This week MTV confirmed rumours that have been flying around for almost a year by announcing that Wes Craven’s Scream franchise will be adapted into a television programme. The pilot isn’t due to land until Summer 2014, but journalists and bloggers have already turned to various animal-related clichés, suggesting that this is a case of milking the cash cow, or flogging a dead horse.
There is a legitimate argument that the franchise, which falls somewhere between horror and spoof in terms of genre, has already had enough second chances. The journey began back in 1981, with Byron Quisenberry’s Scream, a tale of a teenage camping trip gone wrong. Quisenberry’s film documented the successive and grisly deaths of the group of friends, employing the repetitive narrative later popularised by Craven’s Scream movies and utilised slightly differently in the Final Destination franchise.
In 1996 Craven’s Scream was released, and enjoyed much more success than Quisenberry’s earlier effort. Scream was followed promptly by Scream 2 the following year and Scream 3 in 2000. It could, and perhaps should have been, a trilogy ending here.
But in 2011 Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williams, who had worked on each of the previous films, reunited to bring us Scream 4. It used the same formula; a mystery character disguised in a ‘Ghostface’ mask runs amok killing the teenagers of small town Woodsboro. Some of the faces may have been new (Emma Roberts, Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale and an up-and-coming Alison Brie), but the story was virtually identical to those that preceded it.
Scream 4 continued a trend which Craven and Williams had perfected in their original trilogy; the ability to make films that had been seen before saleable, simply by changing the setting and replacing each cast with a new and more stylish version.
That said, the lynchpin of the Scream saga has always been Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a perpetual victim, and one of the only characters who really develops as the series progresses. Campbell starred in all four films, each of which saw her become entangled with a new killing spree, each featuring a new killer behind the Ghostface mask. Miraculously she survives every time, but whether Campbell will return for the televised adaptation remains to be seen.
Scream’s popularity must surely be due to its self-conscious awareness and parodying of the conventions of slasher movies, a tendency which escalates throughout the series. Scream 3 largely takes place on a film set for fictional movie Stab 3, part of a film-within-a-film trilogy based on the Woodsboro murders depicted in Craven’s first Scream film.
By Scream 4, which is set ten years later and takes a new generation of Woodsboro teens as its protagonists (and, of course, victims), the Stab films have reached classic status and are screened in epic quote-a-long marathons.
The rules both mocked and adhered to by Scream include conventions such as a rising body count and more elaborate death scenes for sequels (also true of Final Destination).
Similarly, the level of meta-cinematic reference and technique increases throughout the saga; Scream 4 opens with not one but two framing scenes which turn out not to be a part of the movie’s true plot.
So where is there to go with the TV series if we’ve seen it all several times before? The much shorter running time on TV obviously hinders the inclusion of multiple narrative levels, and techniques for creating suspense are likely to suffer if they’re seen every week. It may be that the best we can hope for is a series of CSI-type murder mysteries, where every killer just happens to use the same disguise.
Not many stories have made it from the big to the small screen, but Joss Whedon proved it can be done with his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which ran for 6 years after Whedon was reportedly unhappy with the feature film made from his original script. Maybe Scream needs the touch of its original creative team, Craven and Williams, in order to resurrect once again.