The tragedy of the recent “Scream” franchise fiasco is just how stellar 2023’s “Scream 6” was with its six spectacular set pieces.
One of the biggest and most profitable horror films of 2023 was Scream 6, surpassing its predecessor’s global haul of 138 million with a franchise-best opening of 44.4 million. Before the seeming implosion of the juggernaut franchise in recent months, most fans were left in tense anticipation for Scream 7.
At this point, sadly, we may not get a Scream 7. More likely, however, we will — there’s too much money on the table to walk away from this beloved franchise. What remains to be seen is how well-received it will be and if it can come close to rekindling the magic of Scream 6 after the exit of its leads and director, Christopher Landon.
If the Scream franchise is dead, at least for now, I wanted to take a minute to look back on what made Scream 6 so great, dissecting all the delicious developments and nifty easter eggs that it laid out (making it especially fruitful for rewatches).
Featuring callbacks to every film before and the return of fan-favorite Kirby, Scream 6 voraciously cemented its status as a worthy entry into the franchise by distracting moviegoers from noticing Neve Campbell’s absence with a handful of dazzling set-pieces… six to be exact. These helped please longtime fans and new moviegoers alike.
1. Hello and Goodbye
The first set-piece is a delicious scream of expectation-toying, teasing the audience with a brief but engaging introduction to bubbly film studies professor Laura Crane (Samara Weaving, Ready or Not and The Babysitter), who delivers an endearingly nerdy speech on the merits of horror tropes throughout the decades before being swiftly and brutally stabbed to death in a public alley.
Given Weaving’s rising star power and the speed and viciousness of the stabbing, the opener could have been satisfying enough had it stopped there, but no…she dies, and there is no title card to flash across the screen as tradition has established. Instead, the camera lingers for an extended several seconds until the killer shockingly takes off his mask.
The audacity of this opens up the plot to a number of possibilities, such as the audience being clued into one of the killers’ identities and having fun watching Tony Revolori’s Jason sneak-killing the unsuspecting cast. The unmasking excitingly extends the opening murder into a brand new Scream world.
2. Havoc at the Bodega
The ambition does not stop there. In addition to an opening scene containing a double murder in two different locations, with two different killers, fans are then treated to one of the more uniquely gripping set-pieces in the entire franchise.
Sam and Tara (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, until recently, the new icons of the Scream franchise) receive a phone call on a dark street where the action quickly moves to a more populated location where Ghostface not only harnesses a shotgun (another franchise first) but randomly and indiscriminately kills off uninvolved bystanders — another thing Ghostface has never done before.
This set-piece is also unique in that it is one of the more sizeable sequences, and it comes very early into the movie, giving Scream 6 an unpredictably frenetic pace.
3. Lethal Ladder
Ghostface then takes his terror streak from the streets of Manhattan to the interior in what has been most described as ‘the ladder scene’ in which newcomer Annika (played by Devyn Nekoda) suffers through an extended and visceral attack, leaving her internal organs on the external side.
Cruelly, Annika must then traverse a ladder extended between one apartment and an adjacent building. Prior to this, the characters have to dodge Ghostface in a series of fast dashes and door-slamming that evokes the original Child’s Play.
Annika’s fate and fall from the ladder are horrific enough without having her head get smashed on a dumpster below, adding a sadistic and devastating denouement to one of the more likable newcomers of Scream 6. Annika, we hardly knew ye.
4. At Home With an Icon
Equally unsafe in her own apartment, Courteney Cox receives her very first call from Ghostface (a series first! So many firsts!). The physicality that ensues and the chase and maiming that Gale endures is replete with tension, humor, and genuinely gorgeous nighttime photography.
Not content just to look great, Gale refuses to convey fear in this tense interaction where Ghostface not only cuts deep on the death of the only man to truly love her, but questions Gale’s merit in the franchise as a whole.
As lovable as Neve Campbell as Sidney is, she really did suck up the majority of audience investment and star status, with Cox relegated to (in Gale’s own words) the “brains and sex appeal.” Here, finally and much deservedly, Courtney Cox is finally the star… and hot damn, she owns it!!
Gale screams; she runs; she shoots; she hangs up and presses redial.
The Gale attack scene is probably the most terrifying scene for franchise veterans and long-time Gale lovers due to how dangerous and very real the possibility felt that she might actually die (especially given the stakes Scream 5 established after killing fan-favorite Dewey).
Thankfully, Gale does not meet her end in this scene, and the horror train continues to chug along, bringing viewers to a scene featured heavily in marketing and one that does not disappoint.
5. Scream on the Subway
The true fun and wicked energy associated with this subway scene is the suspenseful way that our principal characters become separated at the last minute. Both Samantha on one train and Mindy on the other spot various train riders in Ghostface costumes, leaving the viewer to agonize over which of these two trains (or possibly both!?) has a real killer on them waiting to strike.
To digress for one quick minute, the teaser trailers for Scream 6 quickly and unceremoniously spoiled the reveal and explicitly showed viewers which character will be attacked. This provides an incentive for why seasoned horror fans should really consider avoiding horror movie trailers altogether; they’re called ‘Spoilers’ for a reason… they spoil the fun.
Thankfully, the subway sequence is still a delightful excursion in terror train goodness (with convenient & agonizingly extended power outages providing excellent and nightmarish new filters to experience the iconic Ghostface mask).
Additionally, this train is packed with so many franchise horror call-outs that even with the suspense element removed, there is plenty of horror eye candy to be gleaned: Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason, and the villains of Us and The Babadook are all on board!
This wicked fusing and joining of horror icons in one space goes extra meta for the finale, with the franchise returning to a theatre for the first time since 1997 for its final act.
6. Rumble at Richie’s Shrine
Richie’s shrine (and all the callbacks within) is introduced earlier in the film and is the setting for the final set-piece. This location brings back memories of Scream 2, and writers James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick (along with Radio Silence directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett) take this homage and ratchet it up to the next level with scenes of carnage that could affect even the most desensitized gore fan.
Mouth stabbings, teeth being smashed with bricks, double Ghostface attack with double knife-wiping, and eye piercings!
This finale is not fu$%^ing around, featuring Sam getting to don the Ghostface getup for the first time and taking matters into her own hands (recalling Sidney doing the same in the 1996 original). Characters also get to work together in a welcome and different way not really seen in previous Scream films — with Sam, Tara, and Chad working together in an exhilaratingly staged action moment in an attempt to take down their attacker.
It would have worked, too, had a second… and then a third Ghostface not shown up. This triple Ghostface reveal, coupled with the way Sam and Tara revel in exacting revenge on the trio of killers, helps elevate this finale into a deliriously intoxicating mix of gnarly body horror and excessive slasher camp.