The Review: Two years ago… oh wait, that was a different meta review. Fifteen years ago, believe it or not, the ironic, post-modern, nudge-nudge-wink-wink movie franchise was launched on an unsuspecting world. The three Scream movies, stretched over four years, brought two things to the world of horror that made them stand out; their killer, the Ghostface killer, is actually a different person each time, and is normally just one (or two) bitter mortals with a mask and a supernaturally efficient voice changer. It also established that there are rules to horror movies, maybe more so than any other genre of film, and if you know those rules and understand them, then your chances of surviving to the final reel or beyond are that much higher. There’s an unwritten rule about horror movies, that they never die; they just get rebooted if all the actors get too old or the series runs out of creative juices.
So in an attempt to
milk as much money as possible out of a fifteen year old franchise seem fresh and inventive, Scream has rebooted its franchise with the same actors. Eleven years of constant pestering and faltering careers have finally convinced Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette that doing another one of these is a good idea. There were two other key players in the franchise as well: director Wes Craven, who’s been pulling these metaphysical, self-referential tricks since the seventh instalment of his other Nightmarish franchise, and writer Kevin Williamson, who gave us the movie-obsessed Dawson’s Creek as well as the horror movie-obsessed Scream films. It felt as if both had lost interest in Scream 3 a little, resulting in a noticeable drop in quality compared to the first two (Williamson didn’t even write the screenplay for the third entry), so their investment, maybe even more than the actors themselves, was key to getting anything substantial from the reanimated corpse of this franchise.
Oddly, though, what they brought to the original Scream films was that sense of knowing, and framed them into character-based whodunnits. Whisper it quietly, use a voice changer if you will, but the Scream films have never been that scary. There was certainly a death in each of the first two films, that of Drew Barrymore’s Casey and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy respectively, which shocked and traumatised, but Scream films have never been that terrifying – there’s plenty of attempts to make you jump, but that’s the cinematic equivalent of someone repeatedly leaping out from behind your seat and shouting “Boo!” So it’s the knowing and the whodunnit that actually make the Scream films most enjoyable, and there’s plenty of knowing here, almost too much in fact. It works best in the opening sequence, which has fun with audience expectations and is so self referential the only thing that the characters don’t do is turn and wink at the audience, instead allowing the script to do that for them.
There are rules of writing reviews as well, and one of those is to talk about the film in question, which actually I’ve done very little of. (Is that the phone ringing? Never mind, it can go to voicemail.) But there’s also a rule about the Scream films, which is that much of the fun comes from discovering what happens for yourself – the fun is pretty much all in the surprises, and I don’t mean the sudden jolts of people in a black cape and a Munch mask leaping into frame. So all I can say is that you’ll see the likes of Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and Anthony Anderson, and many more, because both horror franchises and self-referential whodunnit franchises need fresh meat, and Scream 4 ploughs through that meat like Freddy and Jason let loose at a horror convention. While it comments on horror trends, the main focus is the reboot, but actually Scream 4 feels most like the original; so much so that it’s almost like a cinematic comfort blanket, providing the same old thrills and pleasures in equal measure. It’s not up to the standard of the first two but is a stretch better than the rather dull third, and if you’re a fan of the series then there’s plenty to enjoy in the company of a similarly minded crowd. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must get that phone…
Why see it at the cinema: Scream movies are at their absolute best in a packed cinema, where you can guarantee being entertained by the one-third or so of the audience who do still jump every time Ghostface appears. Or, like me, you can use the cinema toilets afterwards and have the crap scared out of you when someone bursts in very suddenly.
The Score: 7/10