FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 13, 2011

Do you like scary movies?

I am curious to see what kind of reception Scream 4 will get. It's been ten years since the last film in the series; are people so clamoring for more of Ghostface's killnanigans and thus will jump into his knife-wielding arms readily? Is seeing the old Scream gang up on the screen enough to block out that whiff of cash-grab, or will everyone be all "Dayum, that shit smells like cash-grab!"? Yes...curious am I.

Cash-grab, by the way, smells a bit like Aviance Night Musk by Prince Matchabelli for Women.

Yes yes, the ol' Scream gang is back- or, at least, OG survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) have returned. It's ten years since the last spate of murders. Let's catch up! Gale and Dewey are married. Dewey is the sheriff, and Gale is bored playing the sheriff's wife. Sidney has written a self-help book, and her book tour brings her home to Woodsboro. Once she arrives in town, Ghostface gets busy.

Err, he gets busy killing, that is...killing and making phone calls.

If I had to sum up Scream 4 in three words, I'd use these three: "enjoyable, if rote."

Scream revitalized the horror genre and ushered in a new age of slasher flicks; it was successful because it was a damn good slasher flick, but more so, it made a point of telling the audience which genre conventions it was adhering know, those famous "rules" spouted off by film geek characters. Kevin Williamson's Scream 4 makes it a point to establish new rules for this age of incessant horror remakes and reboots, and the film straddles those two categories. Scream 4 is so self-referential and meta (even dropping hints about, say, the real-life marital discord between Cox and Arquette) that it's become a mobius strip, and ouroboros feeding off of its own history and cleverness. At times, it almost sinks into the realm of complete parody. There is some seriously broad overacting going throughout, the type better suited to Scary Movie than a scary movie. Mind you, with the exception of Sidney (who, dammit, is a real Final Girl, ain't she?), the characters are little more than cardboard place holders- but that's no cause for mugging, Marley Shelton, Courteney Cox, and woman who played Sidney's publicist. As someone who knows that Battlestar Galactica is the best show ever, I found Mary McDonnell to be completely squandered in a tiny, thankless role.

Though the cast is full of red herrings and the violence is vicious and brutal, the film quickly falls into a pattern: phone call, oh no!, die. I suppose, perhaps, that was always the Scream formula, but here it just seems like a journey from beat to beat. There may be jump scares, but there's not much tension. It's capable, like all Wes Craven movies are. After it was over, I began thinking about that- what makes a Wes Craven movie a Wes Craven movie? Does anything? Scream 4 could have been directed by anyone who knows what they're doing behind the camera and the results wouldn't be much different. It's just sort of there and you like it well enough even though things slide into JUST END ALREADY-land once the killer is revealed, know. It's enjoyable, if rote. Much of that enjoyment stems from an affection for earlier entries in the series (except Scream 3, because fuck you Scream 3), which is what's going to get fans in the seats.

Hey, does it smell like Aviance Night Musk by Prince Matchabelli for Women in here to you?


Rebeccapedia said...

I just cant believe how much they hoed out all the famous girls in this movie, so many interviews and the repetitive LOTS OF YOUNG HOT HOLLYWOOD GIRLS LIKE WHEN BUFFY WAS IN NUMBER 2!!!! mantra that went on and on, and then I saw that poster the day before yesterday and HEY THAT'S SETH COHEN YAAAAAAYYYYYY!!! I swear they hid him away!
I am excited but wary. I LOVED one and two (seriously, apart from Randy getting deaded, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! :( WHY?!) but I hated three, let me down so badly.
Also I feel I'll be annoyed if they brought back all the originals just to kill them so they could make it a new franchise. I FEEL SO CONFLICTED!
Oh well, if it's terrible I'll just come home and watch the first Nightmare on Elm Street and New Nightmare and then I'll remember why I adore Wes Craven and why I'll still pay to go see Scream 5 when it comes out.

Alexandra said...

