Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Alamy, Miramax, Paramount Pictures, Shutterstock, The Weinstein Company
Ghostface is unique among the marquee slashers because the face (or faces) behind the mask changes with every Scream installment, imbuing each new round of murders with a different personality and, thus, a different set of methods for killing. Each Ghostface packs that signature hunting knife, but each Ghostface uses it in a different way, and all Ghostfaces are prone to improvising when simple stabbing won’t do the job. Because in the end, getting the kill and making your point is what counts.
All of this means we’ve been treated to dozens of very different death scenes in the Scream films over the years, from gunshots to garage doors, explosions to long falls. Throw in the elaborate nature of the various motives and meta-narratives behind each Ghostface killer and you’ve got a franchise that never repeats itself, even if some kills are clever mirror images of the past.
Of course, not all Ghostface killings are created equal. Some shuffle right out of our brains the moment they’re over, while others will stick in our heads until the day we die, burned into our collective psyche thanks to a combination of tension, brutality, and brilliant iconography. So to celebrate the arrival of yet another Scream film, and another round of death scenes, we’ve ranked every single Ghostface kill in the entire movie franchise from worst to best, creating a definitive order for more than 25 years of terror.
The carnage begins below, but first, a few notes on what counts as a Ghostface kill. This list includes every person killed by a Ghostface across all the Scream movies, but it does not include people killed by a Ghostface offscreen (i.e., Maureen Prescott), people killed by a Ghostface within the metafictional Stab films (i.e., the first few deaths in Scream 4), or people attacked by Ghostface but ultimately killed by someone else (i.e., Mickey in Scream 2). What’s your favorite scary movie kill? It’s probably on the list below.
Poor Gale Weathers. She could never quite get that happily ever after with Dewey, and just when it seemed she’d settled into a comfy life in a swanky New York City apartment, Ghostface had to come along and kill yet another lover. Sadly, his connection to Gale is really all we know about Brooks. He hands her a phone, walks offscreen, and then his body comes flying back into frame.
The body count in Scream movies isn’t usually ridiculously high, which makes it weird when a character just sort of … turns up dead, particularly when it’s a guy we didn’t really get to know. Sadly for Deputy Clay, that’s exactly what his kill turns out to be: a little bit of window dressing so Tara Carpenter can have something scary to look at when she’s trying to escape Woodsboro Hospital.
The bodega sequence is one of Scream VI’s most memorable setpieces, but the high body count makes it so that not every kill is great on its own merits. The second customer Ghostface picks off is the least memorable victim. He falls between two much more memorable kills, including Ghostface’s shotgun rampage, so in the context of the scene, he’s really not much more than an afterthought to get Tara and Sam alone in the store.
You see Adam Brody in a horror movie in the early 2010s, and you sort of expect more than what his character ended up getting. Despite a great joke about how he’s destined to die because he has a new baby at home, Deputy Hoss gets little more than a simple stab in the back before he’s pushed to the side in favor of his colleague’s more elaborate death (more on that later). If we didn’t recognize the actor, we’d barely remember it.
The first true death in Scream 4 comes after not one but two fakeouts courtesy of the Stab movies, and while those “fake” kills are a thrill, Marnie Cooper’s demise is mostly there to frighten her friend Jenny and to let the audience know we’re finally in the “real” movie. Like Steve Orth before her, she’s a means to an end, but her death doesn’t have quite the same impact.
Casting Lance Henriksen as a shady horror producer with a lot of skeletons in his closet was a great choice for Scream 3’s meta-Hollywood odyssey, and setting his character up as the father of Maureen Prescott’s long-lost son was a juicy twist for the film’s third act. Sadly, despite all that setup and a house full of secret passages and movie props, John Milton’s death came down to nothing more than a simple throat slit so Ghostface Roman Bridger could make a point. It’s not bad, but you just want more when a genre legend is in the house.
Poor Derek. Despite all of Sidney’s understandable suspicions, he turned out to be a pretty good guy who really did love her, and all he got in return was a quick death by gunshot while tied up and defenseless. He didn’t get to really fight for Sidney and go down swinging, despite his protests, and considering how wild the rest of Scream 2’s finale ended up getting, that’s a real shame.
