It was already quite noticeable that Scream was a major influence for Grady Hendrix in the writing of The Final Girl Support Group, with one of its final girls, Julia, having been attacked by a killer called the Ghost. Deliberately very similar to the Scream villain (ever-rotating beneath the mask, depending on what installment you’re in), Ghostface. Confirmed by Lynnette Tarkington’s (the narrator) description, “He wore black robes and a Halloween mask and turned out to be her boyfriend, a horror buff who wanted to transform her into his very own final girl their senior year of high school. He shared his Ghost costume with his best friend and together they carved their way through the student body of their graduating class. To them, all those dead girls were one big meta-joke.” Indeed, it’s all very familiar and intentionally meta in and of itself.
In Scream 5, which the franchise decided to start back at one again by just calling it Scream (something referenced with sardonic humor within the film), it’s only natural that the two new killers this time around should meet on a Reddit subgroup (or subreddit, if you prefer), with Stephanie Fugate and Skye Elliott meeting in a similar online forum in The Final Girl Support Group. Like Halloween’s requel (reboot + sequel, there’s an entire monologue about it) in 2018, Scream sees fit to go back to the start with a counting “reset” in part because the running joke in Scream–Scream 4 is how high the Stab movies get up to (as far as number eight by the 2022 edition of Scream). Something Final Girl Support Group also addresses with chapters that keep increasing the number of sequels, finally concluding with: “The Final Girl Support Group XXIV: A New Beginning.” Although Scream might never dare to get all the way up to a twenty-fourth installment (especially with a key “legacy” character having been killed off in this latest one), it has certainly taken a script page from Halloween in terms of constantly “bringing it back”—always at its best when Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is also included (well, that wasn’t really the case with Halloween Kills). And, this time around, the cultural commentary it wishes to make is something that The Final Girl Support Group already managed to when it was released in July of 2021—then again, the idea for Scream  has likely been in development for even longer than The Final Girl Support Group. With Kevin Williamson remarking of the lag, “I guess Scream 4 never took off in a way [the Weinsteins] hoped.” And yes, the Weinsteins probably hoped for a lot of other things as well—like not being exposed as utterly grotesque, with especial “preference” to Harvey when using that adjective. Incidentally, it seemed Scream 3 was already trying to blow the lid off Harvey’s predatory behavior when it came out in 2000.
As for Scream 4 not “taking off,” maybe it was because it was too prescient to yet fully resonate with the masses that were only just starting to adjust to a life during which, as Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) notes, “We all live in public… We’re all on the internet. How do you think people become famous anymore? You don’t have to achieve anything. You just gotta have fucked-up shit happen to you.” Unless, of course, you happened to be famous already and something like Harvey raping you was the fucked-up shit that transpired and you couldn’t even talk about it. That the Weinsteins were ever deemed to have any kind of “finger on the pulse” (perhaps a poor choice of words here) is manifest in Bob Weinstein noting, in 2014, “Where the teens reside is MTV”—despite no teen showing much interest in the channel after both the programming and the actual music fell off in the mid-00s. In any case, this was the reason cited for why Scream ought to be left as a fledgling series on that channel as opposed to making a fifth installment. And then, once the name Weinstein became associated with all things nefarious, the next step for the franchise was left all the more firmly planted in purgatory. But, at last, in 2019, the rights were acquired by a different production company (Spyglass Media Group)—again prompting one to wonder who had the idea to make its killers meet on a Reddit subgroup: screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick or Hendrix. At the same time, maybe the idea isn’t really all that original considering the era we live in.
At one point in Scream 4, Ghostface calls Sidney (Neve Campbell) to mock, “You’re a survivor, aren’t you Sidney? You’re one and only skill—you survive.” This smacks of how Lynnette Tarkington talks to herself in a berating, self-loathing manner. She knows being a final girl leaves no room for being anything else “after their lives are ruined and they’re left at thirty-eight years old with nothing in the bank, no kids, no lover and nothing to their name but a couple of ghosts and a handful of broken-down friends.” Stephanie even tries to take away her final girl badge of courage by saying Lynnette is really just small potatoes among all the others—her “survival,” after all, seemed like nothing more than a fluke, what with her killer impaling her on some mounted antlers above the fireplace and assuming she was dead as he proceeded to brutally murder the rest of her family.
