There aren’t many horror films that have lasted nearly two decades with the same core cast. Some may say that there’s a reason for this. For those who disagree, there’s Scream 4, or Scre4m if you’re nasty.
Horror movies got weird. In 1996 they were getting so predictable that a movie had to be made to address it head on. It was called Scream, and its name alone offered a declaration of intent to celebrate the basics. In its wake, horror films changed it up and even Scream itself soon became lampoon fodder in the form of Scary Movie. But where Scream was making fun of other kindred spirits in an intellectual “let’s have a discussion about the genre” way, Scary Movie was just kind of farting. Then, Hollywood Horror took a step into the Japanese remake-verse with occasional dips into the artsy scene. Many subgenres followed, including torture porn and throwbacks like House of the Devil, but horror’s current hot trend is running in the wheelhouse of remakes and reboots. So it would only make sense that Hollywood’s hungry eye would turn its attention to the '90s, and therefore ancient, classic Scream. Only Hollywood forgot that Scream is a champ and, like any good character, would have the upper hand. Scream 4 was a remake and a reboot of itself.
Being meta is the core of this franchise, and after its self-aware opening, the real film takes over and we’re reintroduced to all our old friends. Seeing Neve Campbell back in action, along with Courtney Cox and David Arquette, gives even a modest fan an “I can’t believe they’re in this!” feeling. They almost seem like outstanding guest stars in their own series. As with any remake, there’s the new cast, which includes a far-from-modest crop of young Hollywood talent, including Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, and Alison Brie to name a few. It’s when we learn who these characters are that the reboot kicks in. Keeping in mind that it’s not an actual reboot, just a commentary on that trend, the role of Neve Campbell’s character Sidney Prescott is, for all intents and purposes, taken by her cousin, Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts). The semantics are getting a little muddled here, so for the sake of this discussion, yes, I realize it’s not actually a remake nor a reboot, but it so is. That grey area is the point they’re making and intend to play with.
Best of all, though this film works extremely well when watched after the original, it’s remarkable on its own. It’s scary, it’s fun, and the actors are giving it their everything. Emma Roberts holds it steady, but the real stand-out of the film is in Hayden Panettiere with her performance of Kirby, the horror-movie-loving sidekick. There’s something about Panettiere in this film that makes her something of a golden Simba. I think it’s the result of a wicked combination of hair cut, bronzy complexion, and brassy disposition. Also, she has one of the most affective “I really shouldn’t open the door” scenes in cinematic history and she achieves it with straight-up skill. I could just gush.
Speaking of gushing, the blood, horror, and sadistic mayhem of Scream 4 are its most surprising yet crucial achievements. In the time between Scream 3 and now, it was easy to forget that this is a scary movie and not a Scary Movie. Going in, I was expecting something light and breezy, but the genius of Wes Craven is that it is light and it is breezy, but it’s horror first and foremost.
The core of the story revolves around Sidney coming home to promote her new book that coincides with the anniversary of the brutal killings from the first film. As we’ve learned in the previous Screams, these murders have all been retold in the movie-within-a-movie franchise called Stab. Unfortunately, the “immortal” costumed killer Ghostface is also back in town and has the cell phone numbers of many youths, including Sidney’s cousin, Jill. Of course this piques the interest of resident reporter Gale Weathers (Cox) and her devoted husband, Dewey (Arquette). That’s the basic set-up, and any further details would just get in the way of what’s in store.
The original Scream changed the game by calling its contemporaries out on their clichés, and Scream 4 does the same for this generation. These are well-crafted movies, and in the commentary Wes Craven says how they are mysteries as well as horror. In a landscape of third-act twists and turns, the most modern and surprising ending is one that earns it the old-fashioned way. The very reason I can’t discuss the film’s plot further, even if it helps my argument, is that it’s not worth risking a spoiler. The only thing I really want to achieve here is to encourage you to visit this film and let it do its thing. Is that last sentence a pun about the reboot/remake of The Thing or just lazy word choice? You decide.
The DVD version of the film has the basics that make a disc solid at the word go. There’s a commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, and puff-piece making-of feature. The commentary has Wes Craven sitting down with Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, with some special guesting by Neve Campbell who calls in for brief stint. From a high school perspective, this grouping is kind of amazing and worth dissecting a little bit. You have the "master of horror" Wes Craven in a presumed room with two young actors who would probably not invite you to their birthday party. There’s even a part where Hayden learns that her shirt is backwards and she fixes it in front of Wes, who, in a non-creepy way, manages to audibly blush.
Emma’s comments are a little surface level and Hayden’s are a little more interesting, if not that much more detailed in terms of talking about the "making of" aspects. Wes Craven comes off as a very patient director who knows his craft and appreciates the perspectives of his younger guests. It’s a pleasant track and worth a listen for the vicarious hang-out.
The deleted scenes fall under the category of "take it or leave it." They’re not a waste of time, but they’re not going to provoke further thought. I really didn’t like the alternate opening included here at first, but it won me over by the time it hit its climax. The gag reel is a collection of pranks where Ghostface springs out of closets opened by unsuspecting ingénues, and the making-of gives you a glimpse into the production, but nothing too in-depth. There’s also some game that you can download if you have a smart phone. It didn’t look interesting enough for me to get one. Picture and sound are fine if not a shade wanting. This is in regards to the DVD presentation, and it seems to be less than crisp. Overall, it’s a fine set of features but not something that you need to seek out. The real attraction here is the film, which almost feels like an excellent reunion special.