Blu-Ray Review: SCREAM 4 Should Be The Death of the Franchise

Wes Craven's badly-formed, reductive new addition to the Scream franchise lands on blu-ray. Needless to say, we're not exactly impressed...

Update: Okay, so I spelled Gale wrong. Sue me. New decade, new rules? Well, it at least sounded a promising prospect, didn't it? But could a healthy injection of innovation, and some more modern reference points add a gleam to a franchise that no-one was particularly convinced needed extended? Well, we€™ll never know, because Wes Craven - the somehow pronounced €œMaster of Horror€ - went back on his word. He duped us all into thinking Scream 4 would be new and unique, the breath of fresh air that would blow ten years of cobwebs away from this most 90s of horror franchises. When really, that couldn't have been further from the truth. Because, rather than offering another meta-film that heavily referenced the horror conventions of the last ten years (as he claimed he would), Craven offers in Scream 4 a tired retread with flashes of uninspiring newness that detracted from instead of enriching the foundations. You see, Scream 4 is very much like a copycat killer, never quite as authentic as the original, and without the unique panache that makes any original more worthy of note than a reproduction. I had hoped the film would grow on me, given the extenuatingly horrific circumstances of my cinematic viewing (front row, mere inches away from the screen, surrounded by braying animals), and that I would recognise the film's worth on its own terms. No such luck, because contrary to those who suggest the film is a mindlessly enjoyable experience, I simply cannot accept that the film has any more merit than some of Wes Craven's other paint-by-number, soulless teen-horror romps like the woeful My Soul To Take. And you can't take any film as "brainless fun" when it starts with as convoluted a self-referential start as Scream 4 does. That opening sequence featuring cameo's from Anna Paquin and Kirsten Bell is as successful as the film ever manages - it is a few-minutes-long tongue-in-cheek answer to the question of what Scream 4 (and beyond) should have been. And in truth, that is where the final credits should have rolled. Because what followed is far less clever, far less entertaining and far less restrained - ironically it's Wes Craven's joke sequence that ultimately trumps the serious business of the rest of the film. Some might say that Scream 4 is good on its own terms; that as a stand alone film, free from the considerable, ominous shadow of Scream it works. But that's a redundant point. Of course Scream 4 can not and should not ever be classed on its own terms: it is inherently, explicitly part of a franchise, and one which references and attempts to reinvigorate the spirit of the first three films in such an explicit way that it ends up being bawdy and mildly distasteful - like a high numbered sequel handed over to the care of an inferior director (in the manner of the Saw franchise) who has little in mind beyond overextending the central ideas and replacing the original spirit with something like a tepid imposter version. And such is the tragedy of Wes Craven, and the irony of the circumstances surrounding Scream 4... The original Scream film arrived just as the horror franchise was sounding its prolonged death rattle, and its blend of reinvention and self-referential intertextuality caught the moment perfectly. It was a destructive innovation, one that mocked the subject just enough to still pay homage to it (hence the clever little idea of conventions of horror movies being "real") but which still ultimately left the more conventional horror market in shreds, slashed by this new imposter which would ultimately spawn a thousand inferior copycats. The trouble was, the Scream franchise had to ultimately abandon its self-referential manifesto, because as the second and third films appeared, there was little by way of "primary texts" to furnish the underlying parody element, so the trilogy limped off, the final slightly embarrassing offering looking like a bloated, unsatisfactory bastard child of the first film. And then ten years passed, and a decade's worth of new material arrived - only it wasn't all that new: so-called Gore and Torture Porn was just the reduction of a whole genre to one sleazy gimmick, which was already visible in horror in the gleeful, silly violence and the lashings of fake blood that made bargain bin releases so appealing to the "cult fans". So Scream 4 ends up referencing "new" sub-genres and horror conventions that earlier films in the franchise gave birth to in the first place, and whose own reference points were poorer than the originals they aped (such is the nature of copy-catting/homaging, whatever you want to call it). The one aspect of the last ten year's worth of horror material that was truly innovative - if still painfully gimmicky - is the idea of found footage and "social media horror", but even when presented