Welcome to the Ghostface Glossary, a guide to every horror reference and nod throughout the first five films of the Scream franchise.
After a lot of pausing, rewinding, and zooming in, as well as researching, we’re catching all of the many horror-specific references Williamson, Craven, and Co. included in this beloved postmodern slasher franchise. If we’ve forgotten any glaring ones, kindly let us know.
“If they’d watch Prom Night, they’d save time!”
For millions of horror fans in the ’90s— the budding and jaded alike— a murder mystery slasher movie that promised Drew Barrymore in the marketing and released right before Christmas ’96 came out of absolute nowhere. Written by an up-and-comer with a penchant for the original Halloween and directed by the guy who directed meta masterpiece New Nightmare, the original Scream blew minds and box office numbers with not only its hot cast, brutal kills, and what-would-become iconic villain Ghostface, but its wealth of knowledge and genuine love for the horror genre, which ebbed and flowed in quality after years of what felt like slasher movie (in particular) burnout.
Millennial-aged horror fans own it, quote it, cosplay it, and most importantly, perhaps even learned from it— as the film dropped so many references of past horror classics that it became a gateway film for those of us who may have been a few years too young to have caught the Golden Age of slasher films in theaters.
Forget the “rules.” Here are all the horror nods contained within the OG classic!
Black Christmas (1974), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and When A Stranger Calls Back (1993): The call is coming from inside the house. A masked murderer taunting a teenage girl home alone over a landline call is so often identified with the first 12 minutes and 46 seconds of Scream that it’s difficult to imagine that scenario in film before it. But the extended opening sequence of When A Stranger Calls (its most valuable) was the precursor for Casey’s deadly phone games with Ghostface, as both are perfectly valid short films on their own accord.
Its made-for-TV 1993 sequel, When A Stranger Calls Back, really ramps up the tension, as whoever is watching the babysitter is watching her through windows and doors to the house– almost identical to what’s happening to Casey in Scream. Of course, five years before WASC, Billy tortured Jess and the sorority girls via lewd phone calls in the beginning moments of Black Christmas, which doesn’t carry quite the same scare impact– as the group of girls are together and not home alone during that particular scene.
Halloween (1978) and Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992): 1) In a scene which will forever live in infamy, Ghostface begins his game by asking Casey what her favorite scary movie is, to which she says the 1978 classic. 2) Casey is making popcorn, too, just like her fellow fictional victim, Annie. 3) When Ghostface quizzes her for the killer’s name, Casey knows it’s Michael. 4) Thanks to some brightening and zooming, the video tapes that Casey notoriously gets ready to watch before she meets her fate appear to be Halloween and Children of the Corn II. Brace yourself for an obscene amount of Halloween references to come.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, and franchise): “Is that the guy who had knives for fingers?” Ghostface plays dumb while Casey guesses his favorite scary movie. Of course, Casey goes on to quip that the first one was good, but the rest “sucked.” Obviously, at the time, this was the film franchise Wes Craven was most famous for.
Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981): Friday fans around the world would cringe during the moment in which Ghostface tricks Casey into incorrectly answering Jason as the killer instead of Pamela Voorhees. Casey’s boyfriend Steve ultimately pays for this sin.
Halloween II (1981): Similar to Laurie crawling her way through the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital parking lot and softly crying for help to no avail, Casey’s close-by parents arrive home and do not hear her faint, desperate sobbing for assistance. This sequence within a hospital setting would also be emulated in a later Scream sequel.
Dementia 13 aka The Haunted and the Hunted (1963): Ghostface drags Casey’s body across her lawn before her final breaths, akin to the scene in which the killer drags a woman’s body by the wrist in this Francis Ford Coppola black-and-white horror classic.
Halloween (1978): Repeated almost verbatim from this Laurie line to Lindsey and Tommy, the Beckers come home to a burning kitchen and no Casey in sight. Frightened, Casey’s dad prompts her mother to “call the Mackenzies.”
Suspiria (1977): Casey’s hanging, blood-doused body, mouth agape, is a nod to the iconic Argento moment in which young woman Pat is stabbed, killed, and hung from the ceiling.
Psycho (1960): Drew Barrymore famously rejected the role of Sidney and insisted on portraying Casey to shock the audience, a la Janet Leigh as Marion Crane dying halfway through the Hitchcockian classic. Additionally, though we often associate Billy’s last name Loomis with Halloween’s Dr. Loomis, we forget that the origin of the Loomis name comes from Marion’s questionable boyfriend Sam Loomis in Psycho.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, again (1984): 1) The casting directors of Scream famously considered Skeet Ulrich the ’90s version of NOES’s Johnny Depp, due to their similar heartthrob physical features, so they threw a nod to the ’84 film when he enters Sidney’s window in the same fashion as Nancy’s boyfriend Glen. 2) Sheriff Burke, portrayed by Joseph Whipp, is also in NOES as Sgt. Parker. 3) Of course, Wes Craven also later makes his cameo as a Freddy Krueger janitor lookalike, and 4) Tatum wears the same crop top ”10” jersey as Glen.
