Pretty Little Liars: Summer School's finale is a complicated mosaic of Scream sequels

The final episode of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School has been compared to Scream 2, but each installment of the franchise played a role in building the season to its conclusion.
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

Throughout both seasons of the Pretty Little Liars reboot, there have been a ton of references to the Scream franchise. Tabby's first text from A borrowed the iconic line "What's your favorite scary movie," the franchise's most recognizable song "Red Right Hand" appeared in Episode 4, and there was even a poster for Scream 2 hanging in Christian's bedroom.

While the show's creators advertised that the second season (Summer School) would feature multiple references to the franchise, horror fans were shocked by just how much of the season finale relied on elements of Scream 2. Some fans enjoyed the extended homages, while others complained about the series' lack of originality.

However, the finale actually relies on the other Scream films as well, creating an odd composite plot line with elements from each. It will be up to the fans whether that is a good or bad thing, but those who haven't rewatched every Scream movie multiple times might be surprised by just how much the franchise inspired the newest episode.

WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for Pretty Little Liars: Summer School and the Scream franchise.

Scream VI
Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream VI." /

Scream references throughout the finale

As previously stated, Pretty Little Liars has made multiple references to the Scream franchise before, but not with nearly the same frequency as the season finale. There were at least three major references to the first film in this episode alone, primarily through Tabby's dialogue.

When the idea that Christian and/or Johnny might be involved in the Bloody Rose plot was first broached, Imogen and Tabby were eager to deny it. However, Tabby eventually accepted that it was a worthwhile thing to explore, since:

"If I've learned anything from Neve Campbell movies, it's that typically the killer or killers are one or more of the boyfriends."

While this technically could have been a reference to others of Neve Campbell's movies, it was most pointedly referring to the first Scream film, as the boyfriend wasn't actually a killer in any of the sequels until the fifth film. Even so, this became the prevailing theory as the guys appeared increasingly untrustworthy.

After the killers were revealed, the Scream references continued. While Tabby's fights were drawn from other horror classics, Bailee Madison's Imogen got to join in on the Scream callbacks. When the Liars entered the cabin to check if Wes was dead or not, he jumped up in a clear reference to the Scream tradition of "one last scare."

Even when the horror had passed, the Scream references continued. When Imogen mentions that Johnny had broken up with her after she locked him in a freezer, Tabby consoles her by saying:

"Hey, we both thought we had a Billy, Stu situation on our hands."

While the actual identities of the killers had nothing to do with Billy and Stu, this demonstrated an interesting half-way point between having characters in a horror movie who are clueless and those who are complete horror buffs.

Despite how many horror references Tabby made throughout the show, she (and the other Liars) were fairly steadfast in connecting their situation to the first Scream film, which suggests they didn't know much about the sequels. This turned out to be a huge mistake, since each of the other installments in the franchise played a role in what was actually going on behind the scenes.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

The killers are direct parallels to Scream 2

Perhaps the most obvious connections between Pretty Little Liars: Summer School and the Scream franchise come from the identity and tactics of the killers. In Scream 2, the killers are revealed to be the mother of the first movie's killer and a friend/movie buff of the main character. While Chip wasn't A, he was certainly one of the first season's main villains, so his mother makes complete sense.

Wes is obviously meant as a parallel to Mickey Altieri, as a movie lover who conveniently goes missing for half of the movie. He hits all of the major beats of Mickey's reveal, from making Tabby and Imogen doubt their boyfriends to explaining that he actually wants to be caught. The big difference is that, while Mickey was just the muscle for Mrs. Loomis in Scream 2, Wes is clearly meant to be the ultimate villain.

Furthermore, Johnny ends up playing a similar role to Sidney's boyfriend Derek. Wes framed Johnny by hiding the bodies in the freezer at work, similar to how Mickey tricked Sidney into thinking that Derek was in on it. Both boyfriends end up falling victim to some misdirection from the killer and a lot of paranoia from the heroine.

