Starring Neve Campbell,
Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts
The 21st century has not been kind to the horror genre. The past 10 years has been a brutal, torture-filled execution for the horror film. And when Hollywood wasn’t churning out gore-filled slaughter pornography, they were remaking every great horror film from the past 30 years. While our senses were being assaulted with “Saw” inspired nonsense, our most classic stories were being remade into polished trash.
The death of the horror film can be attributed to the deluge of remakes. In the six years I’ve been writing for encore, my most heinous, venom-filled reviews have been reserved for festering piles of garbage, like Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake, and brain-dead crap, like the “re-imagining” of “House of Wax.” What these awful remakes have in common with trash like “Saw” and “Hostel” is a lack of imagination.
The horror film was in a similar place back in 1996. The 1980s had seen the genre rejuvenated with the creative and financial success of “The Nightmare on Elm Street” series and the endless sequels of every other horror property. By the time the 1990s rolled around, the horror genre was nothing but sequels and predictable silliness. “Scream” was the movie that changed everything and quite literally flipped the script.
“Scream” is still the smartest horror film ever made. Credit goes to Kevin Williamson (“Dawson’s Creek”) for writing a script far more cerebral than the genre deserved, and its director, Wes Craven, crafted a movie that not only dissected the horror film but brought them back from the dead. Fifteen years later horror films are in a similar state of malaise. Here comes “Scream 4” to try and take a stab at making the genre relevant again. While it’s not quite the grand slam the original was, it’s a damn entertaining, back-to-basics slasher film.
Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro 10 years after the murders that made her famous. She has embraced the horrors of her life and come out the other side trying to make sense of it all. Her new tell-all book has become a hit, and things are finally looking up. Of course, this is a “Scream” movie, so we know that won’t last.
Our old friend Ghostface returns to slice and dice the young, beautiful teenagers of Woodsboro. The cast of regulars return: Dewey (David Arquette) is now the sheriff and married to Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). The kids are brand new. There’s some spurious connections. Jill (Emma Roberts) is Sydney’s cousin. Her friends are a fairly shallow attempt at carving out similar personality types to the characters from the first film. There’s the dark and brooding teen heartthrob, a pair of film-obsessed nerds and a few hotties to fill out the cast. There’s an awkward balance between the old and new characters, who seem to exist only to have beautiful people to brutally kill.
The new characters feel recycled, with the exception of Emma Roberts (niece of Julia Roberts). Roberts manages to take what could have been a by-the-numbers role and turns into a star-making performance. It’s rare to be surprised by the acting in a horror film.
Most of the time they’re phone-in performances that never manage to exceed expectations. What’s great about the “Scream” series is how many recognizable faces they cram into each installation. “Scream 4” manages to work in everyone, from Anthony Anderson (“Law and Order: SVU”) to Anna Paquin (“True Blood”). It never feels forced. Wes Craven is smart enough to stock his films with game actors willing to cut loose and have some good old-fashioned, frenzied fun.
The script is a little less refined this time around. “Scream” was a horror movie about horror movies. “Scream 2” was about sequels, and “Scream 3” was about trilogies.
“Scream 4” is about going back to the well. There’s a few good ideas in the movie, but a lot of it feels like an excuse to utter lines like, “The rules have changed!” Or re-stage moments from the first film. The second act is so predictable—every moment so telegraphed—that the whole movie begins to unravel. Surprisingly, an exceptional third act, which saves “Scream 4” from becoming the kind of predictable horror film it serves to skewer. It’s rare to see a film that redeems itself with the ending, but “Scream 4” rolls out a major “What the what?” finalé that rivals just about every film in the franchise.
Wes Craven is still capable of making entertaining films. Like his ghost-faced killing creation, he’s consistently sharp, swings erratically and often misses the mark. Yet, there is something entertaining about bringing the gang back together for another bloodbath. While the meta-concept shows its age, there’s still a lot to like in “Scream 4.”