It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Wes Craven’s ground-breaking Scream came out (children of the ’90s now have a film they can feel old about!), a film which provided just as much self referential horror humour – pointing out all the trite clichés associated with the genre which other horrors just weren’t doing at the time – as it did genuine jump scares in its own right. The film spawned two sequels, the underrated Scream 2 and the disappointing Scream 3, each of them carrying on the formula of poking fun at the genre they are a part of.
Now, more than a decade later, Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson return to have another stab (get it?) at the slasher genre which it largely changed, for better or worse, during the ’90s. No one is expecting an Oscar winning film here but rather some more solid jump scares, self referential jokes, and some semblance of unpredictability when it comes to guessing who the killer is this time around. And I’m happy to say that while Scream 4 (or “Scre4m” as it’s alternatively known) doesn’t break any new ground as the first film did, it mostly delivers on what it set out to do.
On the anniversary of the infamous Woodsboro murders years prior, “Ghostface” survivor Sidney Prescott returns to her home town for a signing of her new book. Unsurprisingly Ghostface turns up once more, terrorizing and killing anyone that happens to be stupid enough to answer the phone or stay in a large house with hardly anyone around. You really don’t need to know much more than that as half the fun is trying to guess who’s going to be next for the kill and who it is that’s behind that sinister mask.
A staple of the Scream franchise has always been the self referential nature of them. Originally it was all about making fun of or at least pointing out the core aspects of the slasher genre – the eye-rolling actions of most of the characters being a main one – but things have come far within the horror genre in the last ten years since the last Scream movie was released. The references in Scream 4 are all about poking fun at the remakes and reboots of horror franchises that now plague cinemas (“Remakes are the only horrors studios green-light these days,” one character states), and pointing out that the unexpected is the new cliché nowadays.
Writer Kevin Williamson has been guilty many-a-time of taking self-referential to a whole new level and he even manages to surpass himself here. Sometimes the references are funny – the kind of in-jokes that only die hard movie fans would get and will most likely go straight over the heads of the more casual horror fan – while at other times it just comes off as pretentious and eye-rolling in itself. A scene involving a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie or another scene in which an obvious future victim of Ghostface says she can beat the resident horror buff at a game of trivia both spring to mind as Williamson being a little too snobby and pleased with himself.
In a movie that is sure to please fans of the first three Scream movies, the fourth film brings back all of the principle cast including Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox (the latter I imagine for a hefty paycheck). It’s certainly fun seeing them back together in this mess once more (I can’t help but think a reference to Bruce Willis being the only cop who never dies in a franchise is also a reference to his Die Hard character Jon McClane always ending up mixed up in the same sort of mess time and time again) and the film’s “new new” twist on the slasher mentality means that not even the core characters of the franchise are safe from death or, for that matter, off-limits as the culprit.
As I said, half of the fun of the Scream franchise is trying to guess who the killer is (or killers as the case may be). In this respect Scream 4 succeeds for the most part. I won’t give too much away but suffice it to say that paying close attention to the dialogue and the various clues and hints presented throughout the film might be a good idea as it will allow you to be surprised by parts of the twist but also self-satisfied that you put at least some of it together. That’s always a good combination for a horror movie, even if the twist is as as disappointingly dumb as those found the movies this franchise is supposed to be poking fun at and therefore better than.
Scream 4 is trying its hardest to appease all sorts of different audiences: fans of the franchise as whole, fans of the original who didn’t like the sequels, die hard horror fans, casual movie goers who may be new to the series, and those who are sick of all the same tired clichés of the genre. And while it may not succeed in pleasing all of those audiences all at once, it can still be admired for spinning something refreshing out of a now tired concept. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the horror wheel as the original did but rather finds entertaining new ways to retread old ground.
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