The “Scream” movies, which follow professional survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as she outwits and outlasts a series of masked “Ghostface” killers, have fared better than most other contemporary horror franchises. Probably because the idea of combining a traditional slasher film with self-aware humor and horror film clichés was ahead of its time when Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven took a stab at creating the horror hybrid in 1996.
Just as the “Saw” films have become as appealing as a power tool to the back of the head and the “Final Destination” movies feel like they actually met their final destination two or three films ago, “Scream’s” winning formula hasn’t outlived it’s welcome.
In the shreakquel Campbell returns as Prescott, now a successful author who has returned to Woodsboro, the scene of the Ghostface killer crimes that made her a nationally famous survivor. Her book signing at a local store is, of course, scheduled on the anniversary of the original killings. Soon things get stabby and, as the bodies start to pile up Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his investigative reporter wife Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) try to discover who is behind the Ghostface mask.
Like the other movies in the series “Scream 4” is a Meta-thriller that pays tribute to and takes the Mickey out of the horror genre. It uses the conventions of other fright films to cue the action, before twisting familiar clichés to form something new. Of course the idea of referencing other movies isn’t as fresh as it was in the original, but screenwriter Williamson has updated the idea, suggesting that the rules from the first few “Screams” don’t apply because horror movies have changed in the age of social media.
Not to worry though, the basic “Scream” formula is in place. This movie, like the others, still opens with a funny, bloody scene or two, spoofing horror movies. They are giddy good fun and set the tone of the movie—gory and giggly.
At the heart of it all is Campbell, “Scream’s” only truly indispensible character. She grounds the whole story, bringing a real presence to an unreal situation. She isn’t the funny girl, or the self aware, sarcastic showy character, instead she’s the one the audience cares about. Most importantly she never plays the victim no matter how many times Ghostface tries to cut her in two.
“Scream 4” is the best in the series since the original. Director Wes Craven brings the suspense, writer Williamson supplies the clever and Campbell supplies the heart.