What You Need to Know About the SCREAM Universe - Nerdist

What You Need to Know About the SCREAM Universe

The Scream franchise is officially back in business after a long hiatus. It’s been a whopping 25 years since the original film hit theaters in 1996. And the latest Scream film is coming more than 10 years after Scream 4. All the films go in and out of streaming availability so there are chances to rewatch them in all their Ghostface glory. However, this long time gap means there are viewers with varying relationships to the franchise. There’s an entire generation of new horror fans who may be getting into the Scream universe for the first time.

Perhaps they were too young to watch it in the ‘90s or, for the 2000s babies, they weren’t even BORN when the first three films came out. Yeesh. And, there are perhaps older viewers who weren’t into horror back then but dig it now. There may also be casual fans who forgot some big details or want to take a trip down Scream memory lane. Either way, it’s always nice to have a solid foundation going into an established universe, right? Of course I am right. Sometimes you intend to watch things and time slips away, so you need the highlights. Let’s dive into what you need to know about the Scream universe to get ready for Scream (2022).

photo of several Scream actresses from franchise crying in horror
Dimension Films
A Bit of Scream History

In the early ‘90s, Kevin Williamson was an aspiring screenwriter with a couple of small acting credits to his name. After learning about the Gainesville Ripper (more on that real-life Scream history here), he wrote a mini script under the title Scary Movie. The story followed a woman who gets a phone call from someone who breaks into her home and kills her. Williamson soon developed it into a feature length project, infusing it with references from his fave horror flicks like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and When a Stranger Calls.

He eventually struck a deal with the then-new Dimension Films. Wes Craven got involved as the director and Scream was on its way to being a cornerstone in horror history. The first film hit in December 1996, typically a dead month for non-Christmas fare at the time, bringing its whodunit mystery and chilling kills to audiences. It broke the horror mold by casting already familiar names like Drew Barrymore, Courteney Cox, and, to a lesser degree, rising actress Neve Campbell. Scream is credited with revitalizing mainstream horror and setting off a string of teen ensemble horror flicks for decades to come. And, it was the inspiration for the Scary Movie parody film franchise.

What Is the Overall Story Here?

The Scream franchise follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her cyclical battle with a bevy of serial killers. She’s the main player, a now-iconic final girl, and the real MVP. The murder of Sidney’s mother is the beginning of a revenge plot to kill and/or frame Sidney for various reasons. There is a rotating cast of people around her but two mainstays, Deputy—and later Sheriff—Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and tabloid reporter/salacious author Gale Weathers (later Gale Weathers Riley, played by Courteney Cox) are by her side throughout these ordeals.

Scream (1996): The Beginning

Scream takes place in fictional Woodsboro, an idyllic Northern California town where teenage Sidney “Sid” Prescott lives with her father. This film is all about tipping its hat to the genre’s predecessors, including its now classic opening scene with Barrymore’s Casey Becker as she plays a terrifying phone game with a charismatic killer. The exchange ends with her and her boyfriend, Steve Orth, dying at Casey’s house. The killer wears a costume with a long white face with hollowed eyes and mouth and a cheap black robe. A knife is the deadly weapon of choice.

Of course, we get the foundation for our main character. Sidney lost her mom Maureen Prescott in a grisly rape/murder a year prior. She testified against local “sleezeball” Cotton Weary, who claims he had a consensual sexual relationship with Maureen, and he’s on death row. Sid is also trying to parse through her relationship with Billy Loomis, a Johnny Depp lookalike who keeps pressuring her about sex.

After a couple of close calls (literal phone calls and in-person attacks) with the killer, Sid eventually ends up at Billy’s best friend Stu Macher’s house for a party. She goes alongside her best friend (and Stu’s girlfriend) Tatum and close buddy/horror movie geek Randy, who has an unrequited crush on Sidney. Things go very awry when the party thins out and the killer shows up just as Tatum’s older brother Dewey wanders off with Gale Weathers to investigate.

Sidney Prescott on the phone

Dimension Films

Ya see, Gale and Sidney have bad blood because Gale wrote a book about Maureen’s murder, calling Sidney a liar and saying Cotton Weary was framed. Anyway, Sidney gets chased around, Tatum dies, and she eventually discovers the shocking truth: Billy and Stu are the killers and they killed her mom, too. Why? Because Maureen had an affair with Billy’s dad, causing his parents’ split. Sidney, with help from Gale and Randy (sort of), kills them both and lives another day. Dewey gets stabbed in the back yet survives and Sidney’s dad is cool too. Roll credits.

