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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
Gory Scream 4 a sequel for the next generation
Arts & Entertainment
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Gory Scream 4 a sequel for the next generation

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Scream 4
Opening April 15


Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has returned to her hometown of Woodsboro on the anniversary of the first time she was forced to face a mysterious ghost-faced killer intent on sending her to the grave. Fellow survivor and friend Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is now town sheriff, while former investigative reporter and author wife Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) is struggling to overcome a bad case of writer's block as she tries to pen a book not based on lethal events she was personally involved with.

What happens next is hardly a surprise. Ghostface is back and he (or she, or them, or & you get the idea) is intent on forcing Sidney to relive past events as they dispatch those close to her in an attempt to remake the events from over a decade ago. They don't want a sequel; they want a new interpretation, changing the rules of the game as they construct their version of cinematically inspired terror for a cybernetic generation obsessed with social media and internet fame.

I didn't want another entry in the Scream series. The 1996 original directed by horror maestro Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson is darn near perfect, changing the rules of the genre while also bringing forth a template that has been copied and beaten to death ad nauseam ever since its release. It was the birth of self-aware horror, giving the genre new life in a way no subsequent chiller (including hits like Saw or Paranormal Activity) has been able to match.

But the series ran its course relatively quickly, and while I was - and still am - a big fan of 1997's Scream 2, by the time things came to their conclusion in the relatively lackluster Scream 3 in 2000, it was readily apparent that what was once fresh and exciting was starting to go stale. Granted, that final chapter wasn't written by Williamson as The Ring and The Skeleton Key scribe Ehren Kruger took over in that department, and his more straightforward and clinical approach was not especially interesting.

Now comes Scream 4, a film that isn't so much a sequel as it is a remake, and once again Craven and Williamson manage to rise to the occasion in a way that is hugely surprising and highly entertaining. This crazy boondoggle of a B-movie slasher mystery is lots of fun to watch, and while the body count has risen and the gore level is higher, the sass, smarts, suspense, cynicism, and humor from the original are all back.

Starting with the ingenious opening title sequence, it becomes readily apparent that neither Craven nor Williamson are interested in returning to a dried-up well. Instead, they've taken the ideas of the first film and twisted them in on themselves, using the technological advances of the last decade and society's celebrity-obsessed culture to give the series an invigorating kick. They also play on Hollywood's horror movie remake frenzy by commenting on what's been going on while they challenge all of their audience's expectations at the same time, crafting a giddy mystery that's as incisive as it is fun.

I like the fact that Williamson has again populated his story with a group of interesting characters a viewer can relate to and feel something for, and while not all of them are as fully realized as I'd have liked them to be, the threat of their demise still carries an emotional value not seen since Sidney faced down Billy and Stu. Better, the list of suspects here actually makes sense - any number of people could be the knife-wielding Ghostface - and while I was pretty sure I knew who it was at about the midpoint, that didn't make the ultimate climactic revelation any less thrilling.

While it's fun to have Campbell, Cox, and Arquette back playing characters I've grown to adore, new arrivals Rory Culkin, Erik Knudsen, Marielle Jaffe, Hayden Panettiere, and Emma Roberts are certainly up to the challenge of being the face of Craven and Williamson's next generation. Panettiere and Roberts in particular are worthy of adulation, both having a field day with the whip-smart dialogue, which allows the two young actresses to make indelible impressions.

It goes without saying that this long-in-coming sequel could never match the original's impact. I remember seeing Scream at a promo screening in a theater a couple of blocks away from the University of Washington. My fellow audience members and I were not prepared for what we were about to witness. The terror-infused euphoria that engulfed the audience was nearly apoplectic, and as we left, we knew we'd just seen something that was going to transform the cinematic horror game as we knew it.

This sequel will not do that, but it does entertain, it's fun, and the way it challenges the very idea of what a remake is can be exhilarating. Craven, no stranger to having his own classics reinterpreted (what with lifeless new versions of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left), shows that even at 71 years of age, he can still be a horror director of merit, while Williamson gets out of screenwriting purgatory after Cursed by returning to his roots in order to subvert them in a way I rarely saw coming. Scream 4 is a glorious return to form for everyone involved, and I imagine, much like the original, it's one I'll enjoy watching many times more in the foreseeable future.

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