Slasher movies are full of masked and shadowy murderers who deliver creative kills; often with a signature weapon. A great mask, inventive murders, and unique MOs might make a killer memorable, but for a slasher movie villain to become truly iconic they must become something more. I’d argue that they must become avatars of our most primal fears, and the truly great ones have.

In a previous article for this site, I briefly discussed how Michael Myers is our fear of the unknown and Jason Voorhees is our fear of death. In this article, we’ll take a look at another slasher who’s become emblematic of one of our larger fears; one whose latest film is due out soon. Their mask and identity are unique in horror because in each of the films they appear in there’s always a different person or persons behind it, and as the tagline of their most recent film stated, “It’s always someone you know.” I’m of course talking about Ghostface who thanks to the five films in the Scream franchise has come to symbolize our fear of trusting the wrong people.

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The people behind the Ghostface mask are all violent narcissists who’ve been empowered by the anonymity and, in later films, the legacy that their signature mask gives them. They don’t have the endurance or reality-warping powers of supernatural slashers. But, they do possess a wealth of knowledge about their targets and hunting grounds that make them just as, and in some cases more, deadly than any iconic slasher. They gain access to that information by removing their signature spectral mask and donning another guise: that of a trusted confidant or an average citizen.

The five films in the Scream franchise have shown that the Ghostface killers can exploit almost any type of relationship with their targets. They’ve been romantic partners like Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) in the first film and Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid) in the most recent. Family members like Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) in Scream 4, friends like Amber Freeman (Mikey Madison) in Scream (2022), and even people the protagonists are seemingly meeting for the first time in the film like Debbie Salt/Nancy Loomis (Laurie Metcalf) in Scream 2, Roman Bridger (Scott Foley) in Scream 3, and Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) in Scream 4.

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The most insidious and dangerous Ghostfaces were the ones that had a seemingly innocent, but actually quite dangerous relationship with the franchise’s original final girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). That’s because these two killers, Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) in the first film and Mickey Altieri (Timothy Olyphant) in Scream 2, were Sidney’s friends, as well as dating her respective best friends. As the former, they were part of a group of people Sid trusted. As the latter, they were perhaps privy to information that Sid only divulged to her best friend. Those best friends could have confided in their romantic partners, or journals that their significant others could access clandestinely. This relationship proved especially strategic for Mickey because his girlfriend, Hallie McDaniel (Elise Neil) was also Sid’s roommate in Scream 2.

Each Ghostface uses the knowledge they’ve gained through their relationships and machinations to meticulously plan their kills. Their attacks almost always happen at locations they’ve visited before and are familiar with.

Billy Loomis and Stu Macher’s first on-screen kills in the original Scream were at the home of Casey Becker, who Stu previously dated. Their next attack was at Sidney’s home, which Billy had some knowledge of as her boyfriend. They also committed murders and attacks at their high school and at Stu’s house.

In Scream 2 Mickey Altieri and Mrs. Loomis commit their initial murders at a nearby theater, but the bulk of their attacks happen on the grounds of Windsor College, which Mickey had quite a bit of knowledge about. Scream 3s sole killer, Roman Bridger commits most of his murders on the studio backlot he works at or at the home of a man who was like a father to him (and might be his actual dad), John Milton (Lance Henriksen). 

Jill Roberts uses her knowledge of her friends’ homes to help her and Charlie Walker plot their murders in Scream 4, and Charlie’s attack on Gale Weathers in the film happens at the Stab-a-thon event that he and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen) were hosting. 

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In 2022’s Scream Amber Freeman uses her own home and her knowledge of her friend’s houses to enable her and Richie Kirsch’s murder campaigns. They also attack targets in the hospital, which they must have had quite a bit of knowledge about from spending time with Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) while she was hospitalized.

So, part of what makes Ghostface so frightening is they’re probably someone you’ve invited into your home multiple times. Or you thought they were a friend and inadvertently stepped into their lair. And because it’s never the same killer(s) twice you never can be too sure where and when you’re safe.

Ghostface can also use their knowledge of the local populace to turn seemingly random murders into acts of cold, calculating strategy. You see that first in the original Scream with the murder of principal Himbry (Henry Winkler). I’m sure he did something to upset Billy and Stu. But, later on, it becomes clear that Himbry was murdered because it would get the remaining people at Stu Macher’s party to leave, thereby isolating Sidney. The same thing happens in Scream 2 when Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is murdered by Ghostface. Almost everyone at the nearby sorority house rushes over to the crime scene, except Sid who is then attacked by Ghostface for the first time.

The most dangerous knowledge the various Ghostfaces wield, though, is how to press the buttons of the people they’re after. You see that in Scream (2022) during the killers’ phone call to Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton). They use the Sheriff’s fear for her son’s life to trick her into literally running headlong into her own murder. In Scream 2, Mrs. Loomis uses Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) insecurity about never being the hero or getting the girl to get him angry, distracted, and vulnerable to attack. During their first phone call to Sidney in Scream, Billy Loomis and Stu Macher torment her by mentioning her mother’s murder. They also use Sidney’s fear of incorrectly identifying her mother’s killer against her to renew her trust in Billy.

The most Machiavellian way Ghostface manipulates potential victims, though, is through casting aspersions and eliminating your ability to trust people. Stu Macher and Billy Loomis do this in the original Scream. In the video store scene, they use Randy to test out the theory they’re building that Sidney’s father is behind the killings. Other Ghostfaces have also had different levels of success at creating mistrust, but none were as good at it as Mickey Altieri. He uses his position to first cast blame on Randy, and then later expertly exploits Sid’s growing distrust of her boyfriend, Derrick (Jerry O’Connell). Before he kills Derrick, he tells Sid that she needs to work on her trust issues.

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Mickey and Mrs. Loomis are arguably the most successful killers to don the Ghostface mask. That’s because even though they die at the end of Scream 2 without killing Sidney, they do in fact destroy her life.  At the beginning of the third film, Sid is isolated from her friends and working a job under an assumed name. It’s clear that her dad and her dog are the only ones she regularly interacts with. She went from living the life of an aspiring actor to someone reluctant to interact with people face-to-face. That’s clearly due to her previous encounters with several people she thought she could trust who ended up being masked killers. In fact, part of Sid’s journey in Scream 3 is reclaiming her life and trusting people again.

We have yet to see how the survivors of Scream (2022) are dealing with the traumas they endured at the hands of their Ghostfaces. But the trailers and posters for this year’s Scream VI have revealed that they’ve relocated from Woodsboro to New York City. They’re hoping to make a fresh start, but they now live in a city of millions. A masked killer can easily use those large crowds to hide and disappear, as the recent trailer with the packed subway car full of Ghostface masks demonstrated. Also, New York can be a hard place to navigate without friends. But after you’ve almost been murdered multiple times by close confidants how can you be sure a person you’ve put your trust in won’t plunge a hunting knife into your back?

Woodsboro may have been where the Ghostface legend was born. But the populous nature of New York means this avatar of our fear of trust can cause some truly memorable carnage.

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Dave Richards

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