It’s crazy to think that it has been fifteen years since the original “Scream” came out. It was the odd hit of Christmas 1996 and seemed to herald a new era for horror films. It kicked off what was expected to be a period of more-intelligent, more-realistic, more-self-aware horror films, but nothing since really topped “Scream” in the genre.
The future also looked extremely bright for both director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson.
Mr. Craven had rebounded into ‘grand master’ status after revitalizing the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series with “New Nightmare.” In many ways, “New Nightmare” was a sort of test-run for “Scream,” in that both shared similar characteristics of the then-new self-aware horror sub-genre. Unfortunately, Mr. Craven’s career since “Scream” has tended to be mostly misses. He’s never got back up to the same heights as the original “Scream.”
Similarly, Mr. Williamson spent a couple of years as the hot-new-thing in the horror and teen genres, but the projects that he followed up with in the later-1990s slowly faded out.
Complicating matters, the “Scary Movie” films that came out around the same time as “Scream” and its sequels were hits themselves and their mocking of the “Scream” series took the edge off of the “Scream” sequels.
Many horror film purists lamented the rise of so-called ‘torture’ films – such as “Saw” – and those have certainly dominated the landscape of horror in the 2000s. With the seeming passing of that fad, we’re in an uncertain time where the next big trend has yet to present itself. We’ve seen the recycling of old devices that have been horror fads themselves over the past forty years – remakes of traditional slasher films, zombie films, sequels to torture films, and also a revisiting of the ‘found footage’ angle that “The Blair Witch Project” popularized. There’s no clear new direction though.
“Scream 4” marketed itself as somehow breaking ground on a new trend, but it really didn’t do much more than revisit ground covered in the earlier films. It wasn’t a bad film, but it’s nothing that a person would study and re-watch.
Like most fans of the original film, I felt both excited and defeated when “Scream 4” went into production. The film had the right ingredients in place, with the return of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson both returned, but drama struck during production and Williamson was eventually pushed out. He was replaced by “Scream 3” writer Ehren Kruger and that might explain why some minor elements of the film felt ‘bolted on.’ The film was eventually released in April 2011 and did modest business at the box office.
The theme of “Scream 4” – although I didn’t catch on to it until the end – was ‘remakes.’ A new crew of teens intersected with the old cast and Hayden Panettiere was the standout of the new bunch. Emma Roberts also did a fine job as Ms. Campbell’s cousin in the film. The re-introductions of the characters in the first act and then the twists of the third act made for satisfying opening and closing portions of the film. The middle wasn’t awful, but there were a couple of times where the film veered too close to self-parody.
Since “Scream 4” wasn’t a total disaster financially, it will probably not the last that we’ve heard from the series, but it served as a nice bookend to the first film.
After watching “Scream 4,” I decided to go back and re-watch “Scream” for what was probably the first time in a decade. I wondered if it would stand up to my memories and was pleasantly surprised that it did.
Right off the bat, the Drew Berrymore opening scene was golden. Yes, it has been parodied many times, but it still rocked. Ms. Barrymore sold the dialogue and her nativity came through in that entertaining sequence. I still jumped in a couple of spots.
As the film’s main story settled in, there was a heart or a believe-ability in the first “Scream” that made it somehow transcend the genre and its later sequels. Unlike many horror films that came before it, the situation in “Scream” felt modestly-real. Its commentary on sensationalism by the media was less over-the-top than in later film and Jamie Kennedy’s film geek character was the closest that the film got to parody.
The steady anchor, Neve Campbell, was the soul of the movie, playing a character that was more believably and complicated than the norm in horror. She initially came across as a typical, all-American teen, but we quickly learned hints that she was haunted by dark events in her past. She didn’t always make the best decisions, but she was a damaged person who was ultimately able to transcend into a heroic figure.
The twist at the end and the reveal of the killer(s) played a bit unfair. Yes, a viewer could guess who it was, at least in one case, but the underlying motives seemed a bit random. That said, it was still a shocking – and captivating – scene to see play out.
The similar ‘reveals’ that would follow at the ends of the three sequels seemed to always play homage back to this first film. “Scream 4” did the best job of the sequels at recapturing the horror and shock of the original film’s ending. It didn’t go as far as it could have – certainly, if the filmmakers had stuck with the ending as it appeared to be play out, with the killer appearing to ‘win’ in the end, it would have been a bold move. It wouldn’t have been popular with audiences, but, wow, it would have been quite a send-off. I liked the ultimate ending just fine, in that it had its own statement to make – reiterated by Ms. Campbell in a one-liner – but it tended to bring things full-circle for the series, rather than taking it to a new level.