Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell and David Arquette. Name four movies that they have each been in. Ten-to-one they are the same four movies that they have all been in. Yes, these are the original Scream crew, who have survived three instalments of the reinventive horror franchise, and now come back for a fourth outing, potentially the first of an all-new trilogy. Well, sort-of all-new, but secretly just more of the same. What exactly do these three get up to outside of the Scream universe? Sure, I think Cox has some TV show going on – Cougar Town – but I’ve never seen it; Campbell and Arquette? Can anybody say “straight-to-DVD”? It seems like they are just slumming it until the Studios get around to green-lighting another Scream instalment, hoping that, somehow, returning to the franchise that already makes up the entirety of most of their cinema-released productions, will give their on-life-support careers a much-needed shot-to-the-heart. Well, if it ain’t broke...Trouble is: what if it is broke?
It’s the 15th Anniversary of the Woodsboro murders, which have become internationally famous thanks to a series of Stab movies, each more derivative than the last. Life for the survivors of the first attacks has not changed all that much – once school-kid victim Sidney Prescott has returned to the fateful location to promote her latest book; Deputy Dewey Riley has now been promoted to town Sheriff, and reporter Gale Weathers, now his wife, is struggling to write her own book. But when a new ‘Ghostface’ starts slaughtering students, the trio are forced to confront old demons, and team up to catch this copycat killer.
In an attempt to address the undeniable laws of diminishing returns, Scre4m (aka Scream 4) spends a fair amount of time mocking the movie-within-a-movie Stab series of films that have made the fictional town of Woodsboro so well known – this is quite effective, showing just how easy it is to simply run out of ideas over how to start one of those movie; and how it’s almost impossible to avoid the routine formula of these kinds of horrors, however much you try. Yet it still does not make up for the inherent predictability, even in the set-up of another Scream outing.
First you have the fresh school blood: Jill, Sydney’s younger cousin (Emma “4,3,2,1” Roberts); Trevor (Nico Tortorella), her unfaithful boyfriend; Jill’s friends, Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) and Kirby (Hayden “Heroes” Panettiere); and, of course, the requisite movie geeks Charlie (Rory “Nowhere to Run” Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen). Then you have the fresh police blood: Adam “The O.C.” Brody, Anthony “Transformers” Anderson and Marley “Planet Terror” Shelton popping up as disposable cops. Throw in the cast of returning characters and what you have here is a roomful of potential victims and potential suspects.
If you had either the time or inclination, I suspect that it would be relatively easy to figure out who the murderer(s) could be; using the rules of the previous movies and/or any horror movies you should be able to siphon it down relatively easily, knowing that it has to a) be someone with a grudge; b) be someone who has a fair amount of on-screen time in the movie; and c) probably not be someone who has already been long-established as a ‘hero’. The trouble is, I suspect that nobody can really be bothered to do this as, ultimately, you don’t really care for any of them.
As horror films go, Scream 4 is far from a bad addition; there are plenty of far worse films that get released, from pointless remakes of both US ‘classics’ and quality new foreign films (Let Me In, Hills Have Eyes, I Spit On Your Grave, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark etc. etc.) to lacklustre originals like Red Riding Hood, The Unborn, and Pandorum. Indeed whilst Hollywood occasionally gets it right, mostly with alternative horror productions like the darkly comic Jennifer’s Body, the new Hammer production Wake Wood, and John Carpenter’s latest, The Ward, even these don’t really stand up against the genre greats over the last decade, like REC, The Descent, 28 Days Later and Let the Right One In. In any event, the Studios seem more interested in just remaking said greats; releasing sequels to their remakes; or releasing sequels to their only successful horror franchises – further diluting the impact of the originals – namely: Scream, Saw and Final Destination. Thankfully the latest elements of all these series’ appear to have at least attempted to do something new, even within the same old franchise. Scream 4 is no exception, trying its hardest to recapture the spark of originality that made the first instalment so damn memorable, and genre-defining. The trouble is that it is just another copycat – something of an irony considering that this is all the Woodsboro murders themselves now amount to – and you can’t help feeling that they’re treading over far-too-familiar ground, audiences either saying “oh, they’ve done that before” or “ah, they’ve done that as a twist on what they’ve done before”. You can’t help it on the fourth time around the block – there’s only so much that can change when you’re dealing with the same characters, in the same place, with yet another killer on the loose.
I don’t think we’ll ever recapture the best of Scream (that Drew Barrymore opening sequence is still great), and certainly not within the Scream franchise itself, but I guess the trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox (Whatever happened to her face? Both her and another supporting actress in the film – Mary McDonnell from Battlestar Gallactica – really haven’t had great facial work done) haven’t got much better to do than to wait around until they get another call; or need another paycheque. Indeed, despite disappointing Box Office returns (it was one of the least successful in the series), this is intended to be the first of a new trilogy, and I can’t honestly see why they wouldn’t make the other two – particularly while the series still makes money.
Certainly those who love the Scream series will likely find this neither a bad watch, nor a bad entry; but those who love a good horror film will probably feel distinctly non-plussed by the lack of genuine thrills, scares or horror within this addition. Engaging for the duration; entertaining for nearly two hours of your life; Scream 4 is the epitome of average horror, and the victim of its own franchise’s success. Clichéd, derivative, and largely unsuccessful in its desperate attempts to break free of its own heritage, at least it’s good to see the old gang back together – not doing what they do best, but doing the only thing that they can do. Rent it, catch it on TV, or buy it as part of a competitively-priced box-set.
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