Julie from I Know What You Did Last Summer
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Credit: Columbia Pictures 

I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream and rebooting '90s horror on TV

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Sep 10, 2019, 1:00 PM EDT

The killer who refuses to die, no matter how many times they have been shot, stabbed or even decapitated (looking at you, Michael Myers) is a recurring horror device. Freddy and Jason return time and time again to torment a new group of teens, while Jigsaw seemingly never runs out of games he wants to play. Sustaining a movie franchise year after year can be hard, as audiences tire of the same story and characters. Something new will replace it, which will also spawn multiple sequels of its own. But then nostalgia gets involved too, with fans longing to return to the classics or even opening themselves up to a new version of the same story. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

In television's infancy, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents brought scary stories into viewers' homes. In the last few years, the number of horror shows continues to steadily increase, matching the demand for content in this era of Peak TV. In 2011, Ryan Murphy breathed new life into the genre when American Horror Story debuted on FX. The anthology series is about to enter its ninth season, taking on ‘80s slashers for the first time. One of the most terrifying TV shows of 2018 was Mike Flanagan's adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. Taking the Ryan Murphy anthology approach (including the use of some of the same cast), Flanagan is returning to Netflix with The Haunting of Bly Manor, which is based on Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. Scary can be scary no matter what year it was written or how many times the story is adapted.


Credit: Dimension Films

Horror cycles often reflect cultural and political touchstones. In the ‘90s, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson turned the ‘80s slasher on its head with the self-referential Scream, which was later parodied in the Scary Movie series. Murphy’s short-lived Scream Queens also paid homage to the scary movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s mixed with an aesthetic owing Mean Girls a debt. Self-referential is hard to maintain for the duration of an entire season and while it boasted an all-star cast (including scream queen herself Jamie Lee Curtis), the jokes quickly wore thin. What works for 90 minutes isn't always best for episodic television. 

Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Charlie's Angels, and Star Trek are some of the many shows that have gone from TV shows to features. Adaptations can go both ways, with multiple franchises switching from the big to the small screen, but it is challenging to expand a horror narrative. Reboots and revivals have always been a big part of the Hollywood landscape, and there are plenty of ways to retell a story. There is so much TV real estate now when one factors in traditional networks, cable, and streaming platforms with lots of slots to fill. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, so turning to an existing IP is one way to create content and includes built-in name recognition without having to do a ton of extra promotion. ‘90s nostalgia continues to be on-trend in both fashion and entertainment, which makes franchises from this period particularly appealing. So when it was announced last month that James Wan would be producing a TV series for Amazon based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer, it was hardly a surprise. 


Credit: Columbia Pictures

First adapted in 1997, I Know What You Did Last Summer has one of the most ‘90s line-ups of actors to star in a teen film from this period. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Phillippe play the four adolescents who do something bad and then have to pay the consequences the following summer. It is a story that is one part urban legend, one part-classic slasher flick. It's also a movie the Scream franchise would riff on, but it isn't without its own pop culture references and an underlying awareness. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and the straight-to-DVD I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer didn't do much to suggest there is much longevity to this particular tale. 

Scream was a huge moment in genre cinema but attempts to reignite this franchise have stumbled. In 2011 (after filming reshoots post-test screening), Scream 4 opened to mixed reviews and a moderate opening weekend. The following year, news broke that a TV adaptation was in the works, but it wouldn't materialize on screens until 2015. MTV aired the first two seasons, which featured a similar small town with a horrific past set-up as the original movie. 

A new version of the iconic Ghostface mask was designed, which MTV senior vice president Mina Lefevre explained was a creative choice rather than a rights issue. "The mask was a big discussion creatively. We wanted to get a nod and a wink to what the original was, but we definitely wanted to make it more on par with what horror is now, which is darker." This new version looks like Ghostface had a mask baby with someone from The Purge.

A third season was greenlit, while a new cast and location were ordered — but the series did get the original mask back. Despite what Lefevre insisted, it appears that MTV did not originally get the rights to the image. A change of name and home also followed as Scream: Resurrection headed to VH1, where it debuted last month. Turning it into a three-night event is one way of bridging the gap between TV and film. It expands the story without dragging it out, particularly as audiences are now predisposed to binging an entire season in a weekend. Produced by Queen Latifah and starring Mary J. Blige, Keke Palmer, and RJ Cyler (in this version, the Sidney Prescott of the story is gender-flipped), this new version is more diverse than the original trilogy. Bringing a new perspective when rebooting a franchise is one way to breathe new life into it. Audiences want to be scared by a horror movie, but there is also comfort in the familiar. In the case of Scream, you don’t necessarily know who is under the mask, yet the general story beats are similar. Jump scares and laughs should be delivered in equal measure.

In the age of Peak TV, it isn't surprising that creatives are looking back for ideas capitalizing on the potency of nostalgia. The '90s continue to be the flavor of the week/month/year, which only adds to the appeal of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Just like the killer, a horror franchise is impossible to banish for good.  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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