I'm starting to feel old. I know I say that a lot, but after last year's theatrical offerings I really feel old. For example, The Muppets was released at the tail end of the year and was all about how they weren't cool anymore and had been forgotten largely by the pop culture center. Having existed in the heyday of the Muppets career, that hit me somewhat hard. Also, shows I used to love are now entering their 20th and 30th anniversaries (such as Designing Women and Roseanne) and some of the actors are even dead now. So the recent nostalgia/reboot kick has both delighted me and made me a little embarrassed, because even though I've been a lifelong fan of something like the Muppets...its now more campy and "cute" to still like them rather than to have grown up and moved on. So it is with deep reverence that I bring to you my look at the latest and so-far final entry in the "Scream" series, released to theaters in April of 2011. It finds the familiar characters older and more world-weary than before and a bit lost in the current pop culture world...much how my generation is scrambling for a foothold to stay hip and aware. And yet, the film is timely and topical in a way that only Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven know how to be and it feels like an homage to the 90s and an ode to today. It is without further ado that I introduce a film that rejuvinated my faith in horror, Scream 4.
It has been 11 years since Ghostface last terrorized Sidney Prescott and all has been very quiet on that front. However, a good horror franchise must keep going and so the Stab movies have continued...using the character of Ghostface but remaining largely unrelated to Sidney and her troubles. Now that they have reached part 7, the series has descended into to a formulaic rut where cliches run abound and little actual terror is seen on screen...that is until a new Ghostface killer shows up in Woodsboro and brutally murders two teenaged girls just mere days before the anniversary of the original Ghostface killings. The crime coinsides with Sidney Prescott's media-hyped return to Woodsboro to plug her new book, "Out of Darkness", which tells her story through her eyes rather than the sensationalist media and discusses her refusal to remain a victim. Sheriff Dewey Riley is on the case and is trying to keep retired reporter wife, Gale Weathers-Riley, from getting into the investigation and a new cast of Woodsboro teens appear to be targeted by the killer, including Sid's cousin Jill Roberts. As the bodies mount and the killer closes in on Sidney and Jill, the survivors must figure out what the rules of this generation's horror are and try to figure them out before they end up on the chopping block.
Scream 4 really impressed me with it's frank and honest skewering of today's horror conventions and cliches while also thrilling me and surprising me with it's intense violence and shocker of an ending. Kevin Williamson, despite being out of the horror loop for many years, still has his finger on the pulse of what is expected at this juncture of the game and he gives them all a good jab with his satirical pen. Films like Saw are dissected as "torture porn" and The Ring is lampooned when someone mentions "little Asian ghost girls". The big dig of course comes at the industry of making remakes, something that has hit it's peak just recently. Scream 4 acts as both a sequel and a semi-remake in that regard as it becomes obvious that the killer is not content to simply make another sequel, but to recreate and re-stage Stab as his own masterpiece. Which makes Jill the new Sidney, her ex the new Billy, and so on and so forth. It is clever and allows the filmmakers to do remake-type things without actually making one. It also becomes a goldmine of references for long-time fans as we see repeated set ups and dialogue which reference past entries. The greatest moments of comedy and terror are given to the remake spoofing, particularly in a scene where Hayden Panettiere's Kirby, a chic movie-buff, tries to out-guess the voice on the phone by listing every remake that has been released in the past decade. The new actors are all game and their characters are fun and likable, and yet none of them overshadow the three survivors who have yet again returned to run for their lives. David Arquette's Dewey shows the most dramatic change as we see him more mature and in charge of the entire town's safety. There are fewer goofy Dewey moments and much more of Dewey as a grown-up. Likewise, Gale's brashness has cooled somewhat and she is less interested in sensationalism than she is with helping solve the crimes (though it wouldn't Gale if she wasn't a little interested in making this a new book). Lastly is Sidney, who has changed dramatically from the last outing. No longer does she run and hide or wait to find a weapon when faced with Ghostface, rather she runs into the fray and grapples with him head-on. She also has a weariness to her (that many confused with 'phoning the performance in') that is realistic for someone who has faced the same trials three times before and now is being faced with the nightmare for a fourth time after what seemed like an endless reprieve from terror. Together, these three characters are what hold the series together and to have any films without them would weaken those entries. While other series are about killers and deaths, Scream is ultimately about real people and how they grow and change. That is what gives them their strength.