Scream 4 (Once again, I didn’t Scream. This time, I wasn’t supposed to. And that’s a good thing)

May 4, 2011

In the end, I didn’t bother to watch Scream 2 or 3; they just didn’t take my fancy. But that didn’t stop me going to see the fourth instalment of the series, known ‘cleverly’ as SCRE4M.

For those who read my review of the original Scream movie, my criticisms were mainly concerning how it wasn’t scary and that everything in it had been done to death (no pun intended) so many times since then that it had practically no impact on a first time viewer in 2011.

Now, quite rightly, people came back and said ‘But Stuart, the original film was supposed to be a pastiche of the films that came before it like Halloween, Psycho et al’ and while that is true it still wasn’t a particularly good one. It didn’t seem all that clever about it, and indeed, Scary Movie – a scene-for-scene rip-off of Scream – ended up being a far more enjoyable and satirical film. Of course, don’t get me started on the decline of the Scary Movie franchise. Beyond the first one it has to be up there as one of the worst film franchises in history…

So now, Scream 4 is on the cinema, and having familiarised myself with the original film, I went along to see it.

Would I enjoy it more?

Plot

Pretty much the same as Scream.

Well, that’s not quite true.

Yes, I'm reusing a screencap from Scream. But the reason is that Ghostface once again spends his time falling about - but this time only when he comes up against Sidney

Sidney (played once again by That’s What Happened To Neve Campbell) has returned to Woodsboro to promote her book for the 15th anniversary of the original movie and this is the catalyst for another killing spree.

Officer Dewey (Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion David Arquette) appears to have become the highest police authority, while Courtney Cox – who looked so old that even I was taken aback – is also still there living off the success of the ‘Stab’ franchise, which – for those like me who missed Scream 2 & 3 – is a series of films that is based upon the stuff that happened in the Scream films. Essentially, self-referential fiction-within-fiction or ‘Meta-Fiction’.

Anyway, without spoiling anything, the plot appears to be once again about Ghostface going after Sidney, her friends, colleagues and family, as well as the occasional ‘Hot Young Teenager’ (in Scream 4, the teenage quota centres upon Sidney’s cousin Jill and her school friends)

The sequence of killings appears to be similar to that of the first film (and probably the 2nd and 3rd. If I’d seen them I’d be able to comment) and of course there is one massively obvious suspect. I won’t spoil who I think that is, nor will I spoil whether or not s/he is the culprit.

Also, this time, there’s a chance that the main characters won’t make it out alive…

Thoughts

I’ll nail my colours to the mast early on this one. I really enjoyed Scream 4. In my opinion, it was everything that people who defend the original say that film was, but done far better and more effectively. It’s like they decided to take the concept of Meta-fiction and just go all-in.

The plot of the film is secondary to the continuous references to the horror film formula. The idea is that having seen the Saw, Final Destination and ‘Stab’ franchises, people know exactly what is going to happen, to the point where they don’t take it seriously. The film starts out just like Scream, but cleverly it’s actually the start of Stab 6, which is really the start of Stab 7, which then in turn ends up being the start of Scream 4. I’m not sure if I explain that well enough, but it’s so ridiculous and ‘meta’ that it borders upon genius. It would have been the bravest film ever if the entire film was the initial scene just repeating itself over and over again.

What is also addressed is that the shock value of people being stabbed to death has been ruined by the Saw films, so the consumer doesn’t really react to it anymore and therefore Wes Craven doesn’t bother to devote much time to ‘grossing’

Kirsten Bell makes a cameo in Scream 4, presumably sitting with her younger sister or neice. Because there is no way she can be taken seriously as a teenager

the audience out. Yes, there are plenty of murders – far more than in the original – but they are all done in a rather matter-of-fact way, allowing the film to develop more in the way of black comedy.

And the comedy hit the right spot. While I sat through the original laughing at it, I watched Scream 4 laughing along with it. It’s a crucial difference that is key to enjoying a film like this.

Even though it’s impossible, it seems as though the film has been made bearing my criticisms of the original in mind!

Another one of the things I liked about the film was the cast. It was like a Who’s Who of TV Actors from the past few years. Among the cast are Seth from the OC, Annie off Community, Claire The Indestructable Cheerleader from Heroes, Robin’s sister from How I Met Your Mother, Antwon Mitchell off The Shield, President Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars off…well, you know, Macauley Culkin’s brother and a few other recognisable actresses from shows I don’t watch like True Blood and 90210.

I think pretty much all of them meet a grizzly end, which is great.

Of that cast, the one who is the most heavily featured is Hayden Panettiere (Claire off Heroes) sporting a hairstyle which can only be result of a real life rebellion/crisis. The amount of time devoted to Panettiere is disappointing for me because I’ve long considered her one of the worst actresses in the world. She’s not that bad when she’s playing light characters, but when she has to do anything dramatic or emotional she’s an embarrassment. Her dreadful performance alongside the equally wooden Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes’ second season was the reason I gave up on that show.

