Written by Kevin Williamson (1, 2, 4), Ehren Kruger (3)
Directed by Wes Craven
Acted by Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts
The Premise: A masked killer goes around butchering teenagers in the small fictional town of Woodsboro, California. Comparing the gruesome happenings to the tropes of famous slasher movies, a bunch of teenagers, a clumsy cop, and a brash news reporter try to survive.
– SPOILER NOTE: All of the quick reviews below are spoiler-free. I will not reveal any of the killers.
Is Part I Good?: I guess I don’t really need to address this one much, do I? The original Scream is a masterpiece, a stunning achievement in creating what’s both a fantastic slasher movie on its own, and an intelligent love letter / parody of its entire genre. If you have seen a lot of famous teen slashers such as Black Christmas, Halloween, or Friday the 13th, or even some of the lesser known works such as Terror Train, When a Stranger Calls, or My Bloody Valentine, (you should really check out The Burning, The Prowler, and the crazy Slumber Party Massacre 2), you’ll easily recognize many of the same aspects getting used again and again. Now, in theory, a movie commenting on a whole genre by incorporating tropes, then having characters actually talk about said tropes should either be annoyingly obvious (see Scary Movie) or straight out boring (see Leslie Vernon: Behind the Mask).
Instead, Craven just uses the strengths of all of those cliches without making fun of them. He wants us to laugh about all those cliches, but never in a mocking way. Craven loved the genre, and his love shapes his kinda parody into something that’s respectful. And he’s right. Cliches aren’t bad. They’re just bad when used in lazy ways. Scream adheres to a simple structure and has many of the same false scares, stalking scenes, or stupid teenagers stupidly risking their lives as in similar movies. It’s just that his false scares don’t feel like cheats. His stalking scenes are truly thrilling due to great directing, and while the teenagers aren’t exactly preparing themselves for the knife wielding killer like smart people would, they never feel annoyingly stupid. No one cared about the bland victims of late 90s slashers such as Valentine, Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or Cherry Falls. These teenagers seem fresh and fun. Even if this weren’t a slasher movie and just about teenagers at school, the cast would make for an entertaining group of kids. Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, and Jamie Kennedy might not have gone on to become everlasting acting legends, but this group harmonizes greatly.
Add a great mix of both fantastic score and songs (Nick Cave!), the best dialogue Kevin Williamson has ever written, and an iconic mask, and Craven simply had to create a movie that will be rightfully studied by every future horror creative. Everyone needs to know this one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Is Part II Good?: Scream felt incredibly fresh, therefore any sequel with a new killer donning the Ghostface mask should be a lame imitation. While Scream 2 is not as tight and flawless as the original, it’s still a pretty solid continuation. Every survivor of the original has changed in a way, and Craven manages to bring up effective scenes for each of the characters (see van, recording studio, car accident). What doesn’t really work is Craven’s try to openly compare the depth of Sidney’s ordeal to that of a stage play (by literally having Sidney in a play). One of the shocking murders kills off one of the most interesting characters which is a big shock, but, well, it does take away one of the most interesting characters.
The showdown tries to connect itself to the story of the first movie, but while the first movie’s killer and his or her motivation felt natural, this one simply doesn’t. The showdown itself is fun, but the overly psychotic killer’s motivation feels needlessly retconned and forced. Also, this time it’s pretty much impossible to guess the killer. Another small letdown is the movie’s opening scene which sways away from the mean, bloody tone of the original’s. Instead, it aims to be both cleverly meta (which works) and more fun (which doesn’t, it just makes it less scary). Overall though, Scream 2 is a solid sequel. The first is the only must-see of the series, but if you really want to watch more, continue directly with this one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Is Part III Good?: This simply shouldn’t have come out. Among slashers, Scream 3 is a solid entry (but only because most slashers are pretty bad to begin with), but as a Scream sequel it does have some intriguing ideas. It’s just that Craven and his team feel really tired. Going even deeper regarding the meta-factor of the predecessor, the survivors get to visit a sound stage with recreations of the houses of the original movie. Together with actors who play each of them in the movie-within-the-movie, they fight off another Ghostface killer. It’s really fun to see all of the survivors interact with caricatures of themselves, but everything else is of lesser quality. The kills aren’t as gripping, Ehren Kruger’s dialogue feels stale, Craven’s directing isn’t as effective, and protagonist Sidney, now a quiet recluse, feels just lifeless as well. It becomes really hard to either root for or against her, and the fact that specific characters seemingly survive every attack becomes off-putting.
