Scream 6’s Brutal NYC Trip: “You Can’t Trust Anyone” This Time

Exclusive: We chat with the creators and star of Scream 6 about planning Ghostface's trip to NYC! And this time all the old rules are being thrown out for what is described as "a sisters story."

Scream 6
Photo: Paramount Pictures

This article appears in the new issue of DEN OF GEEK magazine. Get your copy here.

A little over a year ago, an old friend to horror fans (and a scourge to their onscreen counterparts) returned to cinemas in a big way. After being gone for more than a decade, Ghostface slayed again in Scream (or “Scream 5,” as everyone, including its directors, calls it). And the fiend really did make a killing: at the box office, with fans, and with a majority of critics. Curiously, there is something comforting about seeing the same Edvard Munch-inspired Halloween mask and hearing the familiar voice of Roger L. Jackson hiss movie trivia through a landline. The film’s climax even revisited the suburban dream home turned nightmare from the original 1996 movie.

“We made sure it lived in what we called a warm blanket,” director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin tells Den of Geek magazine. There’s sound logic in this. Alongside his longtime collaborator Tyler Gillett, Bettinelli-Olpin was the first person not named Wes Craven to direct a Scream flick. So they wanted to make sure they “played the hits.”

In retrospect, it was a real Ghostface maneuver, considering how gleefully the pair is now departing from that same formula. In Scream 6, there are no greatest hits, no bucolic Woodsboro setting, there’s barely even time to breathe. Now the survivors of Scream 5 are being tossed onto the streets of New York City on Halloween night, and Ghostface is chasing them in the crowds… with a shotgun.

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“No warm blankets on this one!” Gillett laughs. The filmmakers have sliced it to shreds.

When we catch up with Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, they’re in the final mad dash to finish Scream 6, with three weeks left of special effects, sound, and other little adjustments. It’s been almost one year to the day since Scream 5 opened, and the pair liken the turnaround to hanging onto a rocket ship as it lifts off. Nonetheless, they appear giddy, partially because this is the moment where “the movie becomes a movie,” as Gillett notes, and also because Scream 6 is more or less the Ghostface attack they’ve been plotting from the start.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are part of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, along with producer Chad Villella. And the way they tell it, the collective, as well as screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick, always knew that if they got another bite at the apple, Scream VI was headed to New York City and its population of eight million suspects.

Says Gillett, “I think one of the really interesting story paths that Guy and Jamie found was taking characters that have experienced something really singular and really specific and putting them in a big city. They are, just by the natural sense of what they’ve experienced, isolated… and they’re in a new place where they would never imagine it could visit them again. Then it visits them again.”

Setting Scream 6 in NYC is also the immediate draw in the film’s early spate of marketing. Suddenly, Ghostface isn’t sneaking into your house; he’s hiding in plain sight on the subway on All Hallows’ Eve or following you into a bodega where there’s only one exit that he’s standing in. It’s chilling, tantalizing stuff for a horror setup.

“I got very excited when I found out that it was going to take place in New York City,” says Scream 6 star Melissa Barrera, “just because I love New York City. I think it’s a great setting for a scary movie. It can be a terrifying place.” Indeed, Barrera knows the backdrop well, having gone to school at NYU’s Tisch, and when we sit down with her, she’s only moved a little further down the river, Zooming in from Hoboken, New Jersey.

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The actor also recognizes that Ghostface picked the perfect time to visit the Big Apple. While she used to thrill at riding the subway, “post-pandemic, crowds do scare me. I think we have a bit of PTSD about that as a society. We’re not used to being in close proximity to people and bumping into each other. You don’t know where hands are coming from, and anybody can touch you, anybody can grab you. You can disappear in a crowd.”

Plus, with the exception of Scream 3 being set in Hollywood, this is the first time Ghostface has left small-town locales. Says Barrera, “We’ve had little visits somewhere else, but mostly we stick to the West Coast. I feel like going all the way to the East Coast is a big statement.”

The declaration includes a gaggle of returning protagonists, too, as Scream 6 boasts five (!) survivors from the last film: Barrera’s Sam Carpenter, who is still nursing her physical and psychological wounds following the realization that she’s the daughter of Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich’s masked killer from the original Scream); Sam’s younger half-sister Tara (Jenna Ortega); and Tara’s childhood friends whose love of horror movies was shaken after being stabbed themselves, the twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). Meanwhile, Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers is as indefatigable as ever after the killer shows up in her trendy loft above the city.

Almost everyone is back, and the one thing they all seem morbidly excited about is how this movie just moves so unlike its predecessors.

