Pop Culture Happy Hour
Do we, in fact, all scream for 'Scream 6'?
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GLEN WELDON, HOST:
The Ghostface killer is taking yet another stab at the box office, as "Scream VI" has arrived in theaters. It's a sequel to last year's reboot, or requel (ph), of everyone's favorite deeply meta slasher franchise. "Scream VI" takes the characters who managed to survive the last "Scream" movie out of bucolic Woodsboro and into the urban jungle of New York City. I'm Glen Weldon, and today we're talking about "Scream VI" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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WELDON: Joining us today is Jordan Crucchiola. She is a writer and producer and the host of the podcast "Feeling Seen" on Maximum Fun. Hey, Jordan.
JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: Hello, hello. I am always thrilled to be on hand discussing my favorite horror franchise of all time.
WELDON: Excellent. Didn't know that. Also with us is writer and film critic Walter Chaw. Welcome back, Walter.
WALTER CHAW: Good morning, everybody. I am so excited to be talking about this with you guys.
WELDON: Me too, you. OK. It's only been a year since the fifth "Scream" movie, but its two leads have pulled up stakes and are trying to move on. Good luck with that. Sam, played by Melissa Barrera, is haunted by the knowledge that she's the daughter of OG Ghostface, Billy Loomis. That's one reason she feels so protective of her half-sister Tara, played by Jenny Ortega, who's attending college in NYC. Also along for the ride are their friends Mindy, played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, and her twin brother Chad, played by Mason Gooding. If you know this franchise, you can probably predict that we get a whole new set of suspects who could be taking up the Ghostface mantle, including several suspicious new characters and a bunch of familiar but still suspicious faces from previous "Scream" films.
Notably, sitting this installment out is Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott. They didn't meet my girl's quote. And that is not studio PR. She is not in this movie, people. The setting is new, having traded Woodsboro's suburban sprawl for New York's cramped apartments and crowded subway cars. But some things haven't changed. We get a celebrity cold open, a new set of self-aware rules for surviving the film, a lot of characters pointing fingers at each other and, yes, lots and lots and lots and lots of stabbing. "Scream VI" is in theaters now.
Jordan, what'd you think?
CRUCCHIOLA: I had a very fun time at "Scream VI." My approach to "Scream" forever and ever - basically, since 2 - is I love to hang out with my friends.
CRUCCHIOLA: So when there's a new "Scream" movie, it means I get to hang out with my friends again. Of course, I miss my friends who are not present, but I have really come to like the new ones. And so getting the gang back together was very welcome, and I was having a rollicking good time in the theater.
WELDON: Excellent. Walter, I gather you had a less rollicking time.
CHAW: Yeah. I didn't. I'm very lukewarm about this movie. And I love this series as well, maybe my favorite, Jordan, series as well. I think it's super smart when it's on its game. When Kevin Williamson, especially, was writing the first two, it kind of changed everything. It rejuvenated this genre. You know, the slashers were sort of relegated to direct-to-video, cheapo knockoffs in the '80s, and Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven really kind of said, hey, it could be really smart if we actually knew what was happening, but we were helpless to prevent it.
And so what I really loved about the "Scream" movies is when they're really on their game. And I think No. 2 is maybe the best one, in my humble but correct opinion. They talk about these really fascinating issues. And I think, to your point of Neve Campbell not being there - for all the right reasons, by the way - pay her. Are you kidding me? For Neve Campbell not being there, I really felt her loss because that, to me, is really the soul of it. When she shows up in the last one, they shoot her at a hero angle, sort of like a Michael Bay hero walking on.
CRUCCHIOLA: I cried.
CHAW: I got chills kind of. You know, this is Sidney Prescott. But yeah, for this one, I just really felt like the fatigue is beginning to set in, even though the film is really about fatigue. Every film is going to be a new aspect of horror films and horror series or whatever. And this one, I think, is really trying to be like, OK, so this is really a long and boring villain monologue, but it's a satire...
CHAW: ...Of long and boring villain monologues. This is going to be about how exhausted we are by the same old things over and over again, but it's a satire. But there's a very thin line - right? - between satirizing something and just being that thing.
WELDON: Well, yeah.
CHAW: It felt boring, and it felt like it was played out. And I felt like, you know, the 35th movie of the MCU franchise. It's just - I'm done kind of with this, until they bring back Neve or until they do something that's different.
