Slasher Films Return with “Scream 4”


James Cullinane

Slasher Films Return with "Scream 4"

Whether one wishes to admit it or not, the “Scream” franchise may have been the defining accomplishment of the 1990s horror industry.  In an era during which horror was swiftly fading, director Wes Craven revitalized this genre with 1996’s “Scream”, a murder mystery featuring a distinct element of comedy which would later inspire spoofs such as “Scary Movie.”

15 years after “Scream” altered the history of horror, the release of “Scream 4” has brought this old gem back into the spotlight.  Unfortunately for Craven, both “Scream 2” and “Scream 3” lacked the luster to live up to their iconic and ever-unique precursor.  Mainly due to this fact alone, many have questioned the legitimacy of “Scream 4”, which somewhat surprisingly does Craven’s 1996 masterpiece due justice.

Similarly to “Scream”, the latest installment in this horror series centers around how to survive a slasher film.  Also much like its predecessors, “Scream 4” is heavily inspired by classic slasher films including “Psycho” and “Halloween.”

The face of the “Scream” franchise, Neve Campbell, reprises her role as Sydney Prescott, the long survivor of the infamous Woodsboro Murders.  Making her first return to Woodsboro since Ghostface’s first killing spree, Sydney has recently written a self-help book and vows to no longer live her life as a victim.  In a classic horror film mistake, Sydney makes this return on the tenth anniversary of Ghostface’s first bloodbath.  Not surprisingly, with the return of Sydney, comes the arrival of a Ghostface copy cat, a staple of the film’s first two sequels.

Joining Campbell in role reprisals are original cast members and one of Hollywood’s most dysfunctional couples, Courtney Cox (“Friends”) and David Arquette (“Never Been Kissed”).  Cox returns as Gale Weathers, a hard-hitting journalist who is now married to Arquette’s character, Sheriff Dewey Riley.  Despite being polar opposites in many ways, both Gale and Dewey played vital roles in solving the Ghostface murder cases in the first three installments of the “Scream” franchise.  Arquette and Cox share an undeniable on-screen chemistry, but Gale’s foul mouth aggression and Dewey’s incompetence sometimes become overwhelmingly unrealistic.

By taking on “Scream 4”, Craven accepted the challenge of making a 1990s classic contemporary.  Craven succeeded in doing so by casting many of Hollywood’s youngest “it-girls.”  Young starlets ranging from “Friday Night Light’s” Aimee Teegarden to Anna Paquin (from HBO’S “True Blood”) played minor roles in the early going of “Scream 4.”  Most notably, Emma Roberts (“Valentine’s Day”) played the role of Jill Roberts, Sydney’s teen-aged cousin.  Alongside Roberts is Hayden Panettiere (“I Love You Beth Cooper”), who plays Jill’s closest friend, Kirby Reed.  Roberts and Panettiere, who have had very similar success thus far in their young careers, share an excellent on-screen chemistry.  Roberts delivered one of the most powerful performances of her young career, most notably in her emotional tirade in the climactic hospital scene.

Following the unconventional template set by 1996’s groundbreaking slasher, “Scream 4” features constant plot twists and decent attempts at witty dialogue.  While “Scream” possessed the innate ability to keep viewers at ease while at the same time hanging on the edge of their seat, the fourth “Scream” film’s plot twists do not have the same effect.  Similarly, its somewhat witty dialogue falls well short of expecations.  Critics may perhaps attribute this loss of wit to the expiration of “Scream’s” quality of “meta”, saying that its trademark “movie within a movie” has worn out its welcome.

Critics will most likely view “Scream 4” as something that has already been done and a film that lacks originality.  However, for loyal fans of “Scream”, the similarities in its latest sequel provide an undeniable element of nostalgia, making “Scream 4” as appealing to thirty-somethings as it is to teenagers.  Craven’s ability to put the minds of viewers on a time machine to their teenage years while remaining current provides much of “Scream 4’s” allure.

“Scream 4” in many ways is a slightly less impressive reincarnation of Craven’s original classic.  This is mainly due to the fact that “Scream 4” has revitalized the slasher genre as much as its “great grandfather” film once did.  With the horror industry dominated by the threat of paranormal activity and extraterrestrial attack, “Scream 4” serves as a reminder that much of this genre was built around the realistic element of the classic slasher film.  Most importantly, “Scream 4” brings viewers back to the days when horror movies could be fun, rather than simply disturbing and gory.