Every Halloween season, I watch a bunch of horror movies with my sister to get in the spooky mood. This October, we watched the full Scream franchise, which is currently four movies. The original Scream was released in 1996, and Scream 5 is in the filming process right now, and is expected to be released in January 2022.
The best part about this film franchise is that it is one huge commentary on the horror movie genre. While creating this commentary, the series has created their own franchise-specific tropes that each movie follows. I want to break down all of the tropes critiqued and created by the franchise!
NOTE: The rest of this article contains spoilers for every released Scream movie to date (Scream – Scream 4).
The most unique part of the Scream franchises’ horror trope commentary is that it is very direct and obvious to the viewer. Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy), the resident film-geek of the first three movies, explains directly the tropes that are in play. Each movie has different tropes according to the order of the movie within the franchise—or within the universe, the order of events in reference to the original string of murders.
In the first movie, Randy tells us that the killer seems to be following the typical horror movie tropes: if you want to live, don’t have sex, do drugs, or drink alcohol, and if someone says “I’ll be back,” they won’t be back. And he is right—except for the notable exception of Sidney (Neve Campbell), who had lost her virginity to her boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich), who is revealed to be the killer. Sidney lives, which goes against the “Virginal Final Girl” trope.
In Scream 2 (1997), Randy explains that this new round of murders is following the rules of the movie sequel, which is fitting because it is the sequel of the franchise. There are more tropes for this movie—the body count in a sequel is always bigger, the death scenes are more elaborate (with more blood and gore) and you should never assume that the killer is dead. The events of the movie follow this formula, as there are way more deaths and way worse deaths in this movie then the last. And, tragically, Randy dies in this movie, which comes as a shock to us all and hits the viewers really hard.
But just because Randy dies in the second movie doesn’t mean he fails to share the horror trilogy tropes with us that Scream 3 (2000) follows, via a video shared with our main cast by his sister. In the finale of a trilogy, no one is safe, not even the main cast of characters, the killer is superhuman, and the past will come back to bite you. All of these are followed in the movie, but the “killer is superhuman” rule is a bit sketchy here—the killer is human, but this is the first time that he wears a bulletproof vest, which gives him more protection and a feeling of superhuman-ness.
In Scream 4 (2011), Randy is not the one explaining our movie trope rules anymore. This role is taken over by the two film geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen), who run the film club at Sidney’s old high school. They share with us that the murders in this movie are following the remake rules—there is a “new generation” of characters, and the old standard tropes are now reversed (“the unexpected is the new cliche”). Our new generation is rounded off by Sidney’s younger cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), who actually turns out to be the killer of the movie, which is the reverse of the original movie, where Sidney’s boyfriend was the killer. However, Sidney reminds Jill of our last remake trope that needs to be followed just as Jill tries to kill her—”don’t fuck with the original.”
As awesome as these classic horror movie tropes are, the universe-specific tropes within the Scream franchise are even more fun. But first, I want to acknowledge how freaking cool it is that this horror franchise is the only one that follows the same cast of characters in each movie. Sidney Prescott is always at the center of the murders as the original victim, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is always the one investigating the murders as a journalist, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is always working the case as a police officer and Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) is always just … there? He doesn’t really have a recurring role in the storyline, but he has always just been in the movies (at least until his character dies in Scream 3).
Speaking of the cast, the first main Scream franchise rule is that Sidney, Gale and Dewey will never die in the movies. At least not so far, Scream 5 still has time to surprise us all. But the ways that the three main characters survive is also a franchise trope. Dewey will always get clobbered to the point where it looks like he died, but he always pops up from the ground at the end after everything is over. Gale also almost dies in every movie, but pops back up in time to save the day. Sidney always receives the whole backstory of the killer and the killer tries to kill her; however, usually as Sidney seems like she’s dying, Gale pops up and kills the killer.
This franchise is so much fun to watch for both the entertainment of a good horror movie and for the commentary it gives to the entire genre. January 2022 can’t come fast enough for me to find out if they create any more franchise tropes and to find out what classic horror movie tropes they take on next!