Emma Roberts is one of the new additions to Wes Craven's slasher sequel Scream 4 (2011)
Scream 4 is a post-modern attack on post-modernism; an academic article cloaked as a slasher sequel. From the slyly winking triple-whammy of the prologue to some genuinely surprising third act plot twists, this is a tech-savvy essay on the culture of reboots, remakes and sequels. Well aware of its cash-grabbing potential, Scream 4 is as deeply in love with horror lore as the franchise has ever been and is also hip to another simple fact: horror, like pop, will eat itself. It's a recyclable genre which apes old concepts in the hope of creating new ones, and that's how it's been for the last forty years. The kids in the original Scream (Craven, 1996) had seen A Nightmare On Elm Street (Craven, 1984). The kids in Scream 4 have seen Scream, and that's exactly how it should be... they are the Facebook generation, and they're getting bored ("I hate all that torture porn shit.")
So yes, Scream 4 is better than we had any right to expect; the best installment in the series since the wicked original and a solid way to kick off the summer season. When I walked into the cinema this evening I was greeted by an usher dressed as Ghostface. When I was seated - it was a full house - the trailer rolled for Insidious, the new film from Saw (2004) creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Everyone talked over it but as soon as the main feature began a revered silence fell over the room. "Do you like scary movies?" somebody shouted from the back. Apart from boos, sighs, screams and "ohhh's" that was the last sound I heard before the end credits. I was among horror fans, and that's a wonderful feeling...
With Kevin Williamson back on scripting duties (his absence is probably the sole reason Scream 3, Craven, 2000, sucks) this is a smart, cineliterate bloodbath with plenty of awesome set-pieces. One late scene sees gorehound Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) asked to name a horror remake in order to save her friend. "Halloween, Texas Chainsaw, Dawn Of The Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, Amytiville Horror, Black Christmas, House Of Wax, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine!" It's an amusingly scathing attack on the way Hollywood has been lazily cashing in on the groundbreaking work done by horror auteurs in the 70s, but it also does a good job of serving the characters - Kirby is a proper horror geek, much like Craven's audience. The setups are pretty inventive too, and make great use of our technological age. A three-way phone conversation leads to confusion as to the whereabouts of the killer in one of the first murder scenes, and as Craven slickly moves his camera between two opposing houses - the characters can see each other through windows - we are excited not because of the unpredictability of the scene, but by how it's being played. Every cliché is intentional - the filmmakers satirized them fifteen years ago after all; it's not as if they've forgotten how this works - but they are all given 21st Century twists. One set-piece at a barn party relies on hidden cameras and webcams, and it's a darkly clever delight.
The new cast are all great, especially Panettiere and Rory Culkin as fellow horror geek Charlie, who runs the school Cinema Club (where a great genre poking scene takes place). But it's most interesting to catch up with old characters and see how they're dealing with this new media obsessed age. Sidney (Neve Campbell) is given sadly little to do, but does run away with the best line in the entire film ("Rule number one of remakes: don't fuck with the original.") So we're left with the ever reliable teaming of Courtney Cox and David Arquette as Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley respectively. As the murders escalate in frequency and silliness Gale describes the situation as "meta." "What does that mean?" Dewey asks. "I don't know" she replies. Well I know what it means Gale, and it's what makes your movie so great. Bound to be misunderstood, Scream 4 is hardly the classic the original is but it is a smart, funny and loyal horror flick, and a surprisingly entertaining treat.