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Review: ‘Scream 4’

Wes Craven’s Latest is No Scary Movie

Above: Poor Sidney (Neve Campbell) is being stalked yet again in "Scream 4."

"Scream 4" (opening April 15 throughout San Diego) is the latest entry in Wes Craven's horror franchise and it's only one step away from "Scary Movie." Notice I said "one step away" and not "one step up."

Wes Craven's 1996 "Scream" is one of the films responsible for the decline in contemporary horror. It may not have introduced jokey horror but it made a lot of money doing it and that inspired a whole generation of filmmakers and studio execs to make films that simply never had the balls to even try and scare anyone. This is not to say I don't like horror comedies. "Shaun of the Dead" is brilliant because it's funny, it's gory, and it actually makes you care about the characters. Same thing with TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But the "Scream" films only make you giggle at their stupidity. You never care about any of the characters and the gore is only average. In fact in this latest installment, you could almost see the seams in the prosthetic effects used for some of the scars and knife wounds. This film will not fare well on Bluray where all such imperfections come through with digital clarity.

Which star (Anna Paquin or Kristen Bell) will bite the dust in the opening of the latest Wes Craven sequel, "Scream 4?"

Dimension Films

Above: Which star (Anna Paquin or Kristen Bell) will bite the dust in the opening of the latest Wes Craven sequel, "Scream 4?"

This latest "Scream" serves up its best moments in its opening minutes. As with the previous films, the franchise makes a point of getting a recognizable star for the opening and then killing her off. When that happened to Drew Barrymore in 1996 for the first film, it was a nice twist, suggesting that our expectations of having the star live till the end or close to the end were going to be denied. (Hitchcock did that decades before and so much better in "Psycho.") But with the fourth film this has become a cliché that the latest film can only make jokes about. And does so quite nicely. I'll give the film props for getting Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell for a funny intro. But then it's all downhill on a slippery bloody slope from there.

The story picks up ten years after the first film with Sidney (Neve Campbell) turning her repeated victimhood into a best-selling book and film fame. Gale (Courtney Cox), the one-time TV reporter, has married Dewey (David Arquette), who is now the sheriff of Woodsboro. So the old-timers from the past films are all reassembled. Then we have some fresh blood in the new crop of teenagers led by Jill (Emma Roberts). Sidney comes back to town for a book tour and guess what, Ghostface strikes again. Bodies quickly pile up as poor Dewey -- with a goofy-creepy deputy sidekick (Marley Shelton) -- try to protect Sidney and sort the murders out.

The Cinema Club salutes Ghostface in "Scream 4."

Dimension Films

Above: The Cinema Club salutes Ghostface in "Scream 4."

Of course a number of characters are horror nuts that play trivia games about the genre while being stalked by a serial killer. The cinema club teens explain how the new Ghostface is reinventing the "plot" and tweaking all the clichés we have come to expect. Only problem is that the tweaks have become clichés and the audience is way ahead of the killer and his/her victims. But Ghostface has always been a rather lame serial killer. In the past Ghostface has always been a pair of killers and I think one time even a female killer but to be honest these films are so blandly homogenous that I can't remember much about them, and I even get them confused with the goofy spoof of them "Scary Movie." But he is never all that scary or intimidating, and because the killer changes with each film he doesn't get to develop much personality or menace. His costume is pretty dumb as well and just seems to have been designed to manufacture cheaply and easily for mass sales at Halloween.

These films reveal so little imagination on the part of Wes Craven that you forget that he actually knew how to make scary movies back in the seventies ("Last House on the Left" is still disturbing). Since the film is so self-referential I wish the characters had sought out Craven on the set of his next film and killed him or at least tied him up and pried open his eyelids like Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange," and then made him watch all his "Scream" films in an endless loop. I've interviewed Craven and he's a smart, articulate guy who actually knows horror and has good ideas but he has failed to pursue anything worthwhile for years. Pursuit of money, apparently, is more attractive than art these days.

"Scream 4" has occasional moments. As I mentioned the open is fun, and a couple kills are well executed (like a knife wound to the forehead). There's also a funny-mean dig at Neve Campbell for not being the ingénue she once was. Although Courtney Cox is the one I would have called out for looking scary (and I've been praying for her to be offed since her first annoying appearance in "Scream 1"). But a few mildly entertaining moments are all that keeps my anger at bay. Craven doesn't even take full advantage of his R rating to deliver a classic mix of babes, boobs, and blood (or if he really wants to update and refresh genre clichés he could add balls for a new "B").

