That’s right kids, it’s time for another round of CounterForce at the Movies. The Scream 4 edition!
Benjamin Light: A mild anecdote. On the first day of my film directing class in college, we all had to go around the room and say what movie made us want to go to film school. This was an upper-division course, so mostly juniors and seniors were present. By which I mean that a large part of the students’ capacity to enjoy film had already been destroyed by academia. Most people had some fairly pretentious answers designed to make themselves look deep and intellectual. The Graduate, The Godfather, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Breathless, or a Gus Van Sant film or some foreign bullshit, etc. I said Scream, because it was a clever, entertaining movie, and I wanted to make clever, entertaining movies. It was like the whole class hated me after that.
Marco Sparks: A beautiful story. So, yeah, we’re going to try and discuss Scream 4 here, which is just another entry in some bullshit horror movie series, and yet… It should be so much more. As you said, the original was an important movie. It was smart and clever and entertaining, and it was something else, something that we didn’t realize til later, but it was so fucking 90s. 90s in a good way. Not like, you know, Reality Bites (Editor’s note: fuck that movie). The original Scream was born in an era where you could do something and also comment on it at the same time. You could do something and reference other things at the same time. And you could do it all cohesively and creatively and it could actually work. Of course now, things are a little too post-post-post modern for the old ways to still work, right?
And the thing that Scream did and commented and referenced and reinvented back then was the horror movie genre, which, like metal, was completely dead by that point in the 90s, and desperate for a rebirth of some kind. Especially the “slasher” subgenre. Funny now, somewhere more than ten and less twenty years later, and I’m thinking about Scream‘s lessons and comments on horror movie series and how bad their sequels typically were. And ironically – fill out your 90s buzzword bingo card starting here – we’re using Scream 4 as the catalyst for this conversation.
Benjamin Light: One more note for context: the modern “teen” movie was partially created by Scream. There was a good long time where they just didn’t make movies for teens. “Clueless” was the prototype of the genre, and then Scream took it to the next level.
To make this even more surreal, I saw Scream 4 with an old friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in years. In Hot Tub Time Machine, Darryl from The Office has that line about Rob Cordry’s character “he’s our asshole.” This friend I saw Scream 4 with was Our Asshole, back in the day. Marco’s and mine. The kind of guy who drove a shitty chevy nova way too fast, fingerbanged your ex-girlfriend’s little sister and wore t-shirts that said Nine Inch Dick in the style of a NIN logo. Now, he’s a fucking housecat, totally neutered and body-snatched. I wondered, walking to the theater, if this was a harbinger of things to come.
My interest in Scream 4 was mainly in how a thoroughly 90s movie franchise was going to come off in this late era of irony without wit. Would it still be 90s to the core, or would it “update” itself to this new, lame decade of pop culture? Afterwards, I think Marco and I both agree that the answer to this was, sadly, “both.”
It’s funny that you mention that guy, “Our Asshole,” because the movie (and the series) and him have some frighteningly strong similarities. They’re both works of fiction and at one time they became so real, so amazing. They were strong, clever, passionate, funny, wild, rude, crude, full of attitude, and dripping with verve. Something your parents were uncomfortable to be around but something exciting, something you clung to and enjoyed strongly.It’s about 15 years and three movies later and… My God. Benjie told me the story of our friend, “Our Asshole,” and I felt like crying hearing it. It’s hard to explain just what happened to our friend. He’s married to a “nice” girl – “nice” being in quotations because it needs to be, rather than me saying anything frighteningly honest about her – and has gone fully domestic. But this girl, it’s not like she married our friend and he mellowed over the years. It’s like she’s married to a neutered housecat. Our friend, the Stepford Husband. The guy who used to think that Nic Cage and Bruce Campbell belonged in every movie and who now doesn’t understand what’s funny or interesting about Nic Cage’s recent adventures in New Orleans. I could go on about our friend a little too much here, I think. But like Scream 4
, there seems to be no purpose to him anymore. Someone took up the brand and watered it down, then threw the water out. There’s no joy, no passion, no reason for existence.
