HOLLYWOOD—I have a special torch for “Scream,” the 1996 classic which propelled my involvement in the horror genre as a filmmaker. How so? “Scream 2” was the first of the franchise that I actually saw in a theater and it was a hoot a minute. I’ve seen every film since in theaters except the 2022 requel because I had COVID, but this latest entry “Scream VI” is a cut above the rest. There was just something about this flick that seemed intense, almost a harken back to the 1996 original with that dark, yet edgy tone, where the horror was still potent, but you have light moments as well. This scare-fest absolutely delivers as one of the second best in the franchise, which I’ll explain more why later.

Spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen “Scream” (2022), it should have just been called “Scream 5, you might want to refresh yourself before seeing this one. Sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) are now living in the Big Apple, with Tara in college with pals Mindy (Jasmin Savoy-Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding). They thought the past was behind them, but a new fiend donning that infamous Ghostface costume is back to cause mayhem.

The fact that the writers have decided to take the action out of Woodsboro to New York City is genius. It’s a new playbook and amplifies the danger this time around in a way that is brutal, terrifying and downright and thrill-a-minute from a clever opening. How so? What you think is happening, is not really happening, and I loved it. It was the first time, I didn’t think I knew how this is going to end, whoever appears on the screen first is going to bite it, so kudos to the writers for that diversion.

“Scream VI” is so aware of its own troupes and rules that the franchise (that is an important hint) has established. You cannot get more Meta when you have a Ghostface alluding to people so adamantly following the rules of a horror movie to survive, and never survive. It is fun the first time around, but when it feels like the movie is simply staging a scene to establish the rules it can seem a bit dated, but it works. Why? The self-referential dialogue works.

A core catalyst of the flick is that our heroine, Sam is struggling with the events of the last film. Talk about dealing with trauma. She’s speaking to a therapist and is very protective of Tara, Mindy and Chad who have all become like family. They are all dealing with the grief in their own way and I love that dynamic. Tara is a bit rebellious, Sam overprotective, Mindy not as analytical about everything, and Chad is the heart of the movie. Thank God for the writers really fleshing out Chad’s character this time around, and giving Mason Gooding so much meaty material to utilize to his advantage, and showcase his acting chops people. He was just a jock in the predecessor but this time around he feels like a fully developed character that you become invested in, and you worry about his survival.

Jenna Ortega is fantastic yet again, with a snarky edge this time around that is great. People better watch out this young lady is a talent and I loved her in this movie. I loved Barrera much more this go around. The nuances to her character felt more natural this time around and not forced. Mindy is a VIP as our movie expert who breaks down the rules of a ‘franchise’ and how it evolves to a point where no one is safe and our killer makes that crystal clear from the get go. Will she suffer the same fate as her uncle Randy?

“Scream VI” is easily the best sequel in the franchise since “Scream 2” because the tone is much darker. There is still wit, but it almost harkens back to that dangerous element the original “Scream” brought to audiences in 1996 and the kills prove that with the vicious nature. Ghostface is not messing around people and some of the kills, make you cringe, scream and gasp. Yeah, you’re invested people and that’s a good thing.

Without spoiling too much a new Ghostface is on the loose and attacking our survivors and their pals, but utilizing the masks donned from killers from the past. Yes, it is indeed a mystery that soon gives a hint to the audience of a potential motive and reasoning as a shrine of all the memorabilia from all the films in the franchise are showcased in iconic fashion it is truly a moment on the screen.

We do see the return of legacy characters in Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), in a juicy, stellar role, as an FBI agent, helping Detective Bailey (Dermont Mulroney) investigate the murders. Fans of “Scream 4” get the same ole snippy Kirby, who is a bit older, and a bit wiser. Her first appearance on the screen is fantastic and that conversation with Kirby and Mindy as they discuss horror flicks, genius. We cannot forget about our favorite reporter in Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who returns to those roots of the bitchy reporter we loved in the original and it’s fantastic sequel. I have been waiting to see this Gale for years, and it seems Dewey’s death prompted our favorite tabloid reporter to write another book angering Sam and Tara in the process, with so many winks to the 1996 and 1997 films with some classic dialogue and memorable scores.

Other additions to the cast include Quinn (Liana Liberato), as Sam and Tara’s sex positive roommate, Anika (Devyn Nekoda) as Mindy’s girlfriend who is a standout people. There is also Ethan (Jack Champion), Chad’s geeky and awkward roommate and Danny (Josh Segarra), as Sam’s next door neighbor who she has been watching shirtless for weeks. There is also supporting roles from Samara Weaving as a film professor at Blackmore University and Tony Revolori as a student at the university.

Directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin utilize New York in all its treacherous glory with dark alleyways, the nefarious, but dangerous subways, those small apartments, and the notion that being in a crowd means you’re safe. Maybe not people, the suspect list is long and you start suspecting people after the opening kill.

Some of the best chase sequences in the franchise are in this film. That Bodega scene is a classic, the ladder scene is literally edge of your seat, Gale’s attack, fun, crazy and tense, and that subway scene with Mindy, I have not been that nervous since the car scene in “Scream 2” that is still iconic. You cannot get more Meta than Ghostface pointing out that Gale has never had a call in the franchise until this time around (which is so true). Poke fun at yourself, but not too much fun to where the audience no longer takes you serious.

The third act took me for a loop where even I didn’t know what was going on for a second and this sequel absolutely heightens the danger for our ‘Core Four’ as they call themselves, not to mention anyone connected to them. The motive not as witty as I would like, but the reveal definitely shocked me as I expect something like this, but the actual reveal had me saying, “Ok, I’m not disappointed.”

This whole notion of people saying the movie is gory, must’ve not seen any slasher film from the 80s. “Scream VI” doesn’t come close to what Jason Voorhees did in all those “Friday the 13th” flicks. Also kudos to the directors for winking to the audience the iconic “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.” I mean he did leave Crystal Lake, and head to New York, but he spent more time on a boat then the actual Big Apple. Genius touch, not to mention all the Easter eggs of iconic horror flicks in that subway sequence. I mean its New York people and its Halloween, anyone could be a suspect and the movie displays that cleverly.

Easily one of the best climaxes in the franchise since the original with a battle to end all battles that is bloody and satisfying for fans. All I can say is I want “Scream 7” right now, and I have a feeling this new trilogy as I suspect it to be will finally introduce us to some characters from the past that the viewers want to know more about. FYI, Sidney Prescott is not in this flick, but she is alluded to and I have a feeling the filmmakers are going to ensure that whatever Neve Campbell wants financially to appear in the next installment, they’ll give her because her return is the only way to end this trilogy in the right way if I sense where the writers might be headed.

Her presence is missed, but her character is not needed for this outing. “Scream VI” is easily the best horror film I have seen in years and I say that with no hesitation. The hype for this flick was high and it did not disappoint me one bit. If anything I’m inspired as a filmmaker, especially for the horror genre something I have not been able to say in a very long time.