Although much of the film is good—Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Damon Wayans—Scary Movie is, in retrospect, a redundant cash-in by Dimension Films, the same studio that produced the hugely successful Scream franchise, beginning in 1996. Scary Movie, the 2000 parody by Keenen Ivory Wayans that spawned its own franchise, took its title from Scream itself, a movie that was in flux from beginning of pre-production through week three of release, when it finally climbed to number one and proved its sleeper hit stamina. By 1997, Neve Campbell was hosting Saturday Night Live (playing Ghostface at one point), and Scream 2 was in theaters while the first Scream was still playing in some theaters and territories.
Watch any documentary about the franchise or the making of the first film and you’ll see or hear a lot of Bob Weinstein, who didn’t go to prison but has vanished just as much as his brother—who came up with the title Scream at the last minute, inspired on a Michael Jackson song—haunting the four films in the series he produced. An 11-year break is never a good sign for a sequel or even a “reboot,” but if any franchise can thrive in that formula, it’s Scream—but Kevin Williamson isn’t writing them anymore. And as good as Scream VI is—the best sequel since Scream 3 in 2000—it’s not the annual masterpiece it could’ve been. There will be a Scream VII, even if it’s not official yet, and I hope it focuses more on the metatextual and topical aspects of the films that make them so exciting.
The opening celebrity kill of Scream VI is an appearance from a regular collaborator of directors Radio Silence, and someone who appeared in Babylon, but not a star on the level of Drew Barrymore, Jada Pinkett-Smith, or a character as significant as Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber). Although the takeout Ghostface alludes to “his giallo paper” the dead professor dismissed, there’s little else for horror or film fans, besides a reference to the website Letterboxd. Scream 2 was the height of this play, with the brilliant opening in the theater and the necessary presence of Randy (Jamie Kennedy), killed too soon and brought back via VHS in Scream 3.
His niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is here to fill his horror movie rule master, but she doesn’t have nearly as much to spew as Randy did. Like Scream 5 last year, there’s too much perfunctory guess-who and empty pockets where they should be more laughs. But this is a significantly more violent movie than Scream 5, with the welcome addition of Ghostface with a shotgun. Violation? Absolutely not, totally in character: a pistol or a rifle, maybe. Sight’s not so good with that mask. But a shotgun? Perfectly in keeping with the brutal and total obliteration of his character up to this point.
Or their point: there are many Ghostfaces, and all are shown in Scream VI in a makeshift museum in an abandoned theater in New York (Montreal really, but enough location shooting and welcome set pieces like the subway chase and the bodega blowout satisfy the requirements, along with the opening scene set on Hudson St.). As much as the characters talk about the rules of being in a “requel” in a long-running franchise—for more or less one scene, with the bare minimum of jokes or one-liners that Kevin Williamson stuffed the first four Scream movies with—there isn’t nearly as much meta genre play as there should be. By now, a Scream movie should be just one long opening sequence; as soon as you see Samara Weaving stars in the opening, you know she’s going to get it—even this dead end was solved in Scream 4 and suggested a possible way forward: a series of fake-outs and an eternal return where Ghostface always wins.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith