Written by: Jill E. Blotevogel, Dan Dworkin, & Jay Beattie (developed by), Brian Sieve and Eoghan O'Donnell (written by), Anna Christopher (staff writer)
Directed by: Oz Scott
Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, and John Karna
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"What's a deranged murderer without a completely creepy mask?"
Spoiler warning: this review acknowledges events from the previous two seasons of Scream.
If there’s one thing I regret about real life being so damn time-consuming, it’s the fact that I’ve really been dragging ass when it comes to the recent boom of terrific horror television. I barely have time to watch most of it, let alone write about it, so consider this my acknowledgement that, hey, there are a lot of great options out there, some of which are continuations of our favorite franchises. One show that I never imagined I’d be a huge fan of is Scream, a proposition that had so much working against it out of hand: it lacks the iconic Ghostface mask, has no connection to the film series, and airs on MTV. Imagine my surprise, though, when the first season managed to hook me in. Despite feeling like an old dude at a party he wasn’t exactly invited to (“hello fellow kids” indeed), I found myself compulsively watching this trashy riff that was only vaguely recognizable as Scream.
Over the course of two seasons, this show became endearing as hell via a combination of trash intrigue and memorable characters. At a certain point, it didn’t even matter that was only vaguely in the spirit of Scream thanks to the occasional smartass, meta musings—this show is fun as hell slasher saga that’s been stretched over two seasons (and counting). While I wouldn’t call it the complete antithesis of everything Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven created, it’s different enough that I could see purists dismissing it—not unlike the way purists twenty years ago sore off the original Scream for being too slick and cute. We’ve essentially come full circle when some of us are old enough to remember this franchise being snarked upon by two generations.
But I’ve also digressed a bit—suffice to say, it’s worth giving Scream a shot, if only because it knows exactly what it’s up to, and never is that more clear than it is with the recently-aired Halloween special. Save for prologues and epilogues serving as bridges to the third season, it’s mostly a side story, an absurd little diversion that confirms that series heroine Emma Duvall (Willa Fitzgerald) is every bit as cursed as her counterpart Sidney Prescott. Having survived two massacres (including one carried out by her boyfriend Kiernan), she and her friends aren’t exactly in the Halloween spirit. However, when Noah (John Karna) and Stavo’s (Santiago Segura) new graphic novel gig gives the group a chance to investigate the grisly lore of Shallow Grove Island. Local lore has painted a gruesome history for the island, as a girl named Anna Hobbs inexplicably murdered her entire family decades ago.
The group’s investigation naturally leads to the old Hobbs house (now overseen by a mysterious but affable descendent), which seems to reawaken the town’s ghastly history. Anna’s signature mask and garden sheers are swiped from a local museum just before someone begins to leave a trail of mutilated corpses, leaving the Lakewood gang wondering just how in the hell they’ve found themselves in this kind of situation again. In fact, it’s become such old hat that our newcomers (such as Audrey’s girlfriend and the house’s caretaker) can’t help but remark about how calm these kids are in the face of their possible deaths. Meanwhile, even John McClane can’t believe they have this kind of bad luck—wherever Emma goes, bloodshed follows.
To its credit, the Halloween special eventually arrives at a solid explanation for such a contrivance, and we’ll circle back to that in a bit. In the meantime, rest assured that it’s a perfect 90-minute encapsulation of the series, meaning it’s full of stuff that’s both delightful and awful all at once. Just about everything I love and dislike about this series is on display here, from the twisted plotting to the eye-roll-inducing high school drama shit. Whenever the latter would unfold in the form of Emma’s new (and most certainly ill-fated) relationship with Hobbs’s descendant Alex or the constant bickering between Brooke and Stavo over their future plans, I found myself wondering just why in the hell I was watching something that was so not made for me—and then some rad gore outburst or silly plot twist would unfold to remind me that it’s all worthwhile.
Just know that this process has repeated itself for just about every episode of this series so far—I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a love-hate relationship, but there are times when I can’t believe I’m watching this junk, much less enjoying it. The Halloween special is no exception; in fact, it may be the purest expression of this series so far. It is most certainly the sort of dumb, silly slasher the original Scream satirized, which almost sounds blasphemous—surely, I’ve criticized other remakes or reboots for “missing the point” of their originals, and it’d be fair to point that out with Scream. It just so happens that Scream is good enough that I don’t really give a damn. There’s no accounting for taste sometimes, after all.
Besides, in this case, it is pretty defensible: in a world where we don’t have enough straightforward slashers, it’s easy to get behind one that’s as well-executed as Scream. Never underestimate the appeal of the basic slasher formula: a cool mask, a killer weapon (in this case, some Cropsy-style garden shears), an intriguing whodunit angle, and plenty of disposable bodies. Scream consistently delivers all of this, but it’s even more prominent when condensed into a 90-minute diversion that just allows the show to indulge its inner junk movie soul. Just about the only thing this series shares with its namesake is its modern slickness; otherwise, it’s much closer in spirit to 80s slashers. Less a satire and more of an unrepentant homage, it boils this genre down to its bare essence: a spooky location, wild plot twists, and out-of-nowhere lunatic motivations. I can almost guarantee you that someone will do mock VHS-style fan art for this special if they haven’t already.
One of the most obvious meta holdovers from the film series is the presence of horror geek characters (most notably Noah and Audrey) acting as mouthpieces for the crew’s obvious love of horror*, and this Halloween special is arguably the most reflective of the show’s desire to appeal to that particular audience. Considering the surprise nature of this special (it was announced just after the season finale back in August), it’s an especially nice treat since the show’s future is currently hazy. With the recently announced third season set to only clock in with six episodes, our time with these characters seems to be coming to an end soon, so any “bonus” time like this is appreciated. Ultimately, the Halloween special feels sort of like the Scream 3 of this series: the weird, kind of absurd aside where any pretense of snarky superiority goes by the wayside.
If it weren’t already abundantly clear, this special confirms it: Scream is very much the same brand of silly, dumb fun we crave from golden era slashers. No matter how strange that sounds considering this franchise’s heritage, I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how the next season pays off the tease at the end of the Halloween special.
*I am still smarting from Noah’s assertion that Phantasm II is a “terrible movie,” but I’ll overlook it because that is what you do with friends who share bad opinions. We’re still cool, Scream, but maybe refrain from blaspheming in the future.
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