Kate Roberts was just doing her best to protect her family, and she ended up dead for her trouble. Thankfully, her death wasn’t particularly brutal. It’s just a quick stab in the back, but it’s memorable because Ghostface got her with a knife via mail slot after the danger had seemingly passed. Mary McDonnell’s eyes do the rest.
Dr. Stone is yet another in a long line of Ghostface victims who had the misfortune of getting too close to the primary target, in this case his patient Sam Carpenter. His death — a means to an end that allows Ghostface to get hold of Sam’s private files — is quick, but it’s also wonderfully effective, as our killer stabs right through Stone’s gated front door and into the shrink’s brain. It’s one of several examples of just how efficient and effective the Scream VI breed of Ghostface is.
Some Ghostface kills come out of nowhere and vanish almost as quickly, and that was the case with Scream 3’s bodyguard to the stars, Steve Stone. Patrick Warburton’s deadpan bruiser barely got the chance to fight back, which is a shame in a franchise where the killer famously falls all over the set as much as their victims. Still, watching Ghostface use the close quarters of a trailer to really drive the knife home is fun.
The first kill of 2022’s Scream is a character we don’t really know, and who we’ve already been told is a creep who maybe needs to get away from the teen girls at the heart of the story, so we’re not exactly sad to see him go. It’s also not an especially elaborate or even satisfying death, but it does feature the return of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” a welcome mainstay on the Scream soundtracks, for the first time since Scream 3. Sometimes that’s all you really need.
Ghostface’s rampage through a bodega is an essential piece of Scream VI, not just because it’s a New York City movie, but because of just how relentless this particular Ghostface turns out to be. And it all begins right here. The first face to greet the killer when he runs through the door is a classic New York guy who’s ready to handle the problem, and seconds later that same guy is gutted. In a franchise where Ghostface is falling over furniture just as often as he’s killing people, it sends a message.
Sidney Prescott doesn’t die in Scream movies, but in Scream 3 we did get to see the actor who played Sidney Prescott in Stab 3 meet her end in the middle of John Milton’s movie mansion. The death itself is a basic stab job, nothing too crazy in the grand scheme of this movie in particular, but before she goes out, Angelina gets to call both Courteney Cox and Parker Posey “second-rate celebrities,” so that’s fun.
The moment from the Scream VI trailer that launched a thousand hot takes about whether or not Ghostface should use guns (something Ghostface has done in some form or another since 1996), the death of the poor bodega clerk who almost got the jump on Ghostface still works no matter how many times you’ve already seen the footage. It’s not simply that Ghostface is using a shotgun. It’s that he’s using a shotgun that he casually ripped out of the clerk’s hands, and that he’s using it with such cold intensity.
Trevor Sheldon re-emerges at the end of Scream 4 tied up and tucked away by the two killers, just like Sidney’s dad at the end of the first film. Unlike Mr. Prescott, though, Trevor had the bad sense to cheat on a rising Ghostface killer and got a bullet in the head and a bullet in the crotch for his trouble. It’s a rough death, and it underscores just how ruthless Jill Roberts’s next-generation Ghostface can be.
Without question the most memorable new character in Scream 3, Parker Posey’s Jennifer Jolie doesn’t get an especially elaborate death scene, but in true Parker Posey fashion, she makes every second of it count. The would-be Gale Weathers goes down swinging against Ghostface, and she gets to crash through a mirrored glass pane for good measure. Like everything else Posey does in this movie, it’s a death we won’t forget.
Scream 4 takes full advantage of its 2010s setting to explore the world of livestreaming and easily maneuverable webcams, creating a whole new sandbox of perspective to play in. The perpetually live-streaming Robbie is a key part of this, so it’s fitting that his death scene begins with a perspective trick courtesy of his own webcam. Watching him get repeatedly stabbed while wearing a T-shirt with the word “STAB” emblazoned on the front is the cherry on top.
Although Kenny’s actual death — a quick throat cut from behind as he leans out of his news van — is straightforward and quick, its place in Scream history is actually more complex. Before Kenny, Ghostface murders happened with lots of tension and buildup, setting the stage for the killer’s entrance. This time, after playing with perspective via Gale’s hidden camera in Stu’s house, the film snuck up not just on the character but the audience, adding a new layer of fear to the franchise.