Overall, it's clear that Scream 2 was the blueprint for this finale. All of the broad strokes of the climax fit into the film's formula, which made it so many fans had predicted the killers in advance. The introduction of a horror movie based on the Millwood Massacres is setting up the PLL version of the in-universe Stab franchise, which is likely going to be important moving forward.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

The Waters cult is drawn from the early plans for Scream 3

More of Wes's plan comes from both scrapped versions of Scream 3 and the final product. To begin, Kevin Williamson's original plan for the third film was to feature a cult that had formed around the figure of Ghostface. They would torment the survivors of the original Woodsboro massacre, only for it to be revealed that Stu Macher was pulling the strings all along.

The cult that formed around the Waters family makes sense as the PLL version of this idea. The members of the SpookySpaghetti community began by worshiping Archie Waters and digging into his family, only to eventually use the site as a way to come together as a community. While Wes wasn't involved with the actual Waters family at all, he is a powerful figure using the previous attacks as a rallying call.

While some people have shown concern that a cult of Ghostfaces would ruin the Scream franchise, the idea of Wes's acolytes or proxies wearing masks and doing his bidding showed how it can be done without diluting the reveal of a mastermind. The cult members themselves didn't matter to the audience; they just got the characters where they needed to be.

Even Mrs. Langsberry was fairly irrelevant, as Wes was the one pulling all the strings. This works well with the actual plot of Scream 3, where there was only one acknowledged killer. There have been speculations for years that there was another person involved, but all the emphasis stayed on the director with a close relationship to the final girl... just like Wes.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

But Scream 3's ultimate killer is present in Wes too

Scream 3's killer, Roman Bridger, was the director of the newest movie in the Stab franchise, and while his connection to Sidney was often seen as his most significant motivation, his role as a filmmaker was just as important. In his reveal, he explained how Sidney's death would be the perfect ending to his horror movie. He knew the tropes, had a script, and just needed her to play along.

Adding to that, Wes and Roman were both driven by jealousy. After explaining how he's going to frame Sidney for the killing spree, Roman started ranting about everything he didn't have. He projected his own losses onto Sidney, blaming her for having what he always wanted.

"You're gonna pay for the life you stole from me, Sid.
For the mother, and for the family, and for the stardom and...
God d*mn it! Everything you have that should've been mine!"

Similarly, Wes blamed Tabby for his inability to succeed in the film industry. As he put it, "It's hard for young white guys trying to break in right now. The doors just don't fly open like they used to, 'cause they're too busy opening up for people like you." He's utterly unwilling to see his professional failures as being his own fault, or even due to general unfairness. Wes sees a person who got what he wanted and assumes she must have taken it from him—just like Roman Bridger.


Wes is named after the iconic horror director, Wes Craven, who directed the first four Scream movies. So it's only fitting that his starring moment is as a director.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

The filming and live stream elements are pulled from Scream 4

The idea of a horror fan creating a movie of their own is nothing new, and certainly nothing new for the Scream franchise, as is probably clear by now. But Wes's specific intentions in Summer School were incredibly similar to the killers in Scream 4.

In Wes's words, the "ultimate horror movie" would be one where "You kill someone for real. In real time, with people watching, as you film it." While he thought this was the most original idea in the world, it was actually laid out in detail back in 2011. During the standard Scream scene breaking down the rules for the movie, Trevor and Robbie explained the Internet-age horror ideal:

"If you want to be the new-new version, the killer should be filming the murders.

Yeah, it's like the natural next step into psycho slasher innovation. I mean, you film them all real time and then, before you get caught, you upload them into cyberspace.

Making your art as immortal as you."

Wes recorded every time that Bloody Rose killed someone, editing it together to post as a "teaser" on SpookySpaghetti. Then, he staged the third act reveal and final conflict as a live stream. In Scream 4, the killers also recorded each kill, with Gale and Robbie unwittingly live-streaming their own attacks.

Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”), left, and Courteney Cox (“Gale Weathers”) star in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream." Photo by Brownie Harris. /

Scream (2022) introduced the idea of the toxic fan / wannabe director killer

The season finale focused a lot on how one person who is bigoted and willing to do horrible things can compel others to go along with him. And that's exactly what Scream (2022) was all about. One killer was the would-be director, angry about how political correctness was ruining the horror genre, and the other was a psychopath, driven by social media.

