As a writer (of this newsletter), I know what is unwritable. At least I think I know. This isn’t just a Lacanian thing, about the truth being half-said (mi-dire) and yadda yadda yadda. This is an intuitive belief I have had even when I was young, something along the lines of “you just had to be there.” To not write about something when one writes about everything is to, in a way, keep it a secret. Holding something close that won’t be effectively expressed in this medium.
Take reviews of hardcore shows, for instance. Occasionally I write about them, though I mostly don’t. It’s because that doesn’t belong here. You are only going to get the full effect if you have a hastily printed paper zine in your hand and are reading illegible font on a cut and photocopied backdrop. If you’ve already taken those steps to acquire such a thing, certain things don’t need to be explained. And the review or commentary will be lost to time eventually, seen by those who were supposed to see it and no more or fewer. There are other venues where it is appropriate to talk about subcultural stuff, like hardcore. Independently published books, for instance. When we start getting into anything peer reviewed or easy to buy in a major bookstore, I start getting a little suspicious.
It’s also true that any kind of writing about hardcore or any other music subculture pales in comparison to the other forms of documentation, like photos, videos, audio recordings, live streaming, which I see as equally diminishing at the volume they are produced. But that’s a screed for my hastily printed illegible cut and photocopied zine. But something just feels wrong about committing certain kind of thoughts straight to the internet.
I say all this so you understand why my “review” for the Death Threat show I saw in Connecticut last week is just this: it was good. Because, it was good. And, of course, there’s a video.
It may be more appropriate on the newsletter screen to say that Peace & Security (2000) shares the honor of being an essential philosophic text with two letters separated by an ampersand or and with Being and Time (1927) and Being and Nothingness (1943). Too bad Freud had to mess this one up, throwing a possessive pronoun into his book title that would otherwise fit the bill. This is the kind of mi-dire that feels to me like it belongs writ in pixels.
The Difference Between Scream 6 and Scream 16
Let’s get this out of the way: Scream 6 (2023) is a bad movie. The fate of Scream is among the saddest in all of Hollywood. A trailblazing, brilliant work of subtle satire by one of the greatest horror directors who ever lived now wrest from his hands and thrust into the mediocrity inducing aesthetic space of the “franchise.” I don’t mean to be a revisionist and suggest every Craven Scream film was a masterwork, but Scream 6 is worse than whatever you think the worst Scream movie is. It shows all of the self-awareness of the previous entry, Scream (2022), but none of the incisiveness. A screenplay that names all the conventions it contains can be clever, even interesting, if the film goes on to analyze, subvert, or otherwise play with those conventions. Scream ‘22 is able to do exactly this, but Scream 6 does nothing of the sort.
This installment, the second directed by the duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, is the first to adhere to an endlessly repeatable formula that is already repetitious, despite its divergence from the previous five movies. One of the trademarks of the Scream films is self-reference that outlines tropes and “rules” for certain kinds of filmmaking. Slashers, horror sequels, “requels,” and now franchise movies. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), one of the film’s “core four,” delivers the postmodern monologue in both Scream ‘22 and Scream 6, this time declaring boldly “we’re in a franchise.” If anything about what she says is true in the sixth movie and not the fifth, it’s that now the film is adhering to the contemporary rules of the long running mixed media product tie in film series in a way the previous movies did not. She mentions how legacy characters exist in these late franchise entries to be killed off (that already happened in the previous film) and main characters are freely available to be killed (not true in Scream 6). She neglects to mention the egregious product placement of Coors Light featured in the film.
Yes, Scream 6 is routine in the worst ways. Taking the film out of the suburban context and putting it in the urban context benefits its action but not much else. It is a decision that puts this film much closer to the body of work it is meant to be satirizing.
One of the main thrusts of the film is the question of whether or not protagonist Samantha Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) is a serial killer, following in the footsteps of her father Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). If this sounds familiar, it should. Sam suffered the same uncertainty about her upbringing and potential compulsions in Scream (2022). In her first appearance on screen, she is in a therapy session where she has apparently been dancing around the fact that she enjoyed killing her ex-boyfriend Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid), the previous film’s villain. I won’t hold the therapist’s absurd response against the film, although I have to note it. He is hysterically rattled and says he needs to disclose “this” (what, exactly?) to the police. Sam points out he should only communicate with the police if she is threatening to harm others, the implication being that this therapist believes her previous affect when killing in self-defense is relevant to potential future killings. It is nonsense, but sometimes stupid things have to happen in a horror movie to move the plot along.
What is more of a problem here is that this is just more of the same handled in the most uninteresting way possible. What does it really say about a person that they find pleasure in killing those that try to kill them first? The film is trying to set up some kind of parity between Sam and the film’s villains, the siblings and father of Richie, but it doesn’t quite work. They leave a litany of bodies behind and kill for revenge. “Self-defense” and “revenge” would take some work to turn into equivalent moral acts, but Scream 6 suggest its viewer weigh them equally. But, somehow, because Sam is related to Loomis, the audience is expected to be wrapped up in this inert drama. What Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett don’t seem to understand is that having their character do exactly what other heroic characters do, kill the bad guy, doesn’t make for an interesting idea because it is not self-critical enough. If there was any inkling that what Sam was doing was actually not unique, but common for the genre and the medium, there might be something here. But instead, her parentage offers an explanation for something that otherwise wouldn’t need to be explained and positions her as exceptional relative to other film characters who have done the same thing. If her motivation, enjoyment, is what is at issue, the moral structure of this kind of thinking would need to be more developed through other characters and plot points. But the premise that an act’s moral value is changed by its underlying motivation is only relevant to Sam’s character.
