Scary Saturday Shorts

Dispatches From The Underground

I know I have already spoken of my deep seated love and admiration for the works of Montreal filmmaker Karim Hussain elsewhere on The October Country and I'm not likely to stop anytime soon. It's just that, well dear readers, I happen to think that he is one of thee most exciting horror movie makers toiling away at the margins of the genre right now. Period. When he isn't directing gorgeously disturbing cinema as with 2000's Subconscious Cruelty, whose twisted world of sex, mutilation and sacrilege was like nothing I had ever experienced before (or experienced since), he's collaborating with the likes of Spain's Nacho Cerdà on 2006's Fulci-esque fever dream The Abandoned (which he co-wrote) or Jason Eisener's recent Hobo With a Shotgun (for which he was the film's cinematographer). His output in feature length material certainly doesn't match that of his brothers and sisters currently working within the field, but he has managed to make his presence felt almost yearly in other forms of media (namely shorts) with his decidedly unique vision that consistently dares to trespass where the sacred and the profane become one.

So because we love him and simply put, we just can't get enough of his kaleidoscopicly colorful, twisted worlds, today we are offering up Hussain's brilliant short film from 2002, the Claude Jutra Award nominated The City Without Windows (aka La Dernière Voix). Co-directed and written with with Hussain's frequent producer Julien Fonfrede (Ascension, The Beautiful Beast), City's story unfolds in a dreamlike, bizarre future that has replaced our own. A future where one day, unrelenting acidic rain begins to fall and never stops. But that is just the beginning of the nightmare...

For more about The City Without Windows, Offscreen has a very in-depth interview with the film's directors on the making of the film. Worth a look for those interested in digging into the meat of this startling vision.

Exquisite Corpse

"Tran raised his head. Jay had made a long shallow incision from his breastbone to his crotch, neatly parting the skin. Tran could see the layers of fat and muscle beneath. Arthur stood at the foot of the table, his cock and thighs smeared with Tran's blood. his pubic hair matted with it.

Jay thrust the knife into the incision again, and Tran's head fell back. The cold blade twisted inside him, severed some tough membrane with an agonizing crunch, sank into vital softness. Tran heard his own blood pattering onto the table, felt it pooling warmly beneath his back and buttocks. Blood filled his throat, welled past the gag and trickled out the corners of his mouth.
Jay unfastened the gag and pulled it out. A freshet of blood and bile followed it. Tran coughed, retched, tried to scream. It sounded like someone attempting to gargle boiling water. Jay put the knife down, leaned over and cradled him, kissed his bloody mouth, licked his chin, his throat, his swollen nipples, the edges of his incision. Tran felt consciousness beginning to slip away, merciful blackness fogging his brain at last."

Fatal Frames

Ten frames from?

Sound off in the comments.


The Video Dead

Review - Hobo With a Shotgun

Friends of The October Country, Boner Lee and Amber Atrophy return with their latest installment of The Video Dead, offering up their review of Jason Eisener's (he of the legendarily awesome Treevenge short) Hobo With a Shotgun. For the first time, their vote is split on a film and in their analysis of why exactly that is, they formulate an idea of what could possibly make the movie better that is so flippin' awesome, might I suggest that they copyright that shit immediately and get on the horn to Hollywood: a Tom Atkins and Rutger Hauer shotgun showdown (be still my overactive fanboy shorts). Are you listening Mr. Eisener? In fact, lets just call it a day already and title the inevitable sequel Tom Atkins vs. Rutger Hauer: Shotgun Showdown shall we because I've already bought my tickets. Additionally they give your humble host a shout out and make some time to send Kristy Jett's Popcorn re-release project some love (which we just covered here.) Though Amber, in regards to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film being the "only acceptable version", me thinks somebody is gonna get a poo gift basket next Christmas by yours truly (fer shame girl). Additionally they mention that they've been picked up over at Ted Brown's The Liberal Dead, which you may visit here. I guess these guys are really taking off. My suggestion for your next move you two? A horror podcast / radio talk show. If one closes their eyes for a brief moment and listen only to Boner and Amber's voices, you can practically hear them flowing forth from your car speakers on your morning commute to work amirite dear readers? Tom Atkins, Troma and Jeff Zornow...their words melt ya like butter.


Isn't It Touching How A Perfect Murder Has Kept Our Friendship Alive All These Years.