with this opportunity to reference and parody and to make this new Scream appropriate and worthy, Craven fumbled badly, and what could have been the perfect portrait of the modern conventions of this moment in horror film lore, those elements of Scream 4 inspire little more than a slightly cynical eye-roll. References to the Facebook generation will only date the film immediately, and it is no coincidence that one of the tricks of Craven's social media reference work - the Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) attempts to capture footage of the killer is handled in a conventional, and even cliched manner. We've seen it all before, regardless of the bells and whistles you attach to it, and that obvious inability to offer something news - and crucially any good - points back to Craven as an inferior, incapable writer and director. We are supposed to believe that this film should be heralded because it isn't the worst high-numbered horror sequel we'll ever see?! Way to undervalue the movie experience! Why should we settle, when there was an opportunity to do something far better than this tired retread masquerading as something newer, bolder, even superior to the original? The final product is like the original trilogy, only with the cleverness and occasional knowing humour sucked completely out, and replaced with an unsuitable bawdy fascination and some deplorably unnecessary gore. If this is what the last ten years of horror film-making boils down to, we all need to seriously rethink our enjoyment of them - which of course is a ridiculous idea, but when a film so overtly tries to suggest as much how else are we as the audience supposed to react. Either it's a successful endeavour, and we believe that manifesto of homaging and referencing, or, as with Scream 4, it is inadequate and ends up being both pointless and off-putting. The final insult for Scream 4 is that I badly wished that most of the old characters had been killed. Four films worth of invincibility is too far a stretch of the imagination, and quite frankly the horror fiend within me would have shrieked with delight at the sight of Dewey (David Arquette) or Gale falling under Ghostface's knife, rather than the lame, insipid cast of knife-fodder who are introduced as new "characters". And that's not just because the alternative, as was realised in the final film is that the characters suffer a more horrible fate of stagnance - familiarity breeding such contempt that the real-life break-down of the Arquettes' relationship seems to have been an ominous prophecy for the fate of their final film together as a legally espoused couple. Though really, the characters didn't have to die either - what should have happened is Dewey and Gale should have got bored of their stagnant life and gone on a killing spree together in order to reinvigorate the passion of their relationship after the flames inspired by those heady days of Ghostface's first sprees threw them together. And Sidney should have been their heroic nemesis, and not the justifiably uninterested passenger Neve Campbell looks here; her inclusion looking nothing more than obligatory. Oh and she should have been fatally wounded - because Scream is her story, and the whole sorry affair (as it looks now with the continued downturn in quality carrying over from Scream 3 to 4) could end with her resting in peace. But no, there's still a chance that Wes Craven will dust off these tired characters again and try to make something good of himself once more. Perhaps next time he'll start referencing the tween horrors a bit more and make Ghostface a glow in the dark, sparkly vampire, who Tweets about his potential victims before turning them all into Marvel zombies. Bit of a hint there as to which way I reckon the horror franchise is going to go next... Quality Well, at least the quality of the transfer is pretty good - image clarity and detail are both pretty top notch, and the black levels are good, which is particularly good to note for a film that spends quite some time in darkness. It's a fairly unblemished transfer all in all, with few obviously visible examples of artificial tinkering and a commitment to texture and detail that is worth of a higher priced blu-ray release. Sound-wise it's a similar story of solid, impressive work - always nice to note of a horror when audio stimulation is as important as what we can see on screen, with good levels throughout and appropriate precedence given to effects and vocals where necessary. Just a shame the subject matter isn't as good as the transfer. Extras Nothing to report - aside from a trailer, which is a disgrace. There were initial reports that there would be a number of the usual suspects, but none came to light on the UK retail release: perhaps the American market will be luckier and get to see the other formerly announced features. Trailer DVD Copy

Scream 4 is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now.


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