The ‘Stab’ Franchise: The History of Scream’s Movie Series Within a Movie Series

Lon Harris
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

It’s only natural that a series as post-modern and self-analytical as Scream would have its own fictional movie-franchise-within-the-movie-franchise, like an limitless Russian nesting doll of parodies. After all, what better way to mock horror films than to invent your own series of them, one that can obtain as outrageous and stupid as the joke demands, without having to worry about all that pesky stuff like character development and logical, narrative sense?

The Stab films — first introduced in Scream 2 as a fictional movie series based on the “real” events happening to the residents of Woodsboro, California — gave Scream 1-4 director Wes Craven and screenwriters Kevin Williamson (Scream, Scream 2, Scream 4) and Ehren Kruger (Scream 3) a space to satirize the horror genre in a larger-than-life way, while sowever keeping the leading franchise relatively grounded (Relatively!), which continued with 2022’s fifth Scream film from writers James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick and directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett.

A typically appreciative audience for 'Stab'

So before the newest movie in the series (Scream VI aka Ghostface Takes Manhattan) arrives, and likely brings with it new updates to the Stab-verse, here’s a quick rundown of everything we know about the series so far.

STAB (1998)

AKA Stab: The Woodsboro Murders

Heather Graham in 'Stab' (but really in 'Scream 2' - it gets bizarre around here!)

After the initial Ghostface killing spree in the town of Woodsboro, depicted in the original Scream, reporter and eyewitness Gale Weathers wrote a sensationalized, tabloid-style chronicle of the events, titled The Woodsboro Murders. Sunrise Studios then purchased the rights to Weathers’ book and brought in veteran horror producer John Milton to develop it into a slasher movie (with an eye toward a new franchise). He in turn brought in filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who had recently collaborated on two projects with Quentin Tarantino: the anthology movie Four Rooms and the vampire action-thriller From Dusk Till Dawn. (This last entry is likely what made Milton consider Rodriguez for the Stab gig.)

Rodriguez brought in Tori Spelling to play the lead role as Sidney Prescott, reflecting Sidney’s own casting prediction, made casually to friends during the real life Woodsboro killings. The cast also included David Schwimmer as Dewey Riley, Luke Wilson as Billy Loomis, and Heather Graham as Casey Becker, who like Drew Barrymore in the original Scream gets murdered during the infamous Stab cold open. (In the hyper-titillating world of Stab, she’s taking a shower top prep for movie night, rather than just focusing on the popcorn.) We would later learn in Scream 3 they were joined by up-and-coming actress Jennifer Jolie — not a real life actor but an actual fictional character! — as Gale Weathers.

No, we're not sure what this meant either.

This original Stab cast list got even more filled in years later in the fifth Scream film (aka 5Cream) when Tara Carpenter opened up the Stab IMDb page, revealing Vince Vaughn as Stu Macher, Alicia Silverstone as Tatum Riley, Craig Bierko as Cotton Weary, and Ron Howard as Principal Arthur Himbry. In real life, numerous of these actors were believed for their fictional Stab roles in the original Scream, though Howard’s inclusion is no doubt because he co-starred on Happy Days with the actual Arthur Himbry actor, Henry Winkler. Get it? References!

Stab‘s plot follows the basic outline of the first Scream movie, with few key largely shower-related deviations. A masked killer known as Ghostface stalks the town of Woodsboro. He makes Sidney Prescott his primary target, having murdered her mother Maureen the year before. At the end, Ghostface is revealed to be a collaborative effort between Billy and Stu Macher.

STAB 2 (1998)

AKA Stab 2: The Murders Continue

In a nod to Scream and its follow-up coming out within the space of a single year (albeit those two were technically at least in 1996 and 1997, respectively), Stab and its sequel were both released in 1998. It’s based on the events of the movie Scream 2 and, once more, was inspired by a Gale Weathers book — in this case, College Terror. (She’s not super-great with titles.) Robert Rodriguez left the plan — perhaps to finally obtain The Faculty off the ground? — so John Milton brought in long-time (fictional) collaborators Jerry Rapp and Fred Rifkin to write and direct the sequel.

