Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Scream 4

In the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy 2010 Wes Craven confesses he didn’t make money off the franchise. As a result he and Bob Shaye – the New Line Cinema owner – fell out. Shaye later made things right but Craven wasn't going to make the same mistake with Scream 1996.

Idealism favours the young. History states older people couldn’t care less. Once upon a time a Robert De Niro film meant a cinematic experience1: The Deer Hunter 1978; Raging Bull 1980; The King of Comedy 1983. Now it means Little Fockers 2010. Earlier in his career Johnny Depp made idiosyncratic fables2: Edward Scissorhands 1990; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape 1993; Benny & Joon 1993. Now he earns a living dressed up as a pirate. Wes Craven used to make horror films3. Now he’s made Scream 4 2011.
The success of Scream cannot be overstated. It alerted Hollywood to the crossover horror audience. The two sequels were box office hits because of the affection for the first one. Dimension Films had created a brand but the laws of the sequel dictated the series end as a trilogy. Nevertheless the brand has remained potent for 11 years.

A new trilogy was announced in 2009. It makes business sense. The first trilogy earned over $400million (in today’s money) at the domestic box office4. In addition there was the overseas box office, DVD income and all other ancillary revenue including merchandising. This is a cow with cash left in it to be milked.
A new trilogy does not make narrative sense. The deconstructionist concept was written to completion at the end of the first film. Things would be different had the series taken a natural sidestep to dissecting thrillers but Scream 2 1997 was a rehash and Scream 3 2000 was a recap. There is not enough new slasher material for another three films.

Avarice will win over art on any given Friday. Wes Craven is 71 years old. He knows this is his last run but he also knows his legacy is unassailable. Kevin Williamson is a glorified television writer5. He will write whatever the market dictates. The three returning cast members have nothing else on their résumés. Theoretically a new trilogy could be repeated every 15 years to entice a new audience of marks.

The public are at their mercy.
A lot has changed since 2000AD. Remakes have proliferated. Reboots are established. Subgenres have waxed and waned: there are the last vestiges of torture porn; J-Horror has come and gone; the current favoured is Point-Of-View film – Insidious 2011 is doing great business6.

The horror has not been confined to cinema. There is a war on terror. There is an economic crisis but Scream 4 ignores the reality of its audience and nonchalantly resumes where its predecessor ended. It exists in a fantasy vacuum. In this age of horror cinema vérité Scream 4 screens like a Doris Day musical.

The movie starts with its trademark curtain raiser. What should have been cinematic flourish is rendered gimmick by the end of the sequence. Yet within that sequence is the best written scene in the film – satire with more vitriol than in Scream.

Perhaps this is the tone Williamson intended for Scream 47. To wit the last scene in the curtain raiser is a reshoot. Stills and commentary of the original material can be viewed at Scream-trilogy8. Be that as it may Williamson has kept his name on the picture. That’s a stamp of approval.

English television soap operas centre round the public house. The reason being is that the cast can intermingle and forward the plot over drinks. One show that tried to buck the trend was Crossroads. It was cancelled in 1988. It is remembered as the soap where the cast talked to each other over the phone.

This is why in 100 years of cinema the telephone is barely seen. It is bad enough to have two talking heads let alone one. Scream 4 has its whole cast on the cell phone. When they’re not talking to the killer they’re talking to each other. It is monotonous. It is anti-cinema.

Suspension of disbelief has always been necessary whilst watching the franchise but Scream 4 requires a belief in fairies. It is a film where the boys are wimps and the girls have 135 IQ points; where the dialogue consists of brand name droppings intended to be satirical barbs. The death scenes are tired; one verges on torture porn. The extended dénouement is a metaphor for the death throes of the franchise. The tagline ‘New Decade New Rules’ could have applied to Scream 3. That film made up its own rules as it went along too.

Kevin Williamson plundered Popcorn 1991 for the first trilogy. It makes dishonest sense he would return to source for more thievery. As well as the metafilm and mimic voice box ideas Williamson has stolen the horror film festival aka horrorthon. Parody becomes pastiche.
New Decade. New Rules. New Cast.
One of the standouts in Scream was the cast and characters. Scream 4 is the closest any of the sequels have come to replicating that camaraderie. The young actors riff off each other in a stylised manner but with convincing ease. Alas the returning characters are left with nothing to do but ball watch.

Therein lies the problem. Neve Campbell is 37, Courtney Cox 46 and David Arquette is 39. They deliver good performances within the parameters of a ridiculous script but they look like hall of famers. Their time has gone. They don’t belong anymore.

Respected online publications have blasted this film and received hate mail as a result9. The franchise has its fanboys but Napoleon is not always right.

Scream 4’s first weekend US grosses are $18.7million10 – compared to Scream 3’s $34.7m11 ($44.5m adjusted for inflation). That is a disaster. There may not be a Scream 5. There definitely won’t be a Scream 6.

Avarice will win over art on any given Friday. Hollywood will always produce sequels, trilogies, franchises, reboots and remakes.

They best remember every film is at the public mercy.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Before Wes Craven Screamed
1 Robert De Niro filmography
4 The Scream franchise Box Office Mojo
5 Kevin Williamson IMDb
6 Insidious Box Office Mojo
7 Kevin Williamson interview Entertainment Weekly
9 Scream 4 The Numbers
10 Scream 3 The Numbers
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