Monday, April 18, 2011

Scream 4

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (0) Roger Ebert (2 stars) Fr Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

Scream 4 is the latest in the Scream franchise (all written by Kevin Williamson and directed by horror legend Wes Craven) of slasher horror flicks and all starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. The gimmick in the Scream series is that the characters these movies have all seen other slasher horror films and so try to avoid mistakes made by characters in the previous films even as they walk into "new" mistakes or end up making other "old" mistakes.

Hence there’s there’s a scene midway through the movie, after the slasher "ghostface" (who wears a black hooded cape and a stupid drugstore quality Halloween ghost mask) has racked up a half a dozen new high school/teenage victims, when two young cops (one white, one African American) are sitting in their squad car protecting the home of Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) the series’ perpetual but always surviving victim. And the two cops realize, "Hey wait a minute, it’s not good to be rookie in these stories." Then one looks at his watch and says, "Well I guess it’s time to take a look around again." The other, stepping out of the car says, "Sure, I’ll be right back. Oh shoot, that’s a terrible line to say in these kind of movies!" He’s right, but it doesn’t matter. They both soon die... ;-)

I put a smiley at the that episode, because the movie, as blood-soaked as it is, is actually very funny. Now how could that be? Well here is where Wes Craven has been a genius when it comes to these kind of films and certainly Kevin Williamson has learned a lot from this master over the years. It seems to me that a commercially successful horror film has to both spook the audience and yet spook not it too much. That is, the audience has to always remember that it’s "just watching a movie." So how’s that signaled? It’s best signaled by sticking to stock, more or less predictable characters and formulas, or tweaking the characters/formulas but only "just so much" as nothing completely falls off the audience’s comfort zone. Yes, one _could_ certainly create a truly blood-curdling, Hell-like, utterly terrifying/incomprehensible movie, but very few people would see it, much less go to a sequel.

So if a film-maker is smart (and Craven/Williamson are certainly that, arguably geniuses, in this regard) the film-maker would make a "horror" movie that (1) scares, (2) may even address an aspect of contemporary/pop culture – Scream 4 is certainly about the i-phone/app, Facebook, webcam "all is online" teen/young adult mentality of today – but (3) not scare too much, because one wants one’s customers to come back. So one seeks then to make _really good_ "two hour Disneyland rides."

Now there could be a lot of fun doing this, and the horror movie genre is one which lends itself to "dialoging" between movies and/on building upon previous ones. As I wrote in my review of The Roommate, a generation ago, the heroine of these movies was generally the easily identifiable "good girl." Back when I was a teenager, we used to almost immediately identify her as "the Virgin." (which becomes a _very interesting_ label theologically speaking, see below). In recent years, there seems to be "dialog" going-on in the horror genre in regards to the question "What if the ‘good girl’ isn’t particularly good anymore?" The recent movies Drag Me to Hell, The Roommate and this one, Scream 4, all deal with new ‘good girls’ who aren’t all that ‘good.’ And each of these movies takes the new scenario with the "not altogether good girl" and plays with it.

Now many critics generally hold their noses when reviewing these kinds of movies, noting the bloodbath and mayhem that’s often present, but (1) as I explained above, the bloodbath/mayhem can’t be too excessive or else one will lose patrons, and (2) Wes Craven was an English major and hence certainly knew his Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedies were _always_ bloodbaths, where all "the guilty" and a even few of the innocent died and only a very few (and often _not even_ the tragic heroes of the story) were left standing at the end.

The contemporary mad slasher flick is actually quite similar. The guilty (usually of some form of arrogance) _all_ meet bad ends (often in particularly gruesome ways), some innocent bystanders (like the cops above) often die (hey, even in the original Star Trek series, the poor schmucks wearing the red uniforms at the beginning of each episode were almost always dead by the second or third scene) and only a very few are left standing at the end of the film, _usually_ one of them being the ‘good girl,’ who usually fended off the monster (in a story line as old as the Bible, Gen 3:15, Rev 12).  Note, I even wrote an article about this matter, as it was presented in the movie The Terminator a few years after finishing the seminary.

Scream 4 tweaks and plays with the formula but ends basically with the same result. And part of the enjoyment for the audience watching is trying to figure out who’s going make it and who’s going to die. And I submit, that the experience is really not that much different from reading Hamlet for the first time, though often enough, funnier.

Note to parents, the movie's R rating is appropriate due to the violence and greater than PG-level gore. So it certainly would not be appropriate for little kids. But it is standard fodder for the high school and college aged (and perhaps for those of us who remember these movies from our younger years as well).

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