CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SCREAM 4 (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The scene: a BIG living room. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are each sitting on separate couches in front of big-screen TVs, watching horror movies and eating popcorn. They are each watching separate movies. MA is watching THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and LS is watching ANDY WARHOL’S DRACULA (1974). The phone sitting on a table between them rings. LS answers.)
SINISTER VOICE ON PHONE: Hello, Sidney.
LS: Sidney? You have the wrong number, moron. Learn how to dial a phone.
VOICE: Do you like scary movies?
LS: Yeah, so? (turns to MA) I think it’s someone trying to send us a screener.
VOICE: What’s your favorite scary movie?
LS (To MA): I take that back. This idiot thinks he’s the SCREAM guy – that Ghostface jerk. (to VOICE on phone) Get a real job, loser! Your scary voice sucks!
VOICE: I asked you a question! What’s your favorite scary movie?
LS: Well, it’s not friggin SCREAM 4, I can tell you that much!
VOICE: I’m going to rip out your guts and use them for wind chimes!
LS (yawns): Whatever. Is that all you’ve got?
VOICE: Are you scared?
LS: Not particularly. Should I be?
VOICE: Yes, you should be. I’m right outside your front door.
LS: (lights up) Really? You’re not lying to me, are you? That’s the best news I’ve heard all night!
(LS grabs an aluminum baseball bat from the closet and hands MA a golf club. They run to the front door, open it, and find the SCREAM Killer standing there holding a knife. LS whacks him hard across the head making a large THUNK! sound as he stumbles backwards, knocked senseless. MA and LS chase him onto the front lawn and pummel him with their weapons until he is bloody and no longer moving. They don’t even bother to look beneath the mask.)
(MA & LS return to living room, gasping for breath.)
MA: That was— violent.
LS: And that folks, (points to lifeless SCREAM Killer on ground) says it all. We can all go home now.
MA: Actually, we should give SCREAM 4 a proper review.
LS: Do we have to? Does it even deserve one?
MA: Yep. I’ll start it, if that makes things any better.
LS: Better you than me.
MA: SCREAM 4 (2011) is the latest installment in the SCREAM franchise, coming to us after a long lull in the series, 11 years to be exact—.
LS: Not long enough, if you ask me.
MA: —as SCREAM 3 was released back in 2000. Now, I liked the original SCREAM (1996) a lot. The sequels? Not so much. SCREAM 4 is no different.
The story takes place 10 years after the events of the previous SCREAM movie (which would be SCREAM 3 for those of you mathematically challenged!).
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) the heroine of all four SCREAM movies, is on a book tour with her new book, a true life tale about the steps she’s taken to get her life back. Gee, that sounds like a bestseller!
On this book tour, she returns to her home town to promote the book on the eve of the anniversary of the original murders. You’d think a person who’d suffered like she had would want to be as far away from this stuff as humanly possible, but then again, realism isn’t part of the SCREAM formula.
LS: God, you can say that again!
MA: Dewey Riley (David Arquette), the likeable small town police officer from all three previous movies, is now the sheriff, and he’s now married to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) who’s traded her big city TV news journalist life for small town life, something she hasn’t quite adjusted to. So, the Big 3 from the SCREAM series are all back and primed for the newest installment. I actually like these characters. Too bad they couldn’t appear in a better movie.
LS: You like these characters? I think I’m going to have to give you an IQ test. These characters actually kind of suck.
MA: You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, as misguided as it is!
LS: I guess I kind of like Neve Campbell, but I’m not sure why. I never felt she was a good actress. And you’d think after all this time, she would have gotten better. No such luck. In SCREAM 4, she really seems to be going through the motions. Sidney has hardly any personality and there’s nothing about her that really stands out. Let’s face it, Sidney Prescott might just be the most bland “heroine” in the history of horror movies. And that’s saying a lot, when a lot of her competition are one-dimensional bimbos.
MA: She’s not a bimbo, so that’s something! Seriously, though, she’s as good as Jamie Lee Curtis in the HALLOWEEN movies. I’d put Sigourney Weaver in the ALIEN franchise above them both.
LS: Dewey Riley is a complete idiot. If there’s something likable about him, it’s the same way a fawning dog is likable.
MA: Hey, people like dogs.
LS: Not for sheriff. (taps forehead) There’s nothing upstairs. Courtney Cox as Gale Weathers is actually the best of the bunch – at least she actually has a personality, even if it’s an annoying, bad one.
MA (laughing): Of course! She’s my least my favorite of the three!
