A decade later, a new Scream is finally back in theaters, and all good horror buffs are bingeing the series in anticipation. Returning to its unique dissection of the slasher genre is always a blast, and while they have all earned my adoration, some made the cut above others in my ranking.
It goes without saying that the original is killer. Scream released during a drought in quality slashers and mainstream horror; a cesspool of b-movie sequels trying to recapture the magic of films like Halloween, with writing and acting as chaotic as a meth lab explosion. It cut off the genre’s head, filled its corpse with new ideas, and injected it with some much-needed adrenaline. The script, which seriously should have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay if The Academy ever gave horror the time of day, served us a meta slasher whodunit that kept audiences guessing, laughing, and clutching their pearls. The cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity, and the gumption it took to kill off Hollywood royalty Drew Barrymore in the film’s opening made it clear that all bets were off!
My inaugural viewing of Scream took place hidden away in my cousin’s bedroom after finding the VHS on her bookshelf. I saw the cover art and, having briefly heard about the movie on TV, thought something along the lines of, “Why is she gagging so?” I was perhaps too young to be watching (around 9) and most certainly too immature to understand the intricacies of its script, but everyone thought I was playing video games, and I knew I could get away with a screening. I was immediately invested and sitting on the edge of my seat, desperate to know who the killer was while I covered my eyes from the gore. Over time, my love for the original only appreciated, especially for the personal story at its center and the impeccable cast. No character was written off as cannon fodder: The bitchy bestie Tatum and ruthless gay icon Gale Weathers proved women in horror can still have depth, and gave us two to fear second only to Ghostface himself; Randy the Meta Machine explained horror and its tropes to both characters and audience, essentially “don’t go in there!” personified; Billy and Stu, the OG killers, brought brooding hair, a touch of homoeroticism, and a scene-stealing wackadoo performance by Matthew Lillard; and the final girl herself, Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, was the girl next door with bangs and a backbone.
The original Scream deserves all the praise and respect it’s earned and retained throughout its 25 years. It lands the #1 spot on this list partially due to this reverence, but also because the quality of the writing, acting, and direction make it one of the few films I can watch ad nauseum. Like Sidney self-referentially states in the fourth movie: “Don’t fuck with the original.”
Gale’s Best Lewk: The first time we see Gale is in her lime green blazer and skirt, and it is everything. She stepped onto set and said, “I’ve arrived,” hitting us with a flamboyant representation of 90s fashion that Gen Z only wishes they could have pulled off during their recent mass appropriation of 90s culture.
2. Scream 4
It was a bit of a struggle deciding between Scream 4 and the next one on my list, but ultimately I gave it to the 2011 sequel that, to me, did what the series does best and elevated the genre. Released about a decade after the previous entry (much like the upcoming 5cream), the film’s tagline, “New Decade, New Rules,” proved true. Not so much focused on Sidney’s past, the fourth film in the series is more a rumination on the fame a tale like hers inspires and the jealous rage those without the glory may experience. This time around, Ghostface is the stuff of legend, and this new generation of teenage cutting boards almost can’t believe they’re in a scary movie.
Replete with a mega-meta movie-within-a-movie opening that highlights Scream’s influence on our world as much as within that of the films themselves, some of the better kills and thrills in the series (poor Olivia’s bedroom looked like something out of a Rob Zombie flick), and another fresh young cast, Scream 4 feels like going home again. The fact that a fourth film was released after such a long hiatus also upped the tension by suggesting the possibility that one of the original trio loses their fight against Ghostface – it didn’t happen, but the gamble is back in 2022.
