When TV Series surpass their source material in quality: Why SCREAM: The Series is far more entertaining than the film series it’s based on.
“You gotta remember that the whodunit may not be as important in our story.”
“So it’s more of a “Why-dunit?”
“No. I’m saying you need to forget it’s a horror story. That someone might die at every turn. You see, you have to CARE if the smoking-hot Lit teacher seems a little too interested in his female students. You have to care if the team wins the big game. You have to care if the smart, pretty girl forgives the dumb jock.”
“Sounds like Friday Night Lights..”
“Exactly. You root for them. You love them. So when they ARE brutally murdered, it hurts. “
So says Noah Foster (John Karna), the tech-savvy, virginal outcast and just one of many characters we’re asked to follow in MTV’s SCREAM: The Series. Why that short interaction between Noah and the object of his affection, Riley (Brianne Tju) is so important and much more than just a throwaway conversation, is the fact that it really sums up the TV series well. It really isn’t so much about who the killer is (though there’s great mystery in finding out), but more importantly, how we as viewers get to know the show’s characters and learn to really like them, something that is next to impossible to do in the SCREAM film series.
MTV’s show takes a tragic series of notorious past murders in the town of Lakewood and follows a present day copycat killer whose goal is not only slice and dice, but to also make the life of our protagonist Emma Duvall (Willa Fitzgerald) a living hell. As the pilot opens, we follow Nina Patterson (a cameo from Bella Thorne), a rich and manipulative student who, just moments before arriving home, uploaded a video of the bi-curious Audrey (Bex-Taylor Klaus) making out with another girl in a car, leading to Audrey’s very public humiliation. Much like the film series’ opening, it doesn’t take long for Nina to be dispatched, with her neck sliced and her body thrown into a pool. Right from the beginning, it’s clear that we’re dealing with more than just a watered down version of a traditional slasher story.
What made the SCREAM film series so problematic for me, with the exception of SCREAM 2’s tragic and very effective killing of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy character, was the fact that there isn’t a single scene in which I, as a viewer, felt a single thing. Sure, there are silly jokes and cameos galore, but are those jokes and cameos anything but gimmicks used to give a wink-wink to the crowd? The original film introduced us all to Sidney Prescott, a shy virgin who laments the death of her mother a year before the film’s opening. We’re given her friends: the promiscuous Tatum and her Jerry Lewis-like boyfriend Stu; Sydney’s boyfriend Billy, a brooding, Wal-Mart version of Johnny Depp. We’re asked to follow these young characters as they’re each systematically stalked by a mysterious killer (or killers) for reasons we’re not privy to until the unimpressive and preachy ending. Not even a couple of fun supporting performances from Courtney Cox (as the no-ethics reporter Gale Weathers) and David Arquette (a young police officer and brother to Rose McGowan’s Tatum character) are ever enough to really offer anything different. Instead, we’re treated like idiots for FOUR films. There are plenty of really well written and entertaining articles dissecting the film series and saying that they’re more about everything from slut-shaming (a fine article from Blumhouse’s William Bibiani) to a redefining breath of fresh air (seriously, how many times did we as viewers have to endure THAT statement?) but in reality, what the SCREAM film series is (and what the TV series ISN’T) is little more than a game of “how much do YOU know about horror films, because I know more than you”-like attitude. That fact is evident from the countless times writer Kevin Williamson has mentioned getting the idea for the film series when his lights were out and he played a horror trivia game on the phone with a friend. The film series is a glorified game of horror Trivial Pursuit.
With SCREAM: The TV Series, we’re not continually bombarded with cliché characters, a permeating “I’m way more knowledgeable in all things horror than you are” mentality, and people you don’t shed a single tear for when they meet their end at the hands of the murderer.
From the opening scene of the show, we’re given the facts right up front. This is not a “who knows more?”-type of story. It’s not reliant on how many horror films its characters have seen, in fact the only real “if we were in a slasher movie” kind of scenes that we’re given are quite early on in the show’s pilot. As the Lakewood high school students are questioned by the town’s Sheriff (whose son is a new attending student and the show’s answer to the film’s Billy Loomis character, but with actual acting chops and much more than a one-dimensional arc), we’re introduced to the many teenage characters that we’ll be following throughout the series and almost instantly, it’s easy to be on board with this new angle. There’s the rich and needy Brooke, a character that we SHOULD hate but don’t. She’s alone for the most part, her mayor father is gone more than he isn’t (and the subject of some sketchy activity himself) and she’s yet another character that we already like. She’s the show’s equivalent to the original film’s Tatum character. We’re also introduced to Emma’s boyfriend Will and his best friend Jake, a pair of manipulative and blackmailing red herrings, their off-putting and mysterious agendas put in front of us, right from the get-go. Making things even more difficult is the new kid in town, the previously mentioned son of the sheriff, Kieran, who is living with his father, after his mother and stepfather were killed some time before.