LS: It doesn’t bother me that she’s unlikable – what bothers me is that she is a one-note character. All she cares about is “me me me” and getting the spotlight. While there are lots of people just like her in real life, it doesn’t mean I want to root for her.
I actually want to root for the killers in this one (and you can tell, early on, that there’s more than one). Except for one thing. The killers are even more unlikable, stupid, and annoying. Just hearing that stupid Ghostface voice on the phone (in the movie- there’s even an iPhone app the characters can use to make their voice sound that way) makes me cringe. I hate that stupid voice so much that I almost want to drive to Roger Jackson’s house (the guy who is “The Voice”) and egg it.
MA: So, anyway, back to the plot: as you would expect, just as Sidney is beginning her book tour, a new series of copycat murders takes place, and suddenly the town is in panic mode all over again. The victims are local teens, and so there’s a whole new set of teen characters involved who get to exchange humorous and “hip” references to modern horror movies. One of the teens is Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and like Sidney, she becomes a prime target of the killer.
LS: You’d think Sidney would stay away from Woodsboro like the plague.
MA: The rest of the movie plays out as you would expect. Dewey and his deputies try to catch the killer, and of course, they’re always two steps behind and way too late to arrive at a scene to make any real difference, while Sidney and the teen characters continually receive spooky phone calls just before getting attacked by the knife-wielding maniac wearing the signature SCREAM mask.
LS: Poor Edvard Munch!
MA: And, of course, there’s the usual mystery of wondering, just who the killer is. To me, this has always been a glaring weakness of the SCREAM movies, and that is, the killer is someone different in each film, so the SCREAM movies lack a central villain. There’s no main bad guy who we love to hate. It’s just the same costume, which just doesn’t have the same effect.
LS: At least that keeps you guessing. Anyone can be the killer! Isn’t that suspenseful? (Yawns) Wait, who am I kidding? The story is so lame that it doesn’t add any suspense at all. Who cares who the killer is?
Do we really have to keep reviewing this stupid movie?
MA: Gotta finish what we started, yes!
As I was saying, SCREAM 4 is just more of the same. Sure, it tries to “one up” the previous movies by being hip and creative, but really, it doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before. It tries to do this with a supposedly creative opening, but it didn’t work for me.
LS: Yeah, the “creative opening.” That’s a laugh. I’ll tell you what it is, because I don’t care about spoilers for this crap. You sit there, an opening scene begins. Then it turns out to be a fake (it’s the opening to a movie). Then another opening begins. Same thing. We get this “fake beginning” crap until it reaches number four. Because this is SCREAM 4, get it? The thing is, these fake beginnings are better than all of the rest of the movie, especially the one with Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell – two blonde hotties from better movies and TV shows – and that one even ends with a great line about talking during movies. That was the best line in THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE.
But the multiple beginnings only worked for me in that they delayed the actual movie from starting – which was a good thing. But you’re right, it’s an irritating idea.
MA: The worst part of the SCREAM movies—and this one, too—is the “hip” dialogue about horror movies. In the original SCREAM, I liked this. It was fresh and new, and it made me laugh. I liked having characters in a horror movie who knew a lot about horror movies. However, as the series went on, this kind of banter became less realistic. The first time it worked because the characters didn’t really know or fully understand what was happening to them. It made sense that they’d talk in a lighthearted way. But after all these killings, you’d think they’d start to take things a little more seriously.
LS: That’s an easy mystery to solve. Why is the dialogue so self-aware and pretentious? Because Kevin Williamson wrote the script. This is the same guy who gave us the first two SCREAM movies, as well as maybe the worst werewolf film ever made, CURSED (2005, also directed by Wes Craven) and the TV show DAWSON’S CREEK (which surprisingly launched the careers of such famous people as Katie “Mrs. Tom Cruise” Holmes and Michelle “Legitimate Actress” Williams). One thing about Williamson’s scripts is that THEY NEVER SOUND LIKE REAL KIDS. Even kids who are film geeks don’t sound this affected and snooty. And in these movies, every damn kid who goes to the high school is some kind of super-knowledgeable film nerd. YEAH RIGHT! Even in the supposedly “clever” first movie (mistakenly perceived as “clever” only because it was something different at the time), the dialogue came off as pretentious and irritating. Over the years, Williamson’s style has only gotten worse, which means that he hasn’t grown at all as a writer. Pretty sad. This dude should listen to real people talk once in a while and LEARN HOW TO WRITE REALISTIC DIALOGUE. Because his writing is friggin lame. Does Williamson even know any real teenagers? Because they all seem to talk in one voice – HIS.
