The Scream Trilogy Fifteen Years On - Part 3: It's A Mystery Scooby-Doo!

In this series of three articles, leading up to this week's release of Scream 4 on DVD and Blu-ray, Film Intel examines three major elements of the original Scream trilogy and questions whether they challenged horror films to do better or re-enforced old cliches.

The original Scream trilogy isn't just a collection of horror films where a masked antagonist hunts down teens with varying degrees of success. The original Scream trilogy is also a collection of three mysteries where both the audience and the characters are invited to participate in a 'whoodunit' straight from the files of Scooby-Doo. Wes Craven's manipulation and building of the mystery in the first three films is central to their longevity and mass-market appeal. With them, the Scream films become more than just knife-based horror for the blood lust crowd.

The success of the mysteries Craven builds are also key to the individual film's successes and failures. Scream 2 - the weakest film of the original trilogy - has the worst mystery. The original film - still the strongest the franchise has to offer - has both the best mystery and the most satisfying conclusion, despite the fact that it completely skips a second act and goes straight to a feature-length third. The third film - average in every regard - has an average mystery with a 'ho-hum, so what' conclusion.

Henry Winkler is subtly suggested to be the young people hating killer in Scream.  

The reason the first film's mystery remains chilling and satisfying is down to the care Craven invests in creating it. Numerous suspects are suggested, several red herrings are included. In a tense scene where the school principal (Henry Winkler) bemoans the youth of today whilst flicking a knife in two terrified student's faces, Craven sets him up as possible suspect. A short amount of scenes later, Craven kills him off. As is usual, the director here is not above toying with the very mechanisms he successfully uses to create his films.

The shot of the sheriff's boots highlights the care with which Craven approaches his first mystery.

Much subtler moments appear throughout Scream. Billy's (Skeet Ulrich) dropped phone immediately places him under suspicion before several careful scenes both place him above consideration and firmly back into the front of our thoughts. In between these manipulations of a key character, Craven spends time suggesting numerous others. Look carefully at the scene where Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Tatum (Rose McGowan) are stalked by the killer in the shopping mall. The very next scene focuses very deliberately on Sheriff Burke's (Joseph Whipp) shoes, which just happen to be the same as the killer's.

The second two films feature much less care and much fewer suggestions of guilt. The unholy union of killers in Scream 2 features two characters who share hardly any screen time. Even worse than this, their screen time is largely built up of incidental moments of exposition and distraction. Their reveal is a complete damp squib mainly because it is possible to have travelled through the narrative without noticing them. In a whoodunit, the rules of the genre dictate that the eventual killer must have been suggested at least once during the proceeding run time. In Scream 2, the eventual killers barely even feature in the script and the film suffers because of its infamous forced rewrites, following the leaking of an early version of the screenplay.

The connection between Scream and Scooby-Doo isn't limited to Matthew Lillards' turn as Shaggy.

Scream 3 goes ridiculously meta by transplanting the action to Hollywood and, in particular, a film set. Given that the film has a pre-occupation with 'Hollywoodising' things, the eventual killer is fairly predictable. Unlike Scream 2, Craven does invest some care in manipulating the audience, throwing in the ultimate fake in the basement of the house chase segment. Again though, the reveal lacks the shock and distinction of the first film mainly because the personal connection of the killer to Sidney this time round feels manufactured. More than that in fact: it feels like it has come straight from a Scooby-Doo episode, where the 'pesky kids' get increasingly peskier and certainly a whole load more deadly.


  1. Tiny bit disappointed that you didn't mention Randy in this series. He was my highlight of the trilogy - I love me a filmgeek

  2. Check out paragraph five of article two. He is there... albeit briefly! Have tried to avoid discussing both stuff that gets brought up all the time and stuff that is very spoilery - Randy's an obvious choice for discussion and it's very difficult to go in depth without ruining what happens to him.

    I kind of like Randy too, especially in the first film, but in the second he's under-used and he should never have featured in three: his bit in that film is pure plot explanation and very lazy scripting.