Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Scream. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Scream about?
Scream is a movie about the rigid rules that define horror movies. This meta experience serves as a natural parallel to life, where we are constantly guided and coerced by the rules of society. We are expected to act a certain way, to be a certain kind of person, to fulfill certain destinies. In the universe of Scream, the Ghostface killer has trapped Sidney in the rulebook of a horror movie, and is desperate for her to satisfy all the tropes in order to ensure her death. But Sidney’s fight back against this structure is a fight for her identity, a fight for her life. Her journey is reflective of the universal struggle to define your own path in life, to choose who you become. She’s attempting to take control of the very horror narrative we’re watching, making Scream a very meta experience.
Within that meta narrative, the media, which acts as a stand-in for the viewer, plays an impactful role. As a reporter, Gale craves spectacular drama—even if it comes in the form of death and misery—because it makes for better television. Her observations of the teenagers in Woodsboro become reflective of the audience’s participation in the film. We watch from afar, expecting (and perhaps sometimes rooting for) murder as part of the entertaining moviegoing experience. But caught in the narrative are real people with real problems. Even Billy, the true killer, suffers from parental baggage. He, like the grieving Sidney, needs help. Yet that fact is obfuscated by our expectations of the horror narrative, of our desire for characters to properly fill their roles.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Neve Campbell – Sidney Prescott
- David Arquette – Dewey Riley
- Courteney Cox – Gale Weathers
- Skeet Ulrich – Billy Loomis
- Matthew Lillard – Stu Macher
- Rose McGowan – Tatum Riley
- Jamie Kennedy – Randy Meeks
- Henry Winkler – Principal Arthur Himbry
- W. Earl Brown – Kenny Jones
- Joseph Whipp – Burke
- Liev Schreiber – Cotton Weary
- Drew Barrymore – Casey Becker
- Kevin Williamson – Writer
- Wes Craven – Director
The ending of Scream explained
Billy and Stu’s plan explained
Before we delve into the deeper meaning of the film’s ending, let’s review why any of this happened in the first place. Just when we think Sidney’s boyfriend Billy Loomis is dead, he gives a devilish smile and says, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” He then shoots Randy and reveals that he and Stu have been Ghostface the entire time. Ironically, that quote is a reference to the movie Psycho, in which the killer, Norman Bates, has an alternate personality that assumes the form of his late mother. Norman’s mother was a controlling, manipulative woman who never allowed Norman to become his own person—and that stranglehold continued in her death. In his own sinister way, Billy is paying homage to that sort of traumatized character, as the entire reason he’s targeted Sidney is because Sidney’s mother, Maureen Prescott, had an affair with Billy’s father and drove his mother away.
As we learn, Maureen slept with many men throughout town, including Billy’s father. When Billy’s mother found this out, she left town. And since, Billy’s familial life has been a mess, which clearly took a toll on him psychologically. So to enact revenge, Billy enlists the help of Stu to murder Maureen. In the process, they frame Cotton Weary, who was sleeping with Maureen. And because Sidney saw Cotton on the night of her mother’s death, she testified in court that he killed her mother.
This freed Billy to enact phase two of his plan. This plan was much more elaborate and involved trapping Sidney in a “horror movie” where a killer is loose. That meant going on a killing spree around town, taking the lives of random people like Casey and Steve to friends like Tatum. And after dragging Sidney through hell, Billy planned to kill Sidney and frame Sidney’s father as the culprit. This allowed he and Stu to become the sole survivors, who would then appear in the sequel.
It’s an interesting plot that highlight’s Billy’s pain. Just like Sidney, he is suffering from parental baggage and desperately needs help. You can sense how traumatized he truly is as he and Stu stab each other, going the extra mile to fall in line iwth Norman Bates and fulfill their pained murderer archetype
A quick side note: it’s never revealed why Stu chose to partner with Billy. Perhaps he was just Billy’s friend and understood his pain. But, honestly, Stu seems like a lunatic who just enjoyed the idea of staging a “scary movie.” He relished in chaos, from schoolyard pranks to full-on murder.
The deeper meaning of Sidney’s escape
As we’ve noted, Billy and Stu designed a horror movie set-up to torture Sidney with. They constantly discuss the rules of slasher films and how Sidney fits the mold of a horror movie character who dies. It’s why Billy mentions The Exorcist at the beginning, as that movie was “edited for TV” which means “all the good stuff was cut out.” It’s all in a quest to make Sidney sleep with him, as that will fulfill the prophecy and ensure her death. Their plan cannot work until Sidney fully becomes the typical horror movie character whose fate is out of their hands, whose fate is entirely up to the creator of the story—in this case, Billy and Stu.