Fran: "I don't know what's come over me tonight. I'm tingling all over".
Arthur Adamson: "I told you about danger, didn't I? First it makes you sick, then when you get through it, it makes you very, very loving".

The Midnight Marquee

All I Have To Do Is Dream...

William Castle's Homicidal (1961)

John D. Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Tod Browning's Dracula (1931)

Popcorn's Re-release

Or, How You Can Help Make This Happen

If you spend even an hour out of your day surfing the horror movie blogosphere, you've certainly come across this awesome bit of news by now. Pop culture journalist Kristy Jett (and contributing writer for Fangoria.com and Fangoria magazine as well as being a freelance writer for Horror Hound magazine in addition to running the excellent Bloodsprayer website, the link to which can be found in the column to your right) is relying on you, fans of excellently conceived cheese and nostalgic movie memories everywhere, to hop on board and help her realize a labor of love that has been several years in the making: the hope-to-be-soon re-release of 1991's slasher cum William Castle homage, Popcorn. Yes, Popcorn. That lovably wacky and weird obscure little gem from the year that brought us Danny Bonaduce attacking a transvestite prostitute, the beginnings of the grunge subculture and Bryan Adam's (shudder) Everything I Do (I Do It For You) dominating the #1 spot for unending eternity. Initially all but ignored during its theatrical run, Popcorn has since risen from its own premature burial over the years and built for itself an appreciative and loyal fan base of followers (it has hovered around my husband's top spot of favorites ever since I indoctrinated him to the film's unique charm in 2010). Though sadly, nobody responsible for DVD distribution was ever clued into this fact, as Popcorn received a single, no frills release from Elite Entertainment that was not only unceremoniously conceived (no special features of any kind, boo) but also woefully inept (the DVD maintained the VHS' grainy transfer of horribly rendered pan and scan, awkwardly stretching the movie's picture to bizarre degrees at select moments) and quickly fell into the wasteland of out of print titles. Now, a used DVD copy usually sells for no less than $60 - $100 on sites like eBay and Amazon, hence my husband's Christmas present that never was (insert Daniel's sad face, and really, ya want my boy to smile right).

Well thankfully, an enterprising young lass and longtime fan of the film has come along with the dream of setting all these wrongs to right by hopefully garnering Popcorn the extravagant re-release that the film arguably deserves. The catch is, this can only happen with your help. Kristy Jett has set up the project over at Kickstarter and donations is the name of the game folks. The required budget to finance this re-release is set at $16,000, but the there is a variety of pledges for the more cash strapped fans amongst you (me and mine right now). So, as the saying goes, every dollar helps. But first, you are probably wondering what makes this particular edition of Popcorn so special, right dear readers? Well, hows about Miss Jett tell you in her own words...

About this project

The best way to learn all about what this project is all about is to watch the video, but the crux of it is that we are making a retrospective documentary for the DVD re-release of Popcorn, along with a host of other fan-centric special features.

This DVD re-release will include all new special features including a retrospective documentary, cast commentary, stills gallery featuring behind the scenes photos and a feature entitled “Your Favorite Films Don’t Have To Make Sense” where Kristy Jett and Ryan Lieske dissect the film’s weaker elements.

The packaging will include a collector’s booklet along with a reversible collectible poster featuring all new artwork from Jeff Zornow, Christopher Ott and Steve Jencks.

We have participation from all but 2 members of the principal cast, but are working towards full participation. We will be interviewing and reuniting all cast members available and recording new special features with them for die-hard fans of this film.

The funding is to complete the retrospective documentary including some travel locations, and also to author the DVD and produce it, along with all materials associated with the DVD.

This is a completely fan-funded project.

Still not convinced that you should seriously consider forking over some dough for this cool as hell endeavor? Well then, perhaps you should check out the benefits provided to one who donates to the cause by clicking here. Because in addition to earning yourself free copies of the DVD, various poster artwork and a host of other goodies, there is also the lofty "Executive Producer" credit you could score yourself. I mean, how flippin' neato amirite? Or maybe, just maybe you are one of the unenlightened few who have yet to actually see Porcorn. Is that so? Well then, allow me to walk you through it.

