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Sunday, September 25, 2011

SCREAM 4 -- DVD review by porfle


I really don't remember all that much about the first three movies in the "SCREAM" franchise except that they were pretty fun and, at times, pretty scary.  Now that I've seen SCREAM 4 (2011), I think that it may be my favorite one in the entire series.  Of course, this may simply be due to the fact that it's the freshest in my mind at the moment, but it's still a whole lot of scary fun.

Wes Craven (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) directs with his usual sure hand, and most of the surviving cast are back along with several key crewmembers, giving this new installment the feeling of a genuine homecoming.  Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott, the series' perennial "final girl", also returns home to the town of Woodsboro to promote a book she's written about her experiences, setting off a whole new series of bloody murders by the most recent psycho (or psychos) to don the Ghostface mask.

Things start off with a bang as a pretitles scare-a-thon teases us with a string of movie-within-a-movie fakeouts (complete with the usual surprise guest stars) before ending with an actual double-murder.  This gets Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and his wife Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) back into their old form as bumbling cop and abrasive newshound.  Sidney, meanwhile, is staying with relatives Kate Roberts (Mary McDonnell) and teenaged cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), who becomes Ghostface's new main target.
 

SCREAM creator Kevin Williamson's script deftly balances generous amounts of humor with several well-crafted suspense sequences that create sustained tension before erupting into panic, screaming, and death.  The fact that the killer could be anyone--Jill's stalkerish ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), Dewey's smitten deputy Judy (a lovable Marley Shelton), or even the school's resident Cinema Club nerds Robbie and Charlie (Eric Knudsen, Rory Culkin)--keeps us guessing as sudden attack can come anytime or anywhere.  The fact that everyone in town is aware of what's going on, and practically know that they're in a horror movie, gives the whole thing a fun, edgy Halloween feeling.

The first SCREAM established the series' self-referential attitude (an influence still being felt in slasher-flick land) and this sequel continues that coy wink-wink stuff to the point of being aware of its own self-awareness.  Robbie and Charlie reintroduce "the rules" that dictate basic slasher film behavior during a Cinema Club meeting, but it turns out that they've changed with the times and are less rigid and predictable--hinting that anything can happen here as well.  Still, when Sidney's flaky press agent finds herself alone in a dark parking garage at night, and when two cops guarding Sidney's house start talking about how cops guarding houses in movies always get killed, we know exactly what's going to happen and the movie knows we know.

The two film geeks also make some funny-but-true comments about "shriekquels" and "scream-makes" while observing that "the unexpected is the new cliche'."  Horror film fans should appreciate all this while also noting the ton of references to classic genre titles throughout the movie.  Even Hayden Panettiere's petite good-girl character Kirby (one of the few who eluded my suspicion during the movie) reels off trivia about yesterday's splatter flicks like a true-blue gorehound.


Admittedly, the first half of SCREAM 4 was breezy and enjoyable but not all that noteworthy, and I found myself thinking it would be yet another case of a sequel too far.  Things begin to pick up, however, as the mystery deepens and Ghostface's attacks get more brazen and hair-raisingly suspenseful.  The final act is riveting, containing a pretty startling reveal and lots of action that kept me on the edge of my seat during both the first climax and the surprising epilogue. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay and Dimension Films is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted and alternate scenes (including an alternate opening and extended ending), a gag reel, and a chummy commentary with Wes Craven, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, and (via telephone) Neve Campbell.

I thought the third film would be the last word in the series and was, in fact, stretching the premise a bit thin.  But SCREAM 4 is a solid, satisfying, entertaining new chapter, one of the best films of its kind I've seen in years.  Is it the saga's final capper, or will Craven and Williamson scream again?


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