Sometimes half-baked ideas aren’t all bad, though. And one that this movie has related to Sam is the question of the power of objects. The villains use the same masks and weapons as previous killers, and the ones belonging to Loomis seem to have some kind of power over Sam. Objects in this film have a certain power that follows from the exploration of fandom culture. The film isn’t really good about defining the philosophical stakes of the sinister aura of the enshrined killing implements. And, to be clear, I don’t mean that this is a question of plot — this is a purely symbolic point. There might be good reason the directors ignore it, if they have a general resentment toward this kind of hermeneutic reading. But I found it interesting enough that Sam starts seeing and hearing from Loomis once she finds his outfit. My use of the word “aura” is intentional here, as one possible connection is between the power of film as an art object contrasted with the costumes and knives of the various Ghostfaces have taken on the quality of an art object. After all, they’ve also become a part of one, with their facsimiles incorporated into the Stab films.
The masks are identified as authentic because of trace DNA rather than a flimsy certificate of authenticity, as is the case with the counterfeit Pulp Fiction briefcase in the “Critical Film Studies” episode of Community. Though that episode of TV deals with movie props, Scream 6 conflates props with actual pieces of evidence in crime. They are both staged together, Stab memorabilia along with the real artifacts of the film’s “real” murders.
Even if the authenticity of the Ghostface masks and weapons are not in question, the film hopes to inspire more complicated thoughts about whether or not Sam is a real killer, like her father and Scream 6’s antagonists. Appearance and reality may be one of the few truly thought provoking themes the film offers. Some of the killings in the movie are staged (in the logic of the plot — of course they are all literally staged) and the plot constantly misleads and misdirects.
That element of the film wasn’t all I liked. Scream 6’s opening scene, yet another aggressive salvoagainst the pretensions of horror criticism and, indeed, film theory itself. Samara Weaving plays Laura Crane, a film theory professor who teaches a course on Contemporary American Slashers (or something like that). Despite her knowledge of genre conventions, sociological significance, and philosophical undertones, Professor Crane still can’t escape death at the hands of one of the film’s Ghostface killers who stabs her in an alleyway. The killer taunts her for precisely this reason. She’s unable to predict what’s coming, unable to make the leap from the events of the fictive content she studies to the real life she is living. In reality, it doesn’t make much sense to fault an instructor who specializes in horror film for not taking all the precautions that horror film characters should. Would that they could’ve checked into a hotel, not split up, ran the opposite direction, forgone the occult ritual as party trick, we would all have been spared the various films premised on poor decision making. But Professor Crane’s real life, in the fictional world of Scream, is lousy with actual slashers — the Ghostface killers who, in turn, inspired the in-universe Stab franchise. Crane would have studied Stab, and their status as “based on true events” means the lessons one gleans from them may be more worth taking to heart.
Crane’s fate sends another message too. No character, no matter how intelligent or prepared, can escape the logic of the films they inhabit. This is the rigidity and repetitiousness of franchise filmmaking. But Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett seem to revel in the ability to repackage and resell the same film as the previous one, only with more spectacle and less substance. The blueprint they have established here is one they could inevitably follow for years to come. Filmgoers were happy enough with it, I guess. Scream 6 is a movie that is repetitious before it even comes to a close. One need not imagine what the next films will bring. It’s all already here.
Weekly Reading List
I only post MTG draft videos from time to time, but this one is a movie. Some context: Kenji Egashira is drafting the current standard Magic set, Phyrexia: All Will Be One. In this set, the color blue (one of the five possible “colors” of spells in Magic, that determine the kind of gameplay mechanics you have access to and the resources you have to use) is considered the worst. Though there is some debate about this, blue is at best difficult and counterintuitive to draft because it requires a specific defensive game plan that flies in the face of conventional card evaluations for draft.
In this video, Egashira drafts a very unusual deck even by the standards of strong blue decks in the format. There are some really interesting play patterns here and incredibly fun matches. After watching, I’m itching to give a deck like this a shot.
https://www.shininglifepress.com/product/slp-037-lost-indignation-a-novel-by-becky-mcauley — I started reading Lost Indignation (2022) this week. It’s a novel published by friends of mine written by a hardcore enthusiast. It also is a mystery novel, though the rubber hasn’t quite hit the road there yet. I am fifty or so pages in. But already, there is a lot to think about and enjoy. I’m planning on writing more about the novel in the coming weeks. But if Shining Life is taking any notes from me for future novel layouts, I request bigger margins. My notes are overflowing the pages.
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Until next time.
In Scream ‘22, Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) is menaced by a killer who taunts her for her appreciation of “elevated horror,” ultimately attempting to kill her at least in part because of her distaste for horror of the “un-elevated” variety. Sympathy is always for Ghostface in the Screams of the 2020.
If John or Zach read this, I know it wasn’t possible with this particular novel because of the significant page count. Maybe I should write a Bloom’s Guide for Lost Indignation with all my marginalia.