WELDON: That's an interesting spread.
WELDON: And I come down pretty much in the middle, I guess. I mean, I liked this just fine - points for understanding the assignment. I appreciated that I did feel a determination not simply to repeat but to evolve, maybe? Like, so the nature of franchises and this one in particular is these guys would make money if they didn't bother with that. If they presented the formula, celebrity cold open plus killer in grim reaper drag plus winks to the audience, that equals dollar sign, dollar sign, dollar sign. I thought there were real attempts to play with expectations in this one, which is the whole organizing principle of these movies. So good for that. I thought the rules they follow this time out were interesting.
Am I right in picking up on the minute these two directors who took over the franchise with the last film - that's Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett - they have made movies that seemed a hell of a lot less playful than the OG Wes Craven joints. They go harder in terms of - I don't remember seeing as many entrails. Am I right in picking up on something there?
CRUCCHIOLA: They really - with the cold open of "Scream" 5, they really set the tone with how they were going to deal with the violence in their segments. Like, that - the breaking of little, tiny Jenna Ortega's leg by Ghostface in that cold open was like, a, oh, we are going somewhere new.
CRUCCHIOLA: And then it set a precedent for how that movie was going to handle violence. And I think 6 picks up on that and runs even a little faster with how much it wants you to feel the stabs.
CHAW: "Scream" 1, like, notoriously, opens with a disembowelment.
WELDON: Sure. You're right. You're right.
CRUCCHIOLA: Right. But then, like, four movies ate out on that disembowelment.
CRUCCHIOLA: Like, the violence in 1 through 4 is, like, pretty chaste, which is my favorite thing about the "Scream" series, is that it's actually quite chaste and basically, like, desexualized throughout. It's the great asexual horror franchise in my estimation. So it feels very close to home in that way. But, like, yes, the entrails - we know, everybody, the entrails. But, like, literally nothing in, like, 1 through 4 equals the entrails again.
CHAW: You know, to your point, Glen, they do try to shake it up a little bit. But there's a clip early on where someone's watching something on the television, and it's a clip from "Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan."
CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter) I was wondering which part that was.
CHAW: Yeah. It's the death of Tamara in her stateroom on the USS Lazarus. I know this too well, unfortunately. And, you know, it took eight installments before "Friday The 13th" was desperate enough to go to Manhattan. I think...
WELDON: Yep, yep, yep.
CRUCCHIOLA: Jason does not take Manhattan in that movie. Jason takes a boat, and then Jason takes an alley.
CHAW: It's a long boat. Yeah. Well - and I think the alley is recreated in this one, too. But...
CRUCCHIOLA: But Manhattan, "Goes To Hell" and space are still my favorite places that Jason takes. Those are my top three.
CHAW: They're great because we were sort of done with Crystal Lake as well.
CHAW: But, you know, here's the thing, though, is I feel like it's - it didn't feel brutal to me. And maybe your mileage will vary. It just felt really strictured. There's that one scene in the bodega that the trailer spoils, which is great. It's amazing. Here's this expansion. It's really tense. It's scary. And it never really does that again. Now they're isolated in a building. Now they're isolated in an alley. So all the talk about, you know, we're going to really use the population of New York - maybe the subway scene. But, ultimately, I feel like there's so much meat here on the bone that you've left. Let's go there. You know, let's go there with the internet conspiracy theories, which they kind of bring up how easy it is to create a conspiracy, but they don't really dig into. And I really feel like the other installments, they really do dig deeply and well into all of these issues that they bring up. But here, they bring them up, and then they just kind of just do the standard thing, and then it becomes kind of - boy, nobody dies.
WELDON: Well, yeah,
CHAW: It begins to feel like a comic book now in a way that the others felt more immediate to me. When that becomes a comic book, I think it loses a lot of its heat, you know, a lot of its interest for me if it's just another lollipop, I guess.
