31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Scream 4”

 

New decade, old school?
New decade, old school?

What’s your favourite scary movie?

2011’s “Scream 4” revived everybody’s favourite post-modern slasher, Ghostface, after a decade’s absence, pitting the raspy-voiced, horror movie trivia-obsessed maniac against an entirely new horror – the Twitter generation.

Beginning with a dizzying series of movies-within-movies, as we find out that the faux “Stab” franchise is up to entry number seven, “Scream 4” follows series heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) back to Woodsboro on the fifteenth anniversary of the killings to promote her new book.

As inevitably as night following day, Sidney’s appearance encourages a new crazed slasher to take up the cloak and Ghostface mask, putting a younger, wiser and equally doomed generations of teens to the knife.  Only Sidney, Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and a writers-blocked Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) can discover the identity of the new killer before he gets his black-clad hands on Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts).

 

 

A lot of people really hated the third movie – I wasn’t amongst them at the time (Jay and Silent Bob FTW), but it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve seen it. The reviews of this film put me off seeing it back in 2011, and only the prospect of taking on this Halloween movie challenge made me take a chance on it.  And, you know, I’m mostly glad that I did.

The sense of fun and arcane nerdery employed by Craven and Williamson in the original trilogy is still evident here,despite the dread hands of “Transformers” scribe Ehren Kruger being on the shooting script.  The kaleidoscopic opening sequence pulls the proverbial rug from under the audience’s feet multiple times, showing confidence in said crowd’s ability to determine flashbacks-within-flashbacks (we even find out that the fifth(?) movie featured time travel!).

It’s intriguing that the movie doesn’t comment too much on recent genre tropes beyond an aside about Asian ghost girls and torture porn – in an age of found-footage, possession and zombie flicks, we get precious little acknowledgement of how the horror movie has altered since the last movie opened.  Okay, the main plot features a character who streams every moment of his daily life via a head-mounted camera and mic, but that’s about the extent of things (well, until the ending, but I won’t spoil that).

The non-supernatural slasher does seem rather quaint in an era where Blumhouse flicks are tearing up the box office and you’re more likely to see 19,000 identikit demonic possession potboilers in Netflix’s horror section than an axe-wielding maniac chasing plastic teens around the woods.  But, to his credit, Craven is a master of staging and elegantly crafts several set-pieces which are the equal of the party scene from the first movie or the cinema opening of the first sequel.

This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film.  Or something.
This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film. Or something.

Campbell, Arquette and Cox are as good as you would hope them to be, and new cast members like Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and – sigh – Alison Brie do good work in supporting roles.  If I have a problem with the film, the ultimate motivation of the new Ghostface killer seemed a little opaque, as for it to work, it indicates a rather epic level of cynicism about modern society and the blurring line between news coverage and scripted entertainment.  Cynicism which may be well-earned in this era of indistinguishable reality tv shows and the popularity of people who seem to do nothing more complicated than breathe oxygen on a regular basis.

I suppose that it’s quite plausible in the meta-hothouse reality of these movies, but the planning and – no pun intended – execution required to carry out the murders in the film suggests that the killers would be better remunerated writing these kinds of movies rather than taking out half of the graduating class of 2011.  Indeed, the staging of a climactic crime scene and actions carried out by the murderer stretch plausibility beyond credulity somewhat – it’s like some awesome hybrid of Sam Raimi violence, Looney Tunes and performance art.  Points for style, but the level of diabolical genius at play suggests a mind so twisted and brilliant that it makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Kardishian in comparison.

One last thing, if I may?  How come people don’t seem to have guns in Woodsboro?  Of all the places that one might expect to find surburban families packing heat, this blighted community would be it.  Oh, the possibilities of Ghostface bringing a knife to a shotgun fight…

Certainly worth a look if you like the previous films – if they left you cold and you found their layered pop cultural snark aesthetic utterly wearing, then avoid this movie as the clever-cleverness within might cause your head to explode, Tom Savini in “Maniac”-style.

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