It might be another seven months until it’s Halloween again but with the recent release of Scream VI this past weekend, there’s clearly no better time for spooks, scares, slashers, and gore. Slashers like Scream are different from general horror in that they focus on a series of murders committed by a stalker using a knife or other sharp weapon and a signature costume. Think Michael Myers and his Captain Kirk mask, Leatherface and his chainsaw, Freddy Krueger and his metal hands.
But the Scream series is notable in that the original 1996 film was credited for revitalizing a genre that had become a tired cash cow, crowded with sequels, boring plots, and unoriginal kills. Unlike in other slashers, Scream’s characters are self-aware of their genre’s tropes and each film changes the identity of the serial killer to subvert audience expectations, murder-mystery style, leaving us guessing as to which person–or persons–is responsible for that film’s heinous crimes. Yet as avid fans will know, the series produced its own numerous sequels that paled in comparison to the original, replicating the very pattern it set out to dismantle with a few exceptions.
But with its fresh location in New York City, an engaging cast of characters, and even gorier and bloodier kills, Scream VI, much like its immediate predecessor, has managed the impossible and broken this pattern again, thanks to its heroic and empowering Latina leads.
Despite meeting them in Scream (2022), I’ve yet to get over seeing Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega return to their respective main roles as Sam and Tara. Slasher films, including Scream, have historically overlooked characters from marginalized communities, so much so that it’s become a trope for Black characters to die first if they’re featured at all, and for women who are not the main characters to be punished for their sexual “sins”—of which Latinas are stereotypically known for. Here, the fact that they are Latina may be subtle–they don’t, for example, speak Spanish or have Spanish last names–and yet it’s an essential part of their collective fight for survival.
Think of how many of us come from a lineage of strong matriarchal households and even more from a family of sisters. How many of us and the women we love face violence every day, both in lesser and equal degrees to Scream VI? These films are often a replication of what we already know. In this way, it’s not only easy for us to relate to Sam and Tara’s resilience and strength in the face of trauma and trouble. It’s validating and empowering to see them take apart their complex, tense relationship and turn it into one of trust, vulnerability, and tenderness. Although they’ve only been in two Scream movies, they’ve already endured so much including the expectation to be strong no matter what. Ad yet they’re more candid than ever about how they feel, exchanging strength for honesty.
Not to mention how they each develop and grow on their own. While there’s much to be said about the increasing level of violence and gore in wider media, as well as our corresponding desensitization to it, it was thrilling to see the sisters finally take back their autonomy in the last act. I don’t think I or anyone else in the theater audience screamed as hard watching the movie as when Tara stuck and twisted a knife in Ethan’s mouth or when Sam donned the Ghostface robe – the first time a Scream protagonist has ever done so and the exact costume her father Billy Loomis wore as the original Ghostface. In doing so, she took on the costume’s legacy in an entirely new way.
As much as I love the OG final girl Sidney Prescott–who unfortunately doesn’t make an appearance in this film–Sam feels much more complex because of her direct relation to a serial killer and constant inner conflict about what path she is destined to take. Will she continue to enact violence and wield a knife only in self-defense? Or will she cross the line and become the same rageful, intentional killer as her father? And in a way, it’s a good question for all of us as we become more affected by the systematic violence of the U.S. and the world.
In every way, this new Scream is a bloodier, more intense version of what we know while honoring the legacy of what came before, from graphic depictions of Ghostface carving out people’s intestines, to stabbing someone multiple times in the eye, to (maybe?!?!) killing the legacy character of Gale. And in a city like the Big Apple, where there are so many people that everyone becomes anonymous, it makes Ghostface’s identity that much more difficult to pin down because it could literally be anyone. So if Scream (2022) is a reinvention of the original, then Scream VI is a new take on the post-Woodsboro, college experience of Scream 2, and a nod to each character, every kill, and the overall legacy that came before. With Scream 7 already set to film later this year, I’m excited to see what’s next for the future of the franchise and of the Latina heroines we’ve come to root for and love.