Sidney’s journey is to defy those rigid boundaries, to become her own woman. Much like Billy’s parental baggage, Sidney feels lost in the wake of her mother’s death. She wants to believe her mother was one person—a strong, moralistic presence—but is starting to realize Maureen had her own secrets. You can almost sense that this is why Sidney won’t sleep with Billy, as she wants to remain chaste in memory of her honorable mother. But just before she decides to sleep with Billy, she says, “I can’t keep lying to myself about who my mom was. I think I’m really scared that I’ll turn out just like her.” Here, she markedly takes a turn and decides to become her own person, to stop adhering to the memory of someone she didn’t fully understand.
Here, Billy, adds a twist. He responds to Sidney’s above quote by saying, “It’s like Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs, when she keeps having flashbacks of her death father.” “But this is life,” responds Sidney. “This isn’t a movie.” “Sure it is, Sid,” says Billy. “It’s all one great big movie. Only you can’t pick your genre.” Here, he is desperate to assert a greater omniscient force, an entity that controls our paths and who we become. Billy is the symbolic representation of a holistic presence in life, of this pressure to be a certain kind of person that follows arbitrarily designed rules. Just when Sidney is attempting to redefine her narrative, Billy attempts to take control. And by sleeping with her, he believes he has sealed her fate.
But Sidney continues to fight back, to regain control of her narrative, to find a new way to honor her mother. Sidney gains a fierceness in this final act of the movie that reveals how traumatized and comatose she was before. Despite fulfilling the prophecy, she’s hellbent on escaping the horror movie, on transcending what’s expected of her character.
That’s why it’s so triumphant when Sidney dons the mask, when she uses the voice modulator to toy with Billy and Stu—she’s quite literally taking control of the horror movie narrative. She is now on the other side of the camera. She’s the one dictating what does and doesn’t happen. So in the end, when Billy tries to come back for one last scare, she shoots him in the head and says, “Not in my movie.” It’s an inspirational, cathartic moment where she finally regains control of her life. In this moment, you feel she’s ready to move on, to take the next step in her grieving recovery.
The themes and meaning of Scream
Meta-horror and discovering your identity
It’s no surprise for me to reveal that Scream is a meta-horror movie. Wes Craven constantly call attention to it through dialogue and references to various horror movies and their tropes. But it’s important to recognize why Craven (as well as screenwriter Kevin Williamson) make the rules of horror movies such a centerpiece of the movie. Because, in the end, the movie’s meta nature becomes a critique of how to construct your own path, to discover your own identity, to live your own life to the fullest.
The movie introduces the meta themes with Casey’s murder in the beginning. As she and the killer discuss horror movies, the man on the other end of the telephone makes it very clear that she is in the middle of one. This then continues when Billy, who was the man on the other end of that phone call with Casey, sneaks into Sidney’s bedroom. And he says something very key that perfectly sets up Sidney’s journey:
I was home watching television. The Exorcist was on. Got me thinking of you. It was edited for TV—all the good stuff was cut out, and it got me thinking of us. How two years ago we started off hot and heavy. Nice solid R-rating on our way to an NC-17. And how things have changed lately we’re just sort of edited for television.
As we’ll later learn, Billy (along with Stu) is the man behind the Ghostface mask. He’s been orchestrating all the mayhem that’s surrounded Sidney on the anniversary of her mother’s death. Billy has a vendetta against Sidney’s mother, Maureen, because she broke up his parents’ marriage. And part of his revenge is to get Sidney to sleep with him so he can then kill her. Because, as Randy later reveals, “sex equals death” in horror movies. When Sidney fulfills this prophecy, this horror movie trope will then be satisfied.
This back-and-forth between Sidney and Billy represents something much bigger: the battle between a character defined by tropes and the horror movie that aims to satisfy them. But we can stretch that idea even more, to something much bigger and more universal: the battle between human beings and the pressure to live a certain kind of life.
