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Scream 4 (2011)
Eleven years after the Scream trilogy ended with a dull whimper in Scream 3 the franchise is back. Wes Craven again directs (he has so far helmed all of the Scream films) and stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette (the main trio from the first three installments) also return. And I am happy to say that Kevin Williamson is once again (having penned Scream and Scream 2) responsible for the script. You will remember (won’t you?) that Ehren Kruger wrote the less than stellar Scream 3. I am very pleased Williamson has returned to the fray and even if Kruger did do touch up work on Scream 4 (as some have said) only Williamson gets a screenwriting credit.
Perennial survivor Sidney Prescott (Campbell, who shines) has written a memoir about her numerous experiences with the Ghostface killer(s) – she’s been targeted three times now – all the way from high school to Hollywood. Her book is a bestseller and her final stop on her book tour is back to where it all began – her hometown of Woodsboro. Oh, yeah, and it is the anniversary of the original murders. Deputy Dewey (Arquette) has become Sheriff Dewey and is married to ex-journalist Gale Weathers (Cox) – who penned her own bestseller about the killings, it being adapted into the movie Stab, which spawned six sequels.
Surprisingly, Sidney is barely back in Woodsboro long enough to finish her appearance at the local bookstore before the bodies begin piling up. And we have a whole new cast of characters to contend with – and suspect. Mary McDonell (given far too little screen time) as Sidney’s aunt, Sidney’s young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) with whom Sidney appears to have more than a few things in common, Marley Shelton as Deputy Hicks, Adam Brody as Deputy Hoss, Alison Brie as Sidney’s comic relief publicist – and Jill’s gaggle of horror obsessed high school pals played by a trope of young Hollywood hotlets. My favorite new addition is Hayden Panettiere – though sporting a questionable hairstyle, her character, Kirby Reed, is a gem. This is probably my favorite set of Scream characters since the original – though I have major soft spots for Parker Posey in the third installment (she being one of the few reasons to actually watch it) and the sorority sisters played by Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi in Scream 2.
Yeah, yeah, you say – so it is any good or what? I really enjoyed it. Scream 4 does manage to justify the resurrection of the series after so much time. It also provides a hell of a social commentary on the age we’re living in – and it gets in some nice digs at the current state of the horror film, too. It works, it is fun and while it never feels as weighty as the first two, it doesn’t come across as just a tossed off, mediocre ploy to pull in a profit either. Yet, there are some areas where it is lacking. Gale is sorely missing through most of the action after a stab wound lands her in the hospital. The main narrative thrust of the film – this being a new generation with remakes all the rage, the new Ghostface is making a “reboot” – while an interesting idea, is handled too casually and never fully realized. Also, with so many new characters, some suffer from underdevelopment and at times come too close to horror film stereotype, by doing things which are less than intelligent – but their behavior is never really senseless or annoying enough to make you hope for their demise. And the final FINAL showdown in the ICU is over baked and too similar to other scenes in recent horror.
However these are mostly minor quibbles and what the filmmakers get right far outweigh the flaws. There is a corker of an opening that has something to say about everything from the Saw movies to the Scream franchise’s own inherent cliches. The big reveal is really something – it is amazingly well done and cuts deep. This is the best denouement since the first film and it packs a sucker punch of immediacy and relevance – it is quite ingenious and satisfying. The kill scenes raise the bar on violence in the series and are threaded with a brutal nihilism that makes them feel fresh and startling. I dug the Möbius strip meta-ness and the pop culture allusions – that is part of the charm of the Scream films and the humor is balanced quite proportionally with the horror. This rightly should have been part three as it provides the most logical and seamless close to the series. But with two more sequels apparently planned, this is a better than it has any right to be beginning of a potential new trilogy. Hopefully the filmmakers can maintain this degree of enjoyability and effectiveness. B
The Devil’s Chair (2007)
Andrew Howard, who played a similarly villainous role in the I Spit On Your Grave remake, here stars as smarmy Nick West, who as the film opens is dropping acid and investigating an abandoned asylum with his girlfriend. They discover the titular contraption – a device that when activated opens a doorway to a hellish dimension and whisks away whoever is unlucky enough to be sitting in it. Nick’s girlfriend tries it out, goes bye-bye and Nick is left high (literally) and dry, with a story that isn’t very believable. He finds himself soon in another asylum – only this time one that is working and fully staffed. Years later, Nick appears to be recovering and to have gained back some grasp on reality – so naturally psychiatrist, Dr. Willard (David Gant) decides it is time to return to the old asylum and suss out what really happened. I really admired the way the story was set up and how it initially unfolded – the doctor gathering his colleagues and the return to the asylum with Nick, felt very Legend of Hell House-y. It was very well done and full of potential. Unfortunately as soon as the group arrives at the asylum the film goes off the rails.
Nick provides a stream of consciousness narration during the course of the film – at times it seems as if he is speaking directly to the audience – and the monologues have some flashes of wit, but for the most part the voice overs seem a little too pleased with their cleverness, which makes the film feel self-satisfying and unappealing smug – of course you have to take into consideration the character who is relaying the tale to us and what type of person he is. I wouldn’t call this an “enjoyable” film – any hints that it may be develop into a fun little supernatural jaunt are quickly and efficiently dashed.
I will say (venturing here into spoiler territory) that this is one of those “it was all in their head” films – the majority of what we see on screen never actually transpires and only in the few final minutes do we get a glimpse of the “reality” of the situation. It is a serious sucker punch and even if you saw it coming still manages to be disturbingly gruesome and jarring. But I wanted to know more of what was behind Nick’s madness – yes, I know it is almost always more frightening when we don’t know what motivates the monster, but when the script so thoroughly stages the entire experience from Nick’s point of view and entrenches us so firmly in his mind from the first frame – well, I expect something a little more than just some post-modern spewage. The character of Nick – and the film itself – goes to such lengths to mislead us – but what of the time we had invested in the manufactured narrative? It seems a disservice for all that to be revealed as a mere ploy, no matter how well played and especially considering how flippantly Nick reveals the truth. It is one of the better “it was all in their head” films but it is also undeniably manipulative and the cumulative effect is one of disappointment rather than awe. These type of stories are only truly successful when something is gained from the deception – there seems to be no real reason for it here, aside from the “We tricked you! Look what we did!” angle.
The Devil’s Chair isn’t a complete disaster and isn’t without merit, but it left me feeling ungratified and cheaply fooled. A good use of music, some interesting creature effects, a superbly intense and unnerving performance from Andrew Howard, a brutal and harrowing ending – but mostly all for naught. C+