Sunday, April 24, 2011


"Scream 4 bombs" a recent Yahoo headline declared breathlessly - and inaccurately, in more ways than one.

A "bomb" is a movie loses a lot of money for its studio. And that's not correct in this case.  Scream 4's opening was softer than expected,  but Wes Craven and Co. will make their money back in fairly short order. More importantly, however, Scream 4 is not an artistic bomb. It's a return to form, and the best film in the series since the first.

It's a good thing I liked it too, because my colleague Hannah Poturaski gives a big shout-out to the Scream series.

Let me start this with saying I am extra biased in favor of all things Scream. Since the original film in 1996, this has, and always will be, my favorite trilogy. Granted I was eight when the first film came out but it wasn’t long after that I saw it. When a see a reference or hear someone talking about the trilogy I get as giddy and giggly as a school girl. Not joking.

(Wow, eight. Maybe I shouldn't feel so awkward about the fact that there was a girl who looked like she was six at my screening.)

I saw the original Scream last year, and it holds up extremely well. It's always been my favorite film by Wes Craven - yes, even more so than Nightmare on Elm Street. It was  the rare horror film that was sharp, funny scary and bloody. (There is a difference in those last two  adjectives).

Then the inevitable sequels followed, and they were OK as far as sequels went. Scream 2 was solid, but Scream 3 was a bit of a mess. It got the job done well enough, but writer Kevin Williamson's departure from the series did the third movie no favors. It seemed like an all too typical pattern was forming: Excellent first movie followed by increasingly inferior follow-ups.

Williamson returns to the fold this time, and Scream 4 breaks the pattern. Though it's not quite as good as it could be, it's more entertaining than many people have seem willing to admit.

The hook of the Scream movies has always been that its characters are hip to the rules of horror movies. And that's as true as ever, considering how much the landscape has changed since the first Scream. When that movie came out in 1996, cell phones were only starting to make inroads. I saw the original with a crowd last year, and the line "What were you doing with a cell phone, son?" got a big laugh. Moreover, in the years since, quality has drained from American horror movies like guts drain from a carcass in the "torture porn" movies - a phenomenon Scream 4 cannily acknowledges right off the bat.

As all the Scream movies have done, Scream 4 opens with a bloody prologue, which folds in upon itself in ways that are more fun to watch than to describe. It's Williamson and Craven's way of avoiding a common sequel trap. Too often, sequels forget or over-amplify what people liked about the original classic. The Nightmare on Elm Street films were good examples. The sequels drowned in blood, tits and smart-ass Freddy Krueger wisecracks, but usually forgot to be ... you, know ... scary.

Scream 4 does not forget to be scary, even if It does push too many "We know all the film references" buttons. If a person were nudging at me as often as this film does, I'd have that person brought up on assault  charges.  The film didn't need to try so hard. The references are clever, yes - but they're not the only reason the Scream series exists. Craven stages a number of very effective scares, including a suspenseful parking garage attack, and one scene where a character goes on a major masochistic streak is genuinely unnerving.

The cast certainly goes a long way toward keeping the interest up. It's always fun to see the surviving originals, and most of the newcomers are good too, especially Rory Culkin as one of the film geeks and Emma Roberts playing Sidney's cousin. Roberts has begun to convince me that she belongs in leading lady territory with her aunt.

Hannah liked the young cast too, though she was a touch less enamored of Roberts:

I was impressed by how well the line-up of younger actors delivered in their characters/lines/nuances, etc. Hayden Panettiere as the hot film buff Kirby was probably my favorite character in terms of the new cast. Emma Roberts as Prescott’s cousin Jill was so-so; her acting was really good up until it became over-the-top. But I have to think of it in terms of the bigger picture, in which her exaggerated acting works. This would be way too long of a review if I listed all the new characters but I enjoyed those played by Marley Shelton (Grindhouse, Sugar & Spice), Shenae Grimes (“90210″), Anthony Anderson, Rory Culkins, Adam Brody, and Alison Brie (“Community”).

Having seen it twice when she wrote her review, Hannah noted:

The film made great use of foreshadowing, a lot of which isn’t picked up on until the killer is revealed — at least for me. The writer and director definitely threw in a lot of plot twists/characters solely to throw the viewer off guard, which I appreciated.

Everyone combines to make Scream 4 a lot of fun, and it's nice to see the franchise regain its footing. But since this series is so hung up on rules, I would suggest following a very important one that is ignored by most horror filmmakers - quit while you're ahead.


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