MA: Really, would people in these deadly situations, knowing there’s a REAL killer after them, continue to talk about horror movies? I don’t think so. Would two police officers, watching the home of a teen girl who is a target, following several extremely gruesome murders, be making jokes about horror movies and discussing what happens to cops in horror movies? Maybe, but I’d like these guys much better if they were truly focused on protecting the teen girls they’re supposed to be protecting.
The dialogue simply loses realism, and as a result the movie does too.
LS: LOSES realism? Never had any.
And you just know that Craven and Williamson have some axes to grind. There are plenty of diatribes that come out of characters’ mouths about how bad remakes and reboots and sequels are. Except that this is another lame sequel!
I think it’s funny that early on a character complains about the SAW movies and “torture porn.” Like this movie is so superior to stuff like that. The truth is, I’d rather watch SAW 92 than another SCREAM movie. Sure, the SAW films are lame too, but at least I don’t have to listen to dumb-ass dialogue from self-aware teens.
MA: Now, I actually like the three central SCREAM characters, and they were just as likeable in SCREAM 4, if not more so. I’ve always enjoyed Neve Campbell’s performances as Sidney Prescott, going back to the original SCREAM, where she was more than just a “scream queen.” She fought back against the killer, and she was quite good at it. It was fun to see her here as an adult trying to move on with her life. Unfortunately for her and for us, she’s stuck in these SCREAM movies.
LS: Maybe she deserves to be stuck in movies like this. I’ve never really seen a strong performance by her. She always seems half-asleep. And as for “scream queens” – I can name a bunch of supposedly “B-Movie” actresses who could act circles around Campbell.
MA: I disagree. I think she’s pretty good.
David Arquette’s performances as the somewhat slow and offbeat Dewey Riley have always been enjoyable, as at the very least, Dewey is a likeable guy. I found him less goofy in this one, and that was a good thing.
LS: He’s the comic relief in these movies, and not even particularly good comic relief. I think he’s pretty insignificant in these films.
MA: Believe it or not, when he made his first appearance in SCREAM 4, some folks in the audience started chanting “Dewey, Dewey!” So, he’s got his fans.
The least likeable of the original three, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is actually much less annoying here in SCREAM 4. In the past, her “professional” journalistic antics were irritating, but here, as she’s trying to adjust to small town life, she’s softened somewhat.
LS: As I said before, Cox is the only one of the three with acting chops, and she’s given nothing to work with in these movies. The fact that she’s any good at all is a testament to her talent. Because the SCREAM movies are not a showcase for great acting.
MA: All three- Campbell, Arquette, and Cox— give very good performances.
(LS laughs hysterically)
MA: The rest of the cast are OK. Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin Jill turns in a decent enough performance, but isn’t allowed to turn it up a notch until the end of the movie, when she’s actually even better.
LS: I actually liked Roberts a lot. I thought she was much better than the three “star” actors you mentioned. I was actually impressed by her performance, even if it does get laughable by the end.
MA: Marley Shelton was fun as the quirky Deputy Hicks, as was Rory Culkin— yet another Culkin brother— as one of the teens, Charlie, who runs “Cinema Club,” a high school organization devoted to horror movies. I also liked Alison Brie in a small role as publicist Rebecca Walters.
LS: I liked these supporting characters, too. But how could you leave out the number one best performance in the whole movie?? Hayden Pannettiere as Kirby Reed. She’s a friend of Jill’s, and she’s a teenage film nerd’s wet dream. She’s hot, she’s a rabid horror movie fan, and she’s smart. Way too smart for this movie. She spews the same kind of bad movie buff dialogue, but in her case, she makes it work somehow.
MA: I didn’t mention her because I found her annoying, as in the type of “hot” that gets you burned.
LS: Your loss. Of course, Williamson has to make her dumb later on because the tough girl can’t actually survive to the end – even if she’s the only character who could believably get out of this mess. I was shocked that Pannettiere, who played the cheerleader in the lame TV show HEROES (okay, the first season was good, but after that, it was all downhill) was the absolute best thing here, but she is. I’ve become a fan. Unfortunately, she’s completely wasted in this movie. Give Hayden her own starring role in something better!
MA: The knife/stabbing scenes are as violent as expected, with some bordering on poor taste – do I really need to see guts on the floor?…
LS: Yeah, you do. But it doesn’t improve the movie one iota.
MA: No, I don’t, and I would have preferred effort spent on making the movie scary, because as it is now, it’s not.