That might be a little too harsh of a criticism of the movie, but not our friend, because if I was a movie studio executive and you presented this movie to me in script form, I would’ve said, “Hey, this is a great first draft, guys. Can’t wait to see what future drafts bring out of it!”
At this point, I think it needs be mentioned that Ehren Kruger can go fuck himself. For the record, Marco and I are of the stance that Scream 1 was better, but Scream 2 was more fun, and we’ve tried to block the Ehren Kruger-written Scream 3 from our memories. What an abortion.
Supposedly Ehren Kruger took a pass at this script, so I’m willing to throw a little benefit of the doubt Kevin Williamson’s way for this. The triple opening — Stab within a Stab within a Scream movie — was a good idea, and almost executed well enough. But it just wasn’t quite there, not quite clever enough. And as a result, I spent most of the rest of the movie wondering in the back of my mind what the Stab 5 with time travel movie would be like.
This didn’t occur to me until later, but I think the main problem here is the movie is trying to be all things to all audiences. People who liked the original Scream would have been fine with a Grosse Point Blank-style look at our characters 10 years later to see how they, and in turn, we
have changed. Instead, we get the barest cursory glance at Sidney “reinventing herself as someone other than a victim” and Dewey and Gail having meta marital problems. there’s no time to go deeper, because we have to get introduced to a shitload more characters in the target teen demograph. None of whom really registered at all.
Hayden Panawhatever felt like she was acting in a different movie, Emma Roberts was just there, the geeks were, emphatically, NO RANDY, and the rest were forgettable fodder. There’s no Stu here. No Tatum.
Courtney Cox was amazing being herself in this movie (or what I want her to be like in real life, as far as my Courtney Cox fan fiction is concerned, I guess), and interestingly enough, the only character who really felt like themselves, unchanged, stuck in that time capsule of cinema, was Dewey. Wonderfully, I should add.
But you have to wonder: Did David Arquette and Courtney Cox’s marriage implode behind the scenes of this film just to make this shit all that much more META and SELF REFERENTIAL? Cause that would be serious devotion to the craft.
I thought that something interesting might be afoot with the multiple openings to the film, but it just didn’t feel thought out enough. It didn’t feel effortlessly fun enough. Scream
was never just mindless fun. There was always something somewhat cerebral about the scary movie games played within it. And Benjie’s right: Scream
was good, and Scream 2
was a hell of a lot more fucking fun. But something those movies displayed that’s been lacking in the second two movies in the series were smart set pieces. There’s a kind of seduction game being played with the audience when you’re presented with that set up… a character with a phone alone in a house and you just know that there’s a killer (or two) surrounding them, ready to strike. That dance wasn’t present here.
That said, Scream 4
was a hell of a lot better than Scream 3
. Wes Craven seemed to be more with it
and there were one or two interesting ideas in Scream 3
(and double that in Scream 4
) that just never panned out or just weren’t dealt with at all beyond their introduction. Scream 3
became just another shitty horror movie, the kind that the first two movies would have gladly skewered. Scream 4
at least realized that there was atonement that needed to be made, even if it was shrugging, not sure how to achieve it, as if it’s mere presence alone would trigger the light of 90s nostalgia within us and all would be forgiven.
I read or heard somewhere that good writers should avoid using adverbs. To get annoyingly specific on Scream 4: We’ve seen the “scary phone calls in a house” scene done better before. You might remember the film, it’s called Scream. Also, we’ve seen the “stuck in a car that won’t start with the killer hiding outside” scene done better too. See also: Scream (1996, Dimension Films.) The fun thing about these scenes is that it puts you, the viewer, into the mindset of the victim. We know the rules of this game and we must think, ok, what would
I do in this situation? And we scream at the screen “no, don’t open the door!” and “ooh, that’s really smart–wait, fuck!” And it’s all very fun and satisfying to watch a film that screams back at you; that plays with your own expectations.
