Wes Craven’s Scream franchise has been regarded as some of the slasher subgenre’s best, delivering a smart, self-aware take on horror with an added whodunnit angle from the ever-changing Ghostface killer (or killers). Arguably, the best part of each film is introductory scare, each one a little different from the rest.
We all have our opinions about which Scream is best, but I think we can all agree on these opening scenes. Here is my personal ranking of the franchise’s calling card: The Cold Open. (Oh, and minor spoilers ahead!)
4. Scream 3 (2001)
Yes, it’s cool to hate on this movie but Scream 3 is an underrated gem, and the opening is great. In fact, the only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that it has very, very strong competition. In the cold open we see Cotton Weary (Liev Scheiber) drive home to meet his girlfriend Christine (Kelly Rutherford). However, Ghostface is already there, using Cotton’s voice to toy with Christine and convince her that Cotton is her murderer. When Cotton does finally arrive she attacks him until Ghostface re-emerges, slaying them both.
This cold open is the only one to kill off a character we already know, making us more invested in the scene immediately. In another surprising turn, we’re introduced to a new voice modulator that not only has the classic Ghostface voice, but all of the character’s voices as well. While this idea is not the most realistic and therefore feels slightly out of place in the series, it’s still an interesting concept on its own. However, it’s also hurt by this choice and doesn’t hit the same satirical highs as the the rest of the franchise.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 2‘s opening is very different opening from the rest of the franchise. In the other films, the victims are attacked in their own homes, but this film’s double murder is very public. Omar Epps’s Phil Stevens is stabbed in the ear (eek!), in a public bathroom. and Jada Pinkett’s Maureen Evans is murdered in front of a movie theater crowd.
The self-reflective satire of the Scream 2‘s opening sequence is as subtle as some of it’s companion films are not. The movie thaetre audience is raucous and rowdy, and a stand-in for the horror community itself. People are amped up like they’re at a heavy metal concert, but it’s only a movie- a movie about very real (to them) murders from just a couple of years prior. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson is a horror fan myself and he’s very self-aware about the morbidness of the horror fandom, cheering on killers, and reveling in gruesome acts. Simply put Scream 2‘s cold open is as tense and haunting as any slasher classic, and a dark mirror held to pop subculture.
2. Scream 4 (2011)
Probably the most creative cold open of the entire franchise. It features not one but two fake-out openings, that turned out to be openings from the fictional Stab movie series. In the first, we see Lucy Hale and Shanae Grime murdered by Ghostface, who in Stab 6 is a Facebook killer. In the second, which turns out to be the Stab 7 intro, Anna Paquin is stabbed by her friend Kristin Bell. Each of the openings were executed brilliantly and felt real. When the actual opening came, you’re not disappointed or find yourself wishing that you could instead watch one of faux films.
The real opening shows Marnie (Britt Robertson) and Jenny (Aimee Teegarden) murdered by our new Ghostface. This is probably the most violent opening in the series and it sets up what turns out to be the goriest Scream movie as well. Scream 4 has a much darker and grittier tone than previous films, lightly satirizing the torture porn craze. But despite being a fantastic opener, it just can’t compare to the movie at the top of the list.
1. Scream (1996)
Was there ever any doubt? Widely considered to be not only the best cold open in the franchise, but in all of recorded horror history. This opener gave us tension, blood, and the iconic What’s your favorite scary movie? The tension in this intro bursts from a single line of dialogue. Drew Berrymore asks the mysterious voice on the other end of the phone why he wants to know her name, to which he replies: “Because I want to know who I’m looking at”. The tone switches instantly and you know that this isn’t an ordinary wrong number anymore. This is danger.
The self-aware jab at Nightmare on Elm Street was a very fun addition considering the late Wes Craven created both franchises. Ghostface’s comments on Drew Barrymore‘s stereotypical decisions echo the thoughts of seasoned slasher fans in the audience, and establishes that this movie is going to simultaneously send-up but improve on common horror tropes. Every second of this opening scene is memorable, from the first phone call to the mutilated corpse of Drew Barrymore hanging from the tree. This cold open undoubtedly deserves the top spot on this list and every bit of praise it has earned the last 23 years.
Which is your favorite cold open in Wes Craven’s Scream films? How does your own personal ranking compare against ours? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.