I should never have been surprised to see a 4th entry in the SCREAM franchise. After all, horror films continue to make money (PIRANHA 3D, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, SAW, and the recent INSIDIOUS) and it’s a cheap way for the Weinstein Brothers to make some mint on a franchise that has been very good to them. The last SCREAM came out 11 years ago and even though it was a disappointing piece of shit that was seemingly phoned in by Wes Craven, it still made a ton of money for Dimension Films. Still, I figured Craven would think of himself beyond milking a dead horse and move onto other projects. Besides, SCREAM isn’t like the SAW series, where the premise lends itself to ever more imaginative ways to torture and kill people. SCREAM is simply about an implausibly difficult to catch serial killer who murders his victims with a big ass knife. The films are self-referential to the rules of the horror genre, but there are only so many rules to base sequels off of and you can only watch so many films with teenagers getting killed the same way. Clearly, that didn’t dissuade the Weinstein Brothers or Wes Craven from making a 4th installment and we now have SCREAM 4.

SCREAM 4 is set in the same sleepy California town of Woodsboro (AKA Walnut Creek), where the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro Massacre is being observed. For those of you unfamiliar with the SCREAM movies, the Woodsboro Massacres started in the first SCREAM film in which a serial killer dressed in a ghost face costume went around killing teenagers with a big knife. The sole survivor of the massacres was Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who survived through three two more SCREAM films. Flash forward to 15 years later in 2011 and Sidney has returned to Woodsboro on a tour of her new book that describes how she coped with being a survivor of the massacres. To mark the anniversary of the killings, there is a new Ghostface killer on the loose and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who is now Woodsboro’s sheriff, tries in his inept way to find and stop the killer. Also returning is Gale Weathers Riley (Courtney Cox), the investigative journalist who helped Riley discover the Ghostface killer in the past SCREAM movies (she is also now married to Riley).

There has always been an underlying tongue-in-cheek element to the SCREAM movies. The characters are all very familiar with the “rules” that govern horror films and each SCREAM entry contains a scene where the characters discuss these rules. In turn, the rules serve as a guide to how the plot of the movie will proceed. With 11 years having passed between the 3rd and 4th SCREAMS, the 4th film follows the rules that typically govern “remakes” of the original entry of a horror movie. Unlike the past SCREAMS, the rules are a bit convoluted and difficult to follow this time around. This may be because there aren’t a whole lot of remakes of horror films and there don’t really exist any rules that are commonly found among remakes. For anyone who just wants to see a horror movie, the description of the rules isn’t going to be important. However, for a SCREAM fan and film buff such as myself, the self-referential aspect is one of the highlights of the SCREAM series. Without it, SCREAM turns into just another slasher film and a bad one at that.

One critic described SCREAM 4 as the closest sequel to the first SCREAM. Well, no shit! This film is supposed to be a “remake” of the first movie so its to be expected that it would remind you of the first movie. However, just because this installment may evoke the first movie, it doesn’t make it into a decent movie. In fact, SCREAM 4 comes off as a Bizarro version of the first SCREAM. It brings back the key actors (NEVE CAMPBELL, COURTNEY COX, and DAVID ARQUETTE), Wes Craven as director, and we even have the return of original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, but this time it all feels tired and awkward. No longer is having self-aware characters a neat idea because we already saw that in 3 films. By 1996, when SCREAM came out, the horror/slasher film genre had already bottomed out. The 80s and early 90s had produced so many horror/slasher films that the industry ran out of ideas and it began to rely on a bunch of clichés. The beauty of SCREAM was that Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven were able to take these clichés and fashion a movie that served as an homage to those earlier films while also producing genuine scares, interesting characters, and a sense of mystery as to the killer’s identity.

I was at least glad that Kevin Williamson returned to screenwriting duties instead of the severely overrated Ehren Kruger (who wrote SCREAM 3 and TRANSFORMERS 2 and 3, and THE RING movies). Williamson begins SCREAM 4 in a clever and entertaining way by crafting a meta-within-meta opening sequence (like nested Russian dolls) that gives a nod to the evolution of the horror genre over the past decade (for example, the emergence of torture porn, J-horror, found-footage, and zombie films). Where Williamson falters is in the film’s 3rd Act climax. As with all the SCREAM movies, the ending contains a classic Scooby-Doo ending, but this time I liked the identity of the Ghostface killer. However, the problem with the climax is the age-old problem of too much exposition. After the killer’s identity is revealed, the killer spends an inordinate amount of time pointing the knife at the victim and explaining why they did the horrible things that they did. Scenes like this always remind me of the scene in AUSTIN POWERS where Dr. Evil takes forever explaining his plans to Austin Powers before he tries to kill him. Ironically, for a movie that attacks the genre’s clichés, it succumbs to the worst cliché of all: villain exposition.

As a side note, for as modern as SCREAM 4 is supposed to be in referring to the present state of horror movies, Wes Craven interestingly shoots the film in a very old-fashioned style. Whether or not this was intentionally done, the look and feel of SCREAM 4 evokes the style of 80s and 90s horror films. I didn’t care for this look at first mostly because I wasn’t expecting it, but I grew into it as the film progressed.

SCREAM 4 is far from matching the phenomenal original or the even-better second entry and it’s a marginally better effort than SCREAM 3. In the end, Craven and crew have simply swapped in iPhones for the cordless to make something that fails to have the electric punch of SCREAM and SCREAM 2. I can see why Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven would return to this series. It makes them a LOT of money and by now, these guys can churn these films out with their eyes closed. In fact, many of the murders in this movie felt like Craven was in auto mode. However, in the end we get an unsatisfactory product in which the filmmakers attempt to catch lightening in a bottle for a second time. We’re simply left with more of the mundane same in which the film that tries to skewer all of the old horror clichés falls victim to those same clichés.