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Overall Rating
2.67

Awesome: 2.17%
Worth A Look: 30.43%
Average: 15.22%
Pretty Bad36.96%
Total Crap: 15.22%

5 reviews, 16 user ratings


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Scream 4
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Needs More Monkey"
3 stars

Once upon a time, there was a modest and unassuming horror movie called "Scream" that had the nifty idea of taking a fairly standard mad slasher saga involving nubile teens, a seemingly omnipresent killer and lots and lots of fake blood and populating it with characters who had actually seen all of the "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movies and were able to recognize and comment on the hoary old clichés that they were stepping into, even if that knowledge didn't quite manage to save them from being gutted like catfish in the end. This wasn't a wholly original idea--there had been a couple of slasher movie spoofs back in the day like "Student Bodies" and "Pandemonium" and the underrated "Fade to Black" had a psycho who based his killings on famous movie death scenes--but it was one that was beautifully executed by screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven and against all expectations, the film was a smash hit at the box office, revitalized Craven's then-waning career (his previous effort had been the best forgotten Eddie Murphy vampire film "Vampire in Brooklyn," a film in which Murphy wasn't the only thing that sucked) and launched a seeming endless string of rip-offs as well as the inevitable sequels "Scream 2" and "Scream 3." Although the follow-ups never plunged to the depths of most unnecessary slasher sequels, they both fell into the trap of trying to outdo the original in both the body count and in the meta-movie commentary offered up by the characters throughout and after a while, what once was amusing and unique became tiresome and the sub-genre as whole eventually faded from view in order to be replaced by torture porn extravaganzas like "Saw" and "Hostel" and remakes of Japanese ghost stories like "The Ring" and "Pulse" and American slasher favorites like, you guessed it, "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

Now, eleven years after the release of the last installment, "Scream 4" (and no, I will not be implementing the ludicrous “Scre4m” moniker on the basis that if I didn’t do it for David Fincher, I sure as hell am not going to do it for the likes of “Scream 4”) has arrived in hopes of luring both fans of the original films and people who were barely in their terrible twos when the first one came out into their local multiplex to see two generations of familiar faces from the big and small screens making snarky comments and bleeding out from multiple stab wounds. It even features pretty much all of the key figures from the originals--Craven, Williamson and stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette--back for more of the same, which is interesting since they had all pretty much said at the end of "Scream 3" that this was it and Craven's well-publicized fights with Harvey and Bob Weinstein over the torturous making and remaking of the ill-fated meta-werewolf disaster "Cursed" suggested that he would never work for them again under any circumstances. This perception was so well-known that it even served as the basis for a couple of jokes in "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back" in which the beloved stoner duo stumbled across Craven shooting a version of "Scream 4" that had Shannen Doherty battling a homicidal monkey to indicate that the films were becoming hackie in all the wrong ways. Of course, a decade's worth of uneven career moves do have a tendency to change one's point-of-view (especially if one's last directorial effort was the monumentally silly "My Soul to Take") and the financial success of so many recent horror retreads would seem to make the notion of doing a film that could serve as both a continuation and a reboot of a well-known franchise a no-brainer. As crassly conceived cash-grabs go, the film isn't too awful--it has a few funny bits and it is made with a certain skill. The problem is that it spends so much time offering self-aware commentary about the minutiae of horror movies ranging from the intricacies of the remakes to the likelihood of certain characters making it to the end with all of their internal organs remaining internal that it soon forgets to be, you know, scary. The original film balanced the humor and the horror brilliantly but this one is so insistently self-reflexive that watching it is like watching a snake eating itself--it is interesting to watch for a while but there is nothing left to hold onto once it finishes its mildly nauseating task.

