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Scream And Scream Again

April 17th, 2011

Director Wes Craven’s 1996 effort Scream was best known as the horror film populated by characters familiar with the tropes of horror films. Their survival meant adhering to the “rules”: don’t have premarital sex, don’t say “I’ll be right back,” and, for goodness’ sake, don’t forget to look behind you.

That winking meta-commentary was fun, but it wasn’t the only thing I admired about Scream. It was also a murder mystery that played fair with the audience. There were red herrings aplenty, but the final reveal of its omnipresent, Halloween-masked killer held up under multiple viewings.

Furthermore, Scream and its sequels had something to say about how media and their audiences feed upon each other, howling around in an endless, recirculating wind. Scream 2 kicked off at the premiere of “Stab,” a film-within-the-film based upon the events of the previous installment’s “real-life” killings. And Scream 3 took place on the set of a sequel to “Stab,” with a parallel cast playing Hollywood analogues of the franchise’s regular characters.

Which brings us to Scream 4. Eleven years have passed since the previous chapter, and what a difference a decade makes. The original Scream played with the growing ubiquity of cell phones among the young, but the clunky handset seen in the clip of “Stab 5″ (or is it “Stab 6?”) serves as a reminder of how personal communications technology exploded in the Oughts. Webcams and social media figure heavily in the plot. Want to sound like the Ghost Face killer? There’s an app for that!

To some extent, the meta-meta-commentary this time around is too clever for its own good. The opening sequence–a series of fake-outs and reversals–is certainly fun, but there’s absolutely no comparison to the intense terror of Drew Barrymore’s deadly trivia game back in 1996. And having the characters hang a lampshade on the script’s deficiencies doesn’t excuse them. (The killer is even tripped up by the old “I never told you about [specific detail]” mistake.)

It’s a little disappointing that Wes Craven didn’t do more to address changes to the horror genre during the intervening years. There are references to “torture porn,” “found footage” movies and Japanese ghost girls, but the actual murders remain old-school slasher stuff. It’s oddly charming in its way.

Unfortunately, this time I pegged the killer early. That may not be the film’s fault; prior to seeing Scream 4 I’d read something online that drew my attention to a particular character and had me tracking that person’s comings and goings. To the script’s credit, the murderer’s motivations make so much sense that I’m surprised we haven’t seen something similar in real life. Yet.

Another thing in the plus column is that the Scream films continue to have a point. This time there’s a wicked observation on the nature of fame in the 21st Century.

Scream 4 is good, grisly fun. I enjoyed revisiting these characters and wouldn’t mind catching up with them every decade or so. Next time, Ghost Face will be making taunts through subcutaneously-implanted phones.

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