A group of film students plan an all-night horror film festival in order to raise funds for their cinema club. They decide to show a number of (fictional) horror films from the 1950s that rely on gimmicks such as 3-D, Odorama, and electrical "buzzers" in seats. Unbeknownst to the group, a homicidal maniac capable of "becoming" any one of them by "wearing" their faces, is stalking the theater where the festival is being held. A filmmaker named Lanyard Gates, who murdered his family during a screening of his only film in the 1970s, The Possessor, and who allegedly died in a fire during the massacre, may or may not be the culprit. One thing is for sure, this is going to be one seriously scary all-night horror movie marathon.

Nobody is going to claim that Popcorn is a perfect film, that much is certain. A troubled production from the very start, it endured it's fair share of behind the scenes hardships before filming was even locked to begin; after a falling out with his old friend and sometimes collaborator Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Deathdream), the films writer and original director Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things) was replaced by Porky's actor Mark Herrier (who admittedly does a pretty good job with what was left of the script by that point). Additionally, the leading role of Maggie once had actress Amy O'Neill attached before she was recast with Jill Schoelen. On screen, the movie occasionally has glaring lapses in logic, at times borrowing from Nighmare on Elm Street and its flashy supernatural setpieces a bit too heavily (but hey, this was 1991 and nearly everyone was or had been doing this), the overabundance of comedy and silliness works as often as it doesn't (simultaneously making for incredibly enduring characters while diluting the suspense and horror just a tad too much). Thankfully though, the pluses far away the minuses. We get three, count 'em three Scream Queens for the price of one what with Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, When a Stranger Calls Back, Cutting Class, Curse 2: The Bite, Chiller) taking the lead and the incomparable Dee Wallace (who, as Maggie's Aunt Suzanne, endures Popcorn's most nerve shredding, eerie and flat-out chilling scene, alone in the darkened Dreamland theater after hours) and Kelly Jo Minter (always the sassy sidekick yet never the victim in the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and The People Under the Stairs, cheers girl) offering their support. Tom Villard (typecasted nerd to the end) as Toby, tuns in a wonderfully sympathetic and gleefully mad performance as our movie's resident psychopath (and incidentally, one of horrordom's few out of the closet leading men to play the monster). The remaining cast shine in their own way as well, with Ivette Soler's Joannie remaining to this day, one of my all time favorite supporting girls in a slasher film while Ray Watson memorably cameos and Elliot Hurst emerged as my big boner of '91...oh Leon. The Possessor, Popcorn's possibly haunted film-within-a-film, is a suitably creepy, slice of 5 minute psychedelia. The deaths, though mostly bloodless as they tended to be after the heyday of slasher movie's reign waned, are joyfully creative (death by seat buzzer, death by giant mosquito, death by stink bomb and so on). But possibly nothing is more creative and on the mark, than Popcorn's other film-within-films playing throughout it's all night horrorthon: Mosquito! (in Project-O-Vision), The Stench (in authentic Aroma-Rama) and The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man (in Shock-O-Scope). The rowdy audience attending the marathon at Dreamland theater may jeer and laugh at them, but it is clearly evident that the makers of Popcorn have recreated these 1950s-era sci-fi / horror films with the utmost respect and loving care (as "genuine" movies, they're quite convincing). It is this aspect of the film, the admirable homage to godfather and creator of the movie gimmick himself, William Castle, that is Popcorn's ace in the hole. Without it, it might have been just another routine (yet quirky) 80's slasher film (it was released in 1991, but the 80's aesthetic of body count films is all over this thing). But with their inclusion, Popcorn becomes something more, something unique and entirely its own; a wholly fun 90 minutes that leapfrogs back and forth from genuine quality and misfired moments of "WTF LOL HUH LMFAO" nonsensical zaniness. However, the one ball that Popcorn never fumbles is the one where you ensure that your audience leave with a smile on their face. Hell, I still smile at the memory of it. As William Castle would most likely agree, that is the finest example of showmanship.

So, what on earth could you possibly be waiting for dear readers? Head on over to Popcorn's Kickstarter page here and donate some love. You know that your sprawling horror movie collection simply won't be complete without it.

For more information on Popcorn's DVD re-release, you may visit the project's official blog here.

Additionally (as a treat), we managed to track down this oldie (but goodie) podcast of Popcorn's Derek Rydall (Mark, he of the ridiculously scrumptious bubble-butt) chatting with the guys from Natsukashi. And so, for your listening pleasure.