The real star of Scream 4 is Emma Roberts as Jill, who was almost certainly cast due to her nasty performance as Madison Montgomery, the narcissistic witch you love to hate in American Horror Story: Coven. Initially, a demure clone of her cousin Sidney, the climax reveals Jill to be the killer seeking the fame she’s witnessed Sid achieve. What follows is an iconic Reaction Whore™ moment where we see Jill, thinking she’s won, proceed to rip out her hair, stab herself, bash her head into a wall, and throw herself onto a glass table to complete her transition from defenseless victim to survivor and, most importantly, celebrity. The insanity of this moment had me cheering for the psycho like I wanted her to win, so maybe Kevin Williamson was on to something… The irony of Jill’s attempt at going viral is that Sidney’s fame is undesirable; she’s suffered immensely because of it. Jill killed all her friends, her mother, and even herself to attain it. Scream 4 asks: “Was it worth it?”.
Gale’s Best Lewk: Listen, Gale wasn’t stunting pretty here like she used to. Her writing career was struggling, and she got stabbed in a barn! However, I’ll give props to the Bedpan Couture hospital gown she wore during her showdown with the killer.
3. Scream 2
In terms of pure fun, Scream 2 is a fantastic slasher sequel. It is well-written and brings us back into the world of our main trio without a hitch. The college setting is a natural progression of the story, and the cast is full of rising and current stars of the time (hello, Sarah Michelle Gellar!). It features a classically shocking Screamopening, an unhinged killer (hello, Laurie Metcalf!), the best chase sequence in the series in which Gale hides from Ghostface in a sound studio, and even the brutal death of our beloved Randy Meeks. So why isn’t this, at the very least, number two on my ranking? Well, it just doesn’t do anything new for the series other than be a surprisingly good sequel.
The original constantly toyed with the idea of what it means to be in a horror movie, and Scream 4 took that a step further by asking if the starring role is worth the price of admission. While Scream 2 touches on the influence of movies and media on the American psyche through the lens of copycat killer Mickey’s motive, this point is sidelined by Mrs. Loomis’ revenge quest. Mickey is unceremoniously shot dead by Mrs. L, and she wants bloody vengeance for the death of her son Billy, plain and simple. The film’s reflection on the genre thus boils down to an expected discussion on sequels (and again, it does this well) rather than subverting our expectation of what should happen next. Also, I need a horror nerd vent session: Sarah Michelle Gellar’s chase scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer is far more suspenseful and tragic than what we get here; not to mention, running around a college theatre dodging foam cobblestones pales in comparison to the other Final Parties in the series (and yes, I get it, Sidney is staging her own finale this time). And finally, let’s be honest with ourselves here; no matter how cute you think it is, Jerry O’Connell’s cafeteria serenade is a moment that should be wiped from Scream canon. Sue me!
Gale’s Best Lewk: The sleeveless black dress with her red highlights is the best Gale has looked in the entire series. She’ll step on your neck AND get that story, sweetie!
4. Scream 3
This one is at the bottom of most rankings, and it isn’t just because of Gale’s hedge clipper bangs. Scream 3focused so much on ending the trilogy that it didn’t stop to think why it was doing so. Per the horror rules, the third film in a trilogy brings it all back to the beginning. As such, we get an underwhelming retcon of the original film. Roman, the director of Stab 3 and Ghostface himself, is revealed to be Sidney’s neglected half-brother and the director, if you will, behind Billy and Stu’s 1996 murder spree. While I’m not necessarily bothered by this revelation (although I understand why some feel it betrays the spark of the original), it felt contrived and rushed in its delivery. Sidney never even meets Roman until he takes off his mask during the big reveal; less “you’re the killer?” and more “who the hell are you?”. Add to this a series of underwhelming kills, pacing issues, and a cheesy ending that a series such as this should be satirizing rather than earnestly taking part in, and you get the weakest entry in the series. Randy would be horrified.