Spelling, Schwimmer, and Jolie reprised their lead roles as Sidney, Dewey, and Gale, while — going by Scream 3‘s script, albeit not mentioned in the movie — Christine Hamilton joined the cast as murdered Windsor College student Cici Cooper (who was played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Scream 2). After the movie was made, Hamilton started a real-life relationship with the real Cotton Weary, the innocent man whom Sidney had initially kept responsible for her mother’s death before Billy and Stu’s involvement was made clear. (Not Craig Bierko, the actor playing him in the Stab films. Keep it straight.) Sadly, in the opening scene of Scream 3, both Cotton and Christine are murdered by the new Ghostface.

It’s worth noting that we never actually see any footage from the movie Stab 2 in the Scream franchise. All of our knowledge about it has been pieced together from information we find out in Scream 3, when we finally meet John Milton and visit Sunrise Studios.

STAB 3: RETURN TO WOODSBORO (Unreleased)

The doomed cast of 'Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro' on the film's set

The first take on Stab 3 was set to be titled Return to Woodsboro, and would have been the first movie in the series based on a semi-original story. Cotton Weary was set to play himself and obtain killed in the opening scene. Next, an original character named Sarah Darling (played by fictional actress Candy Brooks) would be murdered just before taking a shower, in a nod to Casey Becker’s death from the original Stab.

Gale Weathers was also going to obtain killed in this entry, along with a new character named Ricky Wafford, played by fictional actor Tyson Fox and inspired by the Scream character Randy Meeks. (Whew, that’s a lot of layers! Post-modernism!) Jennifer Jolie returned as Gale in Stab 3, though her co-stars Tori Spelling and David Schwimmer both left the series at this point. Young actors Angelina Tyler and Tom Prinze were brought in to take over as Sidney and Dewey, respectively, with Tyler beating out 50,000 hopefuls in a much-hyped talent search for the new Sidney.

A feud between John Milton and long-time collaborator Fred Rifkin prompted Milton to hire hot young music video director Roman Bridger to take over Stab 3. Sadly, it turns out, Bridger was the real, unwanted, secret half-brother of Sidney Prescott, who had never gotten over the emotional trauma of being rejected by Maureen years ago. He’d been secretly orchestrating the Ghostface killings from the very start, mentoring Billy Loomis as part of a fiendish revenge plot. Before being shot and killed by Dewey Riley, Roman managed to execute Christine Hamilton, Cotton Weary, Sarah Darling, Tom Prinze, Angelina Tyler, Tyson Fox, Jennifer Jolie, and John Milton. The bloodbath shut down production of Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro permanently and inspired Gale Weathers’ next book, Hollywood Horror.

STAB 3: HOLLYWOOD HORROR (2001)

Out of (minor) honour for the victims, Sunrise Studios took a couple years off before greenlighting a new take on Stab 3, which of course was based on Gale Weathers’ most recent tome. Stab 2 director Fred Rifkin returned, along with surviving actors Tori Spelling and David Schwimmer. As long-time Gale Weathers actress Jennifer Jolie died on the set of the previous film, Hollywood lookalike Parker Posey was brought in to replace her.

We don’t obtain a look at this version of Stab 3, but a poster that’s visible during Scream 4 indicates that it had a HUGE supporting cast, also including Rutger Hauer, Elizabeth Banks, Balthazar Getty, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, and Will Smith.

Meanwhile, we have to guess there is some pretty intense interest in seeing any footage Roman Bridger shot of the first version of Stab 3, before he murdered his producer and his entire cast and then was killed himself. Did Sunrise ever consider doing a “tasteful” release of this in some form?

STAB 4 (2003)

AKA Stab 4: Knife of Doom

Fed up with the infamy surrounding her name, Sidney Prescott finally threatened to sue Sunrise over their continued exploitation of her life story. (Plus, individuals generally stopped trying to kill her during this period, so there were no further stories to adapt or Gale Weathers’ books to license.) So the studio rebooted the Stab franchise entirely, starting a new original trilogy relating a fresh story. Fred Rifkin remained on board as director.

