Twenty-five years ago, Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker got a phone call asking what her favorite scary movie was — and the rest is (gay) horror history.
In the last year or so, gay horror fans have been well fed. From Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy to Chris Landon’s Freaky and Amazon’s I Know What You Did Last Summer series, gay characters are finally getting a scary movie spotlight. They’ve been allowed to be survivors, victims, and even murderers. This year we even saw tiny horror icon Chucky deliver the absurdly fantastic line of, “I’m not a monster” when asked if he was okay with his queer child.
But before this gay horror renaissance, all we had was subtext and final girls. Well, we had all that, but we also had Scream from out screenwriter Kevin Williamson and directed by late horror master Wes Craven. The movie delivered pitch-perfect versions of ’90s teens and one very ambitious and fashionable news reporter. It’s meta, campy, and grounded in reality all at the same time. Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers and Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott were fierce slasher survivors back then and still are now — and thank God, because a fifth installment of the beloved film franchise hits theaters in January 2022.
Sidney is not only a survivor; she’s a survivor we are rooting for and can relate to. “She’s smart but doesn’t have to be the nerdish bookworm,” says My Bloody Judy podcast co-host Zachary Patton-Garcia. “She’s relatable, she has anxieties, she’s desperately trying to move on from the trauma of her mother’s murder. She feels familiar.”
Sidney and Gale differ in many aspects, but most notably is that Sidney wants everyone to just leave her alone. She has no interest in chasing down a killer.
“Where Jamie Lee [Curtis] and Heather Lagenkamp had great turns as iconic final girls, they’re just not in their [respective] series as much… Sidney’s trauma has caused her to become more vulnerable and compassionate as the movies go on,” explains Surrender Your Sons author Adam Sass. “Her scares have led her to tell her story through books, through helping at a women’s crisis line, and through personally reaching out to current victims. Contrast that to the current iteration of Laurie Strode, who has basically gone mob justice gun nut, and it’s really admirable.” Final girls are often raised up to icon status by horror fans but, as social media manager Jarett Wieselman tells us via email, “Sidney refuses to be a victim and that power is intoxicating. She’s also smart, damaged, and figuring it out as she goes — something I think many queer people can identify with.”
One of the most ‘killer’ things about the Scream franchise is Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers’ iconic transitioning bangs x pic.twitter.com/oBPxAEBEmL
— Steven Bonaventure x (@absolutegazelle) October 29, 2019
Gale Weathers, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite of Sidney. The movie starts with Sidney hating Gale while Gale just thinks of Sidney as a story. “Gay men love Gale because Gale is a raging bitch, played to perfection by Courteney Cox,” says Alex Abad-Santos, senior correspondent at Vox. “I feel like she really hits the ground raging in the first movie when we see her bullying Sidney and trying so hard to get famous. But as the series has gone on, I think it’s been fun to see Cox round out the character and let her grow.” Gale basically created the trope of mean girls to root for — there’s almost a direct line from her to Cordelia on Buffy, Margo on The Magicians, and Pru on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
“She broke the mold on that wonderful niche trope of ’mean girl who is actually right and has a better heart than a lot of other good characters,’” Sass adds. “She’s the only person still fighting for Cotton Weary’s innocence a year later. Technically, she’s the only person (even more than Sidney) who is even interested in getting to the bottom of who actually killed Maureen. Make her a senator.”
In a different horror movie, Gale would’ve been a character to get brutally murdered — but in the end, not only is she right about who murdered Sidney’s mother, she also saves Sidney’s life by shooting Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) as he’s choking her to death. “Her confidence is never portrayed as a detriment. In fact, it’s one of the things that helps her survive. If Scream were a gay club, Gale’s the drag queen on the front lines who we idolize,” Michael Varrati, cohost of the Midnight Mass podcast, says of the iconic character.
The original film also has one of the most memorable horror-movie openings ever, with Barrymore carrying the entire movie on her back for a full 10 minutes, and without a single dull moment. She projects Casey as both likable and relatable, your everyday teen girl who just happens to be played by Drew Barrymore. “It’s 99% just Drew acting to the air,” says Sass. “No effects, just a performance, and it’s the scene that’s launched a thousand ships.”
“Even with the element of surprise gone, the scene is still the film’s highlight because it is Drew isolated from any of the other characters. We remember her, alone in that house, being terrorized. She sells it on every watch,” adds Patton-Garcia. It also set the tone for slashers casting iconic actresses. “If I see a big name movie star starring in a horror movie, there’s always something in the back of my head that wonders if they’ll be Barrymore’d,” says Abad-Santos.
The Scream series would later go on to cast stars such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Parker Posey, and even Carrie Fisher in smaller roles, with all but Fisher meeting a gruesome end. It not only helps the movies by casting such great actresses who can sell the roles, it helps the franchise maintain a gay following when every new movie is full of hot guys and iconic actresses.
Like most other popular horror movies, Scream spawned many a sequel, but it stands apart from the rest for many reasons — it’s a culmination of everything that came before it while still feeling fresh and relevant. It’s referencing other famous horror movies at every turn but was also an introduction to horror for many a young fan, not unlike the writer of this piece. “It’s a movie about movies,” Sass explains. “It’s so much easier for people to plug themselves into these situations. There isn’t anything supernatural happening, so it has an added element of danger and stakes in that way. And gays love it, I think, because the scripts are always fun and catty, and it’s anchored by the same two women across the decades.”
No matter which movie in the series is your favorite, it’s hard to say any of them (even the cartoon-ish third one) ever reach the lowest lows of some franchises that never die. It’s why 25 years later, gay men are still excited about the prospect of a new Scream movie.
“If you accept the premise that gay men love horror movies, then Scream — which is the ultimate love letter to horror movies — is like our Holy Grail,” adds Wieselman. “To improperly quote Lady Gaga, it was unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, shit on it, vomit on it, eat it, [and] give birth to it. Scream was both completely influenced by every horror movie that came before it and also like nothing we had seen before, making it feel both inherently familiar yet also totally fresh.”
Scream hits theaters on January 14.