I’d managed to forget Scream 4 existed. It came out in 2011, when I was busy transplanting my life south of the border. Had I still been in Glasgow, I’d have gone to see it with my friends.
When I heard it referenced a couple of weeks ago, I got curious, and took the plunge on the DVD.
I tell you what, folks – the move to Blu-Ray hasn’t half driven down prices. I bought the DVD of Scream 4, brand new out the wrapper, for £3. Cost you more for a mocha.
I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but the Scream movies were entertaining, and – didn’t they just know it – they were a bit cleverer than your standard horror film.
True, they boiled down to a masked killer with a knife, tormenting people by telephone before filleting them. But there was something sly, even subversive, going on. The killer or killers in every Scream movie seemed to know they were in a movie. By the time the mask comes off, you wouldn’t be stunned if they winked at the camera. A lot of teenagers’ first experience of the term “post-modern” would have come from these films.
I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying that’s what probably happened.
Wes Craven was back in the director’s chair, with Kevin Williamson also returning on writing duties. Other familiar elements came into play.
First off, there were clever “shock” opening sequences and fake-outs using trailers for Stab, the fictional film-within-a-film which depicts the original Woodsboro murders. Anna Paquin follows in Drew Barrymore’s bloody footsteps as the best-known knife crime victim, and a few well-timed jumpy bits get you back in the Scream zone.
We soon meet tormented scream queen Sidney Prescott, played again by Neve Campbell. She’s returning to her hometown on the 15th anniversary of the original Woodsboro massacre for a book tour, promoting her memoirs.
The ghostface killer has returned along with her. This time it stalks her niece, played by Emma Roberts, real-life daughter of Eric, niece of Julia. My flatscreen telly has a problem with bright colours so there may be some distortion involved, but my god, that girl’s skin was so perfect that she seemed to be alabaster – almost too shiny-bright to look at. Luminous is the cliché that fits best.
Other returning characters are Gale Weathers, the ace reporter, looking for material for her own book. Gale is played by someone wearing a Courteney Cox mask. Then there’s Sheriff Dewey, played by Cox’s then-still-real-life-husband, David Arquette.
One of the new characters is played by a teenager who I recognised almost instantly as the wee boy from M Night Shyamalan’s Signs. “He’s too young to play that part, surely,” I scoffed. Then I remembered that Signs came out 14 years ago. He’s probably about 27 now, married with kids. Generous book deal for his memories of life in Hollywood.
I do this all the time. At a family funeral a couple of years ago, I was about to ask a younger cousin of mine about how he was getting on at school, before I remembered he was 30.
Anyway, bodies start falling, suspects are introduced then just as quickly bumped off, and the Giallo-ish whodunit element which made the original trilogy so compelling kicks in.
So, how up-to-date is the film? Well, in examining fresh ways of committing murder to find fame, Williamson’s script has an open goal, and he duly tucks the ball into the Net.
The world wide web and live video blogging is front and centre as a motive, but it’s never really followed up on. If these murders were really being streamed in real time, then the killer/killers would be pinpointed within moments. The idea is never properly explored.
To be fair, this was 2011 – most of a decade ago, although it feels like it was last week or something. Long before Periscope and Facebook live and Vlogging as an activity which actually makes people money. In six years’ time, god knows what our online lives will be like.
Another thing that struck me – in real-life America, police or no police, a guy running around in a mask with a knife would need to be pretty nimble to avoid getting Swiss-cheesed within moments of his first jump-scare out of the closet. “What’s your favourite scary-” BLAM. And credits.
Scream 4 is not great. Neve Campbell doesn’t get loads to do in this one; she doesn’t even punch Gale this time, or anyone playing her role. To say she’s phoning it in would be unkind, although it’d be ironic given the killer’s MO. But she has aged very well. I remember reading a news story about her father originally being from Glasgow, and her and her brother travelling to a family house party in a tenement somewhere in the city’s east end one night. The pictures were sold to a tabloid. It’s on a par with “Brad Pitt went to a party in Drumchapel in 1995”.
To look at Courteney Cox’s suspiciously lumpy features is to feel horribly old. Sad to report, the same is true with the “eye candy” – including one girl who strips down to her bra, Kevin Williamson’s cheeky wink at another scene in the film where viewers of Stab hope that the actresses will bare their breasts. (No dice, I’m afraid, but you probably knew that.)
God, they looked so young. “Be careful, girls,” I wanted to say, a concerned dad watching his daughter and her friends heading out into the unforgiving night. You wonder how an older guy like Wes Craven, old enough to be their grandfather, actually feels when he calls “action” and has to objectify beautiful young people to satisfy the lusts of the viewing public. My guess is, you’d get tired.
Sadly, Mr Craven is no longer around to ask.
Out of the four movies in the series, it’s perhaps third-best. It descends into a long chase through a conveniently remote, conveniently deserted house, with suspects and characters popping in and out of the story at convenient times.
The killings are horrible. It shows you how well-trained we are when it comes to camera tricks at the movies – how we come to expect certain edits. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List messed with this curious semiotic alchemy very well. When the hammer comes down on that guy’s head, you expect the camera to pull away, or the shot to change. But it doesn’t. You’ve got to sit there and watch. Through your fingers, if necessary.
Similarly, in Scream 4, you expect the camera to pull away at certain points to make it easier for you. Even allowing for retractable blades and other stage-prop trickery, those vicious stabs looked real.
I later discovered that the knife blades were pasted in by computer graphics – explaining how they achieved the seamless “plunges”. George A Romero once talked about how he wanted to go beyond the Hammer Horror aesthetic; how seeing the shadow of a knife rise and fall wasn’t enough. He wanted to show you the blade going all the way in, and not cutting away. Wes Craven does so, here.
I winced. I must be getting old.
Regarding the person behind the mask, you’ll have an inkling of who it is, but you’ll never know for sure until the end. It’s not a shocking reveal. As in some of the other sequels, Williamson plays with the idea of doing something truly shocking, and killing off one of his principals. This would have been a ballsy thing to do, and would have taken us out of our comfort zone, but he doesn’t quite go there. Nor does Wes Craven. And nor will he. It was the director who faced the final curtain quite recently, most likely bringing it down on the franchise along with him.
“Franchise”. I detest that term.
But you never know. Scream 4 doubled its money upon release. Add in another £3 from me to the cash pile. If there’s money to be made, they always come back.
I got a nice cosy feeling in watching Scream 4, which is a strange thing to write about a horror movie. I don’t quite feel nostalgic about the 1990s yet. I should do. They were my time. They took me from the age of 13 to 23. But I don’t get that cosy glow about those years. The reasons behind this might take a whole book to explain, and no-one would want to read it. Anything good that happened was tinged by alcohol. Ditto anything bad. I seemed so happy at the time, too. Now I know differently.
However, I do feel nostalgic about the days when I didn’t have to worry quite so much about things. When I could go to the movies with my mates on a Sunday night, scoff nachos drenched in rancid cheese and jalapenos, and jump out of my skin at a man in a mask going “boo!”
It was a good way to finish the weekend and see the hangover out the door. It was enough. Just a bunch of kids at the movies. Not necessarily better times; just simpler ones.
Lights, jump cuts, shrieking strings, corn syrup.