So was she killed? I’m not going to say, but I spent the entire film hoping she would be, put it that way.

And on the subject of the guest cast, I have to make mention of Kirsten Bell’s small cameo as a ‘Hot Young Teenager’ at the start of the film. Come on! Really?! In Veronica Mars I could quite easily have believed she was a teenager. I even commented that I thought it was good that they cast a teenager to play a teenager in it before I found out she was actually a woman in her mid 20s. Now she’s just shy of 31 and to be frank, she looks it. She even played Jason Bateman’s wife in Couples Retreat a couple of years back for goodness sake. She can’t play teenagers anymore. That ship has sailed. Grow old gracefully love!

But I digress…

One thing that comes to mind while watching this film is that in the world in which Scream 4 is set, even if selling Ghostface outfits is a commercially successful enterprise, should the fact that it encourages murder sprees at regular intervals not mean that it becomes a morally irresponsible item to sell? I would think so. Without the Ghostface masks, surely none of this would happen?

On that note, Sidney Prescott is considered to be a heroine in the film, but in truth, she’s a serial killer herself is she not?

The only other negative issue I have with the film is what I call ‘Doctor/Dalek Syndrome’. If you’ve watched Doctor Who, you’ll know what this is about. Usually the Daleks will ruthlessly exterminate anyone without a second thought – no questions asked. But every time the Daleks find themselves in a position to exterminate the Doctor, they will either take him prisoner or get so excited that they’ll shout “You are The Doctor. You are an enemy of the Daleks. You will be

So That's What Happened to Neve Campbell! She's in Scream again! Sadly for her, I suspect it's a trip to the glue factory next. At least she's prepared for it.

Exterminated” over and over again without shooting, allowing the Doctor to escape.

It appears as though Ghostface has the same problem. Without any thought, he’ll efficiently murder most people, despite their size or attempts to fight back. But when he’s faced with the opportunity to kill Sidney or Gale, he’ll panic, stumble around and allow them to fight back/escape. In among all the other meta clichĂ©s, this is something that they never address, which is disappointing.

Those criticisms aside though, it’s an enjoyable film. In particular, the final 20 minutes are very good. I’m not going to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen it, but there are a few plot twists in the last act of the film that actually caught me by surprise. I’m not going to say that I saw things coming when I didn’t, and I reckon that without those things I’d probably come away from the film thinking it was alright, but nothing more.

As it happens, it’s clever, funny, extremely self aware and keeps your attention.

But poor old Neve, this is it for her. A career in TV Movies awaits.

Should You Watch Scream 4?

Yes, I think you should. Some people have said the Meta-Fiction nature of the film is just too much. I don’t think it is. I think this is what Scream 4 has to be. People say that the first Scream is a parody of the genre, but it has absolutely nothing on the fourth instalment of the series.

I wouldn’t say it’s particularly fresh or ground breaking, but it doesn’t need to be. By now, everyone knows what a Scream film is about, and everyone in the film knows it too. But yet it still manages to surprise at the end of it all.

As I say above, Wes Craven addresses the issues I had with the first one and turned it ar0und completely.

Overall, it’s well worth a watch.

Advertisements

Scream? I Didn’t

April 21, 2011

Last Friday saw the nationwide release of Scream 4.

The Scream franchise is something that reminds my social group (all in their late 20s and early 30s) of their Halcyon Days; Degeneration X, South Park, the Dundee University Students Union, Halloween Nights etc. I imagine it’s the same for most people of that age since it currently sits atop the UK Box Office Charts.

And sure enough, my friends – most of whom mump and moan at the mere suggestion of a trip to the rather overpriced cinema – were all like “A new Scream film? I’m there!!!” So we all agreed to go.

The ever bumbling Ghostface is knocked down...

But then it occurred to me – I’ve never seen Scream or any of the sequels.

“You’ve never seen Scream? You can’t mean that!”

But it’s true, I haven’t. It’s just one of these things that has passed me by. I haven’t seen the Karate Kid either come to think of it…

So anyway, I decided that before I see Scream 4 I should at least see the first one, and then maybe 2 and 3.

Plot

Since it was implied that I was the only person in the world  of my age-group not to have already seen it, I’ll assume you know the plot.

But if you don’t, here’s the imdb plot summary

A killer known as “Ghost Face” begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one.

Thoughts

I’ve had trouble writing this section of the review. It has actually been sitting open on my PC for a couple of days while I’ve tried to work out what to say without rambling.

And again...

So to get to the heart of the matter, the problem with watching Scream in 2011 – especially for the first time – is that is has dated; badly.

Fair enough, 1996 was 15 years ago, but it seems like things made well within the ‘mid-late teen era’ of my demographic shouldn’t look quite so old. It does though. It looks ancient, people have terribly dated clothing and the incidental music is loud and intrusive (thus negating the entire point of ‘incidental’ music). The greatest sign of its age is that mobiles are referred to as “Cellular Telephones” and that the ability to check someone’s phone record is used as a clever way to catch the killer. It’s a bit like the episodes of Columbo made in the 80s and 90s that catch people out because of newfangled technology like ‘Telephone Answering Machines’ and ‘Home Printers’.

