Friday, April 15, 2011

The Best Scream Movie Since The Original: Scream 4

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I have to admit, I was a little annoyed by the studio and publicity machine's insistence that any reviews of "Scream 4" (no, I will not refer to it as "Scre4m") refrain from any and all spoilers about the movie's "kills" and its ultimate killer reveal. Who are they kidding? This is a "Scream" sequel, not "Citizen Kane" or "Psycho."

But then as I was watching it, I realized I actually didn't know much of anything about it going in, and I have to admit, that was a pretty nice experience. Of course I can't really say if knowing any of the film's "reveals" would have tampered my enjoyment, but why risk it? I promise to make this review spoiler free.

"Scream 4" is the best "Scream" movie since the original.

The end.

Not enough? OK.

If you haven't seen the other "Scream" movies, I can't really imagine why you'd want to see this one, although I have a feeling Dimension is hopping this entry will serve more as a "reboot" and less a "shriequel" or "screamake" (two terms coined in the movie). If you have seen the previous three movies, it's probably a good idea to refresh your memory about them, especially the bits about who the killers turn out to be.

This entry starts as the other three do, with pre-credit murder--meta-murder if you will--and it's a lot of fun. Or at least as fun as gut-ripping murder can be. That this murder coincides with the return of Sidney (Neve Campbell, who must have a portrait aging in an attic somewhere) to Woodsboro, some 15 years after the rampage of the first film, is lost on no one, not least of all her younger cousin Jill, (Emma Roberts, daughter of Eric, niece of Julia), and Jill's high school friends, (who include Hayden Panettiere, in an unfortunate hairdo), who dub Sydney the "angel of death."

Sydney is not the only character from the previous films to make a return. Dewey (David Arquette) is now the town Sheriff, and he remains married to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who has retired from the true crime book writing biz. For now. Even Henry Winkler has a cameo of sorts. (Keep an eye out in the high school hallway for that one). Of course, both Ghostface and the Voice (once again voiced by Roger Jackson) are back wreaking murderous havoc, and before long the bodies start to pile up.

I'll say no more about the plot, but will say the movie's self-awareness and references pile up almost as much as the bodies do, and for the most part that works as well as it has in the past. It's hard to believe now, but back in 1996, most teens didn't have cell phones, and it is the modern day teenager's constantly wired-in life that the killer is able to take advantage of this time around. (Yes, Facebook and Twitter have cameos.)

There are a ton of cameos and unexpected bit players popping up throughout, but, again, it's kind of fun being surprised by these. So let's just say almost every pretty young actress who has appeared on a TV show featuring teenagers in the last three years has some kind of role in this.

"Scream" spawned a lot of crappy teen-centric horror movies, and I'd posit that these lame and tame horror movies are also partially responsible for the torture porn era that followed. Thankfully, the movie doesn't go the t-porn route, although you can be sure the "Saw" movies are mentioned. (By the way, if characters talk about how meta it is to talk about being meta, is that being meta-meta?)

"Scream 4" does have its faults. It's a tad too long; sometimes true scares are sacrificed for the sake of self-awareness; and the new teens are not quite as appealing as the OG teens. But by returning to the scene of the original crime, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven manage to give the series a clever reboot; it remains as gleefully ridiculous (and let's face it, as far as whodunnits go, the "Scream" movies have always been ridiculous) as its predecessors, but ultimately adheres to its own number one rule: Don't fuck with the original

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