What’s absolutely unique about the show is how we’re given multiple characters that very well could have been the same tired, cliché characters from any teenage slasher film, but SCREAM never feels like typical slasher fare. Like Noah’s quote at the beginning of this article, we care about each character and when they potentially die (and trust me, some of them definitely do, in quite gruesome fashion), it’s akin to the feeling and surprise you felt when the character of Randy was, as previously stated, murdered in SCREAM 2. I’ve never been a fan of the SCREAM film series, but for some reason that scene has always been in my head, infuriating me more and more with every sequel, as we were never given another scene that rivaled that shock and terror. The difference between that scene in SCREAM 2 and the SCREAM TV series is that we get that shock and speechless feeling more than once. Nobody is safe from the TV series’ killer, a mask-wearing murderer who for one reason or another, wants to pick up where the legendary murderer of Lakewood left off. The mask is different, the motives are different, and most of all, the execution is different. It’s a welcome change, one that challenges what you’re expecting from a SCREAM TV series and one that pays off time and time again. I honestly don’t remember the last TV show that killed off of one of its main characters in a far more disgustingly brutal way than whatever film series it was based on.
Taking some of the best up and coming directors and allowing them to put their respective touches on various episodes, the producers of the series know how to craft a mystery that actually has many successful arcs for its characters, it’s an enthralling game of why people are being killed, because in the show, 90% of the characters actually HAVE reasons to kill, all of them having been wronged by the power of technology, backstabbing and exploitation. With filmmakers such as Leigh Janiak (HONEYMOON), Rodman Flender (IDLE HANDS) and Ti West (THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE SACRAMENT) at the helm, it’s apparent that telling a good 10-episode story is what the show’s creators had in mind, not a series of cheap kills and dialogue that’s too witty for its own good – and they’ve succeeded in not only that, but in crafting and executing a rare TV series that is light years more entertaining than the film series it was born from.
We’re not playing the guessing game with SCREAM: The Series, we’re following a group of students and the sins of their parents coming back to haunt them. It has that classic Wes Craven character study, following the children dealing with the awful mistakes their parents were a part of. We’re given so many hints and questions, all of them working together to fully form one hell of a puzzle, one that isn’t just about WHO the killer is, but why there is even a killer at all, why he or she wants revenge, mostly taking out people close to Emma as some sort of payback. The character of Emma could have very well been portrayed as a Sidney Prescott clone, but with Emma (and Willa Fitzgerald’s portrayal of her), we’re given someone to follow that doesn’t even fit into the SCREAM mold, feeling closer to Nancy Thompson than a boring as all hell Sidney type. We’re given a heroine that could confidentally be placed next to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s Heather Langenkamp. She’s infinitely brave but fragile at times, refusing to ever let the killer get the best of her. With how many twists and turns the series gives us (is the killer one of her best friends? Is it her mother, who is revealed quite early into the pilot as the young woman who accidentally drove the long lost murderer to kill because of his love for her?), Emma remains strong and works her ass off not only trying to figure out who the killer is, but focusing on keeping her friends safe just as much.
The SCREAM film series never had those character traits in Sidney. Instead, we were given one mopey scene after the next, to the point where it would have been a godsend to see Ghostface take Sidney out and stop the pouting already. With SCREAM: The Series, we’re given quite a few deaths, revelations and many many more things to latch onto.
Like TV shows such as TWIN PEAKS, THE KILLING and so on, we’re following a mystery, but we’re also given very entertaining subplots, ones that lead to some of the most shocking moments in the series. As far as the kills go, it blew me away to see what was put on screen, including one character’s death that is far more effective and gut-wrenching than any death scene in the entire SCREAM series. It will leave you speechless when you get to it. Pretty gutsy…
It’s so very rare to get a show that takes its source material and improves on it in spades. More entertaining, filled with characters you actually give a damn about, SCREAM: The Series takes the mantle from the film series and runs with it in ways the films never did.
Season 1 DVD is available now. Season 2 begins on May 30th on MTV!