To reiterate one last time, all those interested in pledging some moolah to the Popcorn DVD re-release, may do so by going here. It's quick, it's easy and the world of horror will be better for it.

In conclusion:


Kristy Jett's Popcorn DVD Re-release Project

See. See what I did there? Free promotion and a review...mad multitasking skills ya' all.


Everybody Dances With The Grim Reaper

"Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,
And spent my little life without a thought,
And am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim,
Should think of me, who never thought of him".

Fatal Frames

Ten frames from?

Sound off in the comments.


Review - Scream 4

Don't Fuck With The Original
(Or, What Exactly Is The Problem Here)

Warning: Major Spoilers Below

A quick sojourn through The October Country's posts from the past couple weeks should indicate to anybody reading this, that we here at TOC are big fans of Kevin Willaimson's / Wes Craven's meta, modern day take on the horror genre (or more specifically, the slasher sub-genre). Certainly, our love for the series is going to shade our review with a degree of bias opinions.
There is no denying the fact that we are those big dorky fans that literally counted down the days leading up to Scream 4's release and then promptly waited impatiently in the theater lobby 90 minutes before the film's pre-premier midnight screening We are the type of fans for which there was to be no waiting any longer than need be to experience this sucker as we'd already been waiting for over a decade to return to this world, for crying out loud. Trust me when I say, we simply couldn't put it off one more day.

We had in equal number, so many hopes (detailed here) and apprehension and reservations (here) leading up to the big unveil. We were mildly hoping for another masterpiece (Scream is arguably a masterpiece and Scream 2 is one of the worthiest successors in genre history) yet we were not getting our hopes up, lest our expectations set the bar so high for 4 that no manner of its awesomeness could please us. As far as our doubts are concerned, we prayed that it at least be better than Scream 3. After a decade away from the franchise, a new era of studio horror "films" (recycled, rebooted, remade, ripped off retreads) mucking up the landscape, the mainstream slasher genre essentially put to bed, Wes Craven's previous film being the mangled turkey that was My Soul To Keep and Kevin Williamson's horror output being confined to teenybopper small screen endeavors (The Vampire Diaries and soon The Secret Circle) in addition to Williamson leaving the project midway through production, script rewrites, recasting and the meddlesome nature that is the Weinsteins, being better than Scream 3 seemed like the most that we could realistically hope for.

Right off the bat I'll tell you that thankfully, it is better than Scream 3, so a travesty of those proportions were averted. But what of it's other merits, or lack thereof? Turns out we had to see the film two more times to make up our minds. It's not as though we didn't enjoy Scream 4 by any stretch of the imagination. To the contrary, we had a blast right from the get go. A regular 'ol screaming and laughing, armrest-clenching blast. However, I became aware 20 minutes before the film started of something peculiar going on inside of me. Gone were my everyday pretensions and trademark cynicism that gets me through life (and much of what Hollywood produces). Save for the aforementioned worrying that Scream 4 wouldn't measure up, I was uncharacteristically overexcited and giddy as if I was 15 again (my age when the first film debuted). I realized that for the first time in eons, I was about to watch a film as a eager fanboy first, and a critic second. So, it is this reason that I felt as though additional viewings were required before I officially committed any thoughts down, and those thoughts are as follows.

Picking up 10 years after the conclusion of Scream 3, we return to Woodsboro (the scene of the first film's now famous slaughters), a town that proves the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) once deputy of the small hamlet has now been graduated to sheriff and not only has he staffed his department with equally bumbling and incompetent lawmen (Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson and Marley Shelton) but he's gone and finally made an honest woman (after three films of on again off again romantic struggles) out of the now terminally-bored-as-a-housewife-in-a-small-town Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, I feel ya girl). Into Woodsboro's relative facade of tranquility enters Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), harbinger of death and destruction arriving like a black thunderstorm on the horizon (not really, she pulls up in a modest, efficient rental but you know what I mean) , or as one character aptly refers to her, "the angel of death". Coinciding with Sid's return to her hometown, a new rash of killings break out that finds not only the core trio back in harms way of Ghostface's blade and pithily humorous threats (or positively bone chilling at times, Ghostface this time around, is not mincing words "I'm going to slice your eyelids open so you don't blink when I stab you in the face") , but also Sidney's remaining estranged family; Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell, absolutely wasted) her younger cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) and Jill's high school pals. If the film's dialogue is to be believed (yet, the action falls sadly short of illustrating in most cases), Sidney has yet again awoken a masked madman (or men) hellbent on "remaking" the first "movie" (aka Stab, Scream's film-within-a-film counterpart, based on the "real life" killings from Gale's trashy tell all book The Woodsboro Murders, itself a recount of Scream's fictional world, phwew). A psychopath that won't stop until everyone Sydney cares about is taken from her and in short, she suffers dearly and suffers greatly. Terminally so.