Although the antagonist is always referred to as “The Killer” in this film and subsequent ones, Tatum calls him Ghostface prior to her death. (The story behind the Scream mask is interesting if you wanna learn more.) While not used within the films until Scream 4, Ghostface is the commonly used name by the fandom and franchise promotional materials. Randy also catches fire with fans, taking our place as the horror aficionado who is pretty aware that he’s living in a real-life scary movie. He even goes so far as naming the rules of survival, including don’t drink or have sex and that the killer is never really dead the first time.

Scream really breaks the mold in a few ways. Sidney starts off as the typical “final girl,” a sweet virgin who makes good grades and stays out of trouble. But we get to peel back her layers, revealing someone who will drop an “f-bomb,” punch a grown woman, have sex when she chooses to, and shoot someone in the head. Her “goodness” doesn’t determine if she’s worth saving unlike some of her predecessors. She fights for her survival all the way, having a ton of autonomy over her decisions and actions.

The revelation of two killers was an absolutely brilliant twist. Billy and Stu aren’t as slick, calculating, physically imposing, nor superhuman as many other classic horror villains. The duo gets their asses kicked, trip and fall, and have a rather clumsy plan that unravels due to their own ego and negligence. It makes Scream feel very much rooted in reality, which only adds to its terror.

Scream 2 (1997): The Plot Thickens

We back! Sidney is now at Windsor College in Ohio, living her life as a drama student and trying to stay low key. That’s kinda hard, though, because Gale’s book about the Woodsboro murders is the source material for Stab, a horror movie. Randy is also inexplicably at the same college as, you guessed it, a film student. Sid has a new crew, including her token Black girl roommate Hallie, pretty frat boyfriend Derek, and “freaky Tarantino” (Randy’s words, not mine) film student Mickey. The murder of Phil and Maureen, two Windsor College students at a Stab screening (just had to kill the Black folks, huh?), puts Sid on edge and brings both Dewey and Gale into the picture. The former is there to protect/support Sidney while the latter hopes she can get fodder for her next book.

Speaking of Gale, she has her own entourage of sorts with her cameraman Joel (who replaces the cameraman killed in the first film) and Debbie Salt, a local reporter and Gale fan. Once again, Sid does not have a good time. Ghostface chases her on a stage, kills her security detail, Hallie, Randy, and eventually Derek, and she has to deal with Cotton Weary. He’s exonerated for murder and wants her to help him capitalize on their unfortunate connection.

Dewey and Gale reconcile after she wrote poorly about him in her book. They go investigating (again) and Dewey gets stabbed (again). Gale barely escapes. Joel skips town because he’s a Black guy who is not trying to die from white drama.

The showdown on the drama stage reveals that Mickey (whom you almost forget exists) is the killer! He wants to “blame it on the movies” and have a big trial where he gets away with murder. And, bigger shock, Debbie Salt is the second killer. But she’s not Debbie. She’s Mrs. Loomis, Billy’s mom who wants revenge on Sidney for killing her son. She kills Mickey to frame him but Cotton thwarts her efforts to kill Gale and Sid. The thrio make it out alive along with Dewey who is possibly immortal (or just has great plot armor).

There are a few things to catch onto here, including the fact that Sidney gets a necklace with Derek’s greek letters that she holds onto. In fact, we see her wearing it in the next installment. The impact of this film’s murders is a lot higher for Sidney. She feels indirectly responsible for Hallie and Derek’s deaths due to her poor decision making and general distrust of people. And losing Randy means her entire group from high school is dead.

She also has a terse truce of sorts with Cotton, allowing him to be the media hero because damn more of her friends are dead and sis is tired. The growing romantic relationship between Gale and Dewey gains its footing here too. In the first film, she was more concerned about the story than his well being at the end. This time, she’s in the ambulance with him. Scream 2 also sets the in-universe Stab films in motion, which we will talk about more later.