One of the lamest serial killers, Ghostface.

Dimension Films

Above: One of the lamest serial killers, Ghostface.

To make matters worse, Craven throws in a clip of "Shaun of the Dead" just to remind us what good horror comedy is really like. It's not very smart to place the best of the genre inside one of the worst examples. Craven also calls out all the lame remakes, which again forces us to be aware of how unoriginal his own film is. His film doesn't hold up to any logic either. For one, when the killer is revealed we realize that Ghostface's height was all wrong and it was a total cheat. The film also claims to make use of new technology but Facebook and Twitter are just mentioned. But for once everyone's cell phone works because how else will Ghostface get to taunt his victims by phone. But when they call the cops in this small town it takes 20 minutes for them to get there. These things would be easy to overlook if the film excelled elsewhere but since it doesn't I found myself with plenty of time to nitpick.

"Scream 4" (rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking) will probably please the less demanding fans of the franchise because it's so jokily self-referential. But in the end it makes a lot of noise about challenging genre stereotypes and clichés but then is too lazy and simple-minded to do anything but fall victim to them.

Companion viewing: "Psycho," "Scream," "Scary Movie," "Shaun of the Dead," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

Comments

Avatar for user 'IanForbes'

IanForbes | April 17, 2011 at 2:45 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Although the box office tracking has "Scream 4" making half of its production budget back in the first weekend, meaning its a no-brainer it will end up making money, I can only hope the more tepid than expected response will give the producers pause about pursuing chapters 5 and 6 (Craven and writer Kevin Williamson are signed on for them).

This latest installment was merely a poor tweaking of the first film, and while Emma Roberts did a nice job, there wasn't anyone nearly as entertaining as Matthew Lilliard and the movie lacked a true sense of fun. Anyone who's seen the original trilogy may almost be looking at a 'Star Wars prequels' level of embarrassment (not that I'm equating the franchises).

Of course, if that's true, I guess that means Marley Shelton is Jar Jar ... I bet Lake Bell is happy she had "scheduling conflicts" now.

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Avatar for user 'wonder66'

wonder66 | April 17, 2011 at 3:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Ok firstly if you not a fan of the franchise or even the first film why write a review in the first place? The fact that you had to watch Scream again does ultimately show your lack of knowledge on the subject. I'll let you in on a secret I don't like Star Wars I have possibly seen 1 and a 1/3 of the Star Wars movies. So when/if/whatever...another film comes out I won't be the first person in the queue to buy a ticket.

You're comparing Scream to Psycho which also lets everyone know that you actually didn't get the point of these slasher movies. They are not lazy they are different. They are not Psycho, they are not The Ring. They are a totally unique brand of movie. The reason they fall under the horror category is because of the undeniable concept (people being chased and tormented by masked killers) and also because of the age rating. They shouldn't be compared to such films as The grudge, Paranormal Activity or The Fog. Your review is redundant as you have no idea what your reviewing.

As for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' you must have been p*ssed when ghost face visits Omega, Beta, Zeta in Scream 2! Lol

Comparing this film to TV show garbage is an insult to Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, Me, Anyone that reads this spill and Scream 4. At least do some real research and watch the correct Vampire series such as Vampire Diaries to give us an honest review of Kevin Williamson.

I enjoyed the movie. They kept the three main characters (from the trilogy) alive while resurrecting the format. They changed the rules without us feeling cheated. They developed the new characters without losing the main feel. There were plenty of red herrings to keep us interested and they poked fun at not only themselves but the horror genre and victim fails of yesteryear. I'm glad they didn't resort to the big boobed showering death scenes which is what you would have them do. Come on it's been done. It's tried, tested and tired! And if the third B would have been balls this movie might as well have cut off their own.

You shouldn't be nitpicking when your not a fan and as someone who doesn't like these films you should think about how bad it actually could have been? 10 years down the line, Woodsboro, new killer. It could have been awful. And it wasn't. Like at all.