Billy represents the rules of horror movies. He is hellbent on murdering, on spreading hell and despair. And to do so in the horror movie setting, he needs certain rules to be followed. If you have sex? You die. He is desperate for Sidney to “become” her mother, a woman who supposedly slept with many men in the town of Woodsboro. But Sidney has, as Billy puts it, an “underwear rule.” This represents Sidney’s pushback against the horror movie rulebook. She spends the entire movie denying the killer that’s attempting to fit her into a horror movie mold and define her identity.
You can extend this meta narrative to real life. We all grow up living the same lives with the same pressures: go to school, get a degree, get a normal job, start a family, etc. Guidelines and rules are constantly vocalized to push us into a certain type of life, to act a certain kind of way. But part of building your own identity means fearlessly pursuing new paths, being true to yourself and what feels right. If every single person chose the same path—which is usually the case for characters in horror movies—then you would lose your sense of identity. So by placing inside a horror movie within a horror movie, Craven challenges the notion of identity and how you construct one. Sidney becomes a champion for choosing your own path, for not allowing rules and culture to decide your fate.
The influence of media
Pretty much every theme in Scream is an extension, a sub-theme, of the grand meta horror theme in place. And that’s the case for the film’s fascination with the media and how we observe tragedy. Sidney’s mother was savagely murdered, and she was forced to grieve while the entire country was watching. Every news station covered the murder trial, where Sidney testified that she saw Cotton Weary the night of her mother’s murder, and Gale wrote a book that questioned the validity Sidney’s testimony.
This neatly fits into the meta nature of the film, as everybody wants to craft an identity for Sidney based on what they know about horror movies. It’s easy to label someone as a ravenous killer, or as an impassioned liar, or as a lunatic hellbent on revenge. But those extremes cloud our judgment and prevent us from seeing the actual situation: that Sidney was hurt, that she needed to grieve without the spectacle of murder hanging over her household.
The influence media has to sensationalize then becomes part of the movie—once again, very meta. Gale is insatiable in her appetite for murder and scandal, and the movie fulfills her wishes. The story is simply better if it’s not just life, but a horror movie. If people are tortured and gutted and psychologically ruined, then the story is way more interesting, more sensational, more movie-like. Just like characters in horror movies are exploited for our pleasure, Gale and her cameraman attempt to do the same with Sidney. It just represents another battle Sidney must face in building her own path.
Both Billy and Sidney are traumatized by their parents—Billy by the leaving of his mother, and Sidney by the death of her mother. Like Norman Bates in Psycho, whom Billy quotes at one point, he is driven to madness by his mother and seeks revenge to find catharsis. Sidney is grieving the loss of her mother, and is similarly affected by her absence in an adverse way. She misses her mother, but also questions how much she truly understood her mother. Billy is dragged down into the depths by his parental baggage, while Sidney is fighting to escape it. Billy allowed the events to shape him, while Sidney is trying to form her own identity.
Why is the movie called Scream?
Truthfully, the title is quite obvious—and, arguably, rather lame in its plainness—but that’s part of the point. There’s a beautiful straightforwardness in Scream‘s title that serves as simple yet evocative poetry, as the film serves as an evaluation of the rules that have been arbitrarily designed for horror movies. As we discussed in the themes section, the point of the film’s meta nature is to highlight’s Sidney’s journey, as she strives to break free from her inevitable death in Billy and Stu’s makeshift horror flick.
In this light, you can view the title of the movie as ironic, as meta-commentary on the horror genre, which constantly capitalizes on screams and overwhelming fear. It’s a cheeky title in that way, almost satiric. And the beautiful part of satire is how it’s able to use comedy to further bolster very serious situations. In Fight Club, part of the satire is everybody in Project Mayhem mindlessly follows Tyler Durden’s orders, even when The Narrator points out how mindless and robotic they are. Their blind faith is funny…but scary as you think about how that sort of thing happens in society all the time. People idolize others and then lose their sense of humanity.
In Scream, the satire is inherent: because Sidney follows all the rules that would typically result in her death, we expect Sidney to die. Perhaps we even crave her to die, since she’s not a real person. But Scream is desperate to make us realize Sidney’s humanity, to understand that rules and guidelines laid out for a person are pointless and arbitrary, that screaming for your life is actually a terrible, horrific experience that no person should ever have to do. We fall in line with the horror movie buffs like Randy who know that a character like Sidney must die, with insatiable media influencers like Gale who knows that death and misery make for better news, with truly vengeful people like Billy who view murder as a form of catharsis in horror narratives.
