[Contains faux-defensive wounds and SPOILERS!!!]
For the past week, I’ve been working my way through Wes Craven’s Scream quadrilogy… and while all four satirical slasher flicks received rather mixed reviews from the professional critics, I still believe that the first entry holds up as a stone-cold “comedy horror” classic, and that the second and fourth entries also have a lot to recommend them, in both the laugh and scare departments. The third entry, on the other hand, is a painfully silly, implausible, and un-funny dud… the obvious dip in quality and intelligence no doubt attributable to the fact that it was scripted by a sub-standard substitute (Ehren Kruger), rather than series creator Kevin Williamson. Apparently Kruger also did a couple rewrites on the script for the fourth movie, so I’m just gonna blindly blame him for all the dumb jokes I didn’t like in that one, and credit Williamson with all the smart/scary stuff!
Plot-wise, the flicks are all fairly formulaic… but the interesting thing about them, compared to a lot of horror movies, is that they minimise the random “stranger danger” aspect, in favour of murderers who already know their victims and have fairly specific (though often superficial and/or narcissistic) motives for offing them… which adds a fun “whodunnit” element to proceedings, while also reflecting the sad reality that roughly half of all real-life murder victims are killed by a family member, romantic partner, neighbour, or work colleague. That said, as a fan of police procedurals, I was slightly disappointed to revisit this series and see how little actual detective work is done by the authorities, even when a killer leaves their trademark mask (and all of the presumed DNA evidence that comes with it) behind them at a hot crime scene, despite one of the main characters being a deputy/sheriff (‘Dewey Riley’, played by David Arquette), and several other well-meaning cops popping up along the way! I guess that’s the downside of the “everyone is a suspect” paranoia they’re trying to generate here…?
On the plus side, this series does have a very strong recurring female cast, with Neve Campbell as grimly determined “final girl” ‘Sidney Prescott’, and Courteney Cox as bitchy-but-effective investigative reporter ‘Gale Weathers’… though I can’t say I’ve ever really warmed to either character as a heroine, despite faultless performances in their respective roles. They’re smart, tough, gorgeous, and courageous survivors… and they both know the value of a spree-ending head-shot, which I totally respect… but despite all those positive selling points, they’re frequently overshadowed by their scene-stealing, scenery-chewing antagonists, and comic-relief sidekicks (imho). Speaking of which/whom, this series is absolutely stuffed with all-star supporting turns…
The original Scream (1996) features Drew Barrymore as the franchise’s first ever on-screen victim ‘Casey Becker’, and Rose McGowan as Sid’s busty bestie ‘Tatum Riley’, along with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Linda Blair as an ‘Obnoxious Reporter’. Scream 2 (1997) features Jada Pinkett Smith as ‘Maureen’, the doomed lead of a genuinely disturbing opening sequence set in a packed cinema (where all of the witnesses assume her messy murder is part of the show!), Heather Graham as an actress playing the silver-screen version of “Casey”, Laurie Metcalf as niggling news-reporter (and secret killer) “Debbie Salt”, Sarah Michelle Gellar as doomed house-sitter ‘Cici’, plus Marisol Nichols, Rebecca Gayheart, and (a pre-Ally McBeal) Portia de Rossi as surviving sorority sisters. Scream 3 (2000) features Kelly Rutherford as ‘Christine Hamilton’, the short-lived girlfriend of talkshow host (and formerly-incarcerated scapegoat) ‘Cotton Weary’ (Liev Schreiber), Heather Matarazzo as ‘Martha Meeks’, the younger sister of deceased movie-geek ‘Randy’ (Jamie Kennedy), Carrie Fisher as belligerent studio archivist ‘Bianca’, plus Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, and Parker Posey as hackneyed Hollywood stereotypes. Meh.
Finally, Scream 4 (2011) features Alison Brie as Sid’s cynical book publicist ‘Rebecca Walters’, Hayden Panettiere as horror-lovin’ hottie ‘Kirby Reed’, Emma Roberts as the seemingly-innocent-but-secretly-evil ‘Jill Roberts’, Marielle Jaffe as their unfortunate friend ‘Olivia Morris’, Marley Shelton as home-baking hussy ‘Deputy Judy Hicks’, and Mary McDonnell as Jill’s oblivious mother ‘Kate’… plus Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes-Beech, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Aimee Teegarden, Jenny Randall, and Britt Robertson as knife-fodder teens/twenty-somethings in the execrable film-within-a-film-within-a-film opening sequence. Feh! Seriously, all that self-referential dicking around at the beginning almost had me reaching for the “stop” button… but I’m glad I grit my teeth and stuck with it, because seeing Roberts go full-tilt psycho in the finale was well worth the rental fee all by itself!
P.S. I tried watching the TV series spin-off (reboot?) too, but couldn’t even get through the first episode… it just made me pine for Scream Queens, which is a much funner successor to these movies, even if it takes the genre-spoofing in a ridiculously over-the-top direction…