That’s not quite the case for Tara (Jenna Ortega), who manages to survive the “opening scene curse” of Scream by enduring some very savage stab wounds. Her “friend,” Amber (Mikey Madison) and her sister’s boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid), turn out to be more amplified versions of Jill and Charlie (Rory Kulkin) in Scream 4. In fact, Jill might still be the most quintessential “satirical” representation of our times. Not just because she’ll kill a family member to become a news item, but for being determined to profit from her “pain” (entirely manufactured, of course) the way Sidney did by writing a book called Out of Darkness. Something also present in The Final Girl Support Group via Christine “Chrissy” Mercer, the only final girl who sees her would-be killer as her “creator”—fashioning her into something “born again” out of the person she was before she was first stalked and attacked. In her article, “The Monsters, Our Makers: From the First Flood to the Final Girls,” she consequently asserts, “Think of how many creation myths start with murder. Kronos castrated and killed his father, Ouranos, and then Kronos cannibalized his own children until Zeus castrated and killed Kronos. In Norse mythology, Odin, Vili and Ve killed their grandfather, the giant Ymir. So much blood flowed from his body that it flooded the universe and formed the oceans. His flesh became the land; they shaped the mountains from his bones and raised his skull up on four pillars to become the vault of Heaven. Man formed the maggots and feasted on his corpse. From the beginning, the world has been built by cannibals out of the corpses of their forefathers. Mors janua vitae: death is the gate of life.” And certainly, it’s the gate of life to creating a new Ghostface every time the old one dies in each version of Scream. Thus, Charlie—a Dawson-esque horror nerd and one-half of the killing duo in Scream 4—makes the accurate declaration, “This is what the reboots do. They one-up the original ending.” Otherwise, audiences wouldn’t be curious enough to keep coming back for more of the same plotlines and expected cliches.
Among those cliches for Scream is the constant reference of other horror movies, even horror-comedy like Shaun of the Dead, which Jill watches with her best friend, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), perhaps especially enchanted by it because zombies are decidedly more comical than a masked, stabbing killer on the loose. Another film reference in Scream 4 is to the OG of the genre, Psycho, which also shows up more literally in Scream, when Wes (Dylan Minnette), gets into the shower and the killer asks Wes’ mother, Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), over the phone, “Ever seen Psycho?” as he threatens her with the death of her son. As for its mention in Scream 4, Peeping Tom (directed by Michael Powell) is called out as the movie that started the “slasher craze,” not Psycho, as Kirby inaccurately guesses.
The overall emphasis in Scream and The Final Girl Support Group on how doing depraved things that “ordinary” people might never have done in the past when the internet and social media didn’t exist is also underscored by Jill in Scream 4 when she shouts at Sidney about how being famous only requires having something tragic and/or connected to someone else of notoriety happen to you. Stephanie and Skye seem to be of the same belief. Thus, Stephanie explains her motive in much the same way as both sets of killers in Scream 4 and Scream, “People will be talking about the statement we made here for years to come. You’re just pointless nostalgia and we’re here to sweep you into the trash. Everyone needs to stop clinging to the past.” And so, their intent is in direct opposition to what Richie and Amber want to do in terms of re-directing the franchise “back to basics,” but still aimed, ultimately, at becoming “legends,” especially among many subreddits to come.
After hearing her little rant, Lynnette demands, “You did all this to be famous? You killed all these people to be on TV?” Stephanie replies, in Jill fashion, “What else is there?” Because, as Jill noted, “What am I supposed to do? Go to college? Grad school? Work?” No, these simply aren’t enticing options anymore when the “easier” method is “viral” fame of the variety that didn’t even quite yet exist in 2011 (when Scream 4 was released), before TikTok came to roost.
