One of my earliest memories of the Slasher film sub-genre (though not my first, that honor went to Carpenter’s “HALLOWEEN”) was my parents renting a VHS copy of Wes Craven’s (“A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET”, “THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT”) genre riffing, completely self-aware industry oddity, “SCREAM”. I was 8, and from the now classic opening frames of a young Drew Barrymore being chased down and brutally murdered just a few short feet from her unaware parents by the infamous Ghostface (A moment, that admittedly at my young age, scared the living crap out of me), to the unforgettable finale, I knew once and for all that horror would forever be in my blood.
Now this isn’t to say that as I walked into the press-screening I didn’t have my reservations. I, like many, look back at the sequels with the same melancholy feelings and mixed emotions. “SCREAM 2” was a passable effort at making Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), David Arquette (Deputy Dewey Riley), and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) household names of the genre, while “SCREAM 3” was an almost entirely abysmal attempt to wrap-up what at the time was the most successful slasher trilogy fans had been offered since the Golden Years of old. With those thoughts in mind I watched with hopeful reservations as the opening credits rolled. Read on for the skinny…
WARNING: The Following Review May Contain Minor Spoilers
The entire crew is back once again, as Sid, Dewey, and Gale all reunite in the quiet town of Woodsboro. Things have naturally progressed over the years, and Sidney has now (seemingly) come to terms with her shattered past and written a tell-all book about her experiences, while Gale and Dewey have carried through with their plans to marry. Things take a turn for the worse however when the murders begin anew, with a killer who not only seems dead-set on taking out our three franchise staples, but also picking off the local youths. It is on this foundation that the film proceeds to not only be triumphant, but also to become the best sequel yet.
The films’ opening is a strong one, employing a few cameos which have become a staple of the franchise. Brutal, and relentless, it is obvious from the get-go that director Wes Craven and screenplay writer Kevin Williamson have taken note of the “new bloods’” lust for violence, and they deliver it in spades throughout. Unlike the films’ predecessors, “SCREAM 4” is just as violent as one would expect a modern day slasher flick to be. With more inventive kills, heaping amounts of blood ‘n guts, and a more methodical killer than we have seen in any of the films to date, “SCREAM 4” easily earns itself the mantra of being the most brutal film in the franchise. A standout in the film’s kill catalogue involves one character receiving a knife to the head, a moment that many fans and fellow horror critics will undoubtedly view with the same amount of glee as myself.
Admittedly, the first half of the film is a high point, and as the second act plays out with characters pointing fingers, motives being questioned, and bodies piling up, it is easy for the viewer to begin to yawn. The inherent issue with the films’ second half is not the pacing, but the amount of content that Craven attempts to shove into it. It would be easy to write this off as a the second-act-slasher-equivalent to “SPIDERMAN 3”, but that isn’t exactly the case. Yes, the middle half of the film is glutted, but in no way does it explode. And by the time the third act comes along viewers will be not only relieved, but thankful for it. A necessary evil if you ask me.
Now this isn’t to say that Craven’s film is not without fault. At this point in the film it is blatantly apparent that “SCREAM 4” is almost TOO self-aware. At times the film tips the balance of being a highly successful parody of the genre it is so lovingly a part of, and an annoying nag of a film. Characters seem to lap up the fact that they are “meta”, a term that is thrown around all too often. Perhaps if Williamson had let up just a bit on this aspect of the film, we would be calling “SCREAM 4” one of the most brilliant slashers since the original.
Speaking of the cast, there doesn’t feel like there are any weak links here. Showing once again that he knows how to cast his characters Craven easily presents viewers with the most entertaining and fun group that you will likely see all year. Most notably Panettiere and Culkin carry much of the load at times, and the two feel right at home with their parts, delivering great performances respectively. That being said, the veterans still manage to steal the show, and the core characters that we have all grown up with are still the heart and driving force that makes the film truly “go”. However, it is a relief to see that the franchise is still able to introduce new and interesting characters that viewers should have no issue with seeing in the future installments. (The ones that live that is)
As we finally make it to the third act, all of the natural conventions that you would expect from the film fall into question. Perhaps the biggest success in the second half is the spectacular set-up for the finale, and by the time you get there you will be adequately knocked onto your heels. In fact, while some might disagree, I would go as far as to say that the ending is the best since the first. Craven and Williamson will shock you and knock your freaking socks off with their ending, a trait that the later films were lacking.
With minor pacing and dialogue issues aside, when all is said and done “SCREAM 4” is a gigantic triumph for fans everywhere. If you love this franchise you will find little to take issue in, and if you were afraid that this film would be “SCREAM 3 PT 2” then you can rest easy. Much like the original “SCREAM”, “SCREAM 4” is a time capsule for horror fans everywhere to hold onto and look back on long after it has outlived its relevancy. The most brilliant part of these films is their ability to capture a moment in time, and embody the state of the genre as a whole, and it might be that aspect alone that caused the films that followed the original to fall short of the same greatness. What Dimension Films has managed to do is deliver not only an entertaining, engaging, and brutal thrill ride, but also the most heart-stopping sequel in the franchise to date.