HOWEVER, this is still a Scream movie, and I cannot leave here only speaking poorly of the threequel. The cursed production of Stab 3 actually works as a logical setting for an entry in the series, and the script is genuinely funny. We are graced with the gloriously goofy Parker Posey as Jennifer Jolie, the Stab actor portraying Gale Weathers, and her buddy-cop pairing with the real Gale allows them to riff off one another in sublime fashion. The film’s comedy is truly the best thing about it. Another outstanding example is a set-piece involving Jennifer’s house and fax machine that exhibits almost I Love Lucy tier farce. Since Sidney is less of a focal point early on, actors Cox, Arquette, and Posey can really dive into their characters and shine. Sidney also undergoes some growth befitting the end of a trilogy, making important strides in overcoming her fears and isolation from the outside world. And lastly, setting the Final Party in an old Hollywood mansion complete with hidden passages and a basement filled with horror props is truly emblematic of the series. It’s just a shame that Scream 3 got bogged down in the trilogy trappings it should have been ripping apart.
Gale’s Best Lewk: The red leather pants, white turtleneck, hoodie, and “those bangs” that Gale wears to Jennifer Jolie’s house is an underrated gem. She is the millennium.
It Came From Shudder August Edition
Tell ‘em it’s my birthday when I binge-watch like that! Yeah, I’m appropriating Selena Gomez lyrics because it’s my birthday and I wanna celebrate some stuff I like on Shudder. The August roster is packed, and a few recent watches also made my shortlist. Shall we gaze into the void together?
Vicious Fun (2020)
Aside from its declarative title, which it lives up to, what truly caught my eye is that the main character is a horror critic who must navigate his escape from a group of serial killers attending a “self-help” meeting. Talk about art imitating life! Just kidding … everyone at Horror Press is an upstanding citizen. Absolutely no one is a serial killer … I think (I hope no one at HP actually reads this).
But I digress. The movie’s a blast and features some great actors who have a marvelously meta time dissecting slasher villain archetypes. Oh, and it’s set in the ’80s! How fun.
One Cut of the Dead (2019)
I’d heard good things, so I skimmed some reviews beforehand, as one does. It seemed the consensus was, “the less you know, the better,” and I couldn’t agree more. What I can tell you is we watch as a sadistic director makes a low-budget zombie flick and continues to film after his cast and crew experience an attack by the actual undead. I was initially underwhelmed but stick with it. You’ll be in for a surprise that ends up being a love letter to the art of filmmaking.
The Convent (2000)
The type of movie you put on at 1 am with some Taco Bell after getting home from a night out. It’s full-throttle grungy Y2K mayhem: A group of Greek life douchebags finds themselves the unwitting hosts for a flock of demonic nuns after they decide to make a late-night visit to a condemned convent with a dark past. The makeup and special effects are Day-Glo Buffy the Vampire Slayer perfection. The cast includes a young Kelly Mantle of Drag Race fame and horror vet Adrienne Barbeau, former wife and frequent collaborator of John Carpenter. It’s loud and messy, and it would probably be canceled if made today. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
A Shudder original from Chloe Okuno, the director who made Raatma a mascot of the horror community with her V/H/S/94 segment “Storm Drain.” If that doesn’t pique your interest (Hail Raatma!), how’s this? It’s a Hitchcockian thriller starring horror darling Maika Monroe, who plays an American ex-pat in Bucharest convinced she’s become prey to a serial killer fond of beheading. It had a brief stint in theaters earlier this summer – which I missed out on – and I can’t wait to hit play when it makes its Shudder premiere on August 26th.
The Innocents (2021)
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Eskil Vogt wrote and directed this Norwegian supernatural thriller that examines purity and morality when a group of children discover and abuse dark powers hidden within. The trailer is instantly compelling, and the whole thing gives me X-Men meets Goodnight Mommy vibes. I’ll certainly be checking in when it arrives on Shudder, August 18th.
Special Edition: The George A. Romero and Stephen King Collection
August is starting with a shriek! On the 1st, the original Creepshow (1982), directed by Romero and written by King, makes its triumphant return to Shudder accompanied by a collection of the duo’s greatest hits. From the OG versions of Carrie, The Crazies, Firestarter, and Salem’s Lot to unconventional gems like Monkey Shines and Misery, this collection will fill out your watchlist nicely. It’s been ages since I’ve seen some of these, and it’s important to know your horror history!
