Scream: The Refresher Guide

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Scream 4 comes out this week more than eleven years after its predecessor, so it seemed appropriate to provide you with a quick glance back over the previous three films. After all, by this point you’d be forgiven for having forgotten some of the villains’ more complicated motivations for doing what they did, so here’s a quick glance back over the players, the baddies, the most memorable kills and the rules of the franchise so far. Warning: obviously contains spoilers for Screams 1 to 3.

In 1996, the slasher movie was more-or-less dead, killed by a flood of below-par sequels to the likes of Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street. There were serial killer movies, but they were films like The Silence Of The Lambs and Seven; told more from the cop’s point of view than that of the hapless victim. Wes Craven began to resurrect the old gods with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994, bringing Freddy Krueger back from the wilderness and onto a movie set to terrorise the star of the first film in a brilliantly meta and moderately successful horror hit. After all, what better way to revive a moribund genre than by acknowledging that the audience knows all the clichés and by subverting them?

Two years later, Craven decided to try the same trick again on a bigger stage. But this time he wouldn’t connect it to an existing franchise but would parody slasher movies as a genre. With Kevin Williamson’s witty and knowing script, a bucketload of gore and an instantly iconic killer in Ghostface, the stage was set for Scream, a very funny but also very scary hit. Two sequels followed, and a raft of imitators and wannabes – Final Destination and Urban Legend, to name but two – but it’s now been 11 years since the last Scream. With the rise and fall of torture porn in the meantime, there are new horror rules to play with…

Two high school students, Casey (Drew Barrymore) and Steve (Kevin Patrick Walls) are killed by a masked murderer who quizzes Casey on horror movies. Their classmate, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is already dealing with the one-year anniversary of her own mother’s murder, and in the wake of the double killing suspects her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) – until sees the killer in one place and Billy in another, proving his innocence(or does it?). Meanwhile, ambitious tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is in town to sensationalise the case, and is convinced that Sidney’s father (who has disappeared) could be involved. Sidney is unsympathetic to this particular theory, understandably enough.

Following the inexcusable death of the school principal (Henry Winkler), because one should never mess with the Fonz, school is suspended and Billy’s friend Stu (Matthew Lillard) throws a party. There, Sidney’s friend and Stu’s girlfriend, Tatum (Rose McGowan), is killed in the garage and Gale’s cameraman Kenny (W. Earl Brown) is slaughtered after fatally forgetting about time delay in his video feed. Sidney, Billy, film geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and Deputy Dewey, Tatum’s brother (David Arquette), are all injured by the killer, while Gale crashes her car trying to escape.

Randy and Stu accuse the other of being the killer, but it turns out to be Stu and Billy, working together with a voice-changing device. They reveal that they also killed Sidney’s mother the year before, framing her lover, Cotton Weary, for the crime; they plan to pin these latest murders on Sidney’s father, who they have kidnapped and hidden away. Sidney is, again understandably, unsympathetic to this plan. Returning to the house, Sidney drops a TV on the already-injured Stu’s head, then Gale shoots Billy – before Sidney shoots him again when he returns for one last scare. Because they always do.

Sidney’s headed to college, along with Randy, who has something of a crush on her. But as the movie adaptation of the events of Scream (called “Stab”) opens, two students (Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps) are killed in front of a crowded cinema. That’s followed up by the murder of Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar), at her sorority house; Sidney’s also threatened, but her new boyf Derek (Jerry O’Connell) helps her escape.

Gale and Dewey have rallied around to help Sidney, but they can’t stop Randy being killed, nor the detectives assigned to Sidney, nor her roommate. Oh, and Dewey gets himself stabbed again. Basically, they’re bugger all use. Sidney becomes convinced that history is repeating itself and her boyfriend is responsible; Gale suspects Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) after seeing him at the scene of one of the murders.

In fact, it’s Derek’s buddy and cinema nerd Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), along with “Debbie Salt”, aka Mrs Loomis, aka the monster’s mother. Mickey kills Derek, Mrs Loomis shoots Mickey, Sidney drops a stage on Mrs Loomis and then Cotton shoots her to finish the job. Gale and Sidney shoot Mickey when he comes back for that obligatory final scare, before putting one in Mrs Loomis’ head for good measure. Well, you don’t want to do things by halves. But Dewey’s alive, and Sidney and Gale made it, so all’s well that ends well.