“There’s no off-ramp,” Bettinelli-Olpin muses. “It’s you get on, and then you go, and then the movie ends. That’s something we just love, movies that don’t give you a chance to take a breath.”

While the condensed timeline appears poised to heighten the tension, the filmmakers seem genuinely excited about how it will affect all their returning characters, particularly the central heroines played by Barrera and Ortega.

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“It’s really a sister’s story,” says Gillett. “Our favorite scenes in this movie are the two of them talking to each other, honestly. There’s a level of depth and richness in the relationship that they are building onscreen. We keep saying when we’re watching, ‘We just want to be the Carpenter sisters!’”

Barrera teases that this involves Sam being overprotective of Tara after the events of the last film, with the older sibling essentially playing big sister/mama bear to all three of the last movie’s teenage survivors. She even follows them to college in Manhattan.

“There’s a little bit of friction between the sisters,” Barrera explains, “because Tara was used to being independent and not having to deal with anyone. And Sam’s like, ‘I’m back, and I’m never going to leave you alone.’”

Their directors also acknowledge that there’s a quality and trust which springs from reuniting with Barrera and Ortega on the second shoot.

“We didn’t know Melissa or Jenna before Scream 5 was written,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “So now we know them and we know their strengths and how to play into them and what they’re interested in. That informed the script Guy and Jamie wrote in a lot of ways, and it informed where the story went. To say Melissa and Jenna are a big part of why the movie turned out the way it did is an understatement. It is really special.”

Adds Gillett, “Everything else feels like of greater significance because, at the end of the day, you hope that those characters can find a way to connect.”

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Of course, for a number of Scream fans, including perhaps Radio Silence, the ensemble of Scream 6 will be bittersweet since this also marks the first movie not to feature Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, the main protagonist of the four original Scream movies and the performance which anchored everything that came before.

Bettinelli-Olpin doesn’t recall how far into developing Scream 6 they were when Campbell publicly announced she wouldn’t join the film. However, he says their reaction was probably the same as everyone else: What does this mean for Scream going forward? All the directors can answer is that they hope to replicate what Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson did between Scream and Scream 2 by building a genuine ensemble whom audiences care about (a novelty, then and now, in the horror genre).

“[We must] make sure that you get the time with them, and you understand who they are and you really learn to love them, and you’re on the journey with them. You’re not watching them from afar.” He adds, “We love Neve. Hopefully, there’s another one down the road.”

Until then, Radio Silence is bringing back all their favorites, and not just the main characters from Scream 5. Stars from the filmmaking collective’s cult darling Ready or Not are making their Scream debut with Samara Weaving and Henry Czerny joining the cast. Additionally, fan-favorite Hayden Panettiere is reprising the role of Kirby Reed for the first time since Scream 4 (“She is so good in this movie!” Gillett beams). With all these familiar faces, it really does feel like an extended reunion, beginning with the “found family” of two pairs of siblings at the movie’s core. Still, Scream movies are, in their heart of hearts, whodunit stories; mysteries in which a killer is waiting to be unmasked from within your own ranks. And every family has its black sheep.

“You still can’t trust anyone,” Barrera hints with a smile. “We’ve seen it in the Scream universe when we found out that Roman had been plotting this from the beginning [in Scream 3]. You don’t know if this [killing spree] is a long-term plan for someone.” She muses, “All of the movies are whodunits, but this one is, particularly, a different type of whodunit.”

It appears to get back to the original impetus for Scream 6: remove the warm blanket and throw fans in a big city slaughterhouse. With Scream being Scream, though, fans can rest assured the movie will remain aware of its origins and its setting since many sequels, from Friday the 13th Part VIII to Home Alone 2, have taken Manhattan by storm…and to sometimes checkered results.

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When asked if Scream 6 will comment on that colorful heritage, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin share big grins and exaggerated winks. “Maybe!” they say in near unison. They do concede at least that Scream 6 will nod to star Jenna Ortega’s other recent franchise success under the horror umbrella, the Netflix sensation Wednesday, with some type of Addams Family easter egg hidden in Scream 6’s New York City.

Says Gillett, “So much of the tone and the fun of what this movie is, we think, is that all this crazy shit’s happening, but at any moment, somebody wearing a ridiculous costume could walk through the shot. That, for us, is Scream in a nutshell. The real world can enter and exit this really terrifying experience at any time.”

The transparent joy the filmmakers get from such fourth-wall breaks affirms they see themselves as real-life Kirbys or Mindys: film nerds who grew up loving movies that interrogated the fact they’re movies.

As Gillett later promises, “Every part of the movie provides some commentary on the state of movies and franchises and all of that. We’re living the movie.”

Scream VI opens only in theaters on March 10.