At this point, I would normally offer a reasonably concise and fairly spoiler-free overview of the plot but thanks to a letter to critics from the good folks at Dimension Films advising me (in terms more terrifying than anything on display in the film itself) not to reveal any details involving the shocking plot twists, the elaborate death scenes or practically anything beyond the fact that Neve Campbell appears in it. (That is all right, isn’t it?) As the film opens, (and ultra-touchy readers should consider a Spoiler Warning to be in effect for the remainder of this paragraph), it is the anniversary of the original murders and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell--look, I thought it was okay to mention her!) has returned to her hometown of Woodsboro as the last stop of a tour to promote a book that she has written about surviving the numerous killing sprees that she has inspired without letting them define her. Other Woodsboro residents are commemorating their town's brush with infamy and the prodigal daughter's return in less tasteful ways--the organizers of the high school's cinema club are holding a dusk-to-dawn screening of the 6 "Stab" films inspired by the murder sprees and someone with the infamous Ghostface outfit, voice disguiser and knife has just hacked up a couple of high school girls.

At this point, I should probably avoid going any further into story details and instead mention the various people who pop up to serve as potential suspects, potential victims or, in many cases, both. From the good old days, we have Dewey Riley(David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox), whose seemingly storybook marriage is floundering from Gale's inability to move on with her career as a writer and her suspicions about the flirtatious moves that sexy Deputy Judy (Marley Shelton) is putting on now-Sheriff Dewey. Among the newer people, there is Sidney's heretofore unmentioned cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her mother (Mary McDonnell), Jill's unfaithful boyfriend, Trevor (Nico Tortorella), a pair of dorky movie-mad geeks (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen), a hottie with the heart of a movie geek beating beneath her Wonderbra (Hayden Panettiere), Sidney's craven book publicist (Alison Pill), a pair of wisecracking cops (Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson), a pair of wisecracking movie buffs (Lucy Hale and Shenae Grimes), another pair of wisecracking movie buffs (Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell) and (Marielle Jaffe), another friend of Jill's whose character exists solely to look scared while in her underwear. Of these people, who survives and what will be left of them will be left for you to determine.

Walking into the screening of "Scream 4," I must confess that my hopes weren't exactly sky-high for its prospects on the basis that Craven and Williamson had pretty much mined all the material one could hope to extract from the self-aware horror conceit and that this was nothing more than an attempt to milk the concept for one more payday. Perhaps recognizing that many viewers would be going into it with a similar mindset (especially if they saw the flimsy "Scream 3"), the two smartly kick off the proceedings with the most impressive opening sequence to the series since the original--a stylish set piece that cleverly brings together equal parts humor, horror and snarky skewerings of contemporary genre clichés in a package that is so entertaining that even the biggest naysayers of the entire concept of a fourth "Scream" will find themselves beginning to think that Craven and Williamson have indeed knocked it out of the park once again. Unfortunately, once the giddy rush of the opening burns of, it becomes evident that neither of them (nor Ehren Kruger, who, despite being responsible for the screenplay for "Scream 3," was brought in for some uncredited rewrites when Williamson had to leave the project in order to return to his day job on "The Vampire Diaries") have any real interest or use for what has occurred in the genre they are dissecting in the ensuing decade. Instead of offering gory/goofy dissections on the torture porn geek shows and unnecessary remakes that were until recently all the rage, they merely have a couple of characters say that those movies are stupid and then ode again go back to paying homage to the same slasher movie tropes as in the previous installments. The trouble with that approach is that there really have been many upfront mad slasher movies (not including remakes) in recent years and so they have nothing new to mock and as a result, they are essentially doing the same old thing again.

