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Movie Review: Scream 4

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Having driven my wife crazy for (at least) months now, relief is probably the only word I could use to describe this passed weekend. An overgrowing excitement has been barely contained as I have slowly waited for the release of what was sure to be one of my favorite movies of the year. As my wife also told me, “Some people have Star Wars, others have Lord of the Rings, you have Scream.” While Scream 4 is admittedly far from what one would ever call a “best picture,” it definitely succeeds on all counts for what it should. And in the realm of all the remakes, reboots, and never-ending cases of sequels, Scream 4 has finally arrived to show everyone that it can still be done right.

When the original Scream graced my local silver screen back in December 1996, it quickly ushered in a whole new era of horror film by shining a light on its loving audience, myself included. Here was a movie where all of the characters have seen, love, and cherish the horror genre. They know all the rules of how to survive a horror film, but that couldn’t keep them from falling under the knife of director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Upon its release, fans said to themselves, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Then Scream 2 followed up almost exactly one year later in 1997 and set up its funhouse mirrors on sequels themselves. Unfortunately, by the time Scream 3 arrived in February 2000, Williamson had departed and Ehren Kruger, in spite of a fitting last name, wound up bringing what should have been a spectacular close to a true trilogy, dragging its heels across the finish line. The arrival of cameos from Jay and Silent Bob will forever be the biggest sore spot no matter what any further sequel could bring. Finally, Craven and Williamson are back together as they belong to set the series right again.

Ten years have passed since Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) last fought off that fiendish Ghost Face. She’s returned to Woodsboro as the last stop of her self-help book tour before she settles down to start her life over while bunking with her aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and niece Jill (Emma Roberts). In classic opening scene fashion however, Jenny and Marnie (Aimee Teegarden and Brittany Robertson) are brought under Ghost Face’s knife while just trying to have a nice night of watching Stab 7. Yes, the Stab series has turned into quite the money maker and it was only after Sidney threatened to sue after the third film that the filmmakers decided to just start making stuff up.

With the latest murders rearing their heads and now-Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) on the scene with bored-out-of-her-mind-after-ten-years-of-marriage Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox) on his heels, its all everyone can do to keep the new cast members from being cut into fish sticks. Who’s the new killer? Is it Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), Charlie (Rory Culkin), or Robbie (Erik Knudsen), the trio of horror aficionados of which the boys are heads of the local Cinema Club at Woodsboro High? Deputy Judy (Marley Shelton), former classmate to Sidney herself? Or could it once again be a case of the obvious: Jill’s ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella)?

A few other fresh faces could either be targets or suspects including Sidney’s publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie), or a couple of Woodsboro’s finest, Detective Hoss (Adam Brody) and Deputy Perkins (Anthony Anderson, the first actor to have appeared in both a Scream and Scary Movie). In true Williamson fashion, Hoss and Perkins both know all too well the rules of being a cop in a scary movie, even if they should be sharpening the requisite rules of simply being in a scary movie. With the town’s annual Stab-a-thon (a Rocky Horror Show style marathon of all seven Stab films) on the horizon, a party could just be the place to either find and stop Ghostface or become another part of the slaughter.

But what would the slaughter be without the last eight letters of the word, right? Even if producers Weinstein thought Kruger being brought in for some script polishing was a good idea, at least this time you can’t really tell. Scream 4 takes aim at all of the Platinum Dunes remakes (ranging from the better: Friday the 13th, the worst: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, to the completely unnecessary: Wes Craven’s own Nightmare on Elm Street). They also find time to run the Saw series (aka “torture porn”) across the coals while bringing to light the latest trend of “found footage” which is really funny when you consider that Dimension Films next horror release is exactly that (Apollo 18). Let’s also not forget that live streaming, all things internet and the word “meta” get sent up and used at their own expense too.

A sense of surrealism and nostalgia collide for an extra fast paced 111 minutes with bigger jokes and more blood than the series has seen since the original. Craven was literally born to make the Scream films or at least the same of this ilk as he did a lot of the same things back in Shocker and New Nightmare. Here things are far finer tuned thanks to another shining script from Williamson (even if Kruger may have tried to dumb things down a little bit). Thankfully the cast livens those moments up even while they are few and far between. So while this weekend’s opening numbers may not have been up to the series standards, hopefully we can spread some loving word of mouth to the fan base and let the rest of us know that we can all breathe easy as the Scream series returns to its roots and takes its own stab at a whole decade’s worth of horror failure. Welcome back Woodsboro, we’ve missed you.

Photos courtesy Dimension Films

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival and a member of the Utah Film Critics Association.