I really miss Metallica. The good Metallica. The Master of Puppets Metallica. I used to absolutely love that band. I can hear you all asking "What the hell does that have to do with Scream 4?" Let me explain. Recently I was watching a Metallica concert on TV. It goes without saying that the new songs sucked because, well, every album since the black album has sucked. When they played their early, great songs, however, it just wasn’t the same. It should have been. It’s the same song I used to love. For the most part it’s the same people playing it. Something just didn’t ring true. I likened it to listening to a pretty good Metallica tribute band. It still sounded good, but the magic just wasn’t there. This is similar to my experience watching Scream 4. See, I told you I was going somewhere with that.
Scream was fun because it was smart. Scream 4, in places, isn’t so much smart as it’s just snarky for snark’s sake. Kevin Williamson’s script for the first film had the tone of a horror fan writing a movie for horror fans. Scream 4, in parts, almost comes across as Williamson being bitter towards the genre. Sure, there are some spot on moments of critique, such as the first five minutes , the conversation in the police car, or the one “new” rule that actually pays off in a scene (you’ll know the one), but for the most part it’s almost the film campaigning against itself. I think the problem here is that there is a definite difference between weaving the “horror rules” into a good narrative and turning them on their heads, and simply acknowledging the clichés. Scream 4 falls into the trap of taking jabs at the conventions of the horror genre like the first one, but not using them to create a compelling twist. The first Scream had a really good whodunit story to mix with the self referential jabs. Scream 4’s plot is…well…same old same old. The horror “inside jokes” in Scream 4 basically exist separate from the plot as a whole. Scream took the tropes, inverted them, and served them up in a way you didn’t expect. Scream 4 throws a lot of criticism of the trappings of new millennium horror at you, and then just gives you business as usual. It also felt a little wrong watching a film that makes fun of and derides remakes, knowing that Wes Craven directed it. I’m sure you know what I’m getting at there.
Don’t let this talk of Scream 4 falling short of the bar Scream set scare you off though, there is a lot to like about this film. The acting is one. With the exception of Nico Tortorella, the young cast does a great job. That was one thing I worried about going into this film. One of the strengths of Scream was its cast. As the series went on, the quality of the young cast members took a nosedive, as did the quality of the movies themselves. With some of the awful acting I’ve seen out of the current crop of up and comers, I was expecting the worst. These kids were downright watchable though. Hayden Panettiere as the horror geek hottie was particularly good. Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin (yes, Macauley’s little brother) were also great as the media obsessed leaders of the “Cinema Club.” There is one scene in particular between Hayden and Rory that is incredibly well done and is a little bit of a “lonely high school film dork” revenge fantasy come true. Courtney Cox is excellent, David Arquette is passable, but Neve Campbell seems to be sleepwalking through her scenes. Hers was the only really disappointing performance.
There were also a couple of cool kills. The Scream franchise has never been known for its particularly grisly or creative bloodletting. There’s only so much you can do with a knife. Most of the kills in this one are the usual stabbings and slicings, but a couple rise above the limitations of the weapon and are entertaining. As usual, the proceedings are slightly marred by some CGI blood, but a lot of it was the old school “letting the food coloring and corn syrup fly” variety, which is always nice to see.
Aside from the acting and violence, the film is a mixed bag. Just like in the original, the pre-credit scene is the best part of the film. I won’t give anything away, but it’s brilliant. The humor in this flick was a little bit of a problem for me. Scream’s humor was built on clever dialogue. Some of this is present in Scream 4, but some of it was just cheap laugh lines and one particularly slapstick scene that just felt completely out of place. The soundtrack was awful. There are a lot of really cool classic movie posters seen decorating various locales throughout the film. The “Stab-athon” looks like my kind of party. I had part of the final reveal figured out, but there was another part that caught me by surprise, and any time a film can surprise me with the identity of a killer I give it major points. Let’s see, is there anything else…OH YEAH! One thing that irked me on a horror geek level. One of the questions Ghostface asks is “Name the film that started the slasher craze.” His answer is Peeping Tom. While that movie did have an early effect on the formation of the genre, it was Halloween that started the craze. You could make a case for Black Christmas too. There were no compcat knockoffs of Peeping Tom. The slasher genre didn’t even become popular until almost 20 years later. So there. I know that’s nitpicky, but what good is being a horror geek if you can’t out geek the pros?
While this movie may have failed at some of the things the first Scream excelled at, it is still an enjoyable ride for fans of the original. I definitely recommend it, but you must keep your expectations realistic. I had a good time watching it, even though I couldn’t help feeling like Scream was a bit of a shell of its former self. If I were to rank it in the series based on quality, I’d say that it’s not as good as the first one but it was most definitely better than Scream 2 and 3. To continue the band comparison, it’s like going to a reunion concert of a band you loved as a teenager. They might not be able to match the intensity they once had, but you’re still going to have a good time.
One last thing before I finish driving the Metallica analogy into the ground. I give every new album they put out a listen at least once. I am hoping beyond hope for a return to form. I want to hear hints of their former brilliance. That hasn’t happened yet. I treat Wes Craven films the same way. I still watch them, hoping to see a glimpse of the man that made The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, and Nightmare on Elm Street. I wouldn’t say that Scream 4 is a return to form per se for one of the masters of the craft, but after Red Eye, Cursed, My Soul to Take, etc, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.