Dewey, Gale, and Sid are the reason Screamers keep returning, so they’ll be spearheading however many more sequels might come and that’s the stunner? In either case, there has to be a legitimate justification for not only another Scream, but presumably more follow-ups. Whether that’s through roster replacement or banking so hard on nostalgia the afterlife becomes a bigger joke than Gale’s bangs in Scream 3.

2. The craziest option is probably correct.

A sole permeating truth throughout 99% of fifth franchise entries is the promise that writers will abandon any sense of rationale to keep audiences munching popcorn. We’re not talking “Jason morphs into a wriggly insectoid demon” quite yet, but forget what Randy jabbered about any previous rules. Everything you know is wrong (thanks, Weird Al). Who wants to see a fifth movie where Jason lumbers around with a machete (yawn) and hacks more horny co-eds to pieces (again)? If it’s “Jennifer Tilly voices a Martha Stewart-obsessed psycho doll starstruck by a self-humorous portrayal of herself” level crazy? Then yeah, that’s a bingo.

Plenty’s been debated online concerning titles like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, a sequel notorious for its Druid-like “Cult Of Thorn” embrace. What started with John Carpenter plainly outlining “The Shape,” this nondescript vessel of evil, becomes something off-the-wall ritualistic because, at this point, why not? Repetition leads to stagnance, and stagnance breeds disinterest. Whether lifelong property fans are ready for change or not, eventually that tremor previously mentioned will strike. Not to mention, Scream is the first Scream without Wes Craven or Kevin Williamson’s direct involvement—the perfect opportunity for new creative visions to rewrite everything we know about Scream with a fresh “interpretation” so to speak. A fifth installment presents itself like a blank check. Experiment, break the bank, and maybe even produce something bizarrely iconic—at worst underground worshipped—in the process?

I dare suggest the fifth’s title—simply Scream—is trying to tease its intentions more than we’re willing to admit (why use Scream unless you’re playing into reboot culture, Scream 4 already did remakes).

3. Make peace with all good things coming to an end.

Saying goodbye is hard, but studios know properties have a shelf life—typically more extended than the characters within. Maybe that means variable iterations of reboots, television shows, and however else fresh representations translate into cashola. As actors move onward or screenplays explore different directions, familiar faces can vanish with the swing of an axe. Just hope whichever character you hold close enough to commission a memorial tattoo gets a fitting outro, whether that’s a changing-of-the-guard sendoff or one last martyr’s act to close the first of many chapters still unwritten. 

So what’ll it be this time—another unannounced, estranged relative of Sid’s descends upon Woodsboro under black cloak and disfigured white mask? Ghostface with a makeover? Sid snaps and starts hacking through innocent Woodsboro natives? All I know is you should expect the unexpected unless the unexpected is precisely what you should expect. Maybe even Old Man Randy appears with a scar and one last wisdom nugget? We’ll call it even for not allowing another recorded Randyism contribution to further the Meeks legacy in Scream 4.

Matt Donato is a freelance writer who stays up too late typing words for such outlets such as /Film, Collider, Bloody Disgusting, and What To Watch. You can follow his work on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @DonatoBomb.

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