Scream 3 (2000): The Concluding Chapter of a Trilogy (or not..)
Cotton Weary Scream 3 man on phone in vehicle

Dimension Films

Scream 3 was supposed to be the end of this franchise but that was obviously a lie. The first person we see isn’t a stranger but Cotton Weary. He’s living the high life in Hollywood with a talk show, money, and a role in a Stab 3. Unfortunately, Cotton and his girlfriend become the opening kills for a Ghostface who’s asking about Sidney. She’s living solo in the woods in a nice cabin with a dog and working for a crisis hotline under a fake name. Only Dewey and her dad know her whereabouts.

Cotton’s murder brings Hollywood Detective Mark Kincaid to Gale, who is doing lectures on how to be a heartless journalist. She’s somehow “the expert” he needs because he lacks competence and research skills of his own. They run into Dewey, who is a consultant on the Stab film set and mad that Gale left him for fame… again.

This is where things get squirrely. There are film actor counterparts for our main people. You have film Gale (Jennifer), Dewey (Tom), and of course, Sid (Angelina) along with other characters. The killer starts whacking off actors, bringing the realization that he—or she… or they—is killing people in the order of a film script. And each crime scene has photos of a young Maureen Prescott, claiming that her real killer isn’t Billy or Stu.

Real Sid comes to Hollywood after Ghostface calls her, reunites with Gale and Dewey, and doesn’t notice Kincaid’s borderline obsession with her. Things go very Scooby-Doo with the Gales investigating, a house blowing up, Dewey taking advice from Randy’s pre-death video given to him by Randy’s sister Martha, and Sid visiting a replica of her childhood bedroom.

Meanwhile, Stab 3 film director Roman is concerned about his cast (and film) dying while studio executive Milton doesn’t seem to care… until we discover his truth. Turns out Maureen did a few low-budget Hollywood horror films when she was young and ended up in a gang rape situation at Milton’s swanky home. Oof. Later on, the killer lures all the remaining cast, Dewey, and Gale to Roman’s party at that same home.

He dispatches everyone except Sid’s friends, whom he uses as bait for Sid. Kincaid shows up, gets his ass kicked, and Sid eventually discovers the killer is Roman, who appeared to be dead earlier. He reveals that he’s Maureen’s son, the product of her sexual assault who is mad that Sid got the family he was refused. Roman gathered evidence of Maureen’s affair with Mr. Loomis, giving it to Billy and setting off this chain of murder. He tries to kill Sid but fails, with Dewey eventually shooting him. In the end, Sid, Dewey, Gale, and Kincaid chill at her house and she’s sure her life’s horrors are behind her.

Scream 3 Sidney Prescott

Dimension Films

This film is pretty divisive among the fandom for a few reasons. First, there’s a lack of the main protagonist. It’s almost like Scream 3 could have been a spinoff flick about Gale and Dewey going on an investigative adventure with a ragtag team of dumb, unlikable actors. In reality, Neve Campbell had a tight schedule so her filming window was small. It never made sense to me because, well, if this was truly supposed to be the last film, then why not make the necessary shifts to tell Sid’s story as completely as possible?

In fact, it’s like she’s in her own separate dark movie. The revelation about her mom and Roman is disturbing as hell and doesn’t fit the tone of everything else at all. And, many fans thought Roman was an odd choice for the lone killer. First, there’s no physical way one person could do everything he did. This is an interesting point considering an early script called for two killers. (That version of the film featured Angelina, Sidney’s movie counterpart, as Roman’s girlfriend and accomplice. But the script didn’t stick.) However, filming didn’t seem to account for this change so it still plays out much like a two person job. He does A LOT and racks up a hefty body count.

Second, it’s weird for Roman to have no real connection to Sidney at all. Yes, they are half-siblings but the first time Sid ever shares a room with Roman is when he reveals himself to be the killer. Sure, we never saw her with Billy’s mom either. But we know that they had multiple interactions prior to the first film’s events. Either way, Scream 3 is an oft-quoted and discussed film among fans.

Scream 4 (2011): Live for the Applause
photo of Ghostface from Scream 4

Dimension Films

A new decade and millennium calls for new things. Scream 4 boasts the ultimate meta opening of Stab characters watching people die before dying while real people watch them die and then die. Lost yet? Hang on. We meet Jill Roberts, Sidney’s much younger cousin through her mom’s sister Kate. Where the hell did Kate come from? I don’t know. Sid’s father died from an illness and now she lives elsewhere. Since the last film, she’s taken back her power and written a best-selling book about her life.

