As the anniversary of the original Woodsboro murders approaches, Sidney Prescott (Campbell, The Company) journeys back to her home town. On a book tour to promote her chronicle of survival after three successive massacres, she arrives with a pushy publicist (Alison Brie, TV’s Mad Men) and an excess of emotional baggage, with the community on alert for her return. Sidney’s teenage cousin Jill (Emma Roberts, Hotel For Dogs) is less than thrilled about her presence, with her pals Kirby (Hayden Panettiere, I Love You, Beth Cooper) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) dubbing Sid the angel of death. Indeed, just as Sidney steps foot in Woodsboro, a new series of murders rocks the town, with Jill’s classmates the first casualties. Despite the vigilance of Sheriff Dewey Riley (Arquette, Eight Legged Freaks) and the investigatory skills of his wife Gale Weathers (Cox, Bedtime Stories), the bodies continue to pile up. From horror obsessives Charlie (Rory Culkin, The Chumscrubber) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) to Jill’s pestering ex Trevor (Nico Tortorella, Twelve), lovelorn deputy Judy (Marley Shelton, Planet Terror) to Sidney’s aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell, Donnie Darko), everyone is a suspect, as well as a potential victim.
The impact that the original Scream had on popular culture is incalculable. Almost single-handedly reviving the slasher genre to its former 1980s days of gory glory, sequels and reboots to long-running series Halloween and Friday the 13th were greenlit on the back of Scream’s success. During one scene in Scream 4, a terrified Kirby (Hayden Panettiere, TV’s Heroes) rattles off a list of the recent horror remakes and reboots in response to a question from killer. “Halloween, Texas Chainsaw, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, Amityville Horror, Black Christmas, House of Wax, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine! It’s one of those, right?” Part of the ongoing success of the Scream series is its awareness of its own place in the horror movie canon, and more importantly, why it is better than any of those other sequels or remakes mentioned. The return of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who stepped aside for the third chapter while lost in the wilderness of teen melodramas Dawson’s Creek and The Vampire Dairies, is a welcome one and injects a much-needed sense of the familiar absent from the sub-par Scream 3. Scream 4 is not simply a sequel or a reboot, but a knowing commentary on the culture of remaking/rehashing/rebooting all art that has come before.
The return of original cast members Campbell, Arquette and Cox instantly evokes nostalgia for the mid-1990s, and Campbell in particular (largely absent from major screen appearances in the last decade) effortlessly picks up from where she left off. Scream 4 takes the familiar, and all of the slasher film conventions that go with it, and cleverly turns it on its head. Even better, when you expect it to turn, it doesn’t – and somehow that is the biggest twist of all. Where this franchise has always distinguished itself is in creating a fully realised, self-aware world, where even the new characters are whole entities and not nubile bodies to be dispatched with scant regard for the well-being of any pets they may have left unfed at home. Of course, the famous meta and intertextual references abound, and even this (as well as the word ‘meta’) is the topic of dissection. The unmasked killer in the original Scream noted that “Movies don’t make serial killers, they just make serial killers more creative”. The same could be said for the creators of Scream 4. The countless imitators haven’t diminished the power of, and need for, another Scream film: it has just made Craven and Williamson’s powers more apparent.
Scream 4 was released in Australia on 14 April 2011 by Roadshow Films.