CRUCCHIOLA: Again, "Scream," for me, is hanging out with my friends, and this more, to me, fulfilled that mandate than - I liked 5, but for me, 5 exists in two movies. I remember - when Sidney and Gale arrive in 5, I remember looking over at my friend in the theater and going, oh, thank God, the movie's starting. And what I liked so much about 6 is that it actually does feel like these people hang out, like each other and know each other. I liked those bonding scenes between the core four, as they are dubbed within this movie. We get even more Mason Gooding being a delightful himbo. We get - I really like the sense of the sister relationship between Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega. Especially, I feel like Melissa Barrera didn't quite wear, for me, the damsel-in-distress thing super great in 5, but she gets to be more, like, a proactive and paranoid force in 6. And I thought she did that really well. Friends, if you've been waiting for Kirby to come back, the introduction Kirby gets in this...
WELDON: That's the Hayden Panettiere character.
CRUCCHIOLA: ...Is a whole meal. It's the way they introduce Kristen Cloak in "Black Christmas" 2000 and - was it '06 or '07? - when you're like, she must be a really important legacy character, and she's not. She's just beautiful, and they just give her a whole feast of an entrance. That's what Kirby gets in this movie. I was, frankly, glad - I don't want Neve to not be in this franchise because she did not get the paycheck she deserves.
CRUCCHIOLA: But I don't want her character to be meddled with such that a sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth movie could start to tatter the Sidney Prescott of it all. I don't need her to - expose to that danger. But when they do the Sidney sends her love...
CRUCCHIOLA: ...And she deserves her happy ending, that is a nice thing to hear, but it is attached to the fact that she publicly was like, my quote was not met. So that's a little bit of a - like, guys, that's a bit saccharine for someone who left this over a pay dispute...
CRUCCHIOLA: ...Despite the fact that they've done so well with a vanilla character. She could have won a damn Oscar for playing Sidney Prescott. Sidney Prescott forever - final girl No. 1.
WELDON: Of course.
CRUCCHIOLA: So - but yeah, I got to hang out with my friends, and I got to watch them protect and care for each other because, for me, no matter what other tertiary thing comes into "Scream," this franchise is about a group of people who care for each other protecting each other. And they do that in this, and that makes me very happy.
WELDON: They do that in this. But let's drill down on this particular movie. Like, some set pieces - and when I say set pieces in this context, I mean kills. I thought some of them worked; some of them didn't. There is one that involves a ladder that keeps going on and on that feels - I don't know if it was ill-conceived or it was the editing, but as it went on, I kept feeling the tension deflating when I thought they really wanted it to be ratcheting up. And I like these two leads, as you mentioned. But - and, again, that's something smart - something old, something new. Tara is trying to move on with her life - classic Sidney Prescott - while Sam can't because the film is playing with the tension of her past and its role in her present. And that's a new wrinkle at least.
They do give those two characters a lot of screen time together to bicker and bond, and great impulse - understand it. There are leads. We need to identify with them. You define your characters by bringing them in conflict, by bashing their competing agendas against each other. And that is classic storytelling 101. But that tenet of storytelling is kind of at odds with the nature of this film because I kept - feel like those scenes were eating up time. I was waiting for somebody to pick up a boning knife or something because this is - you know what I mean? This is - there's so much time.
CRUCCHIOLA: Now, I like - those scenes are the meat and potatoes for me. Like, Gale and Sidney looking at each other, being like, wow, we've really been through it, huh, that's the heart of "Scream" for me. So Tara and Sam looking at each other, being like, hey, like, we've really been through this, huh, is - like, that's the "Scream" movie I love because, ultimately, a "Scream" movie is about two women surviving together, whether it's Gale and Sidney or now it's Sam and Tara, and how they support each other and how they don't have to be the same version of a survivor because they complement each other to make, like, a whole surviving unit. That, to me, is definitionally "Scream." As we move past, as we kind of fully relinquish the prior era, that is - to me, honors what came before more than anything else this franchise could do by way of Easter eggs or nods or homages or naming a character Wes - is having two women aid one another in a survival journey. And that is "Scream" for me.
CHAW: I think the problem I have with - I love what you said, Jordan, about this feeling in the last movie about, when they show up, oh, good, the movie's about to start.
CHAW: They never show up in this movie. And I think, for me, the movie never really started. And it's - it isn't that I need to see Neve Campbell in the film. It's that I don't have the same kind of relationship or the same kind of feeling of having been through it.
CRUCCHIOLA: It really emphasizes the magic of what Gale, Sidney, Dewey had when you - because I like these - but, like, I remember watching it, being like, those originals are so good. Like, they're incredible. The chemistry, the care you have for them, like, it's untouchable.