1996 is clearly a long time ago.

The one thing that hasn’t aged about Scream is Courtney Cox, mainly because she looked old back then too. Was this woman ever young?

But its not just the look of Scream that had dated – it’s the concept and the effects as well.

As a concept, it’s maybe not fair to be too critical. It would be like criticising Laurel & Hardy for using jokes you’ve seen and heard before. Scream was the film that revitalised the genre – we all know that – but if you’ve seen any horror film made between then and now, you’ll have seen this film before. Naturally, those that followed it expanded upon ‘The Scream Formula’ so it was bound to have dated in that respect.

And again... Seriously, why do these girls not try and attack him once he's down. Or at the very least, disarm him?

In terms of the plot – it seems to rely on the ‘swerve’ of who the Ghostface turns out to be. Now I’m not sure if the ‘swerve’ (i.e. suddenly challenging what the audience has come to believe is the point) was something that wasn’t used all that often back in 1996, but I doubt it was new. By the late 90s though, everything was a swerve. In films, M. Night Shyamalan was the chief culprit, while on TV, step forward Vince Russo. Need I say more than “It’s me Austin! It was me all along” (anyone who knows what I’m talking about will agree on that score). Even in recent films like Unknown, the ‘swerve’ is still a major part of it.

What that does is conditions the viewer to try and guess where and when the swerve is coming, and in Scream, it really isn’t all that difficult. Within 30 seconds of the main cast all appearing together, you know exactly who Ghostface is. By the time Ghostface appears again you’ve worked out that two people are combining to be Ghostface. So you just sit there waiting for the bit that is supposed to be shocking and offer yourself a rather hollow congratulation on ‘working it all out’.

And then there are the effects…

I’m sure at the time, the first scene was considered really scary and gruesome. But since then the quality of special effects have increased greatly and films like Saw and Final Destination have ramped up the gore to a whole new level. It’s got to the point where the viewer is now completely desensitised to stuff like this, and so everything that happens in Scream just seems really tame. While people may have been frightened watching this in 1996, I just sat there chuckling. Maybe that was the desired audience reaction, but I doubt it.

Oh, and one other thing that makes the film seem dated is Ghostface himself. Whether it’s because he’s been the subject of so many parodies or because people have been dressing up as him at Halloween for years now, I just couldn’t take him seriously as he pranced about in his cloak. He comes across about as threatening as Donald Duck.

And on the subject of Ghostface – he’s the most bumbling serial killer ever. While watching the film, take note not only how how many times Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell evades him, but also look at the amount of times he ends up in vulnerable positions having slipped or been knocked down. The people he does kill ultimately deserve all they get for not fighting back. The scene where Whatever Happened To Neve Campbell’s friend gets killed in the garage is the worst example of it. She manages to knock him down three times and each time just prances over to another part of the room allowing him to get back up again. For God’s sake love, kick him in the head while he’s down. That would have

"It's Me Austin. It Was Me All Along". Those were the words that made anyone who saw the WWF Higher Power angle look out for 'The Swerve''. Everywhere. As such, Scream's attempt at a swerve is childsplay.

sorted him out. But no, she tries to escape head first through a cat flat she couldn’t fit through. Dear oh dear.

My final problem is the motivation for Ghostface’s murders. We can understand why he was trying to kill Campbell and through association we can understand why he killed her best mate. He also had to kill the cameraman to protect himself and the motivation for killing the School Principal is obvious.

But why did he kill Drew Barrymore and her boyfriend, and in such a torturous way? Unless I missed something, that made no sense. There didn’t seem to be any motivation for it, other than to start the film with a ‘gruesome’ set piece. But doing things that have no relation to the plot just to give the viewer something to get their teeth into is not something I like. So marks off for that.

One final observation…

When the likes of Party Teen #1 and Reporter With Mask are named in the credits, why is one of the most recognisable actors – who incidentally has a lot of lines – left out? Henry Winkler as the School Principle is uncredited for Scream. That just seems….weird.

Final Summary

Usually I would end with a ‘Should You Watch…’ section, but my understanding is that now that I’ve watched Scream, the entire human race has seen it. So instead, I’ll summarise.

Scream has dated, but in all fairness that isn’t Scream’s fault. A victim of its own success, Scream has been surpassed by the many films that it influenced. Had I seen it before I watched the likes of Saw, I might have found it more gory than it is. Had I not seen almost any other TV or film made in the last 15 years I might have been caught out by the swerve. And had Ghostface not been parodied so many times, I might have found him something other than an amusing cartoon character.

But I have and it was, and therefore Scream just didn’t have the desired effect on me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad…it’s just dated and irrelevant.

Had the teens been played by cast of Dawsons Creek or One Tree Hill I imagine I would have appreciated it far more.

Having said all that, I look forward to seeing Scream 4 to see how they do a film like this today. In the meantime, I think I might just about what happens in Scream 2 and 3 so that I’m caught up.