I've been thinking about what makes a Wes Craven movie a Wes Craven movie (having just watched Never Sleep Again) and to my mind it's a melange of graphic violence and emotional resonance. Not easy things to balance at the best of times. When it works you get Nightmare on Elm Street, when it doesn't you get My Soul to Take.

Scream worked because the script was smart, funny and the emotional damaged sustained by the characters felt real which was lacking in the sequels. For my money, there have been too many chefs in the kitchen since Scream made over $100 million.

Madman said...

Let's hope parts 5 and 6 see the light of day!

Anonymous said...

Does Courtney Cox survive the film?

DrunkethWizerd said...

I had a really sexy dream about Hayden Panettiere last night... there's no way I couldn't go to see this now.

Doug Brunell said...

I have never liked this franchise, and I will be staying away from this one. Wes Craven hasn't interested me in quite a while, either. From an "EW" article, he did the first "Scream" after some kid asked him why he didn't do scary movies like "Last House on the Left" anymore. He came up with "Scream." I see what the problem is.

Stacie Ponder said...

"Does Courtney Cox survive the film?"

I will not give anything away! :D

GroovyDoom said...

Could you imagine what it would be like to BE Sidney? She's in high school, everyone she knows gets stabbed. She's in college, it happens again. Whatever she was in "Scream 3", yeah it happens again then, too. Now it's gonna happen to her one more time, possibly THREE more times? Why doesn't she just stick her head in the oven and get it over with?

Anonymous said...

Never been of a fan of the scream movies - but I like Neve. So i'll watch it. They just seemed too...Gen Y for me. I guess thats what it is anyway.


RJ said...

I love all Scream movies, and I think this might be my second favorite after the original. The last 15 minutes really sold it for me.

Slyde said...

i dunno. i'll go see it, but im expecting a shitty time.

i LOVED the first scream, but i dont think it had nearly as much to do with Craven's directing as it had to do with Williamson's expert writing.

For scream 2, williamson dropped out halfway thru writing because of a dispute, and you can ABSOLUTELY tell where he left things. The first half of that movie was as good as the first, and the 2nd half was utter shite.

Scream 3 now, was shite from beginning to end.

so yeah, like i said, im not expecting much at all...

Bloody Mary said...

Stacie! "woman who played Sidney's publicist"? Seriously? If there's anyone in this movie worth knowing, besides Mary McDonnell, it's Alison Brie. I can't get me enough of Mad Men's Trudy.

There was such a contrast between Mary McDonnell's acting and the others. Like she was in a drama, behaving somewhat appropriately and believably, at least compared to the girls. I don't think I would run to the store for Wheat Thins at night or even stay in the house when my family is under siege from a known killer for the fourth time in recent history, but that's just me, I guess.

Saw it at the midnight screening last night, but only because I live next door to an Alamo Drafthouse and had a free Fandango code about to expire, and that seemed to be the scenario where experiencing this movie would suck the least. Twenty-somethings seemed to think this was top-notch. I feel a little sorry for them, really.

Stacie Ponder said...

I haven't gotten on the Mad Men train yet, so I had no idea who that woman was, but she was playing everything ridiculously broad.

Not only did Mary McDonnell go shopping for Whet Thins, she went shopping for an open box of cereal. I thought that was funny.

Bloody Mary said...

Ha! My attention was also drawn right to that reclosed box of cereal. My guess is Honey Nut Cheerios...maybe Mary got the munchies on the drive home. What is wrong with us?!

I think Alison Brie plays her Mad Men & Community roles similarly, but those two characters have been so much all that is nice and proper, that seeing her be nasty in this was a joy. It's a little disappointing that was a highlight for me. That, and the cereal.

Joel said...

I did enjoy the hell out of the movie, and didn't mind the broad performances. But I do think there was a palpable lack of cat and mouse- and run for your life scenarios (like Casey Becker/Tatum/Gale in Scream 2/Cici/Jenny McCarthy scenes etc). I mostly remember: killer coming up from behind, stab stab, you're dead-kills. And I HATED the Bruce Willis line. Other than that, fun fun times.

