Neve Campbell recently announced that she wouldn’t be returning for the next film in the Scream franchise due to a contract dispute, leaving most fans supportive of her decision while also heartbroken that one of horror’s favorite final girls would not be back to take on the latest iteration of Ghostface. Having appeared in every Scream film to date, it will be strange to have one not involving Campbell’s character of Sidney Prescott, but perhaps it’s for the best. It will give the film an opportunity to break free from the self-imposed restraints it puts itself in by always finding a way to center each film around its original final girl.
By over-relying on the first film’s final girl, Scream has fallen into the same trap that the Halloween franchise has found itself in for over forty years. When you think of final girls and scream queens, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is one of the first that comes to mind. Her quiet babysitter-turned-courageous heroine fighting off the boogeyman is the epitome of slasher film protagonists. Curtis’ performance worked too well, however, as the franchise has returned to the character of Laurie Strode in every film since, even if Curtis wasn’t there to play her.
While the original 1978 Halloween was so scary mainly because Michael Myers (Nick Castle) was a madman who killed without reason, 1981’s Halloween II erased a lot of the creep factor by giving Myers a motive. This time he was after Laurie Strode because it just so happens that she was his long-lost sister. No longer was he the boogeyman, now he was an angry brother. Carpenter has admitted many times that he regretted writing this twist. Its inclusion changed the entire theme of the first film and forced the franchise into a corner where every subsequent sequel meant Michael needed to be obsessed with killing Laurie.
When Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t come back for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, it didn’t matter. The filmmakers simply wrote Laurie off by killing her in an offscreen car accident. But wait, she had a daughter, and now Michael is after her! He would chase after a young Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris who was a superb child actor) throughout the fourth and fifth films. When Harris didn’t return for the sixth film, she was simply recast and quickly killed off by Myers. That didn’t matter either, because guess what.. she also had a child for Myers to hunt down!
Throw in the convoluted cult subplot and everything Halloween used to be had been destroyed. There was no reason to be scared of Michael Myers. If you weren’t related to him, you had nothing to worry about. Halloween H20 at least attempted to erase all the crazy sequels and focused on only the first two films, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to finish off Myers once and for all. The film was an improvement, but we were still stuck in the same plot of Michael stalking his sister, except Haddonfield had been switched out for a school in California.
Seeing as how Michael (and his box office) is not allowed to die, however, Myers was dug up again in Halloween: Resurrection, with Curtis agreeing to come back for what was to be one last time as long as she was granted her wish to finally be killed off in the first scene. Twenty-five years after their battle began, it finally came to an end in the most undramatic of ways. It at least gave the rest of the film a chance to explore a plot that didn’t center around Laurie Strode or her family. The filmmakers wasted it, though, by simply having Michael lazily stalk kids at his childhood home.
2018’s Halloween may have been a success, but its focus still found itself rooted in the past. It was almost a remake of Halloween H20 more than anything original; as if the filmmakers were saying, “Well, H20 didn’t turn out the way we wanted and Resurrection was a disaster. So let’s try it again.” Halloween (2018) turned out to be a rather good film despite its limited view, so much so that we were given not one but two sequels. Halloween Kills may have chosen to examine the effects of trauma on a town and the consequences of mob violence, but Laurie and her family still had to be at the core, even if almost every scene involving Curtis did nothing more than have her propped up in a hospital bed with little to do. In the upcoming Halloween Ends, we’re promised that Laurie and Michael will battle again for one last time. No, really, this time they mean it. Maybe.
We could have easily seen the rebooted Halloween franchise take a different route, exploring new angles and different characters, but the anchor of nostalgia and comfortable storytelling was too strong. Scream has dug itself into a similar hole. The original worked for various reasons, from its meta winks at horror film tropes to its whodunit scenario. What worked just as much was its characters, especially Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. Just like Laurie Strode, Sidney found herself chosen to be the final victim of a killer obsessed with her. Ghostface was not a mindless madman out to kill his family, though. He was more layered, played by two teenagers who wanted to live out their love for horror films while also getting revenge. It was a clever plot, but its failure was working so well that from then on, every sequel has focused on the new copycat killer being just as obsessed with Sidney as the last killer was.
There were, again, two killers in Scream 2. One was again obsessed with horror movies. The other, as the mother of one of the fallen killers from the first film, was out for revenge, just as her son had been. In Scream 3, we got the lazy, “the killer is her long-lost brother” routine. Scream 4 was lazy in its motive by finding a way to copy all of its past villains. Here, we get two killers, one who is obsessed with movies (because of course) and one who is Sidney’s cousin. Why does this poor woman have such a crazy family?
2022’s Scream at least felt a bit more fresh by not making Sidney the main focus throughout most of the film, until it’s revealed that everything the killer has done has been to get Sidney to come back home so that two more Ghostface copycats can try to kill her. While it’s an interesting take that speaks to the number of horror reboots that Hollywood pumps out, it still needed Sidney Prescott to exist.
Scream 6 has a chance to find a way out of its Sidney Prescott trap, but it probably won’t. She’s destined to have a huge presence, and be the basis of Ghostface’s motive, no matter if Neve Campbell is there or not. There’s no need to focus on Sidney, though. She can live and not be part of the plot for once. There are other stories to tell and other motives a killer can have. What about a Scream film that takes a look at how horror films are beholden to the past? Scream doesn’t have to continue to be. Neither did Halloween.
The latter is destined to be rebooted in a few years and Michael will live again. Hopefully, we get a fresh take without Laurie Strode’s character. Scream doesn’t have to wait. They have the opportunity right now to make the best out of a bad situation and try something new and innovative, just as the original did so many years ago. That doesn’t mean that they have to kill Sidney off. Campbell can and most likely will return again, but her character could use a break. The same goes for Laurie Strode. Haven’t we put them through enough?