By Carl Kozlowski
When Scream was released in 1996, it turned the movie industry upside down by breaking numerous rules of the horror genre. First, it came out at Christmastime, which was considered a horror-free zone throughout studio history. Second, it actually had a clever and witty script, a top-notch director and a cast filled with genuine talent. Third, it combined those two factors to create a $100 million-grossing blockbuster in a genre that often attained profitability with one-tenth of that figure.
But all good things come to an end, and after spawning two more successful sequels, director Wes Craven and his cast of Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette moved on in 2000. While the first film in the series was damn near perfect, the second and third movies fell apart when their revealed killers proved to be utterly ridiculous. With original writer Kevin Williamson not even showing up to write the Scream 3 script, it seemed that the series was dead in the water.
Yet, in a twist that does the meta-nature of the other films proud, the series has come roaring back with a vengeance more than a decade later with the new Scream 4, out this weekend and featuring Williamson back behind the keyboard as well as Craven again in the director’s chair. And most impressively, Craven and producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein have assembled a cast that reunites the surviving stars of the original trilogy while bringing in several bright faces from the current generation of teenage stars to craft a worthy sequel to the masterful original.
Scream 4 focuses again on Sydney Prescott (Campbell), who has been subjected to the murder of her mother and other loved ones in prior entries and is now the a grown adult and author of self-help books spotlighting her recovery from past traumas. When she returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, the killing —and sightings of the Ghostface killer—start again, only this time he’s out to kill both generations of young people.
And so it is that Sydney teams up again with Dewey the sheriff (Arquette) and newswoman nemesis Gayle Weathers (Cox) to fight for their lives and save the town from more murderous madness. The biggest surprise here is the fact that the formula—and especially the ways that Craven and Williamson constantly upend it — still works.
What made the original Scream series work so well was a clever self-awareness of both horror films and their obsessive fans, and the ways in which communications tools like cell phones and the Internet were starting to affect our lives. Scream 4 keeps the fun coming but it adds in another 15 years of technological advances to keep the killer communicating in a way that keeps everyone on their toes.
Campbell, Arquette and Cox have fun with their roles, but the new generation of teens doesn’t make as strong an impression as the original trio. Among the fresh faces are Emma Roberts, Hayden Panetierre, Alison Brie and Rory Culkin, and perhaps they’ll stand out more to the new generation of fans in the same way my generation instantly fell for the original three leads.
While the kill scenes in Scream 4 aren’t as original as those in the first three, the plot zips along and the atmosphere stays fun throughout most of the flick. And when the big reveal happens this time around, the killer might seem implausible, but it’s definitely not a worse choice than Laurie Metcalf from Scream 2 or Scott Speedman in Scream 3—and the initial awkwardness of the actors revealed to be evil is more than compensated for by a slam-bang surprise final battle.
If you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re a teenage horror fan who’s new to the series, make sure you see the original three as well to see just how good a scary movie should be.