This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 24 April 2011
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the first Scream. One of the first horror films to self-referentially send up its own genre, the script (written by Kevin Williamson, who’s responsible for the whole franchise) was clever, the characters a mix of earnest (Neve Campbell’s heroine Sidney Prescott) and buffoon (David Arquette’s Deputy Dewey), and the frights were visceral and vice-like. Add to this the villain’s creepy phone-voice and the mask that spawned a million Hallowe’en costumes – it was clear the original movie deserved its accolades.
Director Wes Craven turns 72 this year. The undisputed maestro of horror who kept us awake for years following A Nightmare on Elm Street had been dishing out the frights since 1972’s The Last House on the Left, and seemed to understand the teen fanbase incredibly well when his first Scream film came along. Three sequels later, he may still be down with the kids, but the game has moved on without him.
While the self-professed torture porn of the Saw films is not the only way to do horror nowadays (evidenced by far superior European fare like Let the Right One In), Scream 4 is neither as good as its forebears, nor innovative enough to warrant the series’ resurrection. Ironically, Neve Campbell has recently criticised Hollywood for rolling out sequels and remakes, insisting “there are so many great stories to be told”. Clearly Craven felt the tried-and-tested story of cocky teens holed up in open-windowed houses with nary a parent to be seen will do just fine.
Sure, there is plenty of talk about social networking sites (one victim is stalked on Facebook while her friend suggests Twitter might be more appropriate for modern-day killers) and in-jokes about Scream’s own story, as well as reference to other horror films. However, endless shots of characters framed vulnerably in open doorways and the obligatory ostinato of the strings soundtrack do not a contemporary horror maketh. By the time someone pronounces nonsensically “Sick is the new sane”, the film has ridden roughshod over its plot-holes and descended into farce.