Caffeinated Clint : Scream 4 is a real hack job!


“Scream 4” is a hack job – but not in the sense you think it means, well not entirely.
Sure, it’s got its problems, but for the most part it’s a successful sequel (heck, remove “Scream 3” from the original trilogy and insert this in its place).
So, I ask myself, why didn’t I applaud along with the other audience members when the end-credits of “Scream 4” rolled?
Could it be that I’ve – shudder – simply gotten too old for this stuff?

You mightn’t think it but there’s a big difference between being 26 and 36, but there is most certainly is. For one, you can’t handle the all-night booze-a-thon’s as easily as you could before, but also, your tastes change – be it food, music, women, radio stations, the way you like to spend a Friday night and especially movies, you can almost guarantee you’re not going to go Lady GaGa for the same things you did ten years ago.

When Wes Craven’s “Scream” came out in 1996 I was in my second year of college, had no huge debts hanging over my head, no wife or child, and quite frankly, was – if only just – able to still appreciate a good teen movie. And of course It’s only natural, now that I’m a family man with a whole new set of problems and a whole new barrage of interests, not to mention limited time, that a film that worked for me over a decade ago isn’t going to work for me as well now. But at the same time, why do I still find “The Hunt for Red October”, “Die Hard”, “Highlander”… films even older than “Scream” as enjoyable today as they ever were? That’s where I’m stuck? Could it simply be that age hasn’t so much as hurt my enjoyment as “Scream” as, well, the Weinstein’s have?

Kevin Williamson’s libretto for “Scream” (or, as it was known before going into production, “Scary Movie”), released at a time when the horror genre was all but dead, wasn’t just a ‘good teen movie’ it was something more – it was smart, it was appreciably self-referential and, knowing audiences had seen it all as far as horror movies go by then, didn’t speak down to the moviegoer. For those of us who had grown up on a steady diet of Nightmare on Elm Street and Clive Barker movies, it was the perfect movie to resume the genre.

“Scream” was fresh, fun and like anything we’d seen before, but as the characters in this latest sequel “Scream 4” obstinately remind us, ‘you can’t beat the original’ and thus, the sequels to the surprise hit were never going to play as well as the first film did. So could it be that this latest sequel has inadvertently reminded me why I’m not enjoying this latest film as much as I did the original? I don’t doubt it.

Think about it, “Scream 2” passed muster, if only thanks to a few key moments and some fun twists, but “Scream 3” was the nail in the coffin for the series – a tacky, uber-goofy and very messy second sequel that Crane-kicked the once-promising series off the grid. Kevin Williamson, creator of the original film, had all but cut ties with the series by this point and in his place, producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (who, let’s admit is, have always been money over merit) brought in untested gun-for-hire Ehren Kruger. Seemingly unaware of the fine line between subtle wit and embarrassing goofiness, Kruger’s script for ‘’Scream 3’’ near undid all the good of the previous instalments in the series by taking the characters out of their real-world situation – where they’re as clued in and familiar with horror movies as we are – and into somewhat of a fantasy world – a world where fictional characters like Jay and Silent Bob get to mingle with the lead characters and the kind of cliché, laughable movie-murders the original film made fun of are commonplace.
But we move on.

It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a new “Scream” movie so “Scream 4” comes complete with a mix of anticipation and trepidation –particularly considering the troublesome online rumours concerning creative differences that suggested another Frankensteinien effort might be in order. But thankfully, “Scream 4” is not “Scream 3”, in fact if you’re not already aware of the behind-the-scenes brouhaha and the probs the film encountered during production, its flaws mightn’t stand out as much. In short, it’s just what the fan ordered.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine of the original trilogy, now a bit of an international celebrity thanks to her ordeal with Ghostface, has arrived back in Woodsboro to promote her new book – which, of course, is based on her plight. Sidney’s arrival is expediently timed with the anniversary of the Woodsboro murders (the events of “Scream”) which has every local school kid energized and pumped to party – and someone else convinced it’s the perfect time to resurrect the Ghostface killer.

Sidney’s niece, Jill (Emma Roberts) and her group of friends (played by the likes of Hayden Panetierre, Rory Culkin, Marialle Jaffie, Erik Knudsen, and Nico Tortorella) seem to be on Ghostface’s must-kill list – with the killer knocking everyone off using the same pattern Stu and Billy did a decade before.

Incompetent Dewey (David Arquette), now sheriff of the town, is determined to catch the killer by using the pre-approved cop process but wife Gale (Courteney Cox), still a storm of bitchery, goes all renegade – convinced that’s the only chance anyone has of finding out who’s behind the mask (and the only way to reclaim her celebrity).

For the few that are aware of the many, many, many script changes (some say the film was being rewritten as they filmed), as well as the producers’ determination to play up the ridiculous (yep, that worked so well for “Scream 3”…), not to mention cast and crew’s oft-handed remarks that the film had derailed, “Scream 4”’s blemishes are easy to spot. For one, there’s the tone – for the most part the film embodies the same sort of a semi-serious slasher movie tone, complete with a great mystery at the center of it, that the first film did…. but then, somewhere around the half-hour mark, it ditches the scares and surprises and goes straight for the funny-bone – and fails near each and every time because, and not unlike all the events in “Scream 3”, we suddenly slip into a fantasy world. In addition, a lot of the key sequences do seem a tad messed with – as if someone can in and added a couple of extra minutes, for ‘punch’ sake, to each bit. One won’t be surprised to learn then that Kevin Williamson walked from the picture about three-quarters the way through (the official reason is that he had his TV series, the Vampire Diaries, to concentrate on) and was replaced by – yep, you guessed it – Ehren Kruger, the same chap who killed the last sequel with his ridiculous plot additions and terribly hokey humour. That’s undoubtedly the reason why the film plays a lot like a double feature – one half a bravura, smart tribute to the original film, the other half a hokey spoof with pointless padding.

Still, Williamson’s involvement in the film already makes “Scream 4” a much better movie than “Scream 3” – heck, it’s a “Scream” movie, not “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back… with Ghostface”.

There are some awesome throwbacks to the original film, some terrific one-liners and blocks of dialogue referencing movie-lore that only Williamson could be responsible for, and, admittedly, it’s wonderful to see the original cast back – particularly in this day and age when another studio would’ve just remade the original film with a whole new cast.

The ‘twist’ – as in, the reveal of the killer – is also a good one, and it makes a heck of a lot of sense; in fact, Willamson’s whole blueprint for the film – one that suggests the rules of horror movies have changed considerably since 1996 – is quite a goodie… just a pity he wasn’t able to stay on throughout the whole film to see it executed to its full potential.

What works about “Scream 4” are the very things that many might’ve expected to annihilate it – the mix of old and new characters (though, I will say, none of the new characters are as memorable or as fun as, say, Billy, or Stu or even Randy, from the original films; Emma Roberts, however, is rather good), the sequel/reboot mesh, and Wes Craven, who, let’s face it, hasn’t made a good movie in years. Thankfully, everyone but Bob and Harvey have the audience… the fans… in mind first and foremost.

“Scream 4” is the “Scream 3” that should’ve been.

(But back to my question above, is it for me? Am I still the audience? No, not at all – so unless you’re a pop-chuggin’ twenty-something, expect not to join in on the end-of-film applause that may follow some sessions.)