The film begins by introducing us to Amanda Cartwright (Malin Åkerman), a wannabe movie star whose biggest claim to fame was in playing a slasher victim in an 80s cult classic called Camp Bloodbath. After leaving a not so happy audition she bemoans to her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) that she will forever be known as that Scream Queen. Mother and daughter make for a great team; Max is the sensible one of the pair, concerned with things like paying the electric bill, while her mother would much rather dance in the backyard while singing Bette Davis Eyes. In a short time we quickly see how these two have a great relationship and really love each other, which sucks because in the very next minute they’re in a car accident that claims the life of Amanda.
The film jumps ahead three years where we find a still sad Max trying to get her grades up so that she can get into college. She is helped by her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), a possible love interest in the form of hunky Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Gertie’s step-brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), a horror super fan who offers to do all of Classic assignments for the remainder of the year if she will attend a screening of Camp Bloodbath and Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer. This is the anniversary of her mother’s death so even though she agrees to go she brings along the moral support of both Gertie and Chris. What she also gets is uber-bitch, and Chris' possessive ex-girlfriend, Vicki (Nina Dobrev) crashing the party. When idiots spill vodka, and an errant cigarette butt lands ignites it, the theatre to erupts in flames and our heroes, Vicki included, rush for safety. Unfortunately Max uses a prop machete to cut a hole in the theatres screen in the hope of finding a way out, but instead of reaching the rear exit doors they all find themselves in even more dangerous surroundings.