The genius and tedium of Ghostface

I am DONE with this franchise.

Funny, really. One of the more tolerable characters (there were VERY few of them) posited early in Scream VI that slasher films exist to hold a mirror up to the culture in which they’re made. They are a reflection of their times.

In the meta style Scream loves so much, this latest instalment couldn’t prove this point any better.

Just not how the writers intended.

Like so much of modern-day, blockbuster popcorn fodder, this steaming heap of tripe was aesthetically pleasing in many ways, but artistically emaciated in so, so many other ways.

It’s not the worst of the current garbage we have to pick from. The cinematography, action sequences, and set designs were pretty good. NONE of that matters in the face of such morally bankrupt, unlikeable, obnoxious goblins as were the cast of Scream VI. I couldn’t figure out whether their entire personalities were defined by their sexual proclivities or their judgemental hyper-arrogance.

Herein lies Scream VI’s primary problem: character.

Or lack thereof.

The recent Hellraiser reboot suffered a similarly intolerable ensemble. Awful, awful characters. It had a pretty inventive story, laden with themes and threaded with enough of the franchise’s past to make it feel essential in some way, whilst still bringing original ideas to the table and subverting what we thought we knew about the Hellraiser universe (thanks David S. Goyer). Ultimately though, you need character. And for that reason Hellraiser raised little hell.

Scream VI doesn’t even have the story to back it up. Spoiler alert: in the most fundamental ways it’s basically Scream 2, and the marketed promise of Jason Takes Manhattan with Ghostface was not delivered upon.

There were some cool kills and Ghostface sequences, but cool kills make not a great horror film.

To this day I ADORE the original Scream. It’s one of Wes Craven’s smartest and smoothest films, and is a perfect time capsule for 90s horror and teen culture in film.

Ghostface himself is a far more interesting ‘character’ than most realise, and transcends the slasher genre’s Italian Giallo influences. Think about it. Ghostface is as much an icon of horror cinema as Leatherface or Myers or Voorhees, and yet every bogeyman of horror lore has a bound duality: the character and the physical form are intertwined, connected. Ghostface is a mantel, an idea commandeered by the latest serial killer/s in each instalment.

Watch a Ghostface kill sequence from the original or any of the abominable sequels, and in your heart of hearts you know you’re watching our favourite pasty-faced stabber have his fun. But you’re not. Not really. Lurking underneath the robes there’s always an ‘unexpected’ (*cough cough*) side character, but while Ghostface is carving up pretty girls that can’t seem to run fifty meters without falling over, he’s something else. A character that doesn’t really exist. A ghost, if you will.

Ghostface fascinates me because he transcends character. He is a placeholder for the mystery of the story. For the bulk of each Scream film, he exists as his own thing. Only at the end of the third act when the latest killer is revealed is that illusion shattered, but until then he’s an amorphous, implacable presence.

What Craven created in the original Scream was more of a think piece than people realise. The meta elements are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s way more to get your head around than the cultural commentary, and – crucially – the characters are all rich, captivating, sympathetic, well-written, and well-performed.

Enter Scream VI.

Why do I seethe so passionately about my hatred for this film? Because it’s conveyer belt landfill like this that compromises the standards of modern horror, eases audiences into accepting subpar movie experiences as the norm, and ultimately lowers the filmmaking bar to allow any incompetent writer to strut into the offices of Hollywood and subject us to this kind of flagrant turd. We are NOT headed in a good place, my fellow horror freaks.

Most of all, it conditions audiences into thinking characters like those in Scream VI are worthy of their time. They are not. Almost the entire roster were flawed beyond belief – a great starting point for a character’s journey – yet this opportunity was wasted by an utter unawareness of these flaws, either by the characters themselves or the writers. When a character DID have some awareness of a thorn in their side, a shade to their personality that needed resolved through story (welcome to the function of FICTION, guys!) they were entirely uninterested in doing anything other than serve up their obnoxious, smarmy, holier-than-thou dialogue with pantomime-gone-wrong delivery.

I’m passionate about fiction’s ability to teach us, guide us, counsel us. To shine a light on the darkest corners of the human psyche and offer a way through the darkness – or refuse such catharsis, and provide us with an equally useful exercise in despair and horror.

I’m glad so many of you enjoyed Scream VI, but it served none of the above functions. For that reason, I’m out.

Never mind, though. Evil Dead Rise will (hopefully) show us how it’s done.

Honourable mentions:
-Performances like Hayden Panettiere’s should be a legislative crime.
-The Mindy character was, like last time, a loathsome gremlin of the highest order.
-Gale Weathers served absolutely zero function.
-Haven’t filmmakers heard the Lord of the Rings Christopher Lee anecdote when he told Peter Jackson (from personal experience) that people don’t scream when they’re stabbed?! Enough with this stabby-screamy nonsense!
-The Halloween 2018-esque Ghostface mask was pretty great.

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