Director Wes Craven, who’s supposed to be a major horror guy, doesn’t really do anything creative with the horror scenes here. SCREAM 4 is better than Craven’s last two horror efforts, MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010) and CURSED (2005), but that’s not saying much.
LS: I’ll add something to that. After CURSED and MY SOUL TO TAKE, and now this movie, it is official, folks. Let’s say it all together – Wes Craven is a HACK! And I don’t mean what a knife does in a horror movie context either. So much for the glory days when he made movies like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). He was a film pioneer once. But that Wes Craven doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s “let’s throw my poop on the screen and see what sticks so I can earn a paycheck” time! It’s not a question of whether or not he’s lost his mojo anymore. He hasn’t seen it in decades.
MA: Another drawback of not having the same killer in each movie, is we never get to fully understand why the killer is being so violent. These are violent, vicious knife attacks, usually indicative of people with a personal agenda, but we never find out the “who” and the “why” until the end of these flicks, and so the killer’s actions always make little sense because we don’t understand where he is coming from.
Moreover, the revelation is usually disappointing, a forced solution, usually the last person we’re supposed to expect. This worked in the first movie because it was different, but again, as this series goes on, it’s simply more of the same.
LS: The revelation of the killer’s identity actually isn’t too bad in this one compared to the previous two sequels. But, yeah, the motives for killing in these movies is pretty weak. It’s complete by-the-numbers junk.
MA: Actually, SCREAM 4 had a chance to redeem itself. After the revelation of the killer’s identity, had this new killer been allowed to get away with the crimes, this character would have had the opportunity to go on and take this franchise in a brand new direction. It would have been a bold and unique turn of events, but since this movie is the fourth film in a franchise, it’s not looking to be bold and unique. Too bad.
LS: If that had happened, and the killer had finally won in this one, I would have given it a much better review. But no such luck. Gotta stick with the rules, you know. Can’t do anything too risky with a HORROR MOVIE, which by definition should push the friggin boundaries!!
MA: SCREAM 4 is not the movie that’s going to break Wes Craven out of his slump. It’s not awful, but it never rises above sequel status, as Craven doesn’t do anything creative or memorable to make this one rise above the rest.
LS: Slump? It’s too long for it to be a slump anymore. The man just used up any talent he has, and has none left.
MA: Kevin Williamson’ screenplay is simply a retread of the rest of the series.
LS: Another guy only interested in a paycheck. But it’s only sad in Craven’s case – because there was a time when he was a major player in the genre. Williamson is a “never was.”
MA: If you like SCREAM 1, 2, and 3, chances are you’ll like this one too. It’s more of the same. It’s just getting tiring, and with each subsequent movie, it gets less and less effective.
I give it two knives.
LS: You know, I didn’t want to see this movie at all, but now I’m glad I did. I finally got to release all my anger about this franchise, and it feels good. The original SCREAM was a pretentious movie that thought it was way more clever than it was – simply by having characters say things people in the audience were saying for years and feeding it back to them – and, of course, Williamson’s script did it in the most self-aware and annoying way possible. It should have stopped at one movie. The sequels have been abysmal.
But the thing is, I liked SCREAM 4 better than I thought I would.
First off, compared to MY SOUL TO TAKE, this new movie is a work of genius. MY SOUL TO TAKE was easily one of the worst movies of Craven’s career, and he was smart to release it before this one, to take some of the heat off and make this one look better.
Secondly, there were two performances I really liked in SCREAM 4. One was Emma Roberts, who is pretty good when they let her wild side out. The other is the even better Hayden Pennettiere, who is great in this movie, even though the role gives her almost nothing to work with. Neither actress has to give credit to the script or the direction – because they transcend the lame-ass limitations they have to work with.
I gave MY SOUL TO TAKE no knives. Because it didn’t deserve any. In comparison, I have to give SCREAM 4 something to differentiate the level of quality. And for Roberts and Pennettiere only, I give SCREAM 4 – one little tiny knife.
Otherwise, this movie is a complete waste of time, money, and effort.
MA: Hey, did you notice we didn’t have any jokes in this one, after the beginning of the column?
LS: That’s because the whole fact that we had to review this one was a joke.
Now let’s get back to watching some REAL movies.
(They go back to their couches. We hear snippets of dialogue from the movies on the TV screens and it almost sounds as if the two movies are talking to each other)
PETER CUSHING as BARON FRANKENSTEIN: My creature will be born with a lifetime of knowledge!
UDO KIER as DRACULA: You mean, you’re not a wirgin?
LS: Now this is more like it!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives SCREAM 4 – 2 knives
L.L. Soares gives SCREAM 4 – 1 teeny tiny knife