At one point in Scream 4, before Sidney realizes that her cousin is a sociopath, she says, “Sorry about Olivia,” a.k.a. the first of Jill’s friends to die. Jill replies with perhaps even more earnestness, “Sorry about your publicist.” It feels like a pointed apology, along with Jill claiming, “I could never handle that kind of attention. It just feels like it would take over your whole life.” Obviously, she means quite the opposite, as we later find out. The publicist in question is Rebecca (Alison Brie), who has never even read Sidney’s book and meets her end by walking into a deserted parking garage, where the only thing that can ever happen is something sexy (e.g. Body of Evidence, Crash) or murderous.
After Jill announces act three (as they also do in Scream), Charlie explains of Jill’s “loose cannon ex” (played by Nico Tortorella), “Trevor’s this generation’s Billy Loomis.” Because Billy Loomis must always be brought back in somehow. And for Scream, he actually is, with Skeet Ulrich making his first appearance in the franchise since he was killed in the 1996 edition. As the spectral hallucination that haunts his oldest daughter, Samantha (Melissa Barrera), she fears every day that because her father was a serial killer, she might end up being one, too. For “it’s in the blood,” as they say.
Lynnette does her best to bargain with Stephanie amid her and the other final girls’ lives being threatened, reminding her, “You’re the sad daughter-in-law to [Skye’s] psycho obsession, a footnote in his case file. We’ll get the memorials, we’ll be the heroes, he’ll be embraced by a bunch of sad little boys on the internet, but you don’t fit in anywhere. You’ll be forgotten because all you ever did was say, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ and pulled the trigger when Daddy said.” Amber comes across a bit like this as well when she bargains for her life with Gale (Courteney Cox), insisting, “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault! It’s the message boards, I was radicalized!” Gale, incredulous and “of a different generation,” demands, “By movie fans?” She confirms, “Yes, they’re so mad! Please, it’s not my fault! I’m just a dumb kid, I just wanted to be a part of something!” And since there’s no “tangible revolution” anymore—just an online one—it’s easy to become more trollish than one ordinarily would in real life. And so, when that trollishness actually does manage to translate to the material world, things can get pretty fucked up (e.g. the Capitol riot).
But Amber was enraged enough by the direction the Stab franchise was taking to join forces with Richie and “help” give future filmmakers better “source material” to work with by lending a “poetic slant” to the latest installment by making it appear as though Billy Loomis’ daughter was the new Ghostface. And yet, Sidney doesn’t seem as shocked by any of this as she first was when she caught a glimpse of the “next generation” in Jill, watching her off Charlie without a second thought and asking her, “Even your friends?” Jill spews, “My friends? I don’t need friends, I need fans.” A few years more, and she would have said the word “followers.” Jill then declares, “Sick is the new sane. You had your fifteen minutes, now I want mine!” Later Sidney, like a fan in a subreddit, instructs, “You forgot the first rule of remakes, Jill. Don’t fuck with the original.” And then she proceeds to shoot her.
This occurs after Jill bludgeons Dewey (David Arquette) nearly into oblivion with a bedpan in Sidney’s hospital room. And yes, Dewey’s near-death in a hospital retroactively foreshadows what happens to him in Scream. Meanwhile, in the public’s eyes, Jill has yet to be outed as the real killer, and so, the news reports provide exactly what she wanted them to—the narrative that she’s “an American hero, right out of the movies.”
Richie is slightly more callow with his own demise, for his big question, and the thesis of Scream is: “How can a fandom be toxic if it’s an expression of love?” The same goes for The Final Girl Support Group in its exploration of how movies that stylize and “romanticize” “final girl culture” is part of what breeds a whole separate batch of psychos from what once might have been a fictional one (though all the final girls in Hendrix’s novel endured a “real monster” not dreamed up by Hollywood).
Even when he knows he’s about to die, Richie still demands, “What about my ending?” Not seeming to understand that the only way in which horror movies offer any sense of female empowerment is that the main character—usually “just a girl”—in the story always gets to survive. So it is that Lynnette concludes, “I know what happens to those girls. They turn into women. And they live.” A major nod to one, Sidney Prescott.