The Exorcist (1973): 1) “The Exorcist was on. It got me thinking of you.” One of Billy’s most nauseating lines– and there are quite a few. 2) Linda Blair later appears as the obnoxious TV reporter questioning Sidney about her “almost butchered” attack. “The people want to know– they have the right to know!” Of course, Linda has appeared in several horror movies, including a Wes Craven film from 1978, Stranger in Our House– but Regan remains her most recognizable role.
Halloween (1978): Though Scream is better known for featuring Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” a slow, haunting cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays in the background, performed by Gus Black. The script also pokes fun at the confusion of John Carpenter and Wes Craven when Tatum says the line “Wes Carpenter flick” later on.
Basic Instinct: While the gang sits around at lunchtime and discusses Casey and Steve’s murders, Tatum argues the killer could easily be female, because of the ice-picking female baddie portrayed by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. (There’s stabbing, so we’re counting it as horror.)
Are You In the House Alone? (1978): As Sidney receives her first phone call from Ghostface, he asks her if she’s “alone in the house?” Uncertain as to why Kevin Williamson didn’t just use the direct line “are you in the house alone” from this 1978 TV movie. (This film also would go on to influence I Know What You Did Last Summer with the handwritten note “I’m watching you”).
Candyman (1992): Stu criticizes Sidney for branding (Billy) as the Candyman. “His heart’s broken!”
Copycat (1995): The bathroom stall scene, in which Sidney gets stalked by someone in the Ghostface costume before she runs out of there intact, references a scene from the 1995 film in which the killer attacks Sigourney Weaver’s Helen from the neighboring stall.
Frankenstein (1931): Before Randy goes on his first of two infamous rants, this 1931 Universal Classic Monsters movie plays on the TV at the video store.
The Howling (1981): “What’s that werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it?” Oh, you mean scream queen Dee Wallace?
Prom Night (1980): The film’s adoration for another scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, firmly begins with Randy’s famous line: “If they’d watch Prom Night, they’d save time. There’s a formula to it– a very simple formula. Everybody’s a suspect!”
Mother’s Boys (1993): A poster of the film at the video store prominently displays this ’90s thriller with JLC at the helm.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976): Getting prepared for town curfew, Sidney compares the desolate Woodsboro town to the 1976 film, to which Dewey says he has also seen.
Hellraiser (1987), The Evil Dead (1981), The Fog (1980), Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), Halloween (1978): Randy brings these VHS tapes to Stu’s party, and explains Jamie Lee’s scream queen status to horror cynic Sidney. “Not til Trading Places– ’83…”
I Spit On Your Grave (1978): While unrealistic to think that the same girl who confuses Wes C and John C would be familiar with this video nasty rape revenge title, the “I spit on your garage” line spoken by Tatum is too quintessential to not love.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): A jealous Randy refers to Billy as Leatherface when he arrives at the party to “make up” with Sid.
The Bad Seed (1956): Sidney confides in Billy that she’s scared she’ll follow in her mother’s scandalous footsteps, worrying she’ll turn out to be a “bad seed or somethin’.”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Another of Billy’s unhinged, obsessive movie-brain analogies, he compares Sidney’s anguish to this 1991 Oscar-winning film. He also later references the film again when he rhetorically asks if they ever found out why Hannibal Lecter liked to eat people.
Deep Red (1975): As Sidney is being chased by Ghostface throughout Stu’s house, she runs through a room (Stu’s?) in which several dolls are strung across the ceiling- a nod to this Argento giallo in which the killer does the same. Of course, the creepy-dolls-being-hung-by-a-noose to indicate a psychopath’s working space is a common trope used throughout the genre..
Halloween (1978): In these final loving tributes to the Halloween night classic, Randy watches on as fellow real-life actor named Jamie gets stalked by Michael Myers, as he unknowingly gets stalked by Ghostface. Before Sidney finally ends Billy’s life for good, she hides in the closet until the right moment to stab Billy with an umbrella.
Lady in White (1988): Sidney locks herself in the car to avoid Ghostface, akin to a scene in which LIW’s protagonist Frankie does the same.
Carrie (1976): 1) According to Kevin Williamson, the visual of Sidney drenched in blood, as Gale nearly runs her over driving the news van, recalls Carrie White standing in the middle of the road and telepathically causing classmates to crash and burn before they almost run her down. 2) Once Billy “unmasks” himself, he reveals he and Stu used corn syrup– “same stuff they used for pig’s blood in Carrie.”
Psycho (1960): 1) “We all go a little mad sometimes.” Once again, a line from Billy’s movie-freaked mind. 2) “Did Norman Bates have a motive?”
Happy Birthday to Me (1981): Billy’s motive is reminiscent of the killer’s motive in this 1981 slasher gem, as HBTM’s Ann was also furious about her father’s affair with another woman. Never a good enough excuse for murder though, guys…
Thanks to IMDb and the Zack Cherry YouTube channel for picking up a couple this writer had missed for this comprehensive guide.