Almost anyone you ask will tell you that horror’s Golden Era resides firmly within the ’80s (though the ’90s certainly held their own). How could it not be the ’80s? It was the decade of slasher villains, practical effects, and kickass synthesizer soundtracks. Not to mention just sheer greatness in numbers; we’re lucky to get one good horror movie a year nowadays! But one of the last gems of that era, Scream, has proven to be both a deafening end to the heyday of horror, and the beginning of something new.
Though it so effortlessly brought together and celebrated all the essential trademarks of the films before it, it effectively labeled the entire genre as silly and clichéd, not unlike what the Austin Powers films did for the James Bond series. Post Scream and its subsequent imitators (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, etc.), the state of horror has been hard to nail down. I’ve broken things down to a few major categories to give you a better grasp on what horror means to the millennial generation.
Anyone who read my Scream Retrospective earlier this week will know I greatly respected the first movie and was looking forward to this installment. When I arrived at the theater, the teenage girl behind the counter told me that the new one was ‘really awesome’, but that she had never watched any of the first 3 movies because they looked ‘stupid’ and ‘lame’. For some reason, her ringing endorsement did not instill me with confidence, even though she was clearly an expert on the franchise.
Once inside, I was surprised that a 7:45 show, on opening night wasn’t more full. The theater was probably less than 1/2 capacity, and of the kids there, probably most were still in diapers when the original was released. The movie started in the expected way, a phone call and a discussion about horror movies. This time however, it didn’t seem so fresh. Now you’re probably thinking: “Of course it’s not fresh, it’s the 4th movie“, but I was expecting something new. And they do mix it up a bit, but while I don’t want to ruin anything, this ended up feeling more like a comedy than a horror flick.
Never have I watched a movie so self-aware of how cool it’s predecessor was. Scream 4 largely revolves around talking about how great the Stab franchise is. Stab being the movie within Scream 2, based on the first movie. So here you have a script written by Kevin Williamson(who wrote the first movie) that never stops stroking Kevin Williamson’s ego.
Our 3 returning Scream Staples – Sidney, Gale, and Dewey – seem to be nothing more than charactures of themselves. Sidney has written a book about her exploits and is on tour. Her last stop is Woodsboro. Gale has settled down and married Dewey, who is now the sheriff of Woodsboro, and employees a star-studded police force that made me feel more like I was watching Scary Movie 6 than an actual canon chapter of the franchise.
Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson are deputies that define a new level of ineptitude within the genre. Sure, cops always wind up dead in horror movies, but they usually at least seem competent before hand. There is never a point in the movie where you are made to believe these could even remotely protect anyone. They’re too busy talking about how cops always get killed in horror movies. The sad part, they are the most believable cops in the movie. Marley Shelton(Sin City/Grindhouse) plays another Deputy that is openly crushing on Dewey and doesn’t care that his wife is right there. Her character is so strange you wonder how she could ever be allowed to carry a gun. No police force in film history has ever instilled less confidence. That fact is cemented by Dewey’s shooting ability, and later his hand to hand combat scene with the killer. I won’t ruin anything, but Dirty Harry he is not.
Sid is staying with her Aunt and her teenage cousin Jill. Once people start dying and phone calls are streaming in, Jill is asked to stay home for her own protection. This leads to hearing her do nothing but compare her bedroom to a prison cell annoyingly for the rest of the movie. Life is so hard.
The rest of the high schoolers are equally irritating (which may be a sign of my age), so much so that I found myself actually rooting for the killer to end them. They are headlined by Hayden Panettiere(The Cheerleader in ‘Heroes’) who is in actuality only 20, but looks about 30 in here, and was at no point believable as a high schooler. She reminded me of a college creeper who likes younger guys, or is around cause she can buy beer. Kind of awkward…
Then we have the entire ‘Gale’ storyline. Her fall from grace since becoming a cop’s wife is so epic that she basically has to beg the High School Cinema Club to hang out with her and help solve the murders! And could you find a couple of less likable film geeks than the kid with the web-cam on his head and Macaulay Culkin’s little brother? I doubt it. Randy is probably rolling in his grave.
The cast though is one thing that the franchise has always counted as a strength. The amount of name actors in this movie certainly helped add to the buzz. Aside from the actors already mentioned, we see a whole plethora of recognizable faces, including local Detroit News 4 anchor – Devin Scillian. Plus Friday Night Lights star Aimee Teegarden and Allison Brie of Community. (Thanks to Warming Glow for the picture)
Anyhow, no surprise, this movie was totally style over substance. To be fair, there were a couple of parts I liked. The Kristen Bell scene was good, and there is a fight where a girl gets smashed into a picture on the wall, that was hilarious. But there was no point at which I jumped, nor saw anyone else around me jump. Normally, no matter how cheesy the movie is, a horror movie audience will always have a few girls who actually scream at the ‘scary’ parts. I heard none of that, but there was quite a bit of laughing…
In the end the movie came off obnoxiously pretentious and so self-aware that you can’t help but think that between this and Scream 3, the franchise has hurt the genre just as much as helped it. This is why I was so surprised to find that it has a critics score 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. That means 59% of the reviews were favorable. That’s about 6 out of every 10 critics gave it a passable grade. I guess I’d be in that 41% minority…
I give Scream 4 a score of 2 Bears. 1 Bear, out of respect for the original movie. And another Bear for putting Kristen Bell and Allison Brie in one movie.
