Scream 4 (2011) – Dated Re-slash…

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It’s hard to believe fifteen years have passed since Drew Barrymore answered that fateful phone call in “Scream”. Fifteen years – I was a teenager back then! The original “Scream” managed to simultaneously spoof and revitalize the tired, cliched stalk n’ slash genre of Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, and usher in a new era of horror films.

A lot has happened since then – the teens (like myself) who lapped up the original and, in decreasing proportions, it’s sequels, have grown up, and today’s teens have been raised on a different breed of horror– grungy “reboots” of classic 70’s & 80’s touchstones, and the nihilistic, grisly “Torture Porn” flicks such as “Hostel” and the “Saw” series.

When I first heard there would be a fourth installment of “Scream”, I was intrigued to find out which direction franchise director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson would take. Time has moved on for those guys, too – in the Nineties, Williamson was the hip, young(ish) writer of the popular “Dawson’s Creek” TV series, who turned his attention to the beloved horrors of his teen years. Aside from the “Scream” movies, he also wrote the more straightforward “I Know What you Did Last Summer”. “The Faculty”, and another installment of “Halloween”, with “H20”.

Wes Craven, now in is Seventies, must be the new equivalent of grandpa telling scary stories to the kids around the campfire, decades after his own glory days of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Of course, the campfires of today are all online – so has Craven got anything left to truly scare today’s kids out of their wits?

The film’s tagline “New Decade, New Rules” hinted that the director-writer duo may have looked at everything that’s happened during the interim, and come up with something new. Their options? As I saw it, three options; a) re-invent the slasher movie AGAIN for a new audience b) keep going as they were, and throw in some fresh twists or, more interestingly, c) move away from the stalk n’ slash premise, and use the same characters, but use the “Torture Porn” as the basis for a new reign of comedy/terror.

What we end up with is a kind of combination of A & B, with a few moments to suggest that C might have been on their mind, but weren’t really sure how they could pull it off.

So back we go to the sleepy town of Woodsboro, the setting for the original three massacres. It opens with a semi-smart movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie, with the standard young babes sitting on a sofa watching a scary movie. The phone rings – guess who it is?

The two girls are diced up as you would expect. It turns out to be the anniversary of the original killing spree, which coincides with Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) return to the town, promoting her new book on the subject.

All the old characters are re-introduced – bumbling Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is now Sheriff, and married to former reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who’s own book on the killings have launched a hugely lucrative series of horror movies, the “Stab” series. Like Sidney, she too would like to reinvent herself, but even the benefit of a conspicuously large Apple Mac can’t inspire her to start something new.

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We also meet Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), one of Dewey’s deputies, who appears to have a crush on Dewey, and seems both needy and a little unstable. (Initial reaction: “She’s the killer!”). In town with Sidney is her publicist, Rebecca Walters (AlisonBrie), who is ruthless, tactless and greedy. (Initial reaction: “She’s Dead!”)

Then there are the new “characters” – the usual collection of glossy, boring, two dimensional knife-fodder you’d expect – Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), a gloomy, humorless wisp of a girl, who’s dealing with her cheating, suspicious-looking ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), who spends much of his time popping out and making his friends jump. (Initial reaction: “He’s too obvious to be the killer!”)

There are Jill’s two best friends, Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) – hot, bitchy-looking brunette, seen early on just her bra (“Dead”), and Kirby (Hayden Penettiere) – hot, bitchy-looking blonde, doesn’t get involved too much early on (“Could be dead, could be the killer?:)

And so on. As the killings start to mount up, Dewey does his usual ineffective, bumbling police work – which tends to involve standing around looking confused, apparently in a different State from where the action is, and Gale decides it’s her place to help crack the murders, to which end she approaches a pair of the School’s movie geeks, Charlie and Robbie (Rory Culkin & Erik Knudsen), to identify which horror movie “rules” the killer is using this time.

The movie nerds think Ghostface is using the template of a remake, or “Reboot” instead of a standard sequel, and they themselves are throwing a traditional third act party, their annual “Stabfest”, where the local teens show up, get drunk and scream along together as the films are played back to back..

What made the original “Scream” so original and entertaining was the simple premise – it was a horror movie populated by teens who had actually seen horror movies before; they knew the rules, and tried following the rules to keep themselves alive.

The teens in “Scream 4” not only have seen horror movies before – they repeatedly watch “Stab” films even as their friends are getting slashed up around them – they also live in a town where there’s been mass killings before.

Yet they continue to blithely do things the rules have told them not to – answer phone calls from the serial killer, open doors to investigate noises, wander off upstairs by themselves to check out creaking floorboards. They do this with such a casual lack of alarm that’s it is difficult to feel any sympathy for them when the killer eventually strikes.

Craven and Williamson introduce new fangled technology such as Iphones, wireless webcams and streaming live blogs, as if they would like to use all this current cool stuff to do something new, but are too behind the times to know what to do with it. It’s a bit like watching your grandmother trying to work a new mobile phone.

Woodsboro itself is a strange town. A new spate of killings begins, but there is very little in the way of actual police presence on the streets – apart from Dewey and his equally inept deputy, and a few nameless police officers sitting in their patrol car waiting to get killed (Talking, of course, about the chances of survival for police officers in a horror movie – this is “Scream”, after all.)

The place should be under marshall law, but instead, Ghostface has a pretty much clear run at his victims, and is never in danger of getting caught. One thing I really loved about “Dark Knight” was how the Joker had the whole of Gotham City in his grip, including the police and the military, and everyone was helpless because his plan was so ingenious – there’s nothing that clever here.

The final reel flirts with moving in a different direction, and for a few minutes looks like it might contain a genuine surprise – but then Williamson & Craven bottle out and go for the obvious.

The original trilogy’s self-referential tone continues throughout, although without the zip and verve of the original two “Screams” in particular. For example, at one point we see two girls watching “Shaun of the Dead”. They’re talking to a friend on the phone, and tell her they’re watching “Shaun of the Dead”.

Compare this to a scene in the original, where Randy is talking his audience through “Halloween” while Sidney is getting it on upstairs with her boyfriend. Randy, downstairs, says “Here comes the obligatory tit shot”, while upstairs Sidney’s about to take her shirt off. No tits are shown in either circumstance.

The original is smart, and inventive in the way it uses a clip from an earlier movie to comment on another cliche of slasher films, and get a laugh; the “Shaun of the Dead” moment is just some girls watching it. It doesn’t actually reflect or comment on anything in the film – that’s not self-referential, it just shows that Americans at least have some good taste.

In all, the whole venture is deeply anachronistic – there’s something warm and friendly about seeing Neve Campbell and David Arquette settle back into their old roles, and there’s absolutely nothing threatening about the glossy, ultra-middle class smalltown Woodsboro. And there’s something almost quaint, after the fiendish nature of Jigsaw’s deathtraps in “Saw” about teens simply being knifed by a killer.

I’m not a particular fan of the worldview of “Saw” and films like it, but their labyrinths of filthy boiler rooms and ill-lit warehouses have a deeply unsettling quality, and like it or not, they are the language of horror movies today. There’s been enough of them to warrant a “Scream”-like spoof – it would have been magic if Craven, Williamson and their old cast could have done it here. But everything goes in cycles – I guess we’ll just have to wait…

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 02/11/2011, in Film, Horror, Movies, S and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This one seems to be having a lot of fun with its humor and scares and most of all just really kept me entertained. It was also nice to see all of those sexy stars in the beginning just get hacked to pieces. Good review.

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