The Scream series was once the talk of horror fans. Writer Kevin Williamson and veteran slasher director Wes Craven teamed up to create the first real tongue-in-cheek dressing down of the genre with the original, yet also managed to craft their own inventive classic at the same time – a feat that would propel the series on for a better-than-expected sequel which continued the tradition of high school kids geeking out over horror film cliches while being involved in the same scenarios. It made Neve Campbell a star in her role as the perennial victim Sidney Prescott while Friends star Courtney Cox made a successful transition to the big screen as bullish TV reporter Gale Weathers and brought David Arquette fame as the local sheriff Dewey Riley in the sleepy town of Woodsboro. Henry Winkler, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Leiv Schreiber and more appeared as the series became a trilogy but the third instalment was a disappointment. Less self-referential, surprisingly low on the assessment of trilogies and, frankly, far too generic, it was no surprise to learn Williamson had only partial involvement in a script completed by Ehren Kruger. Obviously Craven realised the error of his ways, and he got Williamson fully back more than 10 years later to continue the franchise with the Hollywood trend for reboots and torture porn movies as fresh material to poke fun at in the Scream tradition.
Williamson picks up the Scream story 10 years on with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) having written a book to reinvent herself following the endless cashing in on her experience in the Woodsboro murders by Gale Weathers Courtney Cox). The original movie versions based on the Woodsboro murders, the Stab films, have developed into a franchise that no longer bears any resemblance to real events and is now merely a series of copycat retreats with young starlets (here including neat cameos from Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell) – a nice film-within-a-film reference to the law of decreasing returns on horror sequels. While Prescott heads to Woodsboro to launch her book, Weathers has writer’s block as she tries to branch out from trashy half fictions featuring knife-wielding, ghostface mask wearing killers. It’s the perfect time for the re-appearance of the ghostface killer, this time with Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her Woodsboro classmates top of the killer’s hitlist.
Following a very nudge-nudge, wink-wink opening sequence, Scream 4 – or, more appropriately for a horror franchise poking fun at itself, Scre4m – slaps a quick round of some of the most recent slasher films that have appeared since Scream 3 that alleviates any fears that there might be a restriction on the amount of film trivia on offer. The presence of a Woodsboro High School movie club run by a pair of slasher fans planning a Stab-athon night of watching all seven Stab films plays up to cinematic revelling in the clichés of a series and fittingly serves up a few shocks, with Craven keen to keep the murder bloody and brutal here which will keep gore fans more than happy. As for the characters, well beyond the central trio of Sidney, Gale and Dewey, Williamson sticks to a series of stereotypes in order to continue his deconstruction of the genre.
Williamson continues his deconstruction of the genre.
There’s Jill, the cousin fed up with the spectre of her sister’s past following her around, her best mates who provide the sounding boards for assessing all the other characters Kirby (Heroes star Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe), the movie buff duo of the gawky Charlie (Rory Culkin) and video-diary obsessive Robbie (Erik Knudsen), the obvious red herring red herring of Jill’s ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) and a pair of dozy cops including an appearance from Anthony Anderson who has seen a decline in his Hollywood output, echoing the use of famous faces in need of a publicity boost via a horror movie gig. Dewey’s new Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and Sidney’s press officer Rebecca Walters (Alison Brie) round off the key roles and Williamson has fun implicating most of them as potential killers at various times so the final revelation will come as a surprise to many, though its not unguessable.
Although Scream 4 doesn’t rack up the tension the first entry created, it’s a return to form after the disappointing third film lacked any spark at all. The new additions blend well with the central trio of Campbell, Cox and Arquette and while there’s essentially a sense of been-here-before, there’s also an indication that Craven and Williamson wanted to give this series a fitting send-off that Scream 3 failed to deliver. Of course, there’s every chance they’ll be back with a fifth instalment, but they should both know better than go down that road.