Go back to your Buffy boxset and leave films you don't understand alone. Review The Reader orSaving Private Ryan or any of the various torture porn movies available AND in the words of Sidney Prescott "Don't f*ck with the original!

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Avatar for user 'Miguel Rodriguez'

Miguel Rodriguez | April 17, 2011 at 1:52 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I wasn't too inclined to read this review because I have no intention of watching Scream 4. Wes Craven, as a director who has made some real gems in the past, has continually disappointed with failure after failure over the last two decades. The first Scream was mildly entertaining because it seemed to call attention to what had happened to the slasher genre after years of manufactured sequels. Using slasher conventions as a source for serial murder was funny. Sadly, Scream, as well as its sequels, fell victim to exactly what it was playing around with. Unique or different, the movies definitely were not.

I can't fault the series for introducing tweens to the genre. I know for many people it was a gateway to actually good horror like Texas Chainsaw Massacre--or ironically some of the slashers Scream was poking fun at (Friday the 13th, Halloween, et al). That's all the first Scream films were to me--watered down primers to actual horror. Scream 4 looks to be much the same and not for me.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 17, 2011 at 1:56 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I reviewed this film because I am a fan of horror and it's my job to review as many films as I can not just films I like. That's what all film critics do. I am just being honest and revealing how I view the franchise.

Comparing Scream to Psycho is a comparison the film itself when one of the characters is being quizzed by Ghostface about the roots of slasher films. But maybe you are like the character, too young to remember where these films really come from. I did not compare the film to The Ring or The Grudge or Paranormal Activity so you are criticizing me for something I did not do. And the only reason I compared it to Buffy is because Buffy mixed horror, comedy, and a self-referential sense of the genre cliches only it does it better. I am talking about style and approach not content. Buffy is great TV and the Scream sequels are garbage cinema. I did not bring up Vampire Diaries because I was not trying to critique Kevin Williamson's career but now that you mention it Vampire Diaries has many of the same problems as Scream.

Scream 4 does not change any rules and the fact that you revealed who lives is proof that the formula is intact because the exact same characters keep surviving. There is nothing original in Scream 4. Every red herring is transparent and no one is even the slightest bit fooled.

You are also putting words into my mouth by saying that I wanted a "big boobed showering death." Like the film you tend to resort only to cliches. My point was that so few horror films go for an R that this film should have at least delivered sex as well as violence and preferably in a manner that had not been done before. Maybe the school virgin is the first to die and the school slut is the heroine at the end. Heck Scary Movie does a better job of exploiting its R rating to skewer horror genre cliches -- remember the glory hole penis death? Now that's putting an R rating to good use and making fun of horror cliches.

I think it is a critic's job to nitpick films that are mere products designed to make money. And I feel especially compelled to critique this film because I love the horror genre and hate seeing it diluted by films like this. The fact that you quote Sidney's "Don't f-ck with the original" only proves how little the films have bothered to change anything because the fans apparently want the safety of that formula. The Scream films are as formulaic as Scooby Doo and just as safe.

Thanks to everyone for the comments.

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Avatar for user 'bc379'

bc379 | April 18, 2011 at 1:22 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm a fan of the Scream franchise and I've been from the first film released in 1996. I was 6-years-old and I don't know how my parents let me watch it.
Anyway, the first one was supposed to be a parody of slasher films. With the success they went on making a sequel and therefore it became a trilogy.
The whole point of the three movies was Sidney's mom because she was the town's slut and everyone got killed thanks to her. The first pair were pissed at Sidney's mom for separating his parents, the second killer was the mother of the first killer (I guess it's mocking Friday the 13th with a twist... first the son, then the mother) and the third killer I think was Sidney's brother from another father...

My point is that Scream 4 was different for the first time ever... it was all about Sidney and not her mother. Of course, she was mentioned like two times just to remind the fans that the woman was the cause for all the stabbing in the previous three films. I felt a relief when the movie ended because it felt good to see something else other than another remake in 3D. For being on hiatus ten years, it feels nice to see it come back with more jokes on other movies, our times where everyone wants to be famous for anything, and even better jokes on themselves.

And, about how every death is predictable... they gave it away in the trailers.
I like your review, though. I'm becoming a fan.

