This article contains Scream spoilers.
More than 25 years ago, Skeet Ulrich’s Billy Loomis and Matthew Lillard’s Stu Macher made a bloody big splash in Scream. After years of parents’ groups, politicians, and even teachers worrying about the effects of horror movies on the youth of America, here were two horror movie killers who played into the worst nightmare: They killed people in just the same way they saw Michael Myers do it on the big screen (or on the VHS from Blockbuster). And yet the characters, like director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, rejected the premise that they were killers because of the media they consumed.
“Don’t blame the movies, Sid,” Billy Loomis says before stabbing his best friend in the guts. “Movies don’t make psychos, movies make psychos more creative!” It was a dark, bleakly self-aware sneer that Craven and Williamson carried across all three parts of the original Scream trilogy, from Timothy Olyphant’s killer in the sequel mockingly planning to say “the movies made me do it” in Scream 2 to the final killer in Scream 3 being an honest to Craven Hollywood director desperate for a final cut.
But a lot’s changed in the last quarter century with how we consume media and what we expect from it. And that might not be clearer than in the biggest box office hit of the month, Matt Bettinelli-Olin and Tyler Gillet’s pseudo-Scream reboot/sequel: Scream. Right down to its title, the fifth movie in the ongoing saga of Sidney Prescott is having fun at the expense of current Hollywood trends: legacy sequels (or “requels” as they call them in the film) that use the original title, the shameless inclusion of “legacy characters” to pass the torch, and the threat posed to slashers by “elevated horror.” (It’s with special venom the killers attack the first victim who says her favorite horror movies are The Babadook, Hereditary, and The Witch).
But most of all, 2022’s Scream wants to take the piss out of fan culture and how it’s come to dominate the way popular stories are told—and consumed by ever more demanding online communities. And there is no more obvious target for this satire than the toxic and corrosive elements of Star Wars fandom.
Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, working from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, thread the idea early when we discover what has occurred to the horror-franchise-within-a-horror franchise. Beginning in Scream 2 (1997), we learned that each previous film in the Scream franchise has tastelessly been glamorized and trivialized by Hollywood producers who turned out even flashier and junkier versions of the movie we last saw. For instance, Scream 2 opens with new characters attending the premiere of Stab, the (more) Hollywoodized version of Scream, with Heather Graham playing a topless and showering version of Drew Barrymore’s first victim in the original movie. And so it goes with each Scream movie revealing the strange detours and directions the Stab franchise has taken within this universe.
Scream (2022) turns this on its head, picking up where Scream 4 (2011) left off by revealing that Hollywood kept making Stab movies even after the “true story” murders dried up for decade-long spans. Hence the ongoing joke in the movie about how much fans loathe Stab 8. That movie-within-a-movie came out a year earlier and was apparently “directed by the Knives Out guy.” He tried to “elevate” the Stab franchise while ostensibly betraying what the fans loved about it. Worst of all, one character reveals the Knives Out guy introduced a new character who “some thought was a Mary Sue.”
Right off the bat, this is a joke at the expense of both Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the fan reaction to that movie. The Last Jedi was, of course, directed by Rian Johnson before he made Knives Out, and it was arguably the most ambitious Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. It introduced new elements to the universe’s mythology and asked audiences to consider that the “good vs. evil” paradigm of Jedi and Sith, light and dark, was more complex and nuanced than the black and white morality of the original films. It also questioned the idea of heroes being innately born to greatness because of who their father was, all while killing off the franchise’s original hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
For those reasons, and many more—including the dubious claim popularized by Max Landis that Daisy Ridley’s Rey character was “a Mary Sue”—a loud minority of fans hated The Last Jedi. Some even claimed this eighth installment in the “Skywalker Saga” ruined Star Wars or, even more incredulously, their “childhoods.”
But what appears to be a winking shrug about the changing dynamics in Hollywood between talent and fans becomes as sharp as a butcher knife at the end of Scream 5 when the killers are revealed to be… a Stab fanboy and fangirl who are still really pissed about Stab 8.
In the surprise twist of the movie, we learn Melissa Barrera’s new series protagonist, Sam Carpenter (the “Rey” of Scream movies), is not dating a nice guy named Richie (Jack Quaid), but a deceptive, angry internet troll who started planning his killing spree when he met a fellow toxic Stab fan Amber (Mikey Madison), on a subreddit. The pair bonded over their obsession with a favorite movie franchise, and the fun factoid that Amber lives in the same house once owned by Stu Marcher’s parents, which is where he and Billy Loomis planned the climax of their slaughter in the original 1996 Scream.