The movie tries to bring Sidney’s backstory full circle by finally explaining all of the remaining mysteries surrounding her mother’s past, and of course they connect everything to the previous Ghostface killers. It’s unnecessary, and the reveal of the newest killer is a big disappointment. Most of the scenes occur in Hollywood, and Craven uses the opportunity for a few cameos. Carrie Fisher, Jenny McCarthy, Jay and Silent Bob, and Roger Corman show up, but it’s a rather unexciting bunch of cameos in rather trite scenes. Lance Henriksen makes the most out of a scumbag role. Most of all, Craven failed to include himself, Robert Englund, and Heather Langenkamp, all of them as themselves, to connect Scream to New Nightmare. Let Sidney have nightmares about her Ghostface encounters while living on Elm Street, and you got yourself a movie way better than Scream 3.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Is Part IV Good?: After a decade of legal problems, the Weinstein Company brought Ghostface back into theatres. In Part 4, Sidney finally comes out of hiding, seemingly having beaten her anxieties, and presents a book on the original Woodsboro killings. Just when she comes to town, a new series of murders happen. This late sequel feels very different when compared to the disappointing Scream 3, but not exactly in a good way. For every improved aspect there’s a new mistake. What really doesn’t work is a ridiculously overstuffed intro that makes the opening of Scream 2 look like best phase Argento. Luckily, the movie never becomes that cheesy again (except from an astonishingly bad Anthony Anderson scene), but other aspects drag it down even further. The new batch of teenagers fails to be neither interesting nor authentic. There’s a boy who constantly carries a webcam with him at all times, and Craven truly stumbles at grasping what modern teenagers act and talk like. Deaths barely hit home, and the lines of the returning Kevin Williamson never reach the spit and spark of his previous works.
Still, Craven manages to direct some gripping new murders, and even though it’s the fourth part in the series, he manages to make all of the returning survivors believable suspects, including Sidney herself. In addition to that, the final reveal of the killer and his / her motives is clearly the best reveal since the original. The resolution of it does feel underwhelming, but the showdown itself will easily have you on the edge of your seat. Especially because Craven crafts the feeling that everything could happen. Will the killer gut Sidney? Will the killer win for once? Or in case Sidney herself is the killer, will another surviving girl shoot her in the face just like she did all those years ago? This is when Scream 4 really comes alive and earns some merit, but the sum of the mistakes drags down what could have been both a great sequel, and a great cliffhanger for another one.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Originally, Ghostface’s costume was planned to be white. They changed it when they noticed that it looked too much like a Ku Klux Klan outfit.
Courtney Cox and David Arquette met on Scream, got engaged during Scream 2, married shortly before Scream 3, and divorced shortly after Scream 4.
Joaquin Phoenix turned down the role of Billy Loomis.
The producer’s house in Scream 3 is the same building as the one used in Halloween H20.
Kevin Williamson did actually write a script for Scream 3, but they didn’t like it.
Matthew Lillard isn’t officially in Scream 2, but he is one of the party extras.
Robert Rodriguez directed the movie-within-the-movie scenes of Scream 2.
In the first movie, Craven has a cameo as a janitor wearing Freddy Krueger’s clothes.
Sony apparently sued because the movie title Scream was to close to their own 1995 movie, Screamers. The Peter Weller bomb that had a world wide gross of $5 million dollars?
Cinematic Soulmates: Chained Heat, Wing Commander: The Movie, Screamers