Scream 4 briefly has a little fun in the opening, and when establishing soooo many characters who could be suspects, who could have motives, that you can almost hear Kevin Williamson laughing at you and daring you to guess who the killer is. But, like meeting someone you used to know several years later, the magic just isn’t there. Emma Roberts beating herself up to look like she’s been attacked might be more visually bracing, but nothing will top Billy and Stu stabbing each other in Scream 1. You had just never seen anything like that in a movie before. And like everything else in Scream 4, Emma fucking her shit up is just a lot of More, Now, Again. It’s an old idea, newly executed with more gore, or more twists, or more often. There weren’t that
many killings in Scream 1, but all of them were very clever. Here, not so much.
Williamson must know this, as he meta-references reboots and remakes incessantly. And there is definitely some finger-wagging at the end about celeb-reality culture, but it ends up feeling more whiny than anything else, even though I basically agree with him. You can complain all you want about not getting work unless it’s a sequel to your old hit, Kevin, but you still had a chance to take us somewhere new in the genre and you honked it.
I feel like if the series had wanted to do something shocking, to have really kicked us off right for a new film, a new decade, a new trilogy, then they probably would’ve killed Neve Campbelle’s Sidney Prescott either right away in this movie or at the end. They probably would’ve let Emma Robert’s niece of the Sidney character indeed get away with the murders at the end. That’s something you would’ve never seen before. And what a message so fitting to this era: Ha ha! Fuck you! In this day and age, the bad guy/girl wins!
But no such luck. Like Benjie said, the introduction to our old favorites and to the new kids is so shallow, so devoid of meat, that you can’t tell for half the movie who the potential killer could be because you just don’t give a fuck. And that annoys me because, honestly, one of the reasons I like slasher films is because they add in that whodunnit quality. It lets the audience interact with the film more and feel like the detective and keep their mind working, constantly turning over clues in their head. But in so many films, Scream 4
included, I’m afraid, the real killer was ultimately bad writing.
It’s funny that Commander Light and I had a lot of the same thoughts on who the killer could be through the film. First choice: Marley Shelton’s (who seems like she hasn’t had an acting job since the 90s, minus an appearance in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse
) deputy who went to high school with the gang back in the day and cooks lemon squares for her boss. That is until that weird scene on the stairwell in Sidney’s aunt’s house. That red herring was a little too red. And then fifteen minutes later we both just knew it would be Emma Roberts’ character, probably for a variety of reasons. The biggest for me? That skinny awkward little girl just kept disappearing for no reason at all. Like a killer would. And, as I believe Benjamin Light pointed out to me earlier: The killer always has something to do with Sidney’s family.
If Neve Campbell comes back for a Scream 5 – and I see no reason why she wouldn’t at this point – I really hope that they just do something so ridiculously cartoonish with her character. I can’t see her being tied down to reality anymore, not after having gone through this scenario four times now. It was interesting when she gained a sense of strength and confidence in her safety in the world at the end of Scream 3
, so much so that she didn’t have to worry about living behind fake names and locked doors (in fact, she felt comfortable to leave doors open to things like potential sequels), and somewhat interesting about her wanting to rewrite her role in this film, but honestly, where could one go with this character next? Seven people have gone to elaborate means of trying to kill her across four movies now. Unless they have her in a mental hospital in the opening of the next film then I really hope they give her a jet pack and a laser gun. Or let her do some time traveling, like they did in Stab 5.
Back to the killers in this film momentarily: I didn’t see the reveal of Rory Culkin coming just because his character was so badly concocted and so badly delivered in the acting that I just didn’t care, even though I was curious the whole time if they’d resurrect the possible multiple killers angle.
They tipped their hand on the two killers a little early. In the scene where Sidney’s aunt President Roslin dies, you see that there must be more than one.
Allison Brie, Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell are all fine actresses who for some reason get short shrifted for boring Emma Roberts and Hayden Panattieerreereeerie (who seems to think she’s in a 40s noir movie). I’m not even going to mention Rory Culkin or the other gay geek, because, as I said before, they are NO RANDY. I felt like I knew Sidney less after this movie than I did after Scream 2. But like Marco said, David Arquette was perfect as Dewey. Would it have been so bad to target your fanbase instead of a demograph and actually make the film about the franchise characters we all know and love?