Hence their current carnage: Richie and Amber aren’t killing victims to get famous or because of twisted needs for revenge; they’re ready to kill in order to remake Stab 8—aka The Last Jedi of Stab movies.
“Someone’s got to save the franchise!” Richie whines while pointing a gun at Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. “You see the new Stab movie? … It sucked balls because nobody takes the true fans seriously, not really. They just laugh at us, and why? Because we love something, we’re just a fucking joke to them?! How can fandom be toxic when it’s about love? They don’t understand these movies are important to people!”
Richie then lays out what this is about: the fanboys are going to write what should’ve been Stab 8 for Hollywood. A “back to basics” approach that returns to the roots of the Stab/Scream franchise, which in this universe means creating a new “true story” killing spree that will inspire Hollywood to make another tasteless slasher movie.
With all the subtlety of a bucket of pig’s blood, this is commenting on the possessiveness fan culture has over works of popular fiction, and how that can be channeled into destructive outlets. Famously, Star Wars fans petitioned Disney to remake The Last Jedi to their specifications, with the most famous change.org petition demanding that Disney strike the “travesty” of Episode VIII from the canon and have the movie remade “properly to redeem Luke Skywalker’s legacy, integrity, and character.”
Over 110,000 other aggrieved and entitled Star Wars fans who felt a personal ownership over the characters signed the petition. But that appeared downright civilized when compared to the vicious and nakedly racist and misogynistic vitriol aimed at Kelly Marie Tran by angry Star Wars fans. Tran’s Rose Tico was the first major Star Wars protagonist played by an Asian American actor, and both her inclusion and elevation in the movie led to months of online harassment, forcing her to quit social media.
Depressingly, Disney responded by caving to these most toxic elements of fandom when the empty and soulless Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, was released in 2019 and undid much of what Johnson introduced to the series, including by sidelining Tran’s Rose Tico to less than a few minutes of screen time. Instead that movie returned to retreading the basic plot elements of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) and was generally better received, slightly, by the loudest voices of online Star Wars fandom. Ironically, and perhaps tellingly, it still made less money than The Last Jedi.
Scream 5 mocks this and even itself as it goes through the motions of a Star Wars legacy sequel, beginning with 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which similarly remade Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) in all but name, even as it killed off old fan favorites like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. In Scream 5, longtime franchise stalwart Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is finally gutted after surviving nine stab wounds in four previous movies. Deliciously, as his murderer saps the last of their hero’s life, the Ghostface fangirl tell him, “It’s an honor.” She kills her idol with adulation.
Meanwhile Campbell’s Sidney Prescott has no time left for this bullshit after so many movies. She calls the killers—and the franchise—out on the repetitiveness.
“Oh there’s two of you. Again,” Sidney says with a hint of boredom when she gets her first phone call from the new Ghostface. She already has her gun out and little interest in conversing over creepy phone calls. “You might be the most derivative one of them all,” she says unimpressed, “I mean, Christ, the same house?!”
As with some Star Wars fans being happiest when Luke Skywalker is still wielding green lightsabers to cut down faceless goons on The Mandalorian, or Rey is staring down Emperor Palpatine on not-a-Death Star, Sid (and the filmmakers) are mocking their fanboy killers in Scream, and perhaps their audience, for wanting to see variations on the same thing again, and again, ad infinitum.
Of course this isn’t only a Star Wars thing. More than three million Game of Thrones fans signed a change.org petition demanding HBO remake the final season of Game of Thrones with writers who aren’t “woefully incompetent”—even while seemingly unable to realize that until an intentionally bitter, unhappy, and admittedly rushed ending, much of what fans loved and quoted from the previous seven seasons of Game of Thrones was written, adapted, and sometimes outright invented by the showrunners who were now being proverbially left to bleed out on the floor.
There are countless other examples of fandom turning angry and ready to go knives out on the stars they claim to love—even telling them it’s an honor while making their lives hell. But as Scream (2022) points out, such demands never end the way fans want. Richie learned this the hard way when he asked Samantha “what about my ending?” and she says, “Here it comes,” while slicing his throat ear to ear.
Scream is in theaters now.