The first kill of the first Scream sequel had to be memorable in a completely different way than the first kill in Scream, but it also had to remind us we were watching the same franchise. So Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven gave us another boyfriend death, but in a completely different way. We were expecting Phil Stevens to die in that movie-theater bathroom, but we weren’t expecting the knife to come right through the stall wall like an unstoppable force of death. It’s still an effective shot, but it pales in comparison to what’s coming next.
The most gruesome part of Arthur Himbry’s death — his eventual public display on the Woodsboro High football field — is something we only hear about in Scream, but that doesn’t mar the effectiveness of the part we do see. Himbry’s death is the first in the franchise to occur in broad daylight, adding a new dimension of fear to the film, and Henry Winkler’s world-champion scream of terror as the knife slides into his stomach is still perfect.
Andrews, one of the two detectives assigned to protect Sidney in Scream 2, doesn’t have all that sophisticated of a death. Ghostface just slams his way into the patrol car, slashes the cop’s throat, and commandeers the vehicle. It’s nothing compared to what happens next, but it definitely works as the kickoff to a great sequel set piece.
In keeping with the “all bets are off” energy of a trilogy capper, by the end of Scream 3 bodies are flying left and right, which means it could be easy to gloss over a death scene and turn the supporting cast into Ghostface fodder. Tyson Fox’s death falls in the middle of the third-act rampage, but the sheer intensity of it ensures that we’ll never forget it, as he joins the distinguished list of Scream victims who get thrown off of buildings as a finishing move.
The opening kill from Scream VI plays by all the anticipated rules from a very early stage. You’ve got the distracting phone call, the clueless victim, the movie star (Samara Weaving, in this case) willing to be killed off in the opening minutes, and the noteworthy new location. It’s all laid out exactly as we’d expect it to be, and even though we see it coming, it’s a well-executed kill. What makes it land harder, though, is the film’s choice to reveal who’s behind the mask for the first time in an opening scene, signaling to us right away that we’re in for something a bit different.
So much of Scream 4 mirrors Scream that you almost expect the two movies to bleed together at various points, but every time a reference to the original film pops up, the new one veers off onto its own course. Nowhere is this more evident than when Jill and Charlie set out to wound each other in a perfect mirroring of Billy and Stu’s original plan, only for Jill to aim right for Charlie’s heart and take him out. It’s not just a great subversion of the original plan but also a great moment in a long line of moments illustrating how badly Jill wants her fame.
A split second after his partner, Deputy Hoss, gets stabbed and thrown out of the frame, Ghostface turns to Deputy Perkins, and we expect things to end just as fast. What we get instead is a truly gruesome stab right in the middle of Perkins’s forehead, followed by an agonizing death walk as the brain-damaged deputy flails around for his life before collapsing. It’s easy to be desensitized to Ghostface stab wounds, but you can always feel this one.
Poor Liv. She just wanted to take things to the next level with her boyfriend and have a nice night at Amber’s party, and she got a bullet in the head instead. Ghostface shooting someone instead of stabbing them could be seen as an easy way out, sure, but because Amber shoots Liv in the head out of costume, unmasking herself without using an actual mask, it gets our heart rates up with startling effectiveness. Amber’s little “Welcome to Act III” intonation is just the cherry on top.
Although Roger Jackson has been the legendary voice of Ghostface for 27 years now, Scream 3 decided to play with our auditory expectations and give us a killer whose voice changer could copy and use just about anyone’s voice. Christine Hamilton’s actual moment of death might not be spectacular, but the build-up — in which she’s convinced by Ghostface that her boyfriend, Cotton, is in the costume just to mess with her — is a great introduction to a whole new scary-movie paradigm.
Absolutely everything about the cold open to the original Scream is perfect, and that includes the death of the first Ghostface victim ever depicted on film. We don’t know Steve Orth, we don’t get to see a buildup to his particular demise, but his appearance on Casey Becker’s patio, and his frighteningly quick disemboweling, is proof that this movie means business, and there’s no going back.
