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9th Jun 11
Another pair of sub-Scooby Doo killers don the Ghostface guise in Woodsboro, while the three original Scream stars pretend they’ve not been usurped by younger, more attractive Tinsel Town actors in terms of screen time.
There were a lot of good things about Wes Craven’s original Scream, from its powerhouse opening terrorization of guest star Drew Barrymore to its witty use of Carpenter’s peerless Halloweenwithin its deconstruction of the slasher movie format. Sadly its legacy was far less welcome : while Craven won a lot of plaudits for single-handedly rescuing horror from its bland early 90’s doldrums, the success of Screamled to an influx of banal self-conscious mainstream slasher thrillers and the death of imaginative genre poster art as we know it - thanks to those shitty ensemble-cast one-sheets that made up a large portion of the marketing. The movie that allegedly “revived” the horror genre all by itself was also responsible for unleashing redundant nonsense like Scream 3upon the world.
Fifteen years after the original movie’s release, Dimension Films have belatedly reunited screenwriter Kevin Williamson, director Craven and the surviving main cast of the earlier films. The advance publicity is rife with quotes from Craven noting how it’s the right time to relaunch the franchise and commentate on the preceding decade’s horror pictures - as opposed to the fact that he’s had no other interesting horror scripts come his way and he feels a peculiar sense of duty to ensure that Neve Campbell can still manage to pay her utility bills every month.
The awkwardly named Scre4m had the kind of pre-release troubles that are seemingly inevitable with any Dimension product, including an alleged rewrite by Scream 3 hack Ehren Kruger (in any event Kruger gets an executive producer credit while Williamson takes sole screenplay credit). The finished movie, while quick to snidely diss a host of mainstream horror releases from the past 10 years, has turned out depressingly mundane - a needless milking of an already tired cash cow if ever there was one. While not Wes Craven’s worst movie (it’s not even his worst film of the past 12 months, thanks to the alarmingly useless My Soul To Take) it‘s down there with his most depressingly drab features.
The premise is uninspired, particularly when you realise that ageing franchise stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette have not (as was hoped) been brought back to be either horribly butchered or be unveiled as a surprise maniac in the final reel. Instead they are awkwardly shoe-horned into the 21st century narrative as guest stars in their own franchise : Campbell, now a best-selling writer about her experiences, is still doing her defiant yet haunted survivor shtick. Cox’s presence is as redundant in the story as it is in the film and her screen husband Arquette, now promoted to Sheriff, phones in his Dewey performance but has probably aged the best of the three. With Sidney (Campbell) back in Woodsboro to promote her latest tome, the Ghostface murders begin again and the life of her high-school-attending cousin (Emma Roberts) is under threat. Cox, whose high-profile TV work has dried up (ah! The irony!), is eager to use the murders to revive her career though is now mystifyingly good chums with her former face-punching enemy Sidney, while the killer(s) appear to be fashionably abiding by the rules of the horror remake, revisiting scenarios from the original Scream - or, in the film’s universe, Stab.
The best part of the fourth Scream turns out, ironically in a horror movie all about horror movies, to be the clips from the peerless Shaun Of The Dead that play on a TV set, giving us a refreshing example of a horror film that actually had affection for the genre and characters that talked like regular people. You wont find much of either in this, though the disorientating prologue seems to promise a tad more than the rest of the film delivers. Craven ingeniously pulls back from two apparently genuine opening set-ups (one featuring Kirsten Bell and Anna Paquin), unveiling them as sequences from the fictitious Stab 6 and Stab 7. This disarming double fake-out makes you wish what follows was similarly designed to keep the audience on their toes - though even here, it’s worth noting that as far back as 1986’s self-reflexive Killer Party, the slasher genre was playing with the exact same tricks and getting little credit for it.
Also apparent from the start is the script’s weak efforts at being current by providing acerbic commentary on the last ten, Scream-less years of horror. There’s something offensively smug about the movie’s derision of the trends that have surfaced in the preceding decade, with “that torture porn shit” given particular short shrift. The endless Stab sequels are likened to the Saw series, with Saw IV singled out in particular as sucking and the Lionsgate franchise criticised for its emphasis on viscera at the expense of characterisation. Given that this movie is as tired and redundant as the weakest of the SAW movies, the movie’s smarmy references to its rivals are especially ironic.
As for characterisation, Williamson has to face the fact that a big part of the typical genre demographic was still in short trousers when the original Scream flicks came out. Thus we have a selection of one-note fresh meat, most of them as disposable and unlikeable as your average “torture porn” flesh-bag : Rory Cochrane, a talented actor, gets nothing to work with as a muted variant on Randy the movie geek ; there’s an under-written ex-boyfriend character channelling Skeet Ulrich ; and the movie’s idea of being current - aside from the prominent use of I-Phones, Twitter, Facebook, et al - is to feature a twat with a web cam strapped to his head, permanently recording his high school experience. The fact that this film was created by ageing, endlessly referencing movie geeks results in an unlikely 21st century teenage girl (Hayden Panitierre, oddly unsympathetic) who owns DVDs of Don’t Look Now and Suspiria while also being able to reel off a list of recent remakes - many of which your typical teen moviegoer probably wouldn’t realise are actually reboots.
At least the Saw sequels were, at their best, ingenious, unpredictable and unafraid to shock. Despite promises of a “main cast bloodbath” and of “rules” destined to be subverted, this ends up merely replaying everything we’ve come to expect. This means endless, empty, loud hand-on-shoulder false scares (yawn), a score by Marco Beltrami apparently recycled from his three preceding scores, a pair of over-familiar killers with yet another personal connection to Sid, Gale Weathers being non-fatally wounded again and even another suspense sequence set against the backdrop of Stab footage starring Heather Graham. As with Scream 3, there is never the sense that our returning characters are under any real threat, so the movie is a cynical decimation of the newcomers.
After the depressingly dry Scream 3, the movie is at least bloodier than any Scream since the first movie, but the fact that the BBFC feel it only warrants a “15” rating (the first in the series) is reflective of how little edge or intensity it possesses. Even the basic suspense set ups are short and feeble this time out, and everything feels old-hat no matter the shots of exposed entrails and open gushing throat wounds. The movie’s self-satisfied on-going commentary also neuters the impact of most of its fatalities : it’s the kind of film where a guy gets stabbed in the forehead but still gets one last meta-movie reference in before expiring.
Occasionally there’s a throwaway joke that gets a giggle (we learn Stab was a film by Robert Rodriguez) or a decent moment of fleeting intensity (the best is a homage to Rear Window), but over length tends to drain what fun there is. At the point where a potentially surprising twist for our cynical age (the killer getting away with it a la Pranks) gets swiftly undermined by a wholly conventional hospital coda (weirdly reminiscent of the Black Christmas remake) for the sake of a tidy wrap-up, you realise they’ve played it tediously safe yet again. And what once felt, in 1996, clever and subversive for a mainstream genre picture now feels as mediocre and compromised as the majority. It’s an old man’s version of hip horror from a filmmaker who has long lost his edge.