Things get, if that’s possible, even more complicated. Cotton Weary and his girlfriend are killed by someone after information on Sidney, who has retreated to a secret location in the quite reasonable hope of avoiding new acquaintances who might turn out to be knife-wielding psychos. Meanwhile, Stab 3 is in production over in Hollywood and someone’s killing the cast members in the same order they die in the script. Oh, and Gale and Dewey are draw into the mystery, and discover a connection to Sidney’s mother: apparently she was a Hollywood starlet in her youth.

Unwisely, Stab 3’s producer (Lance Henriksen) decides to throw a party at his mansion, and invites star Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer) and Tyson Fox (Deon Richmond), along with Dewey, Gale and the film’s director Roman Bridger (Scott Foley). Wouldn’t you know it, Ghostface crashes the party and kills the director and three actors, before calling Sidney to let her know that he’s holding her friends hostage.

Sidney initially suspects detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey), who takes a extreme interest in her case, but it turns out after Kincaid gets stabbed that Roman faked his own death and is the killer – oh, and he’s her half-brother, the product of her mother’s rape years before. Roman kills Lance Henriksen in front of Sidney, he’s also the one who set Billy Loomis on his killing spree all those years ago, and he’s planning on framing Sidney for the latest murders. All of which puts him firmly in the “bad’un” camp.

Roman shoots Sidney twice, leaving her for dead – but she’s wearing a vest, and gets up to stab him with an icepick. As Dewey and Gale reach her, Roman rises from the (apparently) dead and Dewey puts a few more in the chest, but as Roman’s also wearing a vest, Sidney tells Dewey to shoot him in the head instead, and they all live happily ever after. At least (deep, dark trailer voice) until now

Unlike most of their contemporaries, the characters in the Scream movies were aware of horror film conventions and frequently played with them. So they knew that big-breasted girls shouldn't run upstairs to hide from a killer and that the apparently-dead always come back for a final scare. But each film has specific rules, actually laid out by one of the characters, and these are listed below...


  1. You can never have sex.
  2. You can never do drink or drugs.
  3. Never, ever, under any circumstances, say "I'll be right back".

    Scream 2

  4. The body count is always bigger.
  5. The death scenes are always much more elaborate, with more blood and gore.
  6. Never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead.

    Scream 3

  7. The killer is going to be superhuman. Stabbing won't work. Shooting won't work. In the third one, you have to cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up.
  8. Anyone, including the main character, can die
  9. The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Any sins committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.
  10. Basically, in the third movie, all bets are off.

At the end of Scream 3, we were left with women of action Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers, and much-stabbed love interests Mark Kincaid and Dewey Riley and, er, that’s pretty much it.

While Weathers seems largely untraumatised by everything that has happened, one has to wonder how her romance with Dewey will survive not being chased by a madman every five minutes. Prescott had previously retreated into seclusion and apparently by this fourth film has written a self-help book, so it’s fair to say she’s been through the wars but is dealing with it.

Dewey’s been stabbed more often than a recalcitrant cocktail sausage, and Kincaid also got cosily acquainted with a knife or two during his one film appearance. That said, Patrick Dempsey’s apparently not back for Scream 4, so who knows what happened to him? While there’s always the chance he’ll turn up in a surprise twist as the killer, it seems unlikely; he probably just faded back into the hospital drama police career from which he came.

Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsboro, her home town, on the 15th anniversary of the first Ghostface killings to promote her new self-help book. Yes, she’s grown up to be one of those people. There, she finds Dewey and a profoundly bored Gale. And also, inevitably, the Ghostface killer, once again stabbing rings round his-, her- or themselves.

There’s new meat for the grinder in the shape of Sidney’s aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell), cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), Jill’s friend Kirby (Hayden Panetierre), and other friends played by the likes of Rory Culkin and Amy Teegarden. Erik Knudsen is Robbie Mercer, a film geek who’s au fait with the new horror rules (“Now even virgins can die”), we’re told that Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin will appear, and Anthony Anderson is the new Deputy on the case.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. It's safe to assume that a big name will be killed off early on, in keeping with the series to date (Drew Barrymore, Jada Pinkett, Liev Schreiber). But given the horror movies of the past few years, we can expect this 21st century Scream to have amped up the gore factor considerably…