Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, John Karna, Carlson Young, Amadeus Serafini, Connor Weil, Tracy Middendorf
MR BRANSON: “The gothic genre is all over TV right now. American Horror Story, Hannibal, Bates Motel…”
JAKE: “What about Texas Chainsaw or Halloween?”
NOAH: “Those are slasher movies. You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series.”
The recent tragic passing of the legendary Wes Craven led to an outpouring of support on social media as dedicated and lapsed fans alike took to Twitter to namecheck their favourite Craven movies.
The vast majority of them didn’t realise just how fitting their tributes were, as Craven died just before the airing of the final episode of Scream, a TV series based on his genre-redefining horror film and airing on MTV.
You see, whereas the original Scream, released in 1996, had the killer mostly contacting his victims via phone calls, this time the reimagined Ghostface uses all manner of techniques – yes, including social media – to stalk potential future corpses.
Regardless of your thoughts on the four Scream movies, Scream: The TV Series should be approached as a completely new franchise because, essentially, it is.
Woodsboro, the location of the Scream films, doesn’t exist. Sidney, Gale Weathers, Officer Dewey, they’re all completely gone. There is no reference whatsoever to the events of the movies.
Even the Ghostface mask, that iconic white scowl that became the definitive image of ‘90s horror, has been redesigned and looks completely different (to its detriment, in my opinion).
In fact, the only real reasons this can get away with being called Scream are the fact that Kevin Williamson (the screenwriter for Scream 1, 2 and 4) had some sort of input in the story, and that one of the characters keeps making knowing references to the rules of horror.
Everything else though? Completely unrelated to the films.
Scream: The TV Series opens with a spot of cyber-bullying, as a voyeuristic video of Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who looks a lot like Zelda Williams) and her bisexual chum sucking each other’s faces off is distributed to their schoolmates.
Things are kicked up a notch almost immediately when the girl who leaked the video (Bella Thorne, doing the Drew Barrymore cameo duties this time around) is murdered before the opening credits even kick in.
Meanwhile, Audrey seeks comfort from her friends, most notably fresh-faced and innocent student Emma (Willa Fitzgerald in the lead role), popular culture geek Noah (John Karna) and token school sexpot Brooke (Carlson Young).
Before too long more students start getting murdered, leading to those all-too-inevitable questions: who’s doing the killing, and who are they going after next?
Naturally, there are plenty of potential suspects, leaving you constantly guessing who the killer could be. Is it Will, Emma’s wanky boyfriend who’s possibly been cheating on her?
Is it Mr Branson, the school teacher who’s shagging a student on the fly? Or could it be Kieran, the mysterious and handsome transfer student who catches Emma’s eye?
As you’d expect given its heritage, Scream isn’t shy to milk the piss out of that oft-used trope in which certain characters are made to look as suspicious as possible, only for them to be later let off the hook (or, indeed, killed).
Chances are you’ll be certain you’ve figured out who did it three or four times throughout the series, only to find you’re wrong. Making things even more complicated is the underlying story of Brandon James, an urban legend that took place 21 years ago.
Brandon was a teenager with Proteus Syndrome (a deforming disease). He was going out with a girl called Daisy, but when she got scared by his appearance at a Halloween party, a bunch of kids kicked the shite out of him.
Brandon went on a killing spree, murdering five teens before he was seemingly shot dead by the police, but it’s revealed in the first episode that Daisy was actually Emma’s mum, who took on a new identity after the incident.
Surely the killer isn’t actually Brandon James, apparently back from the dead? I couldn’t possibly comment further.
This whodunit plot makes Scream enduringly watchable, but it’s definitely not without its flaws too.
Most notable is the character of Noah, the best pal of bi-curious Audrey. Though their friendship is endearing enough, his token Scream role as the guy who watches loads of horror films and knows all the rules really starts to grate.
This sort of character is fine in a 90-minute film, when they only need to appear in a couple of scenes to lay out the rules and can then make way for the rest of the film. And in the first episode (as seen in the quote at the top of the review), it’s initially handled fairly cleverly.
By the time you’re halfway through the series though, the joke wears massively thin as he drops references all over the place.
It gets particularly annoying whenever he’s in danger. When you’ve just seen a dead body and you’re scared that you might be next, you really don’t quip that it’s like something from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Also annoying is the way the show handles technology. The fake social media websites (‘Chirpster’, indeed) and phone operating systems are bad enough, but there are frequent tech-based plot points that seem a little far-fetched: for example, one character is apparently able to remotely turn on a girl’s webcam when her computer’s off so he can see her getting dressed.
There are also regular instances where these fake screens are crudely superimposed onto characters’ phones and other devices, making it look even faker than the mock-ups already do.
This is obviously nothing new – films use lookalike versions of popular websites and services all the time to avoid copyright hassles – but for a series that places such a huge emphasis on technology, with the killer using it all the time, it’s too noticeable to forgive.
The only technological subplot it really gets right is podcasting. One character, Piper, is a podcaster who presents a show about serial killers.
She’s visiting the area to record a series on the killings and is constantly trying to get leads on what’s going on. It’s all very similar to Serial, the crime-based podcast that was all the rage last year.
She’s an interesting modern take on the Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) character in the Scream films, replacing her TV news journalist role with a more up-to-date equivalent, and her character fits in reasonably well.
Even though it’s essentially a slasher film spread out over six and a half hours, Scream manages to keep your attention, even somehow managing to remain watchable during the episodes in which not a lot happens.
It isn’t often gory, though when it decides to be it can get surprisingly graphic for an MTV show.
It’s also only really scary in one episode – the eighth – when clever use of hallucinations keeps you on edge.
Ultimately, there’s a chance you may end up guessing who the killer is (like I did) via a process of elimination as all the other red herrings are discounted with each passing episode.
But there’s still an interesting wee twist right at the very end that will make the second season – which has been greenlit – an interesting prospect.
In a Scream mood now? Check out my Scream series overview to read my reviews of all four Scream movies.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Scream just finished on MTV in the US and it would appear it isn’t coming to British telly any time soon. However, the entire 10-episode series is available for streaming now on UK Netflix.
SHOW ME THE TRAILER: