[This is a review of Scream season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
In 1996, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven offered moviegoers a new take on the typical slasher film in the form of the immensely popular film, Scream. With references – some more blatant than others – to the clichés made popular by Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream became a classic in its own right while reinventing the genre. Now, almost 20 years after Scream sliced its way into the hearts of horror fans, it has been rebooted by MTV as a TV series, with Craven attached as an executive producer.
The modern retelling, written by Jill E. Blotevogel (Harper’s Island, Ravenswood), has much the same skeleton as its predecessor: a group of contemporary high school students (who roughly fall into the various character tropes of horror movies) are terrorized when it appears the killer from a local Lakewood legend has returned.
The Scream premiere kicks off with a video going viral and we quickly find out Nina (Bella Thorne) and Tyler (Max Lloyd-Jones) are behind the cyber-bullying. However, since Thorne’s Nina is sort of a reinvention of Drew Barrymore’s character from the 1996 film, the bikini-clad mean girl is soon terrorized in her home, this time with texts and short videos, before being brutally murdered.
As we pointed out when MTV initially released the first eight minutes of the Scream pilot, which included this sequence, it quickly becomes apparent that this reboot is intended for teenaged audiences. Though there is a technological gag that can be enjoyed by viewers of any age – so long as they own an iPhone – the network’s trademark style is as integral to the scene as its homage to Scream’s iconic opener.
Following the first murder, Scream is relatively tame in terms of its body count. We’re introduced to the remaining cast members, which include Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), her boyfriend Will (Connor Weil), as well as her friends and fellow popular students Brooke (Carlson Young), Jake (Tom Maden) and Riley (Brianne Tju). The victim of Nina’s cyber-bullying viral video, Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), fellow loner Noah (John Karna) and the brooding newcomer Kieran (Amadeus Serafini) round out MTV’s cast of attractive lambs being led to the slaughter.
Throughout the premiere, the students learn of and grieve over Nina’s death, which of course includes throwing a party at Brooke’s mansion since this wouldn’t be a Scream show without hordes of drunk teenagers in a “natural slasher setting.” Additionally, Emma attempts to reconnect with Audrey after the viral video’s release but has little success in reestablishing their friendship from when they were younger.
Also introduced in the pilot is a local legend about the spree killer Brandon James, who, 20 years before Scream takes place, murdered a group of students at a high school dance in true slasher fashion. According to the story, James snapped because he was in love with a girl named Daisy, who just so happens to be Emma’s mother, Maggie (Tracy Middendorf).
Though the killer, who has a new mask, doesn’t rack up a particularly high body count, he does inspire a respectable level of terror. In addition to decapitating one teenager and slicing up another, the killer leaves a bloody animal heart and creepy card on Emma and Maggie’s doorstep. The killer also doesn’t seem to be entirely averse to phone conversations, since he calls Emma – with a voice reminiscent of the one from the Scream movies – and makes it clear she will be his focus during the blood bath that is season 1.
Most of the Scream pilot is setting up for the season to come, establishing the characters and their status in the high school social hierarchy as well as introducing viewers to the Brandon James legend. However, Noah lays out the show’s intentions clearly at the end of the episode: viewers have to care about the characters. He says, “You root for them. You love them. So when they’re brutally murdered, it hurts.”
As the updated version of Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, Noah’s insights into the horror genre are a recurring element throughout the pilot. He acknowledges the difficulty of maintaining the show’s premise in explaining that slasher movies “burn bright and fast” while “TV needs to stretch things out.” At the party later in the episode, Noah details how to stay alive with a serial killer on the loose – don’t go anywhere alone. This particular scene cuts to Brooke alone in her darkened garage, presumably with the killer, in a sequence that recalls the original film.
The pilot of MTV’s Scream doesn’t offer much in the way of the same carnage included in the ’90s film and it doesn’t reinvent the horror genre, on TV or anywhere else. Additionally, the series features as much teenage drama, flat performances and clunky lines of dialogue as can be expected for an MTV scripted series.
That being said, Scream is self-aware – not only of its genre, but of its intended audience. As an MTV show, Scream was created for viewers of other series on the network like Teen Wolf and Finding Carter. While that may mean much is left to be desired by fans of the original movie (who may or may not fall into MTV’s usual audience), it does allow the series to embrace all of its teen drama and horror glory. The end result is a fun and entertaining slasher story with room to improve as the first season progresses – and the body count increases.
Scream continues next Tuesday with ‘Hello, Emma’ @10pm on MTV. Check out a preview below: