The Scream franchise is so intertwined with director and horror master Wes Craven that it’s difficult to imagine another film in any other director’s hands, no matter how often the potential for Scream 5 or a reboot comes up. And it does come up quite frequently, even still. Throughout the four films, Craven remained the beating heart of the series, and yet he very nearly passed on directing the first film.
Then titled Scary Movie, Craven initially rejected the offer to direct. The project was shopped around, reluctantly as Craven was always the first choice, but other directors also either passed or producers and screenwriter Kevin Williamson felt they didn’t quite get the project. It wasn’t until Craven learned Drew Barrymore had signed on to star as Sidney Prescott (before she chose to play Casey Becker instead), and a 12-year-old told him that his horror had gone too soft, that he changed his mind.
What if he’d never changed his mind, though? We thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the directors who were approached to helm Scream and speculate on how very different the film could have been…
Just about every major horror director was approached to direct Scream, and of course that included the man behind the Evil Dead trilogy. Army of Darkness wrapped up the series years prior, though with a fizzle at the box office, and Sam Raimi had written and directed a Universal horror movie take on the superhero with 1990’s Darkman. By the mid-90s he’d moved outside of the genre space, shifting into producing, writing, and directing comedies, action, and even a western.
Though Raimi never shied away from extreme brutality in his horror, he usually merged it with his life-long love of The Three Stooges, bringing a physical splatstick style of comedy to the horror mix. Army of Darkness marked his last foray into horror until 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, which remained on brand for his usual biting and physical humor with gross-out horror. Well, there is also 2000’s The Gift, which was billed as a supernatural thriller and played it much straighter than usual. All of this to say, it’s very easy to speculate that Raimi would’ve placed a much higher emphasis on the comedic aspects of Williamson’s script. Poor Sidney Prescott would probably have endured a much goofier and more physically grueling battle with Ghostface that left her far more blood-soaked.
George A. Romero
There’s a lot of horror movies George Romero very nearly directed, and Scream was another he was offered. He was more than just the director who changed the way cinema defined zombies, though the major impact of that remains just as prevalent today as it was in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. His progressive social commentary and subversive take on the zombie apocalypse in his Dead franchise looms large over his legacy, but he was also well versed in Stephen King, with films like The Dark Half and Creepshow, and gave new twists to vampire and witch lore with Martin and Season of the Witch.
Despite having a much wider range in horror than just zombies, it’s still difficult to picture what Romero might have done with Scream. It’s quite plausible that Romero would have dug deeper into Billy Loomis’ memorable line, “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative.” It’s a brilliant minefield of a line, a reflection on current social mindsets that you can bet Romero wouldn’t have left alone.
In 1994, Danny Boyle made one impressive debut with Shallow Grave. Based on the film, it’s easy to see why Boyle was approached. Shallow Grave follows three friends that discover their new flatmate has died, leaving behind an unexplained large amount of cash. It’s a suspenseful thriller with tension, surprise twists, and an underlying current of dark humor. The suspense and humor combination sound exactly in line with Scream.
Though tonally Boyle’s version would’ve edged closer to Williamson’s script, blending the horror more seamlessly with the satirical elements, but his distinct style would’ve made for a very different final film. With his frequent use of point-of-view shots, high and low camera angles, vivid colors, and a strong use of surreal and dream sequences, as evidenced in films like The Beach, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine…well, his take may not have resonated as strongly with audiences in the end.
Tom McLoughlin previously helmed horror movies One Dark Night and Sometimes They Come Back, as well as four episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series. But his most popular horror film is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the very fun final entry in the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. He loved Kevin Williamson’s script, but felt the comedic elements too similar to Jason Lives, so he passed, as revealed in a Facebook chat. Like Craven, he too had changed his mind, but it was too late.
Being that he saw the script for Scream as similar in tone and humor to Jason Lives, it’s easy to imagine that his version of the film would be a lot more playful and comedic. A horror comedy with emphasis on the comedy, and understated on the horror.
Of all the directors who could’ve possibly directed Scream had Craven not assumed the role, Robert Rodriguez is quite possibly the only one we don’t have to really speculate as to how his vision for the film would’ve played out. Beginning in Scream 2, the sequels featured the Stab slasher series, or fictional movies within the movie based on Sidney Prescott’s life. There are 7 Stab movies scattered throughout the 3 Scream sequels, and one notable director’s name keeps popping up on them: Robert Rodriguez. If he did indeed direct the Stab segments, he’s uncredited in the actual film credits, but I’d like to think that this is precisely what we’d get with Rodriguez at the helm. Just with slightly less camp.
Bonus: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino wasn’t actually approached to direct Scream at all. But his good buddy Robert Rodriguez was approached, which likely got Tarantino thinking about how he would’ve handled the project. He infamously maligned Craven’s work on the film, stating in an interview with Vulture, “I actually didn’t care for Wes Craven’s direction of it. I thought he was the iron chain attached to its ankle that kept it earthbound and stopped it from going to the moon.”
Considering that he’d penned From Dusk Till Dawn, which arrived in theaters 12 months earlier than Scream, it’s fair to use that as an example of what kind of approach he would’ve taken to Scream at the time. Especially when paired with his comment about taking it “to the moon.” Meaning, Tarantino’s version of Scream would have amplified the lengthy monologues in Tarantino’s distinctly verbose way and surely gone off the rails in terms of an insane final act. At least in the violence department, anyway. Craven himself ran afoul with the MPAA, with the initial cut of the film receiving an NC-17, so Tarantino likely would’ve had a much bigger battle with his brand of stylized violence.
In any event, we can thank our lucky stars that Wes Craven did indeed direct Scream and its sequels, marking the third decade in a row that he redefined the genre.