Dewey’s Death in ‘Scream’ Was 2022’s Most Tragic Horror Moment
Dwight “Dewey” Riley is the tragic hero of the Scream franchise. Widely considered the series’ deuteragonist (fun word, I know), he’s often peripheral to the central plight of series star Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). There’s no denying Prescott as a final girl for the ages, a woman who alongside another series mainstay Gale Riley (Courteney Cox) has imbued Scream with a distinctly feminine edge. Yet, the big, beating heart of the franchise might very well not be Sidney at all—I’d reckon it’s the inimitable Deputy “Doofus” Dewey.
As behind-the-scenes fanatics might know, Dewey is principally an embellished caricature of actor David Arquette. An innately goofy dude, Arquette projects his own keen balance of eccentricity and bonafide heart onto the character. Twice killed off only to be resurrected in the final reel, among the three stars, Dewey has had it the worst. Yet, his pain is rarely if ever foregrounded, with in-universe Dewey relegating his own tragic circumstances to cultivate a healing space for the wounded around him. This deleted scene from Scream 4 proves as much. Cut from the film, the full depth of Dewey’s pain is principally implied. His grief is staging and blocking, props that augment his arc without ever saying it out loud.
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When Radio Silence’s Scream reboot was announced, fans rightly anticipated at least one major death. The trio of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey had thus far survived four different Ghostface massacres. A decade after the last, filmic convention mandated one finally bite the dust. While its narrative purpose dovetailed from the death of Randy in Scream 2, there was no doubt both a financial and fandom interest in Scream’s introduction to a new generation arriving with gory gusto. Someone had to go. In true Scream fashion, it was always going to be Dewey.
Introduced in his rural trailer, Tatum’s ashes on his mantle—the first time his own bereavement is explored in earnest, however perimetric—Dewey is a husk of his former self. The implication is that in the time between Scream 4 and the present, Dewey’s been drinking himself into an isolated stupor. He and Gale have divorced, echoing the metatextual divorce of stars Arquette and Cox, with Gale moving on to anchor a morning show in New York City. Dewey watches it every day. It’s only when Sam and (Melissa Barrera) and Richie (Jack Quaid) arrive that Dewey is roped into another series of killings. In truth, it doesn’t take much convincing. While Dewey is ostensibly resistant, he shows up in the next scene, ready to assist the younger generation in identifying the man behind the mask. Better still, he’s immediately right. He suggests Richie. Mans knows his stuff.
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Later, after a heartfelt reunion between him and Gale (naturally back in Woodsboro to cover the story), he absconds to the hospital with Sam, ready to put his own life on the line. And his life is on the line. As he fights Ghostface, his attention is broken by an incoming call from Gale. Ghostface opportunistically stabs him once in the chest, again in the back, and slices upward clean through him, gutting him physically and emotionally. As his entrails spill out and Dewey collapses, the last thing he sees is Gale’s contact picture on his phone as it rings again.
It’s arguably the series’ most graphic death, rivaled only by an impaled cop in Scream 2 and Miss Casey Becker in the original. Franchise fans weren’t exactly surprised—as noted, Dewey had technically died twice by this point—though it hits harder than most. In fact, it might well be one of the most tragic deaths the horror genre has ever seen.
Ghostface’s orbit is a fickle one. Star Sidney Prescott, for instance, is only ever involved by happenstance. In 2, Ghostface comes to her, and in 3, Sidney is only drawn out of hiding after Ghostface finds her. Gale and Dewey, for their part, are there just as the killings begin—it’s their choice to be in the crosshairs. More so for Dewey, in large part because of Gale’s reporting. She is both personally and professionally involved. Dewey is there because, innately, he recognizes it as the right thing to do. There are few moments sweeter in the genre than seeing Dewey limp across the Windsor College campus when introduced in the sequel, there simply because he wants to check in on Sidney.
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Sidney doesn’t even arrive in Woodsboro until after Dewey’s been killed in the reboot. It’s Dewey that points both Gale and Sidney toward the new series of killings, and it’s at his urging that they stay away. He’s perfectly content to stay back and handle it on his own. It’s his duty, after all. It’s also his heart, the heart of a man grappling with tragedy of his own, assured in his mantra that the best way to live is to help others avoid the same fate. His life is the smallest act of kindness he can give, and more often than not, he’s willing to give it. Even if it only saves one life, he’s willing to sacrifice his.
Dewey’s death, then, is arguably the defining moment of 2022 horror. It’s a tragedy 25 years in the making. 25 years is a long time—it’s a lot longer when conceptualized as a quarter of a century. It accomplishes what Jamie Lee Curtis’ death in Halloween: Resurrection couldn’t. No one will be retconning this long-gestating kill (at least they shouldn’t). It’s the tragic, inevitable end to one of horror’s greatest players.
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After a knife in the back, several more knives in the back, some punches and kicks, and a bedpan to the face, Dewey finally met his end. Obvious as it might have been, it doesn’t sting any less. Whatever facsimile of safety the Scream franchise had was distinctly rooted in his character. As bad as things got, Dewey was always there, reciting lines from books, and comforting those who needed him most. As the franchise trundles into its sixth outing, absent both Dewey and Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, it’ll be curious to see how the pathos plays out. His presence, though—his very spirit—remains an integral component of the series’ DNA. It’s an honor, Deputy Dewey Riley.