That about sums up my recommendations for the month. I hope my particular blend of oddities has enticed you. And if not, don’t worry about it. At least you don’t work with a bunch of possible serial killers.
I Know What You Watched Last Summer: Your Guide to Seasonal Sleaze
Enter an internet search of summer horror movies, and the usual suspects pop up. But what if you don’t want to watch Friday the 13th or Jaws for the umpteenth time? What if you crave something trashy, campy, strange, or downright awful? Something that makes you choke on your beer after cackling at the cringe and creates those lasting so-bad-it’s-good memories with loved ones on a humid July night. The ridiculous Sleepaway Camp inspired this list, and while its problematic chaos qualifies, it’s had a resurgence in recent years. I’m here to point you toward less discussed summertime guilty pleasures, whether you’ve never seen them or haven’t had a rewatch in some time. Grab a flashlight and meet me around the fire at Camp Horror Press as we weave a tale of underappreciated gems, and maybe we’ll rip them to shreds along the way.
Cheerleader Camp (1988):
If David Lynch and John Waters teamed up to direct a ludicrous old-school slasher, the self-aware Cheerleader Camp would be their concoction. Originally titled Bloody Pom Poms, it stars Betsey Russel (Jill Tuck in the Saw franchise) as troubled “it girl” Alison as she attends a cheerleading camp where anything goes, and every transgression is near immediately forgotten. Lynchian dream sequences featuring razor-sharp pom-poms and voyeuristic sex provide insight into Alison’s troubled mind. Yet, outside of this nightmare realm, it’s all Porky’sand classically trashy slasher depravity. There is no sense of time, so – much like the film’s young actors who can’t seem to help but tumble through the woods like ragdolls – it’s best to roll with it.
Antics include: Employees hiding a dead body to avoid a camp shutdown, wild bedroom role-play that’s recorded and screened for all to see, and a topless queen bee suntanning showdown, for good measure. Surprisingly, the acting is a degree above half-baked, perhaps because of the film’s presumably knowing nature. The sophisticated script allows for amazing line deliveries like, “Chickens! Where?!” and “I hope you DIE!” which remain oddly charming while wrapped up in the film’s bizarre plane of existence. The reveal of the killer’s identity – loosely based on a true story – is similarly satisfying. If you’re in the mood to submerge yourself in the mystical waters of prime late 80’s slasher filth, it’s time for a weekend at Cheerleader Camp.
Killer Quote: “The queen will epitomize the highest ideals of cheerleading, which are nothing less than the highest ideals of mankind.” – Miss Tipton (Vickie Benson)
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998):
Okay, this sequel to its hit predecessor from 1997 is genuinely bad. The original, which piggybacked off the success of Scream, had a few things going for it: It, too, was written by horror scribe Kevin Williamson, the cast is full of bonafide late 90’s dreamboats, and it includes what I consider to be one of the slasher genre’s best chase scenes, starring scream queen Sarah Michelle Gellar. Unfortunately, Williamson did not write this sequel, and poor SMG did not survive her legendary scuffle with the hooked killer. Scream 2 had modeled the precedent less than a year prior by satirizing cliché horror sequels while simultaneously being a great one, and I Still Know took absolutely zero notes. What remains is a hackneyed follow-up that thrusts Jennifer Love Hewitt’s irksome final girl, Julie James, into the muck once more – this time at a tropical resort in the Bahamas that resembles a lakeside retreat in upstate New York.
Hot garbage doesn’t stink so bad when it’s on celluloid, however, and if watched with the mindset of roasting this movie to hell – perhaps a drinking game – there’s fun within. Hewitt’s suspiciously forced acting chops invoke more cringe than trauma two decades before Halloween Kills ingrained “Evil Dies Tonight!” into our brains, and the return of her beau Freddie Prinze Jr. is butchered by writing him into an asinine savior subplot that literally throws him out a hospital window (and much of the action). Hewitt, arms outstretched, also blesses us with a recreation of her iconic, “What are you waiting for?!” scene from the OG, and a hilarious attempt at promotion for her now-defunct singing career inserts itself during the corniest of-the-era needle drop. Don’t fret, JLove, Ghost Whisperer comes soon enough.
