Scream Ending Explained

The Scream franchise is ready to hold up a mirror to its audience with its fifth installment, as well as kill some sacred cows.

Ghostface attacks in Scream
Photo: Paramount Pictures

This article contains SCREAM spoilers.

Although it’s dropped the number from its title, don’t let the new Scream fool you: this is Scream 5 through and through, set 10 years after the last film and featuring plenty of the legacy characters you’d expect to see.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett–taking over for the late, dearly missed Wes Craven–previously hinted that this one will subvert the franchise even more than usual. And it does. For a few minutes. Unlike all four previous entries, the victim in the opening scene doesn’t die after being attacked by a brand new Ghostface. Instead Tara (Jenny Ortega) is badly wounded but survives–and her encounter draws her estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) back to Woodsboro for the first time in years.

Sam, who comes to town with her dutiful, somewhat nerdy new boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), left Woodsboro because she knows the family’s dark secret: her biological father is actually Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), one-half of the original tag-team killers from the very first Scream. Worse, Sam has visions of her dear old dad, which makes her wonder if she’s got the serial killer DNA in her system.

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Once the secret is out, however, suspicion immediately falls on Sam as the killer. But that becomes less and less of a possibility as the bodies begin to mount up. The carnage even brings former sheriff and one of three original Scream heroes, Dewey Riley (David Arquette), out of a boozy retirement to help the kids figure out the rules for what is clearly shaping up as a “requel”–a reboot/sequel.

A second original Scream star, Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox), once married to Dewey but now anchoring morning news in New York City, arrives in town as well to cover the story and possibly help figure out who’s picked up the Ghostface mantle. A shocking, tragic event (more on that below) brings the third o.g. Scream hero, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) back home as well to help solve the Ghostface mystery and put a stop to this hideous cycle once and for all.

Who Is The Killer?

After Ghostface attacks both Richie and Tara at the hospital and kills a major character in the process, Sam’s had enough: She’s taking her beau and her sister and getting the hell out. She even refuses Sidney’s earnest offer to help her in favor of booking out of Woodsboro. So they leave, but they have to stop at the house of Tara’s friend Amber (Mikey Madison), who’s hosting a party/memorial for their slaughtered friend Wes (Dylan Minnette). Tara’s left her inhaler at Mikey’s place.

By the way, Mikey’s house happens to be the former home of Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), the other half of the first Scream serial killing duo. What a coincidence! Well, not really. You see, once the party is cleared out and it’s just Tara, Sam, Richie, Amber, their friends Chad (Mason Gooding) and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy-Brown), and Chad’s girlfriend Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar) left, Amber pulls out a gun and shoots Liv right in the face. Amber is the killer! Well, one of the killers, since in the Scream universe, there is almost always two.

The other turns out to be Jack Quaid’s Richie, Sam’s boyfriend, who immediately reveals himself as Amber’s accomplice and actual lover. Once the killers are outed, it’s a mad scramble around the house as Amber and Richie intend to kill everyone there and stage the bodies to complete their plan. Which is…?

What Is the Killer’s Motivation?

It turns out that Amber and Richie are both big fans of the Stab franchise, the movie series within the movie that is based on the Woodsboro murders and meant to be a meta version of the Scream series. In fact, they met on a subreddit group dedicated to the Stab movies, with Amber’s family buying the old Macher house by coincidence and both of them disgruntled with the state of the Stab franchise, which is now up to eight films (in the movie).

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It seems that the Stab universe has drifted further and further away from its roots in the actual Woodsboro killings, to the point that Stab 8 featured no original characters or cast members. Amber has found out who Sam’s father is (that part’s a little unclear, but we think she read Sam’s diary), while Richie tracked down Sam herself to Modesto, California and cozied up to her there.

The plan is to resurrect Ghostface, lure Sam back to town, and provide a new story and fresh killings as source material for Stab 9–this time connected to the original characters and premise. These most toxic of all toxic fans are creating their own fan service. As Richie snarls in true “toxic Star Wars fan” fashion, “Someone’s got to save the franchise!”

