‘Scream 4' is a real scream

Friday, May 6, 2011

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Courteney Cox, right, returns as Gale Weathers-Riley in Wes Craven's "Scream 4."

It's been 15 years since Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson first's "Scream," a groundbreaking horror/thriller that featured teen characters keenly aware of conventional horror movies (with their unstoppable killing machine bogeymen) and poked fun of the genre's clichés — only to find themselves victims to the same pitfalls they openly mocked.

Problem was that something original doesn't stay that way for long, as "Scream" ushered in a new generation of bastard offspring from "I Know What You Did Last Summer" to "The Faculty," which featured annoyingly self-aware teens who were more cynical and jaded — even in the face of certain death — than horror movie protagonists of the 1980s. They were annoying to the point you didn't really care if any of them survived — not a great trend.

Thankfully for slasher fans everywhere who'd tired of mediocre American remakes of Japanese films and the 200th installment of "Saw," Craven and Williamson revisit their most acclaimed collaboration and reunited for "Scream 4."Their unique blend of tongue-in-cheek horror will be jarring to a new teen generation reared on the gruesome "Saw" franchise as the end-all, be-all name in horror, but it won't take long for them to appreciate it.

Right from the opening scene where two girls discuss why some horror series never seem to stop until they become parodies of themselves, Williamson and Craven show they haven't missed a step, addressing critics. Like its predecessors, "Scream 4" is the horror movie for people who don't want to be on the edge of their seats throughout the whole film.

Franchise favorites Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox) return along with some new blood (or bloody victims, in this case), including Emma Roberts as Sidney's younger cousin, Jill; "Heroes'" Hayden Panettiere as her best friend Kirby, Erik Kundsen as horror film expert, Robbie, and Nico Tortorella as Jill's creepy ex, Trevor.

The newcomers' similarities to characters in the original seems intentional, as Williamson plays upon fan expectation as to what will happen. You don't have to watch the first three films to catch up, but knowledge of what's come before definitely enhances the experience.

Finally able to put the past behind her after surviving three separate encounters with murderous psychos dressed up as The Ghostface killer, Sidney has become a successful writer chronicling how she overcame her fears and embraced life. Her book tour brings her back to her old hometown, Woodsboro, which has been blissfully quiet since her departure, and some are leery that her return will lead to another tragedy. Faster than you can say "Boo!," Ghostface resurfaces.

Ghostface isn't the most imaginative horror bogeyman: He sticks to a simple butcher knife as his weapon of choice. His basic technique is all the more terrifying because he has to get close to his victims to get them and there's no telling where and how he'll strike next. Craven smartly keeps Ghostface in heavy black backdrops so the white mask and flowing cloak are all that reveal his position.

A key element of the franchise has been always been the whodunit aspect and Williamson wisely plays upon the audience's familiarity to throw in several red herrings as to the true identity of the killer. Williamson deliberately crafts the characters in such suspicious and quirky fashion that just when you're completely sure character X has to be the killer, the real Ghostface pops up and kills them. And it's a funny thing as Williamson so effectively crafts the characters you actually get invested in them and in the case of Sidney, Dewey and Gale, you'll want to see them make it in case Craven and Williamson decide they're up for "Scream 5."

If the "Saw" franchise can get six sequels, if Craven and Williamson want to crank out a few more, I'll be first in line to get scared and then emit a nervous chuckle afterwards if it's anything like the quality of "Scream 4."

If you even slightly like the horror/thriller genre, this should be the one you see this year.