The cast rounds out with a rasta-appropriating Jack Black, 90s icon Brandy as the rare black final girl, and Mekhi Phifer as her incredulously rude boyfriend. A few decent kills liven up the joint with some much-needed gore, followed by a suspenseful epilogue that acts as a lovely nightcap – that is, until it abruptly ends with a gotcha moment so uninspired your eyes may get lost in the back of your head. Keep up the (responsible) drinking game, and you’ll be litty as a kitty in no time!
Killer Quote: “All I know is that this is the worst vacation of my life. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m fucking horny, and I ain’t seen one goddamn psycho killer.” – Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) moments before being slain.
Tourist Trap (1979):
What if the killer from House of Wax had telekinetic abilities and was super annoying? This wacky freakshow from the always entertaining Full Moon Features follows a group of twenty-somethings who suffer a doomed roadside run-in with the Carrie White of dollmakers, and it certainly checks off the “wrong turn road trip” box. Made at a time when not everything needed an explanation, the kinetically charged Tourist Trap somehow succeeds at being both positively silly and uncomfortably disturbing. Its achievements in audio are key: A shifty score oscillates between high tension and something akin to a Spotify playlist for clowns, and its sound design highlights the orgasmic talents of an army of moaning mannequins; if you have thin walls, beware.
Molly, the bonnet-wearing Little Karen on the Prairie heroine, is precisely as irritating as she sounds, and, as mentioned, the film’s villain is no different – he never shuts the fuck up! Of course, this is all part of the fun. There are some genuine scares to be had, mainly due to its infusion of supernatural blood into the standard slasher formula. Tourist Trap: Come for the chills…stay for the sultry mannequins!
Killer Quote: “He always wanted to be like me. You see, I’m his big brother. He always wanted everything I ever had. Including my face.” -Mr. Slauson (Chuck Connors)
Deep Blue Sea (1999):
“Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin.”
“Bleeding to death with no arms and short sleeves.”
“Struggling to flow with hemorrhages in your throat,
Getting the lap dance while I smash through your boat.”
Yes, those are lyrics from LL Cool J’s time capsule of a marketing tool meant to coincide with the release of this late ’90s sharkbuster. Lady Gaga who? (jk ILYSM). A rap track about how Cool J is as badass as a genetically modified shark fits the bill, though, because this movie is just as absurd. Equal parts The Poseidon Adventure and Jaws, the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Thomas Jane fight for their lives to prevent uber-intelligent sharks – engineered as research for an Alzheimer’s cure – from escaping captivity to the open sea. It’s full of gnarly kills, close calls drenched in sweat and salt water, and a shocking early death that rips a page from the Drew Barrymore gag in Scream – see, I Still Know, someone took notes.
While not very…deep, the movie isn’t half bad and was quite successful upon release. However, 20+ years and two piss-poor straight-to-video sequels later, I don’t see Deep Blue Sea getting nearly as much time in the spotlight as its summer horror peers. It’s an all-around good time and may as well be Jaws when compared to the deluge of incoherent shark movies that release every year. As Sam Jackson once said in that other creature feature, “Hold on to your butts.”
Killer Quote: Honestly, just watch the video for “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)” with subtitles on. LL Cool J cemented himself as the poet laureate of 1999.
That concludes our time around the fire tonight. Hopefully, my shady reads of these discounted gems have inspired you to give them a whirl and make some steamy summer memories yourself. And don’t stop there. Continue down the rabbit hole and discover even more amethysts in the dirt. A few may even supply that, “You’ve never heard of this movie?” clout you can use at the next barbeque. Until next time.