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Avatar for user 'spackle1213'

spackle1213 | April 18, 2011 at 7:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

@Beth~ I still have yet to see the movie but read your before I did. I also read your response to wonder66's review of your review. He mentioned that there were the three main characters kept alive from the original trilogy to help ressurect this movie. He didn't mention what their fates would be. In your response to him YOU actually revealed that they all lived and now completely ruined the movie to me. Your statement "...and the fact that you revealed who lives is proof that the formula is intact because the exact same characters keep surviving" was completely unnecessary. All you did was confirm something he never really stated. I get it, you didn't like the movie. I can appreciate honest criticism but please don't ruin the movie for me just because you're pissed that someone didn't like your review.

And really? You think a penis stuck through a hole is "good" use of an R rating? Keep doing what you're doing, but you've lost all credibility to me. You don't need to respond. I will not be coming back to this site.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 18, 2011 at 12:19 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

bc379- wow your parents took you to SCREAM when you were 6? Did that make you become a horror fan? My parents took me to see THE COLLECTOR at 6 and it scared me so badly that I think it made me what to embrace horror.

I can see your point that SCREAM 4 is different from the other films in the franchise but the problem for me is that what it replaces it with feels all too familiar within the horror genre.

One thing a friend pointed out that I really didn't mention is that the SCREAM films made a point of creating horror geek characters and that that was what he enjoyed about them. I like that as well but I wish Craven made the horror geeks a little smarter about the genre they profess to love.

And as for the deaths... thanks for mentioning the trailer. I hate trailers these days because they do give away too much. I would hate to be a horror filmmaker now because the studios want to put everything in the trailer and it's really unfair to the film and ruins many of the scares. The FRIDAY the 13th remake put all the kills in the trailer as well. Lame.

Thanks for the comment.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 18, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

My parents took me to see THE COLLECTOR at 6 and it scared me so badly that I think it made me what to embrace horror."

LOL, Beth, so you're either a very precocious 8 if they took you to see the 2009 film or you are a year older than moi if they took you to see the Bill Wyler adaptation of the John Fowles novel! LOL

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 18, 2011 at 3:06 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

The WIlliam Wyler film with Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. I had nightmares from that film but I think that fear also proved to be strangely attractive to me because I have loved horror most of my life.

Thanks.

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Avatar for user 'wanner251'

wanner251 | April 21, 2011 at 4:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Seriously, Beth, horror fan or not, as a critic, you really need to exercise the concept of proofreading your work. Personally, I think that the content of your review misses the whole point of the movie. However, even if you were right on the mark, no one will take your writing seriously because it is full of errors. Please refrain from measuring apples by oranges' standards and focus on writing without completely misspelling and omitting words.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 22, 2011 at 8:54 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for proofreading. I went back and proofread it again and found I had typed "seem" instead of "see;" left the "ly" off of "actually;" and the accent was missing off of cliché. Forgive me for being human.

As for "measuring apples by oranges' standards," the comparisons are all apt and appropriate and raised by the film itself. The first SCREAM had some merits and freshness but this latest film succeeds at nothing aside from a clever open, which in itself has become a cliché. In the end, SCREAM has become a horror joke rather than a horror satire.

Thanks for the comments.

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Avatar for user 'wanner251'

wanner251 | April 29, 2011 at 9:33 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Yes, Beth. However, such is the nature of a film like this. If the movie had sought to reinvent itself, it would not be "Scream 4". There is only so much that can be done with self-aware characters, I agree. The point of the film, however, is that no matter how crazy and out there horror films get, there will always be something to be said for the classic slasher. Scream 4 compares itself to other, newer horror films because it seems to believe that these newer movies are pretending to be something they're not: "torture porn", and the like. Scream 4 does not pretend in any way at all. It sticks with a formula, a tightly packed and simple story, and some surprises and twists. It even goes out on a limb with an extended ending! The only thing wrong with this movie is that it's horror nerd characters are no Randy... That was this series' biggest mistake: killing Randy back in Scream 2. He still should have gotten the girl in the end. :-)

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 30, 2011 at 3:31 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

I will agree with you about Randy. I think if they had made the film geeks in SCREAM 4 smarter in their film knowledge that would have gone a long way to improving my enjoyment of the film.

Thanks for the comment.

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