If you’re a fan of the Scream franchise you have to experience the fourth iteration in theaters on opening weekend when you’re more likely to be sitting next to like-minded enthusiasts. While I don’t expect the auditoriums to be as raucous as those in the opening scene of Scream 2, I can all but assure you fans will be laughing, screaming and cheering as the opening titles come on screen following an opening ten minutes that attempts to outdo all that came before it in what is easily the best Scream since the original.
There’s still life in the now 71-year-old horror master Wes Craven as Scream 4 hearkens back to the excitement and fun the original Scream elicited 15 years ago. To that effect screenwriter Kevin Williamson (Scream, Scream 2) is also back to his winning ways after Ehren Kruger buried the franchise six feet deep with Scream 3. Williamson has crafted a screenplay more entertaining than you’d ever expect for a fourth and seemingly unnecessary film in a franchise you may have thought had run its course.
Taking cues from the original, Scream 4 presents itself as a horror remake. As such the rules set forth in the previous three films are twisted into a new set of laws. Set ten years after the events in Scream 3, Woodsboro has managed a semblance of normalcy. One time gossip journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) are now settled in their new lives together. Gale has gotten out of exploitative journalism and Dewey is now Sheriff of the small town. But Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is the final element necessary to put this franchise back on the big screen.
Sidney is returning to Woodsboro on the final leg of a book tour as she’s promoting her new tome “Out of the Darkness,” which serves as something of a cleansing of the palette as she hopes to put the past behind her and get on with life. Unfortunately for Sidney, wherever she goes, death follows and as one character in the film says, the films based on her life shouldn’t have been called Stab they should have been called Final Destination.
So just where will the body count come from this time? And who’s the killer? Well let me put it this way, Scream 4 delivers an impressive, gory and massive body count. As for the killer, more so than ever, everyone is a suspect as I think I guessed, at a minimum, five different people before the final reveal.
Where Scream 4 gets it right and Scream 2 and 3 got it wrong is in the development of a major portion of the supporting cast. Credit this to better writing or better casting, but either way you almost immediately feel like you know just enough about each character to be at least somewhat invested in their well-being and considering the size of the cast that’s saying something.
New characters this time around are played by Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, Marielle Jaffe, Nico Tortorella, Alison Brie, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody. All are up to the task and fully invest in their roles no matter the screen time, providing plenty of entertainment and one-liners.
Of the newbies, Roberts impressed me as did Shelton, the latter of which seems tailor-made for these kinds of films following a similarly entertaining performance in Planet Terror. Panettiere is the one performer I had a hard time figuring out as she was sporting a high and tight haircut and attire that made her come off like something of a cougar in a high schooler’s body. Nevertheless, I liked her in the role as she delivered Williamson’s tongue-in-cheek dialogue just as well as the rest of the bunch, though Ghostface is the one that gets the majority of the one-liners, none of which I will spoil here.
To find a fault, I could say it runs a bit long as has pretty much each film in the franchise, but I didn’t notice it the way I did with the last two. There is also a bit of a redundancy factor, but that’s simply the nature of the narrative, and pretty much unavoidable.
This is a franchise that has always been self-aware, but this one even more so. These films have parodied themselves as much as they have been inventive along the way, and while the original Scream inspired plenty of films that attempted to mimic its success, Scream 4 looks just as much backwards as it does forwards, calling out all the shoddy horror remakes it leaves in its bloody wake and even takes time to fit in a comical dose of social commentary.
It’s only fitting Craven would be at the helm, not only because he’s directed all four so far, but because remakes of his The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street have already penetrated the landscape. It’s now his turn to put a stamp on the movement, or should I say a nail in the coffin of horror remake mediocrity, showing folks how it’s done.