Their insidious plot fails, however, as Gail and Sidney arrive on the scene to assist, and Sam lets her inner Loomis finally come out. She jumps on Richie and stabs him into sliced ham, while our two originals battle Amber with knives and other utensils in the kitchen before shoving her onto the stove, where she goes up in flames (she does lunge back to life briefly in one cheap jump scare near the very end). Sam also pumps a bunch of bullets into Richie to prevent him from making the same move.

When it’s all over, Sam and Tara (along with Chad and Mindy) are still alive, while Gail and Sidney live to negotiate new contracts for Scream 6. But wait… where’s Dewey?

Why Dewey Dies

As we said in our review of Scream, David Arquette’s Dewey Riley is perhaps our favorite character in the picture. Forced sometime in the decade after Scream 4 out of his beloved job as sheriff of Woodsboro, then calling it quits with Gail shortly thereafter, Dewey now lives in seclusion, drinking away his days and pining for his ex-wife.

When Sam and Richie come knocking on his door for help with the new Ghostface killings (Richie, of course, playing his role as the supportive boyfriend), Dewey initially refuses. But when Ghostface kills Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and her son Wes (the kid they’re throwing the party for later), Dewey comes back into action, setting down the rules for the kids and laying out how each one of them could be Ghostface (he even hints that you have to watch the protagonist’s significant other!).

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When Ghostface attacks Tara again in the hospital while she’s left alone (all available police officers are called to the location of the sheriff’s murder), Richie, Sam, and Dewey rush there to protect her. But Ghostface (who is Amber at this point) does indeed attack, injuring Tara again and sidelining Richie as well. It’s left to Dewey, who manages decent hand-to-hand combat with the killer and even manages to shoot Ghostface a couple of times–only for Ghostface to rise up and gut Dewey with a pair of knives, giving our favorite sad sack lawman a brutal and horrifying death.

Why did Dewey have to die? Well, his arc in this Scream starts out with him wanting nothing to do with the new murders and ends with him sacrificing himself to give the new kids a fighting chance to survive. His whole life has been built around and building up another confrontation with Ghostface. It ends so tragically because, well, this is a legacy sequel and one of the rules of legacy sequels is that one of the original characters has to die (see Solo, Han, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Dewey is the unlucky son of a bitch whose number gets called.

What Does Scream Say About Modern Horror Movies?

There are two ideas afoot here, although we’d dare argue that neither of them is ever given enough breathing room to really sink in. The first is the concept of the legacy sequel itself, which has found its way into franchises as venerated as Star Wars, Halloween, and now Spider-Man. On the horror side alone, 2018’s Halloween (also a numberless reboot/sequel) was such a hit that the same company (Blumhouse) plans to follow the formula with no less than The Exorcist.

Scream taps into that as well, satirizing the tropes of the subgenre, but also taking them seriously as well. In other words, Scream is very much a legacy sequel while claiming to subvert the format, which it’s not particularly successful at. It falls victim to the tropes it’s going after.

The other commentary in Scream is about toxic fandom, and while this goes by quickly, it hits a little harder. From the brutal, despicable harassment of Kelly Marie Tran to the ridiculous calls for Lucasfilm to remake The Last Jedi, from the Zack Snyder fans who tried to (and still do) troll anyone not on board with their godhead’s creative genius to the deplorables who have a problem with the inclusive nature of Marvel’s Phase 4 shows and movies, the ugly behavior of some “fans” has put a stain on all of fandom.

Amber and Richie are the ultimate end result of that: fans so disgruntled with their favorite horror franchise that they are willing to do anything–even commit murder–to get it back to where they like it. Whether or not some of the “fans” out there glimpse themselves in the funhouse mirror that is Scream remains to be seen. But toxic fandom is one genre trope we could all do without.

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Is There a Scream Post-Credits Scene?

There is not. Like the four previous Scream movies, when the credits roll it is the end of the story. With that said, for those with nostalgia for ’90s ending credits, Scream 5 concludes like all four previous Scream flicks with each cast member getting a portrait title card over their name that freezes them in motion (a “gif” before that was a popular term in 1996). We also see Ghostface slash at the camera before the credits begin, which hasn’t occurred since the 1996 original movie.

Scream is now playing in theaters.