CHAW: They're so good. And in the second film, her - Sidney's drama teacher tells her that she may be stuck in a cycle in which she is doomed to represent women's pain and suffering, and that level of self-awareness and archetypal self-awareness about the role of women in literature and art, male-dominated literature and art, is fascinating and, I think, fumbled when you get - let her off the hook in a snarky way 'cause I thought that you didn't. And that was really the nihilism at the heart of the "Scream" movies, especially in the second one. I don't know that this movie ever goes there. I don't think it wants to go there. It can go there.
I'm really disappointed with the ladder sequence as well, just because not only does it - really super boring, but - and I don't want to spoil it too much, but that's the character that's punished. So who are the people that are punished severely in this movie? It's this group that I don't want to ever see punished in a movie this way again, especially in isolation. All of this stuff begins to show all of these seams, I think, of being really tired and not thought through well enough. I was stunned at how well thought through the last one was, and they really went after toxic fandom, and they really went after these, you know, obsessive Funko collectors or whatever it is.
CHAW: You know, they really had their finger on the pulse of it. What does this one do?
WELDON: Yeah. I'm picking up on what you're saying there, Walter, because I came to this franchise relatively recently. I came to it over the pandemic. I had seen the first one back in the day. I was just never curious to revisit it. But then, you know, lockdowns, as we all now know, will send you down some alleys you never thought you'd go.
WELDON: And it was the requel. We're not going to - are we stuck with requel? Have they made fetch happen? Are we going to actually use - OK.
CRUCCHIOLA: I'm never saying that word. You guys can keep saying it and cursing us if you want, but I'm not participating in that.
WELDON: Good, good, good. OK. But that's what got me into the franchise because I was curious about exactly what you guys are talking about, the logistics of restarting a franchise, of handing it off from one cast to another. How do you do that without feeling like you're slighting the OG cast? Which meant I had to go back and mainline them, and that is not the best way to be introduced to this series...
WELDON: ...Because you start to notice narrative tics. And the whole franchise is about being self-referential, but even the meta approach of this series has blind spots. Like, yes - and I know this is part of it - but, like, the killer always comes back at the end. But meanwhile, all the other characters come back. They keep brushing off deep-tissue trauma and massive hemorrhaging like it is nothing - every character. Every time a character goes, are you OK, and the other goes, yeah, I'm like, you have been stabbed so many times in the liver that it's now pate.
WELDON: And once in a while, you can forgive that. But when anyone can come back from anything, it starts to feel like a cop-out. And my least favorite things about these films is the thing that I should love, which is the reveal - because after the reveal, the actors who are playing the killers are always directed to go big. That's OK. But they're always directed to go big in exactly the same cartoonish, wild-eyed, maniacal-grin kind of way. So we're supposed to accept that these characters who we've come to know are now the child-catcher from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" all of the sudden. And I had the same problem here in a big way. But it's the formula. So it's, again, what you're saying. It's like the franchise is going, well, that's just what we're commenting on, right?
CRUCCHIOLA: Well, in that way that, like, yeah, like, you dislike the 35th movie of the MCU. I don't go to the MCU for stakes, guys.
CRUCCHIOLA: If you're coming to "Scream VI" for stakes, like, I don't know what you're knocking on this door for 'cause it's not going to have what you want inside.
CRUCCHIOLA: I want to see my friends. I want to see somebody I like survive after being stabbed 97 times because the next art house horror movie that comes out of Australia that's going to devastate me is going to devastate me. And I'm going to be so grateful for that. And then I'm going to come and hang out with my Woodsboro people. And I was thinking after I walked out of that movie last night, like, I'm so glad that no matter how - who the killer is in a "Scream" movie, they always hit 15 on the dial. That's what makes it a "Scream" movie. There are plenty of other franchises that do plenty of other things. And I would never rather lose a character that I love than be like, that movie really took a chance. No. I don't. I am a fan. I am a simp for my characters I adore. And "Scream" provides for me in that way. And I'm grateful to "Scream" for that.
WELDON: But shouldn't the motivation of the killers matter? Or is it just that they're going to - it felt - and we can't get into it - extremely abstruse, extremely diffuse.
CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter) Right. Yeah.
WELDON: And that should be a satisfying thing 'cause one of the things that sets Ghostface apart - he's not this implacable force of evil in human form. He is a doofus who...
