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How ‘Scream’ Is Tied Up in Its Own Continuity

It was recently announced that Hayden Panettierie would be reprising her role as Kirby Reed in the sixth installment of the Scream series. Panettierie had appeared in 2011’s Scream 4, the final film from Wes Craven before he passed away. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are returning to helm Scream 6 after this year’s fifth installment was a critical and financial success. Anticipation is high for the next film, and Courtney Cox recently teased that the latest script is “a really good one.” Scream 6 will hit theaters on March 31, 2023.

The return of Kirby Reed is a somewhat surprising one; Scream 4 has a lot of fans (you should really give it another shot), but it’s not quite as iconic as the first two films in the series. You’d probably still be able to enjoy 2022’s Scream if you’ve never seen Scream 4, or any of the sequels for that matter. However, the Scream franchise has never ignored its established chronology. It’s the rare movie franchise that isn’t rife with contradictions, retractions, and revisions.

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The term “legacy sequel” is more popular than ever. 2022’s Scream is pretty spot on with its definition of the term. Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown) describes it as “not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel.” Audiences aren’t looking for originality, because “it always, always goes back to the original!” Franchises referenced directly in the film, such as The Terminator, Halloween, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, Saw, and Star Wars have all had a “re-quel” of some sort.

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The problem with the legacy sequel is that by ignoring the sequels that are deemed “less popular” or “less successful,” these franchises often repeat the same mistakes. Sure, erasing the past worked for 2018’s Halloween because it kept things simple. But what happens when Halloween Kills tries to continue the events from only the first film and the 2018 film? The timeline gets murky, and even long-term fans get confused on what films they need to re-watch.

Scream has just moved forward with the events and doesn’t make any efforts to “erase” what came before. If you loved Scream 4 and want to see Kirby return, great! It’s a nice reward for people who have defended the film to see her pop up again. However, 2022’s Scream doesn’t make her backstory all that complex. If you haven’t seen Scream 4, then Kirby’s brief appearance isn’t a distraction.

This is something that the series has mastered since the beginning. The sequels have been smart about picking and choosing which elements they should reintroduce. A character like Roman Bridger (Scott Foley) can show up in Scream 3, skip out in Scream 4, then pop back for a cameo in the new film. Someone like Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary isn’t a huge part of the original, but he’s given more depth and dimension in the sequels. It allows the series to grow and evolve.

Perhaps it’s easier for Scream to retain the consistency because the premise is so self-explanatory, but it’s not a series that prides itself on mythology. We saw the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Netflix fail to offer any insights on how a “final girl” heals from her trauma. Ironically, the sequel that claimed to “honor” only the original feels even more confusing. You have to have a working knowledge of everything that happened in 1974 to have any emotional attachment to the new story.

The first four Scream films retained their consistency because they were all directed by Craven himself. Craven wasn’t interested in celebrating what he’d already done; in fact, he challenged the very idea of nostalgia. Although it would have been easy for Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett to attempt their own version of a “soft reboot,” the new film actually acknowledges that everyone is feeling a little bit of deja vu. The characters openly joke about how unlikely it is that there would be another identical murder in Woodsboro. If 1996’s Scream was a breakthrough for acknowledging tropes within horror movies, then 2022’s Scream worked because it acknowledges the recurring trends within the franchise itself.

It’s ultimately a more satisfying experience for fans who have stuck with the series that doesn’t feel like it’s catering to them. The death of Dewey Riley (David Arquette) lands an even greater emotional punch for everyone who has watched him grow from a hapless keystone cop into a sensitive hero, friend, and mentor. This is a character who has existed for almost 30 years; his death has actual weight to it.

Scream is a franchise that engages with its fans. What do audiences actually want to see, and why is that not always a good thing? The stories stick to a formula, but that’s not the reason they are successful. Woodsboro has grown into a real place that has experienced everything that comes with fame.


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