ByZoe McCormack, writer at Creators.co
Zoe McCormack

Due to my interest in postmodern horror films, I have decided to examine the franchise in relation to aspects of postmodernism. Firstly, some context: The Scream franchise consists of four films; Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), and Scream 4 (2011), as well as a spin-off TV series, Scream (2015). The first film, set in the sleepy town of Woodsboro, focuses on Sidney Prescott, a teenage girl who must outsmart a masked killer — dubbed Ghostface — in order to survive.

This movie was released at a time when the teen movie was on the wane, and it helped revitalize the genre through its clever use of postmodernism characteristics, such as parody, irony and, most predominantly, self-reflexivity. The ensuing sequels and TV show further employ the use of postmodernism to deconstruct the generic teen film. This post will focus specifically on the self-reflexivity of the franchise, as well as its subversion of slasher movie tropes, with particular focus on Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997).

The Postmodern Slasher Movie

Valerie Wee states that the “self-reflexivity” of the Scream series is the “actual text," and not merely tongue-in-cheek humor (44). This is particularly evident when looking at the events of the first film. Scream opens with high school student Casey Becker (played by well-known actress Drew Barrymore) receiving a phone call from a mysterious caller.

While this call initially takes the form of a flirtatious discussion of famous horror films — including Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street — the caller soon begins taunting and threatening Casey. Perhaps in a throwback to Psycho, where the eminent actress Janet Leigh was killed off quite early on, Scream similarly disposes of Drew Barrymore’s character within the first 15 minutes.

With audience expectation now displaced, the focus shifts to Neve Campbell’s character (Sidney) and her group of friends, as well as the town deputy (Dewey) and news reporter Gale Weathers. The self-referencing of the film finds expression in the appellation of characters as well. Sidney’s boyfriend (and one of the two killers) is named Billy Loomis, perhaps as an homage to Sam Loomis in Psycho, and Dr. Loomis in Halloween.

In a similar fashion, director Wes Craven appears in a cameo as a janitor named Fred — adorned in red and green striped sweater and brown fedora — in a blatant reference to Craven’s famous child killer Freddy Krueger in the saga.

Wes Craven as Fred the Janitor 'Scream' [Credit: Dimension Films]
Wes Craven as Fred the Janitor 'Scream' [Credit: Dimension Films]

The self-reflexivity of Scream highlights the media-saturated world of these teenagers, with one character accusing Sidney of sounding “like some Wes Carpenter flick,” in a deliberate blending of Wes Craven and John Carpenter. These teen characters are well versed in popular culture and thus can recognize that their life is following a slasher film pattern. The most obvious example of this occurs towards the end of the film, when we are treated to a recitation of the “rules” of generic slasher films by movie geek Randy. You can check this clip out below:

Film-within-a-Film in the Scream Sequels

While we have seen that the self-reflexivity in the first Scream film focuses on the slasher film in general — and the work of director Wes Craven in particular — the second film in the franchise goes further by actually referring to the first film as well. The second film opens with a young couple attending a showing of the movie Stab, the film-within-a-film based on the events of the first Scream movie. Confused yet? The film-within-a-film format is then cleverly employed as the backdrop to the first murder in Scream 2.

Opening Scene from 'Scream 2' [Credit: Dimension Films]
Opening Scene from 'Scream 2' [Credit: Dimension Films]

Scream 3 also uses the film-within-a-film format to achieve postmodern panache. The plot of Scream 3 takes place in Los Angeles, primarily on the set of Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro, with original characters Sidney, Gale, and Dewey joined by their acting counterparts. This is an extremely postmodern notion: Wee asserts that there is a disturbance of boundaries between the original film’s events and the re-enactment of these events in the film-within-a-film (48). I find it easy to agree with Wee here — the killer is murdering people in the “order they die in the movie” (Scream 3).

The movie lot that provides the setting for 'Scream 3' [Credit: Dimension Films]
The movie lot that provides the setting for 'Scream 3' [Credit: Dimension Films]

'Final Girls' for a New Era

I have spent the majority of this post discussing the Scream franchise in relation to its self-reflexivity. However, it is important to point out that these films not only mimic the slasher genre, they also subvert it. This is most evident in the concept of the "final girl," a stereotypically virginal tomboy who, it appears, uses her chastity to outwit a killer – think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.

We are presented with something entirely different in Scream. Instead of the formulaic virgin, we get two complex, relatable "final girls" in the form of Sidney and Gale. Indeed, Sidney is actually allowed to survive "post-coital death" at the end of the first film, defeating her psychotic boyfriend (Wee 55). Gale, the amoral news broadcaster, is a far cry from the bright, young ingénue that typically evades death in the slasher movie. Both of these characters possess an actual voice in these movies, as opposed to the objectified female victim that is so prevalent in other movies of the genre.

'Final Girls' Gale and Sidney 'Scream' [Credit: Dimension Films]
'Final Girls' Gale and Sidney 'Scream' [Credit: Dimension Films]

For the sake of brevity, we have looked at two aspects of postmodernism in the Scream franchise: self-reflexivity and subversion of genre tropes. I will conclude my first ever post by highly recommending the Scream movies for those of you who haven’t yet seen them — they are scary, entertaining, wildly clever, and always worth a watch!

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Sources: (Wee, Valerie. “The Scream Trilogy, ‘Hyperpostmodernism’, and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film”. Journal of Film and Video 57.3 (2005): 44-61. Print)