You have to think about the landscape of the horror genre in 1996. Several years removed from its last smash hit and fading, Horror fans wanted a reason to go to the theater. The genre was in trouble, and the most successful horror movies of the decade to that point were Silence of the Lambs, Misery, and Flatliners. All released in 1990, and none of which are traditional ‘Horror’ movies. It seemed the old school ‘slasher flick’ had been all but killed the in the late 1980s. Done in by endless sub-par sequels to movies like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. Audiences had become fed up and the box office reflected it. So when Scream came out, and grossed over $100 million, it was a big deal.
I think it’s easy to forget how big a deal it was now, 15 years removed from its release, because of what came after. Scream fell victim to the same formula that killed its predecessors: Too many mediocre (if not downright terrible) sequels and copycats. In recent years I’ve been involved in discussions where this movie will be brought up and someone will lump it in with the garbage that followed. That however, is simply not fair. Scream was a head above anything that followed through the rest of the decade. From I Know What You Did Last Summer (& it’s own sequel) to Urban Legend (& it’s terrible sequel) to Scream 2 & 3, no movie I can think of has been so copied so quickly.
Scream set a standard for a while. It wasn’t just another teenage slasher flick, it was self-aware. It was a satire of the entire genre that it unintentionally revitalized. They did everything from straight out referencing movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street by name, to talking about the director of their own movie in a fictional manner. All the while, more subtly throwing nods back to the classics. Skeet Ulrich’s character, ‘Billy Loomis’ should sound familiar to Hitchcock fans who will remember the boyfriend ‘Sam Loomis’ from Psycho. You might also remember one ‘Dr. Loomis’ in the Halloween movies. We get a cameo from The Exorcist star Linda Blair as a reporter, and Sheriff Burke was played by Joseph Whipp. Mr. Whipp doesn’t have much luck protecting kids apparently, as he was also a cop on Elm Street 12 years earlier.
This also came out at a time when it was rare to get A-List cast in a horror flick. I mean, this is what you did to start a career, not once you were established. And make no mistake, in 1996, Drew Barrymore was a bona fide A-List actress and I don’t think she gets credit enough for the success of this movie either. Scream catapulted almost the entire cast into furthering their careers. Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox were already TV stars, but this made them house hold names. Plus David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, and Rose McGowan all went on to have success after this.
The story was simple enough, small town high school students are being terrorized by a serial killer. He wears a mask and calls to taunt his victims on the phone. That aspect is what has been most played up in spoofs and re-imaginings. So much so that phone companies reported the orders for ‘Caller ID’ tripled after the release of the movie. As the movie progressed and we learn who the killer is (are) we are regaled by the lack of motives. Sidney (Campbell) survives and we’re actually given a pretty satisfying end to the movie. So much so that a sequel really doesn’t make sense. Of course that didn’t stop them from making one.
In fact the movie became watered down by not 1, but 2 sequels. A watchable, but not good sequel in Scream 2, and then the abortion of a movie that was Scream 3. The second movie followed Sidney (Campbell) and Randy (Kennedy) off to college where the movie was once again packed with a good cast and similar formula. In this fictional universe there is a movie based on a book by Gale Weathers (Cox) about Sidney and the events from the original film. This movie with-in a movie is called Stab. Stab inspires a copycat killer to start stalking Sidney and recreating kills from the original killer.
This one has a cast that including Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Gayheart, Jada Pinkett (Smith), Omar Epps, Heather Graham, and ‘Charlie’ from The Mighty Ducks. It also featured Buffy herself – Sarah Michelle Gellar, and future Arrested Development star Portia de Rossi. But the best parts of the cast were the 2 actors who weren’t yet widely known. First Liev Schreiber, who reprised his role (of about 10 seconds) from the first movie as Cotton Weary, and most importantly, my favorite actor on television – from Justified Raylan Givens Timothy Olyphant.
In the 3rd movie we were heavy on cameos and big names, like on substance. At the time I did enjoy the presence of Jenny McCarthy and the cameos Carrie Fisher and by Jay and Silent Bob, but I don’t remember enjoying much else. Scream 3 was so bad it not only killed the franchise for the next decade, but the whole genre for a couple of years. After the ware-out provided by all the copies, it wasn’t till the Japanese Horror Invasion started in 2002 with The Ring that the genre felt fresh again.
That quickly faded however, and they went back to the well. This time with a gluttony of remakes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (& horrible sequel), The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, and an entire franchise reboot of Halloween.
Now, here we are in 2011, just a few days from the release of Scream 4. The first chapter of the franchise in over a decade, and just as before we’re not short on names. From Sookie to the Cheerleader to Annie Edison, this looks to be full of beautiful women in precarious situations. The most important one of course being my Uber-Crush: Kristen Bell.
I can’t really predict any true level of quality here, but I will say I’m expecting it to be better than the 3rd one was. As long as they’ve worked on it for, they must have learned something from the 3rd movie.
Have a look:
Well I can already say that I hate these new ‘movie geek’ kids. Lame ripoff of my favorite character in the series Randy. They just seem to convoluted to be likable, but I guess we’ll find out Friday.
Anyhow, I’m going to see this opening night because of my attachment to the franchise. I’ll be doing so in hopes it’s not terrible, because I’ve already committed to seeing it a 2nd time with my Secret Agent/G-Man buddy Dave. We watched all the other ones together back in High School, so it only seems fitting that we do this one as well.