Sheriff Judy’s death isn’t the most gut-wrenching of the Scream sequel (more on that later), but it’s still an emotional moment in a movie full of emotional moments. She just wants to drive home and save her son Wes from Ghostface’s clutches, and we fully expect her to make it there and find his body in the Hicks family home. What she discovers instead is her own death right there for all of Woodsboro to see. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s made more heartbreaking by what happens next.
The first properly elaborate death scene in Scream 4 isn’t just a anguishing pursuit, but also a loving tour back through some of the franchise’s most memorable deaths up to that point. Jenny Randall runs through her house like Casey Becker, runs upstairs like Cici Cooper, and even tries to escape via garage door like Tatum Riley. Unfortunately for her, all those efforts fail, but fortunately for us, we’re pulled right back into the Scream vibes more than a decade after Scream 3.
Cotton Weary went through so much in the first two Scream films you could argue that he deserved to live out the rest of his days as a rich, famous talk-show host, but Ghostface isn’t a creature of mercy. Cotton survives prison, multiple murder accusations, and a Ghostface rampage across two movies, only to die in his home after Ghostface tricks his own girlfriend into attacking him. That’s just bad luck, but at least he doesn’t go down without a bookcase-smashing, bone-crushing fight.
Randy Meeks warned us that sequel death scenes are always much more elaborate, and Scream 2 proved that with Cici Cooper. Like Casey Becker, she’s a kind, pretty blonde who had the bad fortune of being alone in a house where Ghostface could get at her. Unlike Casey Becker, she takes Ghostface all the way up through the multiple stories of a sorority house before getting stabbed and thrown off a roof. Her death raises (pun intended) the stakes for Ghostface encounters, and lays a foundation for even wilder death scenes to come in the franchise.
It certainly has its issues, but Scream 3 is at its best when it’s milking the movie-within-a-movie setup for all it’s worth, and that’s definitely true for Sarah Darling’s death. An actress lured to the studio under false pretenses, Sarah finds Ghostface in a room full of empty Ghostface costumes, then has to try to fight him off with prop weapon after prop weapon. It’s an ingenious little set piece and arguably the wittiest death scene of the whole film.
Six movies in and the Scream franchise is still finding new ways to kill people. In the case of Anika, Mindy Meeks-Martin’s ill-fated love interest, we get death by improvised ladder bridge as she attempts to crawl between two apartment buildings with Ghostface on her tail. She’s not the first Ghostface victim to fall to her death, but the scene is so harrowing, and so full of genuine, panic-laden terror, that it manages to make a mark all its own.
Okay, so Hallie’s actual moment of death isn’t that spectacular. Sidney’s roommate gets stabbed from behind while Sid watches in horror, but the moments leading up to that death are so great that her kill still ranks among the best in the franchise. Like Sidney, she spends several agonizing minutes crawling over an unconscious Ghostface to get out of a cop car. Unlike Sidney, she doesn’t survive what happens after that. It’s a nerve jangler even by Scream standards.
We spend several agonizing minutes with Wes Hicks before Ghostface actually attempts to kill him, minutes made all the more tense and frightening by the death of his mother just outside their home. Even after Sheriff Judy’s death, Scream 2022’s camera gives us false scare after false scare, almost convincing us that Wes might just find his mother rather than die himself. Then Ghostface appears with a devastating stab through the throat, giving us one of the most intimate deaths in the series.
While his partner definitely didn’t get an easy death, it feels downright calm compared to what Officer Richards faces when he hops on his patrol car to try and stop a fast-driving Ghostface. He could have fallen off and been run over, or even just thrown clear, but instead he gets full-on impaled by some pipes at a construction site in one of the film’s best set-piece moments. Ouch.
No one (well … almost no one) deserves to be murdered by Ghostface, but Sidney’s publicist, Rebecca, was certainly signaling her availability for death with her shameless willingness to capitalize on a new round of Woodsboro murders. It’s not surprising when Ghostface comes looking for her in a parking garage, but it is surprising just how far the death goes. In a franchise with several falling deaths, she gets the biggest one of all, followed by one of the franchise’s best gallows-humor laughs as Dewey futilely checks her pulse.