WELDON: ...Gets his ass handed to him again and again and again.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah, yeah (laughter).
WELDON: That's part of the appeal. People fight back.
WELDON: And it's done so that at the end - and frankly, they go big and maniacal like that so that at the end, when, finally, someone fights back and wins, everybody cheers. That's what it's about. Maybe that's it.
WELDON: What matters is triumphing over evil.
CRUCCHIOLA: Well, I think that's how you can rank your Ghostfaces, by, like, how well that motivation lands. And this can just - maybe this is just not one of your top Ghostfaces. And that's fine. That's totally fine.
CHAW: For me, "Scream" was a surprisingly meaty movie 'cause I love slashers. And then I saw "Scream," and I thought, now I'm thinking about slashers. It's like the first time I picked up, you know, "Men, Women, And Chain Saws," that great Carol Clover book. And, like, wait a minute. I'm allowed to think about this? I'm allowed to have, you know, some kind of reaction about it that I could follow? And, you know, "Scream," except for No. 3, begins to unravel all of these things. But even No. 3 has that scene where, you know, they rebuild Sidney's house on a soundstage, and they reenact all these things. That's, like, "Synecdoche, New York" here, you guys.
CHAW: That's really fascinating Kaufman stuff. And so "Scream," for me, was - aspired, in my mind, for something more.
CHAW: It did provide the shocks. It did good. It was a great slasher series. But it also had something on its mind that it was able to carry off without me feeling like I was being lectured. And, you know, this film felt like a lecture. And it could be that they're satirizing movies that are lectures, but it is a lecture.
CRUCCHIOLA: I'm totally with you on, like, all right, I don't need to be told directly this many times.
WELDON: Where do you guys see this going? I mean, Jason didn't go to Manhattan. He went on a boat. Then he went to hell. Then he went to a space station. Where is Ghostface going to end up next, do you think? And do you want Sidney Prescott back in the franchise? Jordan, you're a definite no.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. I'm a definite no. I'm ready to just, like - it's going to get too stretched for them to try and, like - the balance was hard enough in 5, and it merged it at the end and made it like, OK, good, good job. And then in 6, I was like, OK, I love seeing Gale. I love that they let Gale be a jerk to the bitter end because Gale is a jerk. She's not a nice person. But, like, I don't want to stretch anymore the, like, but now we need to - unless it's Kirby. Kirby can come back as often as she wants. Love Kirby.
WELDON: OK. Interesting.
CHAW: I never say never. I love sequels. I love remakes. I think it's a compliment when you remake something. I mean, the Royal Shakespeare Company reboots "Hamlet" every year.
WELDON: Sure (laughter).
CHAW: I'm fine with that. I think that's a smart thing. That means there's some substance to what you're doing, and I'm down with it. I think "Scream," you know, is one of the rare franchises that has never really had a proper reboot. To be fair, though, "Scream" sort of spawned 27 years, I guess, of reboots, of people, like, reconsidering horror. And I think the face of modern horror doesn't look like it does without these "Scream" films. So really, the challenge, I guess - you know, the long way to answer this question is to say, well, how do you do this now that you've already been imitated so much? Like, how do you make a "Blair Witch 3," in a way, that hasn't already been imitated by all of your imitators and admirers, you know, in the decades that you've done it? But there are certainly smart enough people to do it. I'm really excited to see what a new creative team or what a new whatever can bring to this premise because it's evergreen, this idea that we feel like we're in a simulation sometimes. We can't believe...
CHAW: You know, we can't believe the things that are happening. You know, everyone thinks that the Hadron Collider pushed us into a bad timeline. How about that movie?
CHAW: You know, take a little bit of time, you know? Really figure it out, go through a lot of drafts, and nail it in a hot 90 minutes, and I'm there. I'm 100% there.
WELDON: Well, we want to know what you think about "Scream VI." Find us at facebook.com/pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Jordan Crucchiola, Walter Chaw, thank you so much for being here.
CHAW: I'm so grateful, you guys. I always learn so much.
CRUCCHIOLA: Thank you very much for having me.
WELDON: This episode was produced by Hafsa Fathima and edited by Jessica Reedy. And Hello Come In provides our theme music, which you are making a rich and satisfying pate to right now. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Glen Weldon, and we'll see you all tomorrow.
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