Right out of the gate, Scream 4 announces itself as a film so hyper-aware of itself, so deconstructive of it's trappings, that it seesaws dangerously close from beginning to end into tipping over into outright analysis and fading away as a film. Mirroring the real life (really real life this time) hallway of smoke and mirrors that Craven, Williamson and co. sent fans down prior to its release (feeding us false plot information such as Scream 4 being the beginning of an entirely new trilogy wherein the torch would be passed from the original characters onto Jill and her surviving friends, effectively throwing everybody off their game and fucking with their expectations of the film's intent and final denouement), Scream 4's opening moments are likewise a magic trick that continuously keeps disappearing down it's own rabbit hole (or possibly emerging from it, depending on how you look at it). In essence though, the prologue is stating that what follows is going to be a series of bait and switches that toys with what audiences thought that they were in for (like a set of Russian dolls, Stab 6 begets Stab 7 which begets...dum da da dum, Scream 4) which as it turns out, is only the first in a multitude of this entry's incredibly intriguing story ideas and plot concepts that perhaps worked better on paper than they do in execution. Or rather, this particular version of its execution (being aware of the alleged, initial 2 hours and 20 minute running time makes reviewing the film and picking apart its script entirely frustrating). I mean, does that first trick, the one where we are meant to believe going into this thing, that Jill and her younger generation will inherit Scream's throne work on anybody other than the diehard fans that read Dimension Film's official plot synopsis and listened to what Craven and Williamson had to say about the film's new direction? I see no reason to think so. Likewise with the opening narrative trick. Does it work? Not entirely, not as a whole. Stab 6 moderately works as a tension filled 4 minute mini-movie with some amusing banter between Trudie (Shenae Grimes) and Sherrie (Lucy Hale) transpiring before the characters devolve into world where Scream apparently hasn't taken place and start doing very stupid, groan inducing things that as everyone knows, will surely be their doom (which is right around the point where you the viewer say "Hey wait a damn minute, these two are supposed to be the big celebrity kills?", the requisite tradition of the franchise's prologues). But then there is abrupt screaming and bloodshed and the opening moments end very suddenly and disappointingly until...gotcha, Stab 7 (unknowingly) takes its place. Okay, Kristen Bell (Chloe) and Anna Paquin (Rachel), now these two are celebrities and this is more like it. Except it's not. It's barely more than a slightly clever, blink-and-you-will-miss-it joke (with Paquin doing her usual over emoting of every line, I swear, how did this woman win an Oscar?) There is more biting analysis on the current state of the horror genre (over analysis in this case, or maybe it's just Paquin's delivery of the lines that makes them stick out like the blood spurting, thumb severed appendage that Ghostface just played with) before stab, scream, blood and...gotcha, Scream 4 (unknowingly) takes it's place accompanied to nervous laughter and no doubt furrowed brows from the audience. Enter Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden) and Marnie Cooper (Brittany Robertson), two pretty, blonde high school girls carrying on the same deconstructive conversation that the last four dead women had. Only this time, the action is the real action that is about to set off Scream 4's chain of events that will leave a pile of attractive dead bodies in its wake by films end. Action that begins and ends as suddenly as the previous two examples.

