I remember watching the original Scream when it came out, and I think many genre fans shared my rather schizophrenic reaction.
On the one hand, I was pleased as punch to see my beloved horror genre finally getting some positive attention with big names, a decent budget, and solid reviews. On the other hand, I resented the implication that horror was “usually” trash but that this one was good stuff, that it “reinvigorated” the genre, and that what made it good was its willingness to violate rules that most slasher flicks stuck to like glue.
Ultimately, I decided I liked the film because it was good, clean slasher fun in the Nightmare on Elm Street tradition: mocking and self-aware, but with creative deaths and a decent body count.
If I’m being honest, American horror wasn’t in the greatest shape as a genre in 1996: big budget gothic such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Interview with a Vampire came out in 1994, but there wasn’t a lot of exciting stuff coming out in the early nineties. I’d note 1992’s Candyman as a standout slasher, and 1994 also saw the great Italian film Cemetary Man (Dellamorte Dellamore), but lists of films in this period also reveal a lot of dreck: Leprechaun sequels, Children of the Corn IV, et cetera.
So, as always happens, something comes along to repopularize horror; in 1996, it was Scream. We laughed, we squealed, and a good time was had by all.
In 2011, we have Scream 4, and there are a lot of critics out there saying that it has, yet again, “reinvigorated” horror. I’m not sure that the metaphor holds this time, however, for two reasons.
First, is horror in terribly bad shape right now? I really don’t think so. We’ve had great recent films such as Let the Right One In and Drag Me to Hell. Zombies are eating brains and taking names on prime-time TV in The Walking Dead. Anyone complaining that horror is dead is not paying attention.
Second, Scream 4 just is not that good. It’s certainly not bad; if you’re a horror/ slasher fan, you’ll enjoy it heartily because it’s fun and a little innovative. But it’s not a great film. Let’s not allow ourselves to be “reinvigorated” and reinvented by every moderately competent movie that comes along.
This 2011 version of Scream returns to Woodsboro, site of the original murders in Scream, to catch up with the surviving cast of the previous trilogy: Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), now married to Sheriff (!) Dewey (David Arquette), and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has returned to her hometown on a book tour. While in town, Sidney is staying with family: an aunt and a cousin Jill, and Jill’s circle of friends provides the new teen fodder for the villain. This psycho killer begins replicating the events of the original murders with a new bunch of teenage friends, creating a murder spree that is both "remake" and "sequel."
This is a clever plot device that has the viewer constantly making mental comparisons to the original. "Well, in the first Scream, X dies next, so that means. . . and in the original Scream, X was the killer, so that means. . . ”
It provides for some fun mental gymnastics, as you try to figure out where the new film will duplicate the original and where it will innovate.
My main beef with the film is its oversimplification of its own genre, done in the service of making itself appear more innovative and special than it actually is.
The schtick of Scream 4 is because of the original Scream’s successful debunking of horror tropes, the new rules are there are no rules. Whatever is least expected is what will happen: virgins die, drug users may live, and so forth.
I don’t buy this. Every genre has rules, but that’s not to say every film abides by every rule; any film worth its salt follows tradition in some ways and innovates in others. So, Scream, and by that I mean every film in the series, is just like every other horror film: it holds with tradition in some ways and innovates in others.
This supposed "new rule" (that there are NO rules) provides Scream 4’s subtext, its overt claim to fame and greatness, that it recognizes NO rules and violates your expectations at every turn.
Not true. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
Does this film violate the rule that main characters, ones we are already invested in, shouldn’t die? NO. Certainly not. Our beloved Gail, Dewey, and Sidney make it through to the end, though almost no one else does. Saw that coming.
Does this film violate the rule that characters we’re already invested in should not be the killer? NO, though the film enjoys making you suspect Gail, the killer is not one of the three key surviving characters.<>
The big twist, the thing that’s supposed to be so innovative and exciting, is that one of the killers (and yes, like the original Scream there are two) is a girl!!!
Wow! Aren’t we excited? I don’t mind having a girl killer, but the idea that this is such an innovation is a little offensive.
Friday the 13th. Urban Legend. High Tension. It’s been done before, and Scream 4 lacks the balls of some of the previously mentioned films because the girl apparently needed a male friend to pull it off. She couldn’t do it alone.
The new film also has some stuff to say about modern culture, its obsession with fame, its instantaneous news cycle, its desensitization to violence… This is all fine, but it’s presented as if we’re supposed to find it deep.
I did not, and this thread of commentary isn’t even original to the series, since it all showed up in Scream 2 already.
So, go see it. It’s fun. But let’s not talk about anything needing reinvigorating.