Ghostface goes to New York in Scream VI for what could be an homage to city slashers
The Big Apple is no stranger to sadistic slashers, both real and imagined. New York City has quite simply proven fertile ground for gratuitous violence, often amplified by its dark history. The city is, after all, home to some of America’s most vicious serial murderers, among them the Torso Killer, the Son of Sam, and Albert Fish (also known as The Brooklyn Vampire and The Werewolf of Wysteria). In the horror world, it has hosted slasher icon Jason Vorhees (in 1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan), Maniac’s gory mannequin collector Frank Zito (1980), and Reno Miller the Driller Killer (from the 1979 movie of the same name, directed by Abel Ferrara).
It’s now Ghostface’s turn to carve up the city as is revealed in the new teaser trailer for Scream VI, in which the survivors of the previous instalments leave Woodsboro, California behind for the promise of new terrors in the sprawling metropolis.
The teaser focuses on a subway train ride filled with people in masks and costumes, seemingly on Halloween night, as returning cast members Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera Martínez realize a man dressed like Ghostface is staring at them. It’s an unsettling development that is made worse by the presence of more than one passanger dressed as Ghostface. How many of them are just morbid fans of the real one and how many are actual killers remains a mystery, something we’ll definitely be looking at more closely in the movie.
The move to another location is a welcome one. There’s only so much metafictional horror storytelling you can do in the same place. In a way, Woodsboro has given everything it possibly could and it’s now time for a change of scenery. Setting swaps in franchise horror movies can be tricky to pull off. You don’t want the story to fall victim to gimmick by giving a tourist’s view of the new place with key stops in fresh crime scenes. In a sense, the movie’s success will hinge on how well it captures the feel of New York, on how well it can make Ghostface adapt to its surroundings.
It might do well to avoid all of the pitfalls that the infamous Jason Takes Manhattan movie falls so hard into. The movie’s jump from summer camp into a big city proved to be a massive flop and it quickly became the least liked entry in the Friday the 13th franchise (it also tanked at the box office). For one, the movie wasn’t shot in New York and it shows. It was filmed in Vancouver, with additional photography in Times Square and Los Angeles, and very rarely does it even resemble the place it features in its very title.
One of the scariest components of city horror is how it considers the concept of anonymity. This alone brushes aside the relative safety of small-town scenarios seen in more traditional slashers. In Woodsboro, the suspect pool is limited mostly to the town’s residents or a stranger from elsewhere. In a city, the suspect list numbers in the millions. The possibilities are near endless.
Fear ramps up under this condition, an element that makes Maniac’s Frank Zito (played by Joe Spinell), for instance, such an unsettling slasher. Maniac, it should be noted, deals in serial killings from a resident, not an outsider. The killer is homegrown, not a transfer from somewhere else. And yet, what makes him so scary still offers lessons on how to make slashers work in cities.
Frank Zito’s motivations, for instance, point to the frustrations of a very lonely and mentally disturbed man that is ignored by city folk whose attention spans are severely limited to the people they interact with on a daily basis. They don’t have time for strangers. In fact, they avoid them at all costs, a luxury that’s on short supply in small towns. Scream VI might not have the time to laser-focus on Ghostface that Maniac has, but it does present a detailed blueprint for the creation of a terrifying city location.
Maniac excels in putting victims in real places anyone could run into and trap themselves in. It portrays the darkest corners of the city as places where people can die without anyone ever finding out. A shout for help might not even help as a city of millions doesn’t stop for just one scream. Again, anonymity. Whatever’s happening to a victim somewhere is no one else’s business in an urban environment.
In a sense, the city slasher creates its own fear state, thrusting an entire city into panic and paranoia. They turn cityscapes into killing floors where anyone is a potential victim. Whereas the small town slasher makes killing personal to those looking from the outside, the city slasher makes it impersonal. The net this kind of fear casts is wider, deadlier, and more unpredictable.
Scream VI steps into a very special kind of slasher territory by making the jump to NYC. The history, the culture, the social indifference attributed to it by principle of overpopulation all combine for a cruel playground that killers can run amok in. Ghostface’s sixth outing stands to gain quite a lot if it knows how to use New York to its advantage, to find horror among the masses who more often than not look the other way.
Scream VI premieres in theaters on March 10th, 2023.