For Spooky Month here at Cold Bananas, we’re looking at the four movies of the “Scream” saga over four Thursdays. Wrapping up the series is “Scream 4” (2011):
In a noted contrast to “Scream 3,” which satirizes something that doesn’t exist in reality (horror trilogies), “Scream 4” — with Kevin Williamson returning to the keyboard — is wildly inspired. I liked it when I saw it in 2011, but it has aged very well and now stands as a time capsule for the first two decades of the 21st century as it skewers the horror remake craze and insta-celebrity culture. Williamson and director Wes Craven turn the theme of unoriginality into the most substantial and layered movie of the “Scream” quadrilogy.
The film-class sequence where Robbie (Erik Knudsen) — essentially the new Randy — outlines the rules of horror remakes is spot-on. He says the goal of remakes is to top the original, but what really happens is they are bloodier, louder and more elaborate — not better. Later, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) lists dozens of horror remakes from the Aughts when she’s caught in a life-or-death trivia game with the killer; it’s merely a list off the top of her head, but it’s hilarious for how long it goes on.
The dearth of originality of the Aughts is also illustrated (probably unintentionally, but still effectively) by “Scream 4’s” parade of actresses who could’ve been Scream Queens like Neve Campbell except that their generation came up right after the WB generation, so they ended up in the remake generation. Most of these actresses were known for their work on remakes, next-gen sequels or reboots (Shenae Grimes from “90210,” Aimee Teegarden from “Friday Night Lights”), or that less offensive cousin of remakes, book adaptations (Lucy Hale from “Pretty Little Liars,” Anna Paquin from “True Blood”).
“Scream 4” is not itself a remake, though. Rather, the killers (we know from the start there are at least two) aim to make a snuff film that is a “remake” of the 1996 Woodsboro murders. Then they’ll plant the footage on the guy they are framing. Billy and Stu in “Scream” are content to commit murders for fun and the internal satisfaction of knowing they pulled off the frame job, but now we’re in an era where something didn’t happen unless it is captured on video.
Williamson, the man who introduced “meta” to modern audiences in 1996, makes fun of the concept — with Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courteney Cox Arquette) not knowing what the word means — in a movie that is meta AF … in a good way. He doesn’t let the winking and nodding get in the way of what is at first is a great comedy and is ultimately an effective horror picture.
Most meta sequence
It comes right out of the gate, and it’s a doozy. Characters played by Hale and Grimes are in Casey’s (Drew Barrymore) position from the first film, laying it on thick as they comment on the cliched nature of the prank calls they are receiving. Yet it’s directed with Craven’s usual panache, forcing us to ask why we are so entertained by something we’ve seen many times before. But it’s a fake-out: This is the opening of “Stab 6.” Then Paquin and Kristen Bell are watching “Stab 6” and again complaining about cliches, but Bell undercuts it by stabbing Paquin. But this is the start of “Stab 7.” Then Teegarden and Britt Robertson comment on the illogic of “Stab 7” characters watching “Stab 6” — a jab at the twisty timeline of the “Saw” films. These two, Marnie and Jenny, are (finally) the real people in “Scream 4”; they get killed by Ghostface(s), and we’re off and running.
Building from that hilarious opening, the first half of “Scream 4” has a comedic vibe. One part that particularly clicked with me is when Gale — going through a career crossroads that’s affecting her marriage to Dewey — loses her cool and tells Deputy Judy (Marley Shelton) that her lemon bars taste like ass. Then Dewey, the perpetually nice guy, assures Judy that the bars don’t taste like ass.
Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) is slaughtered to cap off the “I didn’t say I was in your closet” sequence, which is pretty scary despite being a lift from “Halloween 6.” The tableau of this kill illustrates the rule that the kills in remakes must be bloodier. Olivia’s guts are spilled out, and more blood than could fit in one human body is splattered on the walls.
Most deserved to die (other than the killers)
Rebecca (Alison Brie). Sidney (Campbell) has written her autobiography mostly for cathartic reasons, but Rebecca only sees huge dollar signs. That’s fine as far as it goes, but then Rebecca gets super excited when another wave of killings starts, only thinking about the potential book sales.
Least deserved to die
Kirby. Going against the stereotype and despite the ribbing from her friends, this popular hot girl likes the quiet film geek, Charlie (Rory Culkin). But then he kills her because she waited too long to notice him.
Most surprising on this rewatch
Mostly, I’m surprised by how good “Scream 4” is, playing as a perfect critique of the era of tired remakes without ever feeling tired itself — something the previous sequels struggled with at times.
I had remembered that “Scream 4” is loaded with familiar faces, but it’s so loaded that the pleasures of seeing “that guy” (Anthony Anderson! Adam Brody!) and “that girl” (Kristen Bell! Alison Brie!) remain even on rewatches. As great as it is, this film falls into the phenomenon of sequels that are harder to remember than the original, even though the sequel is more recent. I had forgotten who the killers were, and even the fact that Emma Roberts (who became even more of a Scream Queen after this, landing in Ryan Murphy’s horror universe), is the main character, Sidney’s niece Jill.
“Scream 4” has the best ending of the quadrilogy. Rather than a pan-out shot of Woodsboro with the soundtrack’s top song playing behind it, it ends with a biting sequence that regularly cuts back to the killer’s dead eyes. TV reporters announce that she’s the heroic lone survivor of the massacre, but we as viewers know her narrative has blown up: This psychopath is not only dead, but she’ll only be remembered for her failed attempt to create the ultimate in Fake News.