Thus, the obviousness of the title becomes part of the message, part of our engagement with a meta narrative that candidly addresses the actual genre we paid money to see. We come to watch people scream, and we scream as well—it’s part of the fun on our part as an audience. But it’s also part of the film’s self-awareness that forces us to reckon with what it means to scream. It’s that lovely mix of innocent fun and reflective satire that makes Wes Craven’s Scream formula such a delightful anomaly in the genre.
Important motifs in Scream
The role of media and the general meta nature of Scream is so visually satisfying through a single object: the television. It’s where Gale, a journalist, spies on the kids at their party in her attempt to capture scandal; it’s where Sydney sees reports of her mother as she questions her identity; it’s where Randy watches Halloween and explains the tropes of horror movies to everyone; and, ultimately, it’s what leads to Stu’s death in his attempt to recreate a horror movie. It’s all part of Sydney’s journey to take control of her narrative, to reject the boundaries placed around her by arbitrary rules.
The Ghostface mask
At one point, Dewey finds the Ghostface costume at a Halloween store. It’s name? Father Death. That’s telling in a movie like Scream, which is all about defying the rules of horror films. Sidney’s entire journey is to transcend what’s expected of her and become her own woman, aka to eclipse what’s expected of the typical horror movie heroine. Despite fitting the mold of a character who dies in a horror movie, she continually presses on and continues to live. Ghostface’s presence is quite literally “Father Death.” He is the impending doom that always exists on the horizon, that Sidney must always vanquish.
The meta nature of Scream serves a very thematic purpose in Sidney’s character journey. Whenever characters talk about the rules of horror movies, it’s all in service of her journey, of her fight to stay alive. Which means any and every attempt to construct a universe that’s beholden to horror movies, that’s honoring horror movies only further reinforces that aesthetic. There’s the janitor dressed like Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. The setting sun becomes a reminder of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Randy calls Billy “Leatherface” from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Each and every one of these movie references makes for a meta universe that’s both fun and thematically relevant.
The Ghostface killer likes to taunt his victims over the phone. In an age where telephones were no longer beholden to a phone cord, where cell phones allowed Billy and Stu to roam around a house and be in two places at once, the telephone marks an exciting, eventful approach to the killer’s slow inevitable approach that’s become such a classic trope of horror movies. It’s a great tool for the killer because it allows for anonymity. It’s also a sign of advancing technology, which works well in a world where television and growing news coverage mark fresh ways to explore classic themes in horror movies.
Questions & answers about Scream
What are all the movies referenced in Scream?
Okay, there are LOTS of references to movies in Scream (it’s not always a horror movie). And I’m not sure I’ll cover them all. If you know any that aren’t listed here, please comment below and I’ll add them. But as far as I know, here are all the horror movie references in Scream:
- Parts 1 and 2 of Friday the 13th are part of Casey’s quiz in the opening scene.
- Billy quotes Norman Bates with the “We all go a little mad sometimes” line as he reveals himself as the killer.
- Stu says a girl couldn’t be the killer, which causes Tatum to reference Basic Instinct.
- Billy says they used dyed cornstarch for blood like in Carrie.
- Billy compares Sid to Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs before they have sex. He also mentions Hannibal Lecter again later.
- Halloween is playing at Stu’s party. Plus, Casey says it’s her favorite movie.
- Ghostface asks Sidney “Are You Alone in the House?” over the phone, which could be a nod to Are You in the House Alone?
- Billy says he was watching The Exorcist and it reminded him of his relationship with Sidney because it was “edited for T.V.”
- Tatum says she’s going to rent All The Right Moves to see Tom Cruise’s penis.
- Randy calls Billy “Leatherface” from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
- The Ghostface killer says he likes Nightmare on Elm Street during the first phone call. Plus, the janitor (played byWes Craven) is dressed like Freddy Kruger.
- Randy calls Stu “Alicia” after Stu repeats “as if” like Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless.
- Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Terror Train, and The Fog are mentioned are mentioned as possible movie choices at the party. Randy mentions Prom Night in the video store when discussing horror movie rules.
- In the video store, a girl asks Randy the name of “that werewolf movie with the mom from E.T.” and he knows the movie: The Howling.
- Randy says that Jamie Lee Curtis “waited until she was legit to show tits” in Trading Places.
- The curfew causes Woodsboro to feel deserted. It is then compared to The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
- Tatum calls Ghostface “Casper.”
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Scream? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!