The main thing about Ghostface, the munch-faced nom de plume of the five different serial killers who’s fallen before the wrath of post modern “final girl” Sidney Prescott, is that he/she/they AREN’T a super powered, supernatural, juggernaut of death who rises from the grave periodically to claim even more victims. But in an act of irony worthy of the legendarily snarky series itself, ten years after Wes Craven and company wrapped up the spectacular Scream series with the disappointing third movie, the franchise rose again much to everyone’s suprise.
But in 2011 – the age of Torture Porn and endless horror remakes – was there still a place in horror for a franchise who’s smug modus operandi was the very epitome of 90’s fright flicks? With virtually everyone noticably involved with the series returning (even scripter Kevin Williamson, who was a no-show for part 3), did Scream 4 even have anything orginal left to add?
We return to Woodsboro a full decade after the Hollywood based shenanigans of the previous movie and find newly minted author Sidney Prescott returning to her home town for a book tour. As she hits town on the anniversary of the first rash of murders we find a few things on her return; Dewey is living a Barney Fife existence as town sheriff and has settled down and is married to a bitterly retired Gail who is suffering writers block, the Stab series that was based on her experiences has now become a bloated film franchise and Sidney’s cousin Jill is experiencing much the same life she was at her age (without the frequent stabbings, of course). However, before you can say the words “you shouldn’t have mentioned the words frequent stabbings”, some frequent stabbings occur with Jill and her friends seeming to be the focal point and once again all the players involved are neck deep in all sorts of brutal murder mystery malarkey.
It soon becomes evident that this time, whoever the killer or killers are, the intention is to craft a real life remake of the original with Jill and her movie-literate friends having to endure the usual starter of a creepy phone call followed by a main course of being stabbed in the liver with a light demise for dessert.
As the original three stalk and slash veterans race to solve this viscera stained puzzle, Ghostface’s plan slowly starts to take shape and it seems there’s no place in a remake for the original stars…
You could argue Scream is sort of directly responsible for the glut of various sub-genres horror movies were working it’s way through at the time. After all, Scream’s arrival and it’s insistence of taking all the established tropes from many a scary movie and slashing them to ribbons before our eyes – and then pointing and laughing at them for our amusement – led to a sort of “demystifying” of horror films which eventually led to them trying to reclaim their edge and led to the much maligned “torture porn” phase and countless reduxes of many a familiar, classic title.
Scream 4 has a decent crack at a belated comeback but it’s fairly obvious early on at this earnest attempt at making the series relevant again is ultimately as futile as trying to stab someone to death with a rubber chicken. While a welcome and considerable step up from the glitzy blandness of Scream 3 there seems to be a slight disconnect between the plot and the audience; maybe it’s because it’s been way too long between installments and despite the influx of returning names, most of the old magic seems to have vanished like Ghostface fleeing into the night after a particularly frenzied slash attack.
In the plus column Craven thankfully ups the gore level substantially from the rather dry third installment which pumps some much needed guts (both figuratively and literally) back into the franchise although the stalk n’ die bits are noticeably inferior to the first two movie’s epically complicated slay sequences. However, there’s the odd good squeam inducing murder here and there with a knife clean through the forehead and an early disembowelments bringing the series back to it’s earlier bloodletting heights.
Another upturn is the expanded cast which includes a few familiar faces like Allison Brie’s unscrupulous agent or the double act of Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson as deputies fretting over which one of them is more likely to be murdered (spoiler: it’s a tie) although, interestingly, all the new female characters make the most impact, such as Hayden Panettiere’s charismatic Kirby or Marley Shelton’s lemon square making officer Judy, most of the new male characters fade into the background.
However, Scream 4’s best feature turns out to be it’s twist which means the film finally scores at it’s attempt to riff on the nature of remakes; although it’s tough to mention without giving the game away. To flirt with matters of a spoilery nature, the killer aims to BE a reboot by using the fame for these killings to become an online sensation and be the next Sidney. It’s nicely audacious and the actor portraying the killer gets to go full crazy while mutilating their own body much in the way Billy and Stu did in the original.
The laughs are nicely judged (a highlight being Kirby reeling off no less then 15 different film titles in a panic when asked a life or death question about remakes by the killer) and once again, the continuing progression of Neve Campbell’s Sidney as a hardened survivor is still one of the most satisfying of the genre but the franchise is missing that spark that once made it so vital and has an odd bronzed colour to the cinematography that makes it look like everyone’s been on a tanning bed but give the film a look that’s slightly low rent.
That being said, considering this was Wes Craven’s last film before his death in 2015, Scream 4 could be a lot worse and it’s much better than most of the author’s output during the 00’s but once you get past all the excessive gore and meta references, this is a franchise with nothing much more original to say… or slay for that matter.