Wes Craven’s 1996 postmodern slasher Scream rewrote the rules of the horror genre. But, you already knew that. In the nearly two decades since its release, the genre has evolved to accommodate those self-reflexive rules. And now MTV is seeking to bend those rules over a barrel in a new small screen series loosely based on the original Scream.
But after four big screen features, can any more irony be wrung from the remnants of the once-pioneering franchise? One of the characters even echoes that very sentiment in the first trailer, stating “You can’t do a slasher movie as TV Series.” With that in mind, here’s our rundown of what the series would be wise to include.
1. Likeable, three-dimensional characters
Granted, the show hasn’t aired yet, so the scant scraps of footage available to dissect are edited to promote the series to a specific audience. What’s clear is that while the show looks set to incorporate the latest handheld technology, it appears to draw from the same well of characters as the previous installments. There’s the good girl (channelling the original’s Sidney), her jock boyfriend (Billy), a catty blonde (Tatum), and a mouthy movie nerd (Randy).
There’s method to this type of obvious madness. Scream subverted those tired tropes and rules affixed to the characters of modern horror. Sidney has sex, and according to Randy’s rules she must die - but she lives. Gutsy Gale is a secondary villain up until the third act when she does an about turn and saves the day. Scream didn’t simply update the roster - it also kept a strong, female cast at its core. TV showrunners: take note.
2. Creative kills
Let’s cut to the kill. A sub-genre with a name that also serves as a perfect descriptor hooks in viewers who aren’t squeamish. In fact, quite the opposite. Slashers succeed on the basis of a simple formula: craft well-rounded, likeable characters we identify with and then kill them in the most horrendous way imaginable. If a PG-13 blockbuster can rouse a maelstrom of online debate concerning the hideous death of a minor character, then a series based on an R-rated blood-n-guts franchise should dish out far worse fates to its plucky teens.
Scream broke the mold in its first twelve minutes. The demise of Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker is a suckerpunch to the audience, tricked into believing that a star of Barrymore’s stature wouldn’t DIE IN THE FIRST TEN MINUTES. But she does. And it’s heart-wrenching. The series’ most iconic sequence wraps up to the tortured wails of Becker’s mom as the camera leaps closer to the girl’s lifeless corpse in a series of staccato cuts. Beautifully shot, the sight of Barrymore’s disembowelled teenager swinging from a tree is still jarring to this day. The TV series will have to step up its game to compete with the likes of this.
3. More meta spin
Horror movie references are the main source of idle chatter in the movies. Shifting to a new format means those same digs at the slashers of yesterday don’t apply. The rules have changed for us, and for the characters, whose dalliances with death are now stretched out across ten hours of weekly viewing.
The episodic formula of television opens up the show to an entire back catalogue of titles, which have gone unchecked in the “Scream” canon. “Supernatural,” “Hannibal’, ‘American Horror Story’, ‘iZombie’, and even ‘Game of Thrones’ are all ideal candidates for inclusion.
4. Red herrings and unexpected twists
No-one saw the two-killer finale of Scream coming. Or the “It’s his mother!” ending of Scream 2. Watching those first two flicks back, it’s easier to spot subtle hints dropped in by Craven and co. to eagle-eyed watchers - but definitely not on an initial viewing. The series already has the elasticity of the lengthier TV format and a larger cast, which ought to provide ample opportunity to leave red herrings, build suspense and point us in the wrong direction repeatedly.
5. The original Ghostface mask
The show is set in a different diegetic universe than the four movies. Aside from sharing a name and a healthy body count, many traits of the film franchise won’t be present - including the iconic Ghostface mask. Well, it might turn up later but the show’s creators haven’t exactly been precise about the matter.
If there’s but one thread of connective tissue to tie the show to the movies, it has to be the mask. Inspired by the Edvard Munch painting, it was whipped up by a costume manufacturer who produced it under the name “Father Death”. And the killers donning the rubbery-jawed visage loom over their victims with menace. If the knife to the chest doesn’t stop your heart then the sight of that hideous thing will.
Simply put, the show’s creators want to put their stamp on the story. Fine. But at some point the new mask - the bastard offspring of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers’ masks - has to pay true homage to its predecessor. Right?