Also on the Alison Brie train. Loved loved her character.

Oh and loved loved the opening.

StuartOhQueue said...

Clean review. I'm glad you didn't dig your nails in too deep. "Scream 4" could easily be picked apart but what's the point?

It's fun, it's nostalgic, it's under two hours.

Art Almquist said...

Very well said, as usual! I actually really enjoyed it, and found it to be worlds better than 2 and especially 3 (I'm no fan of either, but boy, was 3 ever weak).

I'm also totally with Joel on that terrible. terrible Bruce Willis line. Good Lord. In fact, that whole (SPOILER) death of the two cops scene felt like a different writer came up with it - it all felt forced, totally unnatural, and ended with such an incredibly lame joke (said Bruce Willis reference) that you could feel the energy in the theatre being sucked out. (Here's a nerdy memory: it reminded me of the "wacky" cops and their "wacky" music in the truly terrible "Halloween 5.") I read that Williamson was unhappy with some Ehren Kruger rewrites and contributions; since Kruger wrote 3 (which I thought was the worst of all), I wonder if this was one of his "contributions." Regardless, it's hard to believe that anyone on set, much less Craven, thought that this Stan Helsing-style bit was funny or in keeping with the movie.

But wait! I hate when people harp on negatives in a movie they ultimately liked, so I gotta say that I was very pleasantly surprised, smiled the whole way, and had a great time. Lots of smart writing, some good scares, and real surprises. And how great was it to see Neve Campbell again? Great, I say!

Stacie Ponder said...

"it reminded me of the "wacky" cops and their "wacky" music in the truly terrible "Halloween 5."

YEEEESSSSS. That was the feeling I had almost every time Courteney Cox and Marley Shelton were on screen, too. Just...devolving into parody or something.

And ohhh, the Bruce Willis line. Why would they keep that?? The theater went completely silent after that and it was so very uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stacie, thanks for your great review. I think you summed it up perfectly with, "Enjoyable, if rote" (Ponder, 1). (Sorry, I'm in the middle of finals and final papers.) It was great to see the ol' gang back together, but it still felt like something was missing. I think there was a bit too much parody/humor, and not enough stalk and slash. The opening with the "Stab" intros was interesting, but it took too much time away from the actual opening. As others have said, it needed more "eau de cat and mouse." I read about the original opening, and I actually liked it quite a bit more. It also established a better pattern of copycat murders. I did see the motive of the killer coming, but I still enjoyed it and agree with its timeliness. I think if it had ended there it would have been much more interesting. Overall, I'll give this film a "yaaay"(that's 3 out of 5 a's), and if they make part 5 I'm sure I will be there. After all, this was my first theater slasher, and it will always hold a special place in my heart/psyche.

Clay McClane said...

Before this post is too old to comment on - which I believe is sometime the 7th month? - and since I finally saw Scream 4, I want to make sure my thoughts are on record.


It's been said that making a good movie is like trapping lightning in a bottle or some such. Having just worked on my first large-ish budget film set and seeing how things went down, I finally understand what this means. And what I think this means is that the original Scream is a true life angels-with-trumpets walking-on-water blood-from-a-stone miracle. And the sequels that followed are examples of what could've been if, say, the gaffer had been a total asshole every day or the catering sucked.

There are really no ideas that are more interesting than the ones put forth in that first Scream. If anything, I would rather Williamson and Craven focus on making a movie about the new wave of horror films and go with that instead of shoehorning their new generation thoughts into a old-ish slasher movie.

If nothing else, there's no way to match the sick awkward obnoxiousness of that Billy and Stu reveal, or that they follow up their "Isn't it always scarier if you don't know the motivations" idea by explaining their motivations. That was an incredibly fresh way to approach the entire horror genre at that point, back in 1996.

Each movie has tried to copy that ending and failed, mainly because we already know, man! That's the ending of the Scream movies! A few people get together and plan to kill people for increasingly dumb reasons.

And so I ask: Please, stop with the Scream movies already.

Thank you.