STAB 5 (2005)

AKA Stab 5: Clock of Doom

According to Woodsboro High student and Stab franchise aficionado Jenny Randall, the fifth movie contains a time travel element and was widely believed to be the worst entry in the series by fans until the release of the especially divisive Stab 8. (More on that in a bit.) Otherwise, not much is known about Stab 4 or its follow-up, Stab 5, and there’s no footage from either movie in any Scream movie.

STAB 6 (2007-2009?)

AKA Stab 6: Ghostface Returns

Lucy Hale and Shenae Grimes in 'Stab 6'

We never obtain a solid plot synopsis of Stab 6, and it’s not entirely clear what year the movie opened, though we can guess it was sometime in the late ‘00s from context. We see one sequence from the movie in Scream 4: Two friends — played by Lucy Hale and Shenae Grimes — are about to watch the horror movie Saw IV when they obtain simultaneous phone calls and Facebook messages from Ghostface, who then shows up and murders them, in a manner that immediately reveals there are two killers.

STAB 7 (2010)

AKA Stab 7: Knife of the Hunter

Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell in 'Stab 7'

We only obtain to see one brief sequence from the seventh Stab film, which was based on the novel Knife of the Hunter, written by Gale Weathers under her married name, Gale Riley. This one opens with Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin playing pals Chloe and Rachel. They’re watching the opening scene of Stab 6 together and offering snarky commentary about the predictability of horror films before Chloe stabs Rachel in the gut with a knife. Which pretty succinctly makes her point; I mean, she didn’t see that coming.

The 'Stab 1-7' box set, as seen in 2022's 'Scream' (image via crew member Shane Austin Hall @shaneaustinhall).

This was the last movie in the Stab franchise for almost a decade, and the last entry in the franchise to continue true to the original’s murder-mystery “whodunnit” format.

STAB (2020)

AKA Stab 8

Ghostface doesn't have time for sleeves in 'Stab 8'

10 years after Stab 7 seemed to close out the series, Ghostface returned in the the “requel” Stab, an attempt to reboot the franchise for a new generation. Controversial The Last Jedi helmer Rian Johnson took over the series, and despite his established love of detective mysteries, pivoted away from that genre, opting instead for a true-crime docu-drama approach recreating the 2011 Woodsboro killings originally featured in the movie Scream 4, including the involvement of native Woodsboro police officer (and later Sheriff) Judy Hicks. However, this new Stab movie seemingly takes several major liberties with the “actual” events.

Hardcore fans rejected Stab, the decision to drop Sidney Prescott and other legacy characters, and Johnson’s attempt to reboot the overall franchise with what was seen as more of an “elevated” horror approach. In fact, the movie became a constant subject of scorn and ridicule on the internet, and played a major role in inspiring the 25th Anniversary Woodboro Murders, dedicated by poisonous horror movie fans Richie Kirsch and Amber Freeman. (At least Gale Weathers opted not to write a new book about these crimes, though it seems unlikely any individual person is powerful enough to bring the Stab franchise to a close single-handedly at this point. It has a momentum of its own.)

OK, sure, that’s a pretty convoluted franchise, but hey, it’s based on actual events and sometimes production on the films themselves is interrupted by actual murders! So the fact that it’s sowever more coherent, timeline-wise, than the Halloween series is really saying something.

Richie and Amber wanted to “fix” Stab 8 by using their new crime spree to inspire a re-do of the movie. Did they at least partially succeed? We shall see in Scream VI


For more on Scream, click the image below to see what Skeet Ulrich (“Billy Loomis”) and Matthew Lillard (“Stu Macher”) had to say about the original film’s 25th anniversary.

Lon Harris
Lon writes for Screen Junkies and "Honest Trailers," Rotten Tomatoes, Inside Streaming and elsewhere. He sowever can't believe critics didn't like "Three Amigos" when it came out.