Though we all expect an awful lot of these scenes, I don't hate Scream 4's opening moments. Surely, its better than Scream 3's Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) Christine Hamilton (Kelly Rutherford) home invasion (lifeless, limp and bloodless in addition to a returning character like Cotton deserving a better orchestrated, more cleverly conceived sendoff). No, 4's opening lands somewhere slightly behind Scream 2's Jada Pinkett-Smith's / Omar Epps' theater slaughter. Like part 2's, it's fascinating in concept, but it works (sometimes) more as a clever gimmick instead of the emotionally draining roller coaster that the original Scream devised for Drew Barrymore. Which is a shame, because after a 10 year absence from movie screens, Scream 4 should have opened with something that went straight for our throats instead of our smart ass, know-it-all, wink wink funny bone. It's...underwhelming, considering the wait for it. This particular opening is called into further question when taking into account the original way it was conceived (like I said not moments ago, being aware of all that deleted footage is a bitch), the remnants of which can still be seen in the film's trailer, TV spots and film stills. Apparently, Marnie and Jenny's characters, or rather who took the lead in in the unfolding events, were initially reversed. Keeping in line with how nobody in Woodsboro (of their generation) treats Ghostface as anything other than a boogeyman to have fun with (scaring their friends and taunting their acquaintances with phone apps that recreate his signature voice, the second of Scream 4's brilliantly conceived yet go nowhere ideas), Marnie is none-to-impressed when after getting up from the couch to get some popcorn (breaking away from the released version's series of events that finds Jenny going upstairs), she is interrupted by the spectacle of Ghostface brutally stabbing her friend to death on the couch. She barely blinks, going about her business, making sarcastic comments as Jenny screams and bleeds and dies, thinking it is all just another joke that is being played on her. It isn't, obviously (culminating in the clip some may have seen on TV of Marnie lying on the floor, bloodied, croaking out "But your not real" before biting it). Perhaps we'll never know (unless it surfaces on DVD), but that sounds like hands down a helluva lot more disturbing opening that what was ultimately presented to us. Perhaps it was too thematically close to Scream 2's opening, wherein Maureen and Phil are murdered in plain sight of a crowded theater, but likewise, everyone witnessing the crime think it's nothing more than a gag. In a sequel about remakes and recreating past atrocities from the previous films though, I can't see why this would have given the makers pause. I mean, they could have really gotten meta on us there, recreating Scream's killings of Casey Becker and Steven Orth (another deleted scene that finds both Marnie and Jenny's bodies posed like Casey and Steve's; one hung from a ceiling fan, the other tied to a chair) and Scream 2's murders (thematically), which in turn were recreations of Scream's opening kills and copycatting Maureen Prescott's death, all the while, Stab is playing on the theater screen recreating Scream's opening crimes as well, throw in Stab 6 and Stab 7 as a prelude to all of this and....Jesus! I think my scalp just popped off in a hail of smoke and sparks and hit the ceiling trying to work my way through all of that. Unfortunately though, as with much of Scream 4, it comes just inches away from truly clever and falls short of its own potential in addition to going for the humor, instead of the shiver Which by the way, the movie continuously insists on doing at really awkward, inappropriate times (see Anthony Anderson's demise for example, surely the most disturbing death in the film...right up until the moment is ruined by a really cheap, really unfunny one liner, something that really shouldn't be a part of this world). Either way, what remains is still a relatively fun 10 minutes, the body count is up to six, the main titles flash across the screen and then we're off (again, for really real this time).

What follows for the remaining 90 some minutes, is an intriguing mess of ideas, characters, red herrings, murders and story threads that all carry with them the means to really go for the gusto and make something truly memorable of this sequel. Unfortunately, like the opening sequence (a microcosm of the entire film's faults boiled down to 10 minutes), they all race for the finish line, giving everything they got, then abruptly stop dead in their tracks feet from the goal and content themselves with staying there. As far as all of these million and one concepts and metaphors all getting juggled simultaneously by Scream 4's script, ultimately they all come crashing down by film's end, without any one of them having made a serious statement on the proceedings or lasting impression to mull over on the walk to your car.