Most of the big scare sequences are brought down by their utter familiarity--none of the kills are particularly ingenious and while they are staged competently enough, nearly every one feels as if Craven is at a loss as to how to once again present another nubile babe being chased by another knife-wielding psycho in a way that he hasn't already offered up. As a result, the snarky commentary winds up dominating the proceedings and while it does yield some laughs here and there, it gets so heavy-handed after a while (even the cops are seen discussing the roles of cops in horror films and the likelihood of their survival) that the whole thing begins to feel like the goriest episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" ever produced. And since the film doesn't really seem to care about the characters or what happens to them, it is impossible for viewers to care whether any of them live or die in the end. Then again, this might be a good thing because if viewers were invested in the story and characters, they might revolt upon viewing the ending--I won't go into any details except to suggest that it is so ridiculous, unbelievable and thematically heavy-handed that the aforementioned monkey finale only seems slightly less plausible by comparison. (Actually, the concept behind the ending isn’t bad on its own--the trouble is that it doesn’t really jibe with anything else that we have seen up to that point.) Another major flaw is that the story throws so many new characters our way--presumably as an easy way to up both the suspect pool and the body count--that there is no time to flesh them out in any significant way before outing their flesh, as it were, and the result is a group of potential victims so colorless that they make the likes of Skeet Ulrich and Jamie Kennedy seem like charismatic dynamos by comparison.

As I said, "Scream 4" isn't as bad as I initially feared it would be--it is nice to see Campbell, Cox and Arquette slipping into their old roles (though it still boggles the mind how someone as blandly pleasant as Campbell's character could inspire so many different kill sprees) and it is certainly better than the pointless remakes and exhausted sequels that make up the majority of what passes for mainstream American horror films these days. The trouble is that having so thoroughly reinvigorated the genre with the first "Scream," one expects something more from Craven and Williamson and they simply do not get it here. To make matters worse, they have the misfortune to come out a couple of weeks after "Insidious," a spookfest from the makers of "Saw" that works as a highly effective haunted house thriller while at the same time paying affectionate homage to its predecessors. That is a film that truly delivers the goods and the fact that it is holding on fairly well at the box office, especially for a horror film (a genre that tends to open strongly and fade quickly), suggests that audiences (and not just horror buffs) are responding to its smart, low-fi charms. By comparison, "Scream 4" offer viewers gallons of gore, loads of ironic commentary and enough babes to fill a year's subscription to "Maxim" but in the end, the most that I can really say about it with any sense of enthusiasm is that it is as least slightly better than "Scream 3."

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20529&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/15/11 14:26:12
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not as good as the 1st one better than 2&3 though 4 stars
8/07/14 David Hollingsworth Wes Craven nails it again! 5 stars
6/18/14 Haley S. This was actually pretty good. It was funny and entertaining. 4 stars
2/07/12 David Hollingsworth Better than expected, funny, scary 4 stars
12/15/11 cr the weakiest in the scream series, great one liners and some scary moments, ok flick 2 stars
10/10/11 ashley rexrode lots of action!!! i love it!!! could have had better acting though 4 stars
5/04/11 Luis I thought it was good! Funny and scary! 4 stars
4/28/11 mr.mike Wasn't bad at all, avoids becoming a self-parody. 4 stars
4/28/11 damalc the audience used to be in on the joke. now, the audience IS the joke. 2 stars
4/24/11 Alex Hadn't had this fun in a while at movies. With the right attitude it more than delivers 4 stars
4/21/11 Chris F very average 3 stars
4/20/11 peter jokeson Bad: 2 Much Self refrencing ruins laughs and scares in film Good: Red herrings 2 stars
4/20/11 Ace-of-Stars Kept asking myself if the movie was over yet several times bef halfway mark; more afterward 2 stars
4/20/11 PAUL SHORTT HOW EASILY SELF-REFERENCE CAN VEER INTO ACCURATE SELF-CRITICISM 1 stars
4/19/11 Anthony Feor Funny, bloody and genuinely scary. I enjoyed Scream 4. 4 stars
4/18/11 Stop Terrible. Craven has lost his touch. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Apr-2011 (R)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  15-Apr-2011
  DVD: 04-Oct-2011


Directed by
  Wes Craven

Written by
  Kevin Williamson

Cast
  Neve Campbell
  Courteney Cox
  David Arquette
  Brian Cox
  Simon Gruber
  Bianca Cutrona



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