Get wrecked, Ghostface.
The titans of slasher franchises are known for being invulnerable. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers effectively exist as monoliths; they stand tall and heavy-of-breath over their victims, and no amount of blows or bullets will truly fell them. They exist less as actual human beings and more of a personification of fear; relentless, insatiable, unwavering. So when slashers underwent a makeover with Wes Craven’s inventive Scream franchise, audiences saw a crucial change to the killer character, Ghostface; you could finally knock him to thåe ground.
Scream is an endlessly energetic film. This is in part due to the slickness of Craven’s direction, not to mention him letting his young performers go ballistically over the top with Kevin Williamson’s oh-so-clever dialogue. But the film deviates from what made slashers go stale in the previous decade. Here, our killer doesn’t pace, glacially stalking their victims from the shadows; they burst out of hiding to chase you, full pelt, cursing you out in a grizzled voice before a serrated blade operatically disembowels you. Intensity is the modus operandi of the slasher revival.
Also Read: Unmasking Sidney Prescott Through Her Signature Style in the ‘Scream’ Series [Final Girl Fashion]
But those familiar with Craven’s horror-comedy know what distinguishes it from the films of Jason and Myers; it’s a whodunnit. Like the glut of slashers that populated the early-80s, our killer’s identity is withheld from the audience. Ghostface isn’t one set persona, but rather a guise that a multitude of characters adopts to conceal their true face. This means the audience is always guessing who’s behind Ghostface’s mask and is, by extension, always aware that the killer is human. Which opens them up to a lot more vulnerability.
Although Ghostface adds a rush of energy to the slasher killer, this does not equate to mastery of agility. Kill scenes in the Scream movies are less methodical and more chaotic. You can’t fault Ghostface for their enthusiasm; they will charge at their victim with little regard for their sense of balance or sure-footedness. It’s fairly realistic! If you were to dress up in a Halloween store costume that gave you limited visibility and tried to execute your friends, you’d run into some key maneuverability obstacles, no matter how snarling and venomous you made yourself sound.
Craven’s greatest trick was slipping slapstick into the kill scenes. Ghostface trips, stumbles and falls as they lurch and careen over the obstacle courses that is a middle-class suburban home, with narrow staircases and obtrusive furniture thwarting their slickness at every turn. This person is going to kill you. If they can manage to stay on their own two feet by the time they reach their hapless victim.
Except our victims are never really helpless. Williamson’s script is filled with jabs at the passive nature of prey in the slasher canon (especially the misogynistic characterization of female victims) and subverts it by giving our characters much more of a fighting chance to level the playing field. Fear is a great galvanizer. It can compel us to act courageously in ways we never thought possible, and never is this more clear when Sidney, Gale, Tatum, et al level a full-throttle assault back at their assailant when their life is on the line.
The prop work in the Scream films is an especial standout, as every discarded and unimportant object seemingly exists to be hurled at Ghostface, often gloriously smashing on impact. The playing field is being subverted; the victims are more capable and the environment more challenging than slasher killers are used to. This is not a hunt; it’s a gladiatorial arena.
But it’s one thing to fight back against your killer, and another thing for your blows to actually land. Halloween and Friday the 13th have by now transformed their iconic killers into impenetrable, borderline mythological figures. With Ghostface, though, we witness them take a fair share of damage. Groans of our killer’s pain fill the Scream movies as victims deck their attacker in the heat of battle. This is crucial for keeping kills interesting; the more level we see a struggle, with hits looking like they have an impact, the more we think that escape for our audience-surrogate character is possible. It creates a tenser watch – and an even more devastating climax when they’re finally slain.
It’s not to say Ghostface always feels like a human being; they still exhibit the trademark slasher excessive strength and handy teleportation skills for whenever a back is turned. Plus, a problem with the Scream franchise is that, as the films go on, Ghostface starts to become a distinct, definable character despite the fact that separate, unrelated individuals are carrying out the killings. Their methodology is unwavering, and we associate the killings in Scream with that menacing gait, iconic costume and snarling voice more than we do Roman Bridger, Mrs. Loomis, or Jill Roberts (maybe because those last two are shorter than 5’6?!)
This is why it’s so important that Ghostface gets repeatedly knocked on their ass. Instead of going down the full mythic figure route of other slasher franchises, we need to be reminded of the human inside the costume, even if we don’t always make a strong link with their revealed identity. If Ghostface ever threatens to become someone paranormal or superhuman, their fallibility and precarious sense of balance rears its head. Ghostface has the best of both worlds; the abnormal advantages of a slasher killer, but a grounding in human clumsiness so we’ll buy it when the face of the perpetrator is unveiled.
If you’re not convinced, the video below sums up the ridiculous joy conjured up by Ghostface getting wrecked. Hopefully in years to come, the citizens of Woodsboro will remember the Ghostface killer not for the terror they struck in the hearts of the young, nor his trademark mask and voice. It will be him tripping over an armchair, getting smacked in the face with a freezer door, tumbling down a staircase or flying head-first into a sink. It will be his gracelessness that lingers.