Are we taking this too seriously? Probably. Maybe. But like one teen starlet says to another in Scream 4, “You were my 90s!” And it’s true. Marco and I were the perfect teen age for Scream when it dropped. We would probably not be as good of friends as we are if Scream never existed. Our first screenplay was our own attempt to make a Scream-style movie that played with the audience. Imagine my disappointment when I went off to film school to discover that college is not like Randy’s film class in Scream 2 at all. Ah well.
I suppose we wanted Scream 4 to mean something the way Scream 1 did, and it just didn’t get there. But hey, I’ll say this for it, I felt more happy nostalgia to see Dewey than I did seeing our old friend, our old asshole, that new stranger. Seriously. We missed you, Dewey.
Yeah, exactly. Dewey was a welcome sight, the one part of this movie that didn’t let you down, even if he spent the whole movie just getting calls that something was going down somewhere else and then driving there off screen. Like Commander Light said, we may be taking this too seriously, partially because the movie takes itself a bit seriously, and partially because I guess we foolishly did want this to mean something to us, to possibly make a comment that would be interesting and important to our lives now as it did back then. Somewhere in those intentions, we became just another part of the body count.
Alison Brie was so great in her role, really lighting up the screen with her presence. Her death scene was the exact opposite of compelling but it was certainly nice to see her character there for the brief time that she was on screen.
Man, you had to feel bad for Anthony Anderson and Adam Brody in this movie. TV stars always get it the worst.
I was reading something a moment ago from Wes Craven talking about after Kevin Williamson left the production of Scream 4
(to go back to The Vampire Diaries
) and Ehren Kruger came on, the screenplay, and thus the film, was no longer in Craven’s control. So much became dictated by the studio, which is always good, targeting those demographics rather than worry about story. And yet, you wonder how much of the clutter in the story here could be blamed on Kruger/the Weinsteins and Williamson himself.
Remember how much sense Randy’s rules made in the first Scream and Scream 2. No such luck here. Maybe it’s partly the fault of this current climate we live in, but the new “rules” given here made no sense beyond bullshit plot contrivances. The whole film was like that, like watching the last remaining members of the 90s realizing there decade was over and firing a time capsule into the future, only it landed five years ago and we’re only just seeing it now. The killers are going to videotape themselves committing the crimes? Didn’t we already see that in a movie starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett?
At least the film acknowledged the new technologies not present during the 90s. Characters text here. They have flip cameras. You can get an app on your cell phone that does the Ghostface voice! That’s awesome. But somewhere in all of this, as the film “crawls further up its own asshole
,” as The Onion’s AV Club
actually very accurately put it, you really get the sense that Kevin Williamson/The Voice Of the 90s really hates this twitter age we live in.
Williamson may be on to something. Too bad he missed the mark. But seriously Kevin, all will be forgiven if Scream 5 has time travel. Especially if you can time travel back to Scream 2 and bring back Timothy Olyphant.
You’ll notice that we’re certainly avoiding a lot of the deeper things that come along with the horror genre. The psychosexual imagery, the phallic weapon, the twisted male gaze and perception of the Final Girl… Instead we’re talking about the 90s and bitching about things like the lack of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand
” being used in this film.
I guess that to a certain extent we are, like most children of the 1990s, still stuck there. I don’t know what percentage of us that is, that we left behind there in those halcyon days of acid washed jeans and Color Me Badd
and things that were about “nothing
” and still contained so much meaning for us, but we’re there, and we’re looking forward at this future and kind of left curious and wondering and fascinated by this strange new world we’re wandering about. That’s not to say that we don’t look back with equal curiosity on the goofy weirdness of the 90s, especially the fashion choices, but perhaps that’s why Scream 4
was such a big deal to us.
It was the return of old friends and beyond that… maybe we were hoping to find a bridge of some sort between back then and now, if you will?
But it’s just a movie and not much of a bridge. As a film on its own, Scream 4
is fine, not great, and not terrible, and very much the fourth entry in a slasher film series that will be twenty years old before you know it. And though it’s hard not to, you can’t go backwards, can’t ever go home again. You can only deal with know and try your best to prepare yourself for the future. Sometimes that just means dreaming of sequels that feature time travel.