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Scream 4 (15)

Rachel Winterbottom wants more shocks from this horror reboot

Written by . Published on April 21st 2011.

Scream 4 (15)

You’ve got to respect the horror genre. What other stalwart of cinema has had to constantly reinvent itself to retain the element of surprise? Your average romance wouldn’t work if its leads decided they’d rather have their independence and focus on their careers. An action couldn’t forgo a shoot-out in favour of a good-natured ribbing. From slashers to body horror to torture porn; horror adapts with the times.

But there was one film that really forced horror to rewrite the script. Wes Craven’s Scream - part horror homage, part piss take - mocked the rules and broke them. This satirical hit was so mind-bogglingly self aware that when Scary Movie attempted to parody it, the universe came close to imploding. With Scream 4, Wes Craven and original writer Kevin Williamson have repackaged their iconic slasher flick for the digital generation.

Back in 1996, Sidney Prescott et al were hounded by Ghostface, a killer who didn’t react well when people gave lame answers to his question ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’ Now, survivors of the first Woodsboro Massacre, Sidney (Neve Campbell), reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), are back in town for the anniversary of the killings – what could possibly go wrong?

After a couple of excellent red herring openers, the film’s plot - which can be summed up as people who know they’re going to get stabbed, get stabbed – centres on Sidney’s return to Woodsboro, to promote her new book, Out of Darkness, accompanied by an irritating publicist who is a stab victim waiting to happen.

Like a walking Midsomer Murders, Sidney, aka‘The Angel of Death’ to the local teens, is staying with her young cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia), when the copycat murders start. This being Scream, everyone is a suspect, therefore everyone appears to be slightly mad. This includes the newbies: Jill’s zealous ex-boyfriend Trevor, Hayden ‘save the cheerleader’ Panettiere’s genre nut Kirby and Rory Culkin’s film buff, on hand to reference the last ten years of horror.

Meanwhile, Dewey - that’s Sheriff Dewey, now – is trying to fend off advances from his perky blonde, ever-so-slightly demented deputy. He’s also finally manning up to his wife, ex-reporter Gale.

Gale is finding her bite again after discovering domestic bliss and small town life are not much to write home about. So, true to form,she’s understandably over the moon when the first murders hit the news. It isn’t long before she’s back in the garish suits and attempting to film, rather than stop, any potential deaths.

Before, Ghostface could only get hold of you on the off chance you were at home of an evening; now he’ll literally stop at nothing – texting, Facebooking, video blogging and even tweeting to get to his victims. There’s even a – shudder – Ghostface app, so you can freak out would-be victims. Another decade, another batch of teenagers you’re happy to see slaughtered.

The age-defying Campbell and Cox give the younger cast a run for their money. Unfortunately however, Campbell’s Sidney is still a drip; her only function is to alternate between reading, drinking tea and running for her life. This leaves Cox to grab the limelight. She excels in this 21st century, considerably more substantial version of Gale. The film flags whenever she isn’t on screen, barking orders and shoving through any of the new generation’s improbably beautiful young things that get in her way.

Thanks to Screams one through three (and their films-within-a-film Stabs one through seven), the audience and the characters know the rules. Virgins survive, creepy exes can only enter houses via an upstairs window, stereotypes die first and, whatever you do, never say ‘I’ll be right back’. Of course, Scream 4 has a wicked sense of humour and gleefully breaks these rules as often as it upholds them, poking fun at its own stereotyping whilst stabbing the beautiful blonde with the big tits.

Screams 2 and 3 fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. This fourth instalment is definitely back on form but at times suffers from being a little too self aware. This makes for some clever humour but not much actual horror. This Scream is made for a generation that knows to check the backseat when they get in a car. That doesn’t bode well for the element of surprise.

There’s no denying this is an enjoyably unique franchise but as the film itself points out, since Woodsboro saw its first killings the landscape of horror cinema has vastly altered. As a desensitised audience we demand more wit, more shocks and more gore than ever before. With that to compete against, a couple of stab wounds and a brief flash of intestine seems almost quaint. Ghostface may be on Twitter, but he isn’t trending.


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Neil McArthurMay 3rd 2011.

Why is the main picture a screen grab from the film Devil?

Jonathan Schofield - editorMay 3rd 2011.

Sheer foolishness Neil, we'll change

Rachel WinterbottomMay 3rd 2011.

To Kes.

Neil McArthurMay 4th 2011.


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