April 24, 2011

New Decade, New Rules, Same Story

It seems that, for every trend that rears its head in the horror genre, we will have a Scream film to go with it. Nearly a decade after Sidney, Dewey and Gale last defeated Ghostface, the little bastard is at it again, returning to Woodsboro, the place where it all started, to carve up some teenagers. The question everyone asked when Scream 4 was announced was, "Really? Do we need another one?" Perhaps not, but we're thankful for it. Though it is a tad unnecessary, Scream 4 is actually not bad. It's not as good as the original, but it wisely does away with the problems that sank the first two sequels, those being, all the problems that sink horror sequels. Spruced up to fit in the 21st century, Scream 4, sorry, Scr4m is an enjoyable bloodbath that unfortunately sacrifices scares for laughs, but still manages to keep you consistently on edge.

When he's not killing people, Ghostface is actually a pretty chill guy. 

Following one of the most meta openings to any movie I can recall seeing, we start off in classic Scream fashion, with two characters immediately getting mutilated by a guy in white mask. Conveniently, this occurs right when Sidney Prescott, the survivor of the original Ghostface murders by Billy Loomis, Stu Macher, Mickey, Mrs. Loomis, and Roman Bridger in the first three movies, decides to return home for a visit. And, of course, Ghostface is out to cut her, and everyone associated with her, to ribbons, in an effort to create something far more elaborate and relevant than a simple sequel. This time, the killer is out to stage a remake of the original, bringing a whole new set of rules to the table. Soon, everyone with a pulse is a target as the body count soars, the rivers of blood overfill, and survivors try to stop him/her before it's too late.

Scream 4 is well told, to be sure. It treads old ground quite a lot, but since the focus here is making fun of remakes like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, old ground is the name of the game. Thankfully, it treads that old ground very well, and succeeds where the original succeeded, in delivering a funny look at how ridiculous horror movies are, while being an effective one at the same time. The revelation of the killer is a genuine surprise, even if it stretches the realm of believability a little too far. Otherwise, it's business as usual. The second the camera pans away to follow a character we weren't really paying attention to, you know its only a matter of time before said character is proud recipient of a combat knife to the gut. Tried, but true!

Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox all return to reprise their roles from the first trilogy. The do a fine job resurrecting their characters, but it's, more or less, the same schtick we've seen from them. Sidney's still badass, Dewey's still a fool, and Gale is still a bitch! They are good though, so don't bother bringing tomatoes to throw.

The new additions to the case are far more interesting. Since remakes are main attraction, a whole new slew of teens needed to be brought in to "recreate" Sidney's high school days. Emma Roberts take the steer wheel as Jill, Sidney's cousin, with Hayden Panettiere, Erik Knudsen, and Rory Kulkin along for the ride. They all do a fine job as well, with Roberts and Knudsen standing out from the rest of the pack, Roberts with her beauty and Knudsen with his comic timing.

Ok, fine! Most people don't go to horror movies with the intention of analyzing performances. They only want the blood. It's the truth, but it's a bit unfair when looking at the Scream franchise, because it's one of the best acted of the genre, and Scream 4 is a continuation of that.

Why doesn't anyone in these movies ever look behind them?

Now, I may be alone on this, but I think the original Scream is absolutely brilliant. It's scary, funny, exciting, and exceedingly well written. It perfectly blended satire with genuine horror, and since then, the sequels haven't quite found a way to match that. Sure, they all had their own cliches to make fun of - Scream 2 has the sequel cliches and Scream 3 had the trilogy cliches, but none of them ever fully lived up to what the original did. Scream 4 comes the closest of all the sequels, doing the best job of making fun of the genre conventions while reveling in them at the same time.

Unfortunately, it makes one big mistake. It's too funny. The original was so good because there were comedic elements, but the horror aspect was the main focus. Scream 1 is really scary, even now, fifteen plus years after the fact. Scream 4 has some scares, to be sure, but this time around, everyone involved is in on the joke, so the horror aspects are pushed to the side. There's a scene near the end, where the killer beats himself/herself up to make it look like he/she's a victim, and it's HILARIOUS!!! When Billy and Stu did the same thing in the first one, it was chilling and gruesome. Here, it plays like that scene from Fight Club where Ed Norton goes all medieval on his own ass, only funnier.

Maybe it's the whole Saw factor, but it seems like director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson thought an extreme amount of blood would be enough to spook audiences. It doesn't really work, but the efforts appreciated, especially when you see how far they went. Scream 4 is disgusting! I've always been amazed at how much the characters in this franchise bleed, but DAMN!! There's an extended kill sequence near the end of the first act that would put Eli Roth to shame. There's also a fifteen second sequence involving Anthony Anderson that's almost worth the price of admission alone. Icky stuff.

But, qualms aside, Scream 4 is fun. When the third act bloodbath gets going, you're having a hell of a time, and when the killer meets his/her fitting and inventive end, you can't help but cheer. The original Scream reinvigorated the slasher film way back in the nineties. Scream 4 doesn't quite do that, but it's certainly the best example of the genre to come out since... well, since Scream. It's not much, but I'd wear it proudly on my chest.

The follow post will be printed, in a condensed form, in the May issue of Bard College's newspaper, The Free Press.

1 comment:

  1. I had loved the original series, even the third one, and I must say that this was one kept me going with its laughs, suspense, and overall great fun thrilling feel. Good Review!