Meanwhile, Dewey is now the Sheriff of Woodsboro and his deputy, Judy Hicks, seems to have a crush on him. Odd stuff considering she’s a former classmate of Sidney’s. He’s married to Gale, who is struggling with her career and identity at this point. She’s down so bad that she later works with high school horror club kids to figure out the rules of remakes in hopes of discovering the killer.

Sid comes home to promote her new book and the killing starts, targeting Jill and her friends. Her crew includes Sid/Tatum/Randy mashup Kirby, film geek Charlie, creepy ex-boyfriend Trevor, and neighbor Olivia. A few people bite the dust, including Aunt Kate and Olivia. A “Stabathon” watch leads to an attack on Gale and eventually, Sid has a showdown with Ghostface, discovering it is Jill and Charlie behind it. They kill Trevor and Kirby, hoping to frame the former for their crimes. Jill wants Sidney’s fame so bad that she stabs Sidney and comically beats herself up to become the new “final girl.”

Jill Roberts Scream 4 stands over an unseen person

Dimension Films

For the first time, Gale actually figures out who the killer is and works with Dewey and Sidney to subdue Jill for good. Sidney also slips in a great line: “don’t f*** with the original.” Weirdly, Deputy Judy Hicks is there but gets knocked out until it’s all over. And that’s where we left things.

Scream 4 really leans into the impact of modern social media and attention seeking fame. It was right around the time when Facebook, Twitter, and other sites launched apps and people began to get internet famous. Interestingly, Jill’s motivations, albeit extreme, are not that far from reality. People have done deadly and dangerous stuff for the sake of fame and applause.

A World Within a World

There are more Stab films in the Scream universe than actual Scream movies. As of Scream 4, there are seven Stab movies in the universe, although we get to see little if any of them. There’s a delightful Stab movie website of fan-made films that imagine what happens in this faux franchise. Apparently, the first couple of films follow Sid’s life relatively close with Tori Spelling portraying Sidney. But, Stab 3 goes a bit rogue with scripts that have Gale Weathers dying (or being the killer), random characters coming into the fold, and nothing making sense.

They no longer follow the original story, much like real-life long running horror franchises do. It’s not clear whether there are any more Stab movies following Scream 4‘s events, but it wouldn’t be a shocker. Jill Robert’s quest for fame is prime content for a movie.

Classic Tenets and Theories of Scream

There are quite a few staples in the Scream universe. The most obvious one is the franchise’s overall approach to horror. Scream is well known for being very, very meta with a human killer. Ghostface may look like an apparition but it’s always been a flesh and blood person behind those masks. It does appear that Scream (2022) will lean towards a more menacing and ruthless take but hopefully, he/she/they will not become some super, unkillable being like Michael Myers.

Speaking of Ghostface, he mostly looks the same as the original with the exception of aesthetic upgrades to his mask. Some versions of the eyes and mouth are more curved and/or elongated but the basic design is the same. The voice changing device also looks connected to the mask now for easier use.  Mask aside, the black robe, boots, and classic knife to slice and dice complete the look.

The catchphrase “Hello, Sidney” has become a horror classic. It came from the first time Sidney speaks to the killer on the phone and continues to pop up throughout the franchise. In fact, Hello Sidney is the name of a very popular fan website dedicated to all things Scream. “Do You Like Scary Movies?” also continues to be popular among fans, too.

The use of telephones is key, too. Ghostface loves to verbally terrorize his victims over landline phones, cell, and now text messages. It’s been an interesting transition from seeing Billy Loomis become a suspect for having a rare cell phone in 1996 to the new Ghostface using Sam’s friend’s phone to text in the new film’s trailer. Somehow, landline phones are a mainstay in this universe, even in 2021.

Much of the franchise plays out like a whodunit mystery. But unlike Scooby-Doo where someone unmasks the suspect, they do the honors themselves. There’s lots of red herrings, accusations, and looking at horror movie tropes to attempt to figure it out. And, the gag is, the characters are terrible at sussing out the truth. Well, except Randy, who did guess that Billy was the killer in Scream. But he was only partially right, not seeming to seriously suspect Stu until the very end. And Gale gets kudos for figuring out that Jill is a killer in Scream 4, even if it was in the eleventh hour. A part of the fun is discovering who is behind the mask at the end. And, with two killers, there’s the challenge of trying to figure out who killed who.