It was a little surprising when that Scream VI trailer came out and some corners of the internet were upset that Ghostface used a shotgun, because, well, Ghostface will kill people with just about anything. Case in point: Tom Prinze, who plays Dewey in Stab 3, gets killed by an entire exploding house in Scream 3. Granted, we don’t get to actually see Ghostface in the scene with Tom when the death happens, but, well, there’s just no other way to put this: Ghostface straight-up exploded a dude, and that’s awesome.
After seemingly revealing one of its killers with the opening death scene, Scream VI swerves yet again with its second major murder, as would-be Ghostface Jason Carvey ends up dead minutes after murdering Laura Crane. After revealing Ghostface with the first kill, the film amps up the tension with a little game of hot-and-cold, eventually revealing Jason’s roommate and co-conspirator (well, what’s left of him) in the fridge, then giving us the true Ghostface right before the cut to the opening title. It’s a wonderful subversion, and it puts in place a tangled web that won’t become completely clear until the very end of the film.
Not adhering to his own horror-movie-survival rules (he really should have taken his own advice from Scream and turned around) was bound to catch up to Randy eventually. After narrowly avoiding death via Ghostface in the first film, the horror fanatic and self-proclaimed slasher-survival evangelist flew too close to the sun in Scream 2, staying on the line with Ghostface long enough to get lured to his own bloody demise in a news van. It’s still one of the franchise’s most surprising and brutal moments, but in retrospect, it feels inevitable.
It might feel like overkill (ha) to follow up the fake-out-laden opening kills of Scream 4 with yet another fake out, but when it’s as effective as it is with Olivia’s death, it’s hard to argue with the results. Ghostface doesn’t call his chosen victim in this case, but instead telephones her best friends across the street, revealing where he is just in time for them to watch, screaming all the while, as he butchers Olivia in her bedroom. It’s a slick bit of slasher storytelling made even better by the very bloody aftermath.
How do you top the iconic opening murders of Scream? Well, you don’t, but Scream 2’s centerpiece cold-open kill is about as close as you could ever hope to get. Maureen Evans is just there to groan through a scary movie with her boyfriend, and she gets a knife in the stomach from a Ghostface in a sea of Ghostfaces. That’s frightening enough, but watching her plead for help while a crowd of confused theatergoers cheer on the bloody spectacle is still gut-wrenching after 25 years.
Even before I saw Scream, I knew about Tatum Riley’s garage-door demise, because it’s all anyone who’d seen the film could talk about when they got to school on Monday. Everything about the movie up to that point had trained viewers to expect more knife slayings, which made Ghostface’s casual press of the garage-door button all the more effective. The squirm-inducing crunch that followed is something no fan of the series will ever forget.
The first four Scream movies established a notable and often darkly funny pattern for good ol’ Dewey Riley: He fights Ghostface, he gets absolutely wrecked in one way or another, and he somehow survives at the end with a few more war wounds. We had absolutely no reason to expect that to change in Scream 2022, so when Ghostface started to pull those knives up and down Dewey’s torso, bleeding him dry with no way back, it was as devastating as it was brilliant.
Casey Becker’s death at the end of Scream’s amazing cold open isn’t just the best death in the Scream franchise. There’s an argument to be made that it’s the best kill in any slasher movie ever made because of the sheer level of frightening detail poured into every moment. There’s the elaborate nature of the phone call, the Jiffy Pop burning on the stove, the chair flying through the window, Casey trying to scream for her mother through a crushed windpipe, and finally, Casey’s parents being able to hear her last breaths because the phone line is still open. It’s brutal, it’s clever, and it’s a legendary introduction to one of our finest horror franchises that still cuts deep all these years later.
But even outside the context of the onscreen violence, the behind-the-scenes story decisions that went into Casey’s death enrich the scene with even more terrifying value. Remember Drew Barrymore was front and center on the poster for Scream. She was a star with more than a decade of major roles to her name at this point, and the original trailer puts her on par with Neve Campbell in terms of character importance. If you were watching this film in 1996, you absolutely were not expecting Drew Barrymore to go in the opening scene. It’s a Janet-Leigh-in-Psycho-level swerve, and it all happens in less than 15 minutes. That’s power that doesn’t go away, even if you already know what’s about to happen.