The director figure was constantly talking about how he had put everything in place for 'his movie,' forcing others to play into his fantasies and getting upset when they went off-script. The other killer explained that she had become obsessed with the in-universe Stab franchise after moving into the house where several of the original killings took place. From there, she met a fellow psychotic fan over Reddit and claimed to have been radicalized by the message boards.

This is very similar to the troves of people who got hooked on the idea of the Waters family and Bloody Rose on SpookySpaghetti. While PLL focused on a fandom that emerged around a local cyptid of sorts, rather than a particular movie franchise, it followed many of the same ideas.

The showrunners have teased that the masked girls shown at the end of the episode are SpookySpaghetti members who went a different direction, so it's likely that their plot will be even more inspired by Scream (2022) if the show gets a third season.

There were also several other elements of Scream (2022) that lined up with this finale. One of the protagonists explained that "No one cares about the sh*tty inferior sequels," only for the sequels to be relevant to who was going to be attacked next. Similarly, Tabby constantly went back to the "never trust the boyfriends" rule of the first Scream movie, ignoring the glaring signs that the culprits were following the sequels instead.

Gale is known for writing books about the Ghostface attacks, which then get turned into movies and are inspiration for the next round of killers. But after this attack, she decided to write about something else, dooming the killers to "die in anonymity." Likewise, Tabby decided not to focus her films on the Waters family, turning to her own stories instead.

(Of course, Scream VI then walked this plot point back, so Tabby may very well make a movie about the Waters family)

Scream VI
L-r, Mason Gooding (“Chad Meeks-Martin”), Jenna Ortega (“Tara Carpenter”), Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Mindy Meeks-Martin”), Devyn Nekoda (“Anika Kayoko”) and Melissa Barrera (“Sam Carpenter”) star in Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media Group's "Scream VI." /

The ensemble dynamics mirror Scream VI

Turning to the final Scream movie (so far), the most obvious connections exist on a more metatextual level. Wes wasn't necessarily watching Scream VI for inspiration, but the writers certainly were. Mindy explained that the rules of a franchise include "New characters brought in just to round out the suspect list or the body count. Legacy characters are expendable, brought in just to be killed off in some cheap bid for nostalgia." Sound familiar?

Of course, there's more specifics to it than just that. Both Scream VI and Summer School introduced a new love interest for the previous story's lead and a therapist they struggle to connect with. Both included a meeting of two horror fans (Mindy and Kirby in Scream VI, Tabby and Christian in PLL) who debated the best films in different franchises and subgenres. And both included legacy characters just to remind fans that it was in the same continuity as previous entries.

In both stories, there was also an emphasis on characters' reputations. Part of Mrs. Langsberry's mission was to get Tabby to say that she had lied about Chip sexually assaulting her and Imogen. Even if she wouldn't, Mrs. Langsberry was going to call her a liar and a whore just to see who would listen. This reflects the killers' mission in Scream VI:

"Turn Sam from the hero of Woodsboro into the villain, to make people assume the worst in someone rather than the best.

It’s not enough to kill someone these days, you have to assassinate their character first."

Finally, there is a sense that, while both plots included a lot of violence, there was very little bloodshed of narrative significance. In Scream VI, only one character dies that the audience has connected to, while the "core four" all survive. Likewise, despite each Liar facing a test, all five survived, with only side characters actually getting killed.

Looking at it altogether, the Summer School season (and its finale, in particular) has more connections to the Scream sequels than anyone would initially believe. Perhaps this was because the season itself was, in essence, a sequel to the arc in Original Sin. Perhaps it's just a sign that the showrunners love the Scream franchise.

Either way, the meta horror franchise is intricately woven into the fabric of the new Pretty Little Liars series. So if you were watching the latest season with a sense of deja vu, there's a good chance you're picking up on the many crossover elements. The Liars got into trouble by forgetting the rules and patterns of the Scream sequels; don't let the same be said of you.

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