The Scream franchise was immersed in a peculiar sub-genre of slasher movie. They were movies about movies; the deconstruction of themes and a meta-statement about a movie’s impact on a disordered mind. The franchise’s heroine, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has to stumble from one killer to the next, and always with a grand, Scooby Doo-style, unmasking of the iconic “Ghostface” killer at the end of every movie. In Scream 2, a movie is made about her experiences, which then leads to a popular franchise of Stab movies, and the in-jokes continue into the third movie and this fourth and final installment directed by Wes Craven. The beginning of Scream 4 is a movie within a movie within a movie.
The killer always uses the same technique. He calls up teenage girls, frightens them by telling them where he is (usually within close proximity). They look around. They can’t find the killer, and then he pops up out of nowhere (he seems to have superpowers) and brutally stabs the girl to death. It gets a bit repetitive after four movies, and Scream 4 had the lowest box office numbers of the franchise. That didn’t stop Dimension from developing a continuing television series for VH1 and later MTV. Scream was fresh and exciting. It was post-modern horror for the Quentin Tarantino age. It kicked off a new wave of abstract slasher movies with a completely conscious understanding of horror. Sidney returns to Woodboro to promote her book, Out of Darkness, about her experiences as a victim, just in time for a new set of “Ghostface” murders. The kids in the town like to have fun with the legacy, hanging masks on traffic lights and going to Stab-a-thons. Rory Culkin’s Charlie Walker tells Sidney that the rules of horror movies have changed, that studios will green-light sequels until the cows come home, hilariously adding that the only surefire way to survive a horror movie is to be gay, which turns out to be an incorrect assessment. Even the cops get in on the routine, outlining the rules for what the victims in horror movies say right before they die.
Campbell is less spirited here. She seems worn-out and run-down, going through the motions. She is given very little to do in Scream 4. She fires her agent for trying to exploit her. She does know what an agent is, right? If she didn’t want to exploit her celebrity, why did she write a book? Why does she have an agent? She still spars with bitchy news anchor, Gail Riley (Courtney Cox), who has also profited from Sidney’s victimhood. Suffering from a writer’s block, the new killings couldn’t have come at a better time for her. I still can’t understand how this killer can be in a million places at once and display pinpoint accuracy with his knife, even after the revelation of the killer’s identity. Maybe the ultimate joke of Scream 4 (aside from the ironic conclusion) is in the repetition and played-out narrative that we’re still invested in enough to ask silly questions.
Scream 4 can be seen on Netflix.