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Scream 4 / *** (R)

Posted Thursday, April 21, 2011, at 11:36 PM

Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette are back with another cast of victims and potential killers in "Scream 4".
Dimension Films presents a film directed by Wes Craven. Written by Kevin Williamson. 111 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence, language, and some teen drinking).

The truth is I've never found any of the "Scream" films to be all that scary. That doesn't mean I don't think they're good movies. On the contrary, I've very much enjoyed three out of the four of them. The thing is, they aren't really horror movies. They're slasher movies, yes. But, they're so steeped in self-parody that spoof is closer to their proper genre than horror.

Take the pre credits opening to "Scream 4" for instance. This time out we get six victims pre credits in three separate openings from three different movies. While the first "Scream" merely had Drew Barrymore fooling audiences into thinking she might be a major character before making her the very first Ghostface victim within minutes of her introduction, this time we get Lucy Hale ("Privileged", "Pretty Little Liars") and Shenae Grimes ("90210") as the first two victims. Until, we realize that they aren't the first two victims at all. They're the first two victims in the sixth movie within the movie, "Stab", originally based on the events depicted in the first "Scream" movie, now only "made up" so the studio can squeeze every penny they can out of the franchise.

We discover this because the two girls watching it at home stop the movie to argue about how redundant the "Stab" series has become. They are played by Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars") and Anna Paquin ("True Blood"). They argue the relevancy of many horror conventions and then... Well, I leave that for you to discover, but I will reveal that it turns out these two aren't real victims either, but rather their argument represents the opening to the seventh "Stab" picture. Again this fact is revealed when two more girls (Aimee Teegarden of "Friday Night Lights" and Brittany Robinson of "Life Unexpected") are revealed to be watching the movie at home and stop it to further discuss the merits of the slasher genre. These are the real first victims of "Scream 4". So, it has become a parody of a parody of what was originally a parody to begin with.

Confused? Well, don't worry. Once the movie really starts, it is handled with the efficiency and well-explained slasher tactics of all the previous "Scream" movies. Therein lies the strength of Wes Craven's self-parody opus. Everything in them can be explained by knowing what always happens in horror movies, and all the characters in these horror movies have actually seen horror movies. This makes for what is still, after four movies, pretty interesting interplay between the victims and their killers during the typical slasher picture dénouement. Even the cops have seen horror movies and realize just seconds too late when they've made a fatal mistake.

Ten years have passed since Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, "When Will I Be Loved") was last targeted by any killer wearing a Ghostface mask. She has returned to Woodsboro, the location of the original killings, on the last leg of her book tour to promote her new self-help book. Dewey (David Arquette, "Eight-Legged Freaks"), the hapless deputy from the trilogy, is now sheriff of Woodsboro. His wife, Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox, "Cougar Town"), the reporter who broke the original case, has settled into small town life for better or for worse. When evidence from the real pre credit victims show up in the trunk of Sidney's car, the trio are back on the case.

It appears that Sidney is not the only target of this film's Ghostface. He wants to take vengeance on all of her family, including a cousin she barely knows, Jill (Emma Roberts, "Nancy Drew"). Being in Ghostface's sights also puts all of Jill's friends into jeopardy. I'd go on about the cast, but it would only resemble a list and reveal nothing further about the film. Suffice it to say, it doesn't really matter who is who so much as how and why they all meet their bloody ends.

Craven does a great job keeping any survivors squarely in the potential killer column by having each candidate show up at key moments around each attack. This makes "Scream 4" fairly unpredictable in terms of who and why, which is nice. Craven ("A Nightmare on Elm Street") and screenwriter Kevin Williamson ("Dawson's Creek") do a much better job "breaking the rules" in number four than they did in number three. Yet, somehow, they're able to "break the rules" by adhering to them. It's really quite brilliant what twists they come up with in the final act of the movie.

The most refreshing aspect of all of the "Scream" movies is that the characters are intelligent, rather than the typical nitwits that usually populate slasher films. I like the primary cast members of "Scream" and it's surprisingly fun to return to another mystery with them. Craven's knowledge of the genre allows him to be cheeky and smart at once. He never lets this material descend into camp, however, which permits it to remain a cut above the typical spoof and play like a legitimate slasher flick.

"Scream 4" is currently playing at Marshall Cinema in Marshall and Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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