Ghostface and the gang are back for more satirical self-aware horror hijinks in Scream 4. As most of us know these days, sequels, remakes, rehashes, reboots, and retreads at the movie theater are pretty standard fare. So when Scream tries to cash-in on the trend 11 years after the end of the first trilogy it’s worth taking notice. After all, Scream was the trend-setter for the self-aware, film referencing, teenagers with trendy dialogue genre of horror film that dominated in the mid to late 90s.
So does Scream still have what it takes to compete in the 21st century world of horror? First, we have to take a step back and ask whether or not the Scream movies are intended to be 100% scary. The answer, of course, if no. The series is a satire of the genre; a tongue-in-cheek, look how clever we are take on the teen slasher flicks of yesterday that did take themselves seriously. Unlike a spoof – Scary Movie is the perfect example since it spoofs Scream and Scream 2 – the Scream franchise pokes fun at the conventions of the genre, much like Blazing Saddles did with the Western genre in 1974.
I’m a huge fan of the Scream movies, and was only really on the edge of my seat during the opening sequence of the first Scream where Casey (Drew Barrymore) gets taken out. Once humor began to be injected more and more over the course of the next two films it was no longer about being terrified of what was taking place, it became more of an amusement park ride.
While screenwriter Kevin Williamson kept the twists and turns coming, the bloodshed was always muted, which is in large part due to Wes Craven’s direction. By the time we got to the third film, however, with Ehren Krueger scripting the final chapter, the franchise was in dangerous satire/spoof/self-referential territory. And while many didn’t like Scream 3, it did bring Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Dewey Riley’s stories to a happy end.
But that was in 2000. Scream 4 delivers solid moments of satire, self-reference, and homage to its origins, but with all the twist and turns that the story generates it has two glaring flaws: lack of a strong story, and lack of solid characterizations. The new young cast, played by many familiar faces, don’t have the dimension and depth that were present in the characters in the first Scream. Therefore, they are hard to care about and have any sense of sympathy or empathy for. Much like a direct-to-DVD sequel.
Thankfully, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette are back to add legitimacy to the fourth go-around, but even they suffer from becoming nothing more than supporting characters. It’s still technically Sidney Prescott’s story, but she’s doesn’t stay on-screen long enough until the final act to make this case known. Cox feels wasted as an out-of-work Gale Weathers, and now-Sheriff Dewey Riley is always one-step behind.
Now, since we haven’t truly connected to any of the new characters and the old ones have been relegated to the background most of the time, it’s hard to care as people star to get massacred by Ghostface over the course of the film. I had read that this one was going to up the gore factor to meet the horror demands of the 21st century, but this is only really evidenced once. The rest of the time we get standard Ghostface-style kills that are violent and bloody but now overly so. I honestly was expecting more blood, guts, and violence.
I did miss Marco Beltrami’s haunting score from the first three films – he did score this one as well – and the “Red Right Hand” song that was utilized in the first three is conspicuously absent. But hey, like the poster says: New Decade. New Rules.
I really liked the clever way the film opens. It was a refreshing way to kick-off the dormant franchise and deliver so laughs and bloodshed from the start. And while the main story gets us where we need to go, I still felt that there was no character present that I really connected to over the course of things. But as I was driving home I wondered if this wasn’t planned from the beginning.
Scream 4’s characters are desensitized to the violence and chaos that is taking place around them. Much like the high schoolers in the first Scream, they pretty much take a casual and passive stance to the carnage around them; until, of course it comes ringing at their phone and jumping out at them. The film perhaps is making a comment on our own desensitized culture.
With wars, economic unrest, disasters, political corruption, and real-life acts of violence popping up on TV and the Internet, it’s no wonder than most of us have become numb to the world around us. As a result we do just look out for ourselves and out own survival. That may be too deep a subtext for the characters of this film, but think about this: when you hear about some act of violence taking place in your town these days, do you have a visceral reaction, or do you just shrug it off? Sadly, I think most of us do the latter, not he former.
Anyway, back to the film.
I always find the Ghostface villain interesting because he’s always seemingly superhuman. He takes multiple hits, falls down stairs, trips over things, and yet is extremely clever at making sure his victims are left with no other option than to die. Of course, when the killer is revealed you think back and ask yourself how that one person was able to cleverly pull off all those events so freakin’ fast. Perhaps Ghostface was like Saw’s Jigsaw: he always had his traps pre-planned and set ahead of time.
The Scream franchise has the distinction of having the killer be revealed early in the story so the third act can be fairly long. This is the case in the first three, and it’s no different here. The killer always has so psychotic reason for doing what they’re doing and monologues about it as they hold Sidney, Dewey, Gale, and whoever else is around at bay. Granted, the reveal here is a surprise – I thought the killer was two other people – but it’s the big finale that was really enjoyable.
Would I see it again? Sure. It was entertaining enough to me to see again, and to recommend to people who have seen and enjoyed the first series of films. I also like watching these films more than once to see if I can spot the “tells” throughout the film that make you aware of whom the killer is early on (yes, they’re in there). It was nice to see these familiar characters in a new story, and Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson complement each other well on the creative side of things. I liked it better than Scream 3, which I did enjoy, and can honestly say it was a good sequel for a fourth entry.
I do think that four is enough. This one has a solid finale, and there is no real reason to pump out Scream 5 and Scream 6 just because they can (but will that stop them if 4 does well?). Yes, I would more than likely go and see the next two entries, but I would hope they take us in a new direction entirely with the Sidney Prescott story. If they tried to do these next two without Campbell, Cox, and Arquette, they run the risk of becoming the direct-to-DVD sequels that I’m sure Craven and company don’t want to see happen. But it could.
Fans of horror and the Scream franchise should check out Scream 4, then leave a comment below and tell us what you think? What would have made it a better experience for you? What did you hope would have happened? Or were you happy with the film as it was?
Scream 4 is in theaters now!