Of course, there are always weird theories. The first one is that Stu is somehow alive. This is wild because Sidney literally barbecues his head with a TV. I am no medical expert, but I am sure a human cannot survive that. Those fans think Stu will somehow pop up in the upcoming movie. Riiiiight. Another farfetched one is that Randy is alive. We saw his lifeless, bloody body and Mrs. Loomis admitted to stabbing him to death. But somehow people think he may have survived his injuries and went into hiding. Actor Jamie Kennedy has shot this down before but even his words won’t dash the hope of Randy lovers.

Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks in Scream stands outside wearing green jacket talking on cell phone

Dimension Films

Now, a more plausible “might be alive” comes with Angelina and Kirby. Ghostface appears to stab Angelina in Scream 3 but it mostly happens offscreen. She’s dragged away and we never see her (or her body) again. People believe Roman faked stabbing her so she could appear and help him later but instead, she ran away scot-free. It’s not impossible but Roman was a selfish, whiny dude. If anything, he would have killed her once she was no longer useful to him.

The one I do want to be true is Kirby being alive. We see her get stabbed in Scream 4 but there’s no real evidence that she actually died. We never see her lifeless body on the ground. And she certainly wasn’t hacked up like some other characters. Kirby surviving would be an interesting Scream (2022) wildcard.

My favorite ridiculous Scream theory? That Dewey is the true mastermind behind it all. He’s high key obsessed with Sidney. Ghostface never really seems to chase or go after him with the same fervor as others. And Dewey always pops up in the action yet conveniently gets sidelined when necessary. This theory made more sense in the franchise’s earlier days but it may not be so farfetched now. In a Scream (2022) trailer, there’s a hint that the killer is targeting those connected to the original murders.

And, while Gale and Sid seem like they are successful, Dewey looks down in the dumps and alone. Long gone are the days where he is their protector, the investigator, and, in some cases, the hero. What if he wants that glory, that feeling of importance back? Would he be willing to partner with some others to make that happen? A new string of murders gives him what he wants: Gale and Sidney back in his life and a sense of importance. Honestly, it makes more sense for him to get killed than a killer but that would be a fun twist.

What You Need to Know About the SCREAM Universe_1

Dimension Films

There’s also the number seven. There have been seven killers so far, seven Stab movies, and seven deaths (including Billy and Stu) in the original film. The Scream movie Twitter account also posted seven drops of blood a while back, which was a correct hint at the trailer coming seven days later. But people are still speculating on how seven can factor into this film. From a spiritual sense, it is the number of completion and represents the place between life and death. Is this foreboding an ending in the fifth film? We will see.

Scream (2022): The Future

Now here we are at a fifth movie. You can find out everything you need to know about Scream (2022) here but let’s do a quick overview. This film is presumably like the others and takes place in present day, so it’s been 10 years since Jill Robert’s reign of fame-seeking terror. Obviously, everyone is in a completely different era of their lives. Sidney lives somewhere else and is possibly a mom and wife. Dewey appears to not be on the force anymore (years of murder stuff can wear ya out) and Gale is back to journalist business. We know that this film will primarily take place in Woodsboro, bring the OG three together, and introduce us to a swath of new teens.

While some are just there for easy disposal, Sam Carpenter will be the new Sidney Prescott. This film seems to be taking on a much darker tone with connections back to the first Scream from its name to scenes at Stu Macher’s house. And in this new era of filming and live streaming and social unrest, this could prove to be a horror movie with some hefty commentary. This installment is also more diverse than its predecessors with characters like Mindy Meeks-Martin, a Black queer girl presumably related to Randy Meeks. There isn’t an official word yet but if Scream (2022) does well, surely there will be more installments to come with Sidney passing the baton.

It would cause a rage if she dies but it’s fair game for Gale and/or Dewey to not make it this time. The Scream universe used to be all about nodding at its predecessors but now it has enough of its own lore to honor its own past. It’s been a very long journey with disturbing revelations, classic humor, chilling kills, and a legacy that continues to expand.

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