First we have the idea of remakes. Though the movie gets in some wonderfully acidic jabs at the trend currently destroying mainstream horror films (Kirby's breathless, desperate reciting of every recent remake she can remember off of the top of her head is a show stopper, in both a hilarious bitch slap kinda way and tellingly sad statement on the state of affairs the genre finds itself in, and she didn't even list them all) but as far as the concept of Scream 4 itself being a remake (in both the killer's actions and the recreation of key scenes, moments and characters from the franchises' history), it only makes it halfway there. Given how the opening murder of Jenny and Marnie was changed at the last minute, it makes all the characters' proceeding dialogue about a killer "recreating" the original events of Woodsboro completely nonsensical and moot. We get what the filmmakers are trying to establish, so we go with it as viewers but need only pause for a second to realize that it's still all bunk. In fact, no actual recreation of anything on Ghostface's part occurs until the final reel, which finds Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) tied to a chair on a back patio (ala Steven Orth from Scream's opening moments), his life in the hands of Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere, taking over for Casey Becker in this instance) who must answer a series of horror trivia questions to save his life. Certainly, Ghostface does a lot of talking about how he is re-imagining events, but alas he (and the script) is all bark and no bite in this department. As far as the movie itself remaking it's original film, it's a bit more successful but outside of it's own self-satisfied assurance that it is hitting all the right marks (in reality, just barely), this new direction only manages to be nothing more than a series of mildly amusing yet wholly diverting winks to the series' hardcore fans; Kirby is unquestionably the re-imagined Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen) and Charlie together are the re-imagined Randy Meeks (Jaime Kennedy), the entire floundering, inefficient police force is Dewey 2.0, the vaguely stalkerish, quietly menacing Trever Sheldon (Nico Tortorella, smoking hot, did I mention that?) is our new Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and so on. There is the new version of Billy and Sid's high school hallway confrontation from the original (and spoofed in the sequel with Luke Wilson and Tori Spelling) played out between Jill and Trevor. They also recreated the famous fountain side banter between the kids from part 1 (again, seen in the trailers), but apparently this was excised as well. They recreate the big party in the third reel, but again, this is another missed opportunity (c'mon guys, you got the creepiest barn this side of Halloween 5's Tower Farm, and a scarecrow version of Ghostface's mask created last year and you couldn't cook up something a bit more impressive). Billy and Stu Macher's (Matthew Lillard) kitchen stab-o-thon is recreated in the last act, and finally here is an instance where they almost recapture the same disturbing and horrifying display of insanity but this scene only proves that when recreating the original, you are always going to fall short of matching it. Which is around the time I started to wonder if Scream 4 is just a big, expensive, elaborate lark played on the fans and studio, perhaps its truncated, less than perfect existence is snidely intentional, perhaps it is the statement.

Next up we have the film's preoccupation with new, modern technology and the exciting role this could potentially play into events. Well, I did say potentially, because ultimately the don't do anything with it (it almost seems thrown in either as an after thought). Robbie walks around the film with a huge, streaming webcam strapped to the side of his face like some atrocious modern day head brace and...you guessed it, besides distracting us with its presence, the filmmakers don't do anything with it. Even when the moment arrives where we are led to believe that something clever is about to occur, as Robbie's cam has been reversed and recording what is behind him in his intoxicated state, is proven to be nothing but a false start as he fumbles around and turns it forward only to reveal seconds later that that is where Ghostface is standing, just in front of him (this is one of the film's lamest, most frustrating moments of missed opportunities, goddamn it can I write at least the setpieces next time fellas?) The modern plague of texting is in our face throughout, but nothing really comes of it. Likewise the phenomena of Facebook and Twitter just sit there like some declaration that the filmmakers are "with it" (though the latter does earn an amusing line). So besides being either nothing more than gratuitous product placement or another half-baked concept, all these iPhones and webcams and whatnot do nothing more than seriously date the film, which is never something that you should strive for. It certainly doesn't add anything to the movie but more interruption (and things are already getting mightily disordered at this point).

Then we have the aforementioned characters / red herrings / knife fodder / returning series' stalwarts and again, another mess. The core three, Dewey, Gale and Sidney don't fair so well this time, seemingly regulated to mere cameos as a side effect of the filmmakers' insistence to make this relevant to teenagers (a Hollywood thought process that I will loath till the day I die, seriously I had zero issues with being engaged in and or caring about characters who weren't in my immediate age bracket when I was kid, nor do I know any kids today who think the way that Hollywood presumes they do about such matters). Both Dewey and Gale are wasted in a major way this time around. Regulated to the sidelines, their meager roles are seemingly scaled back to their importance in the original (not an attempt to keep in line with the remake motif, I fear). Dewey isn't even put into harms way until the final scene for Christ's sakes. Though Sidney fairs a little better as far as exposure, but she is given absolutely no storyline other than to react to the next attack on Jill or one of her friends. What gives? This is the one aspect of the film that does really piss me off; The fans don't sit around for ten years wondering how Ghostface could creatively kill off more teenagers. No, we sit around wondering what Gale, Dewey and Sidney might be up to. It is the characters that is the unique heart and soul of this franchise. It is the characters that keep us coming back. Maybe the meat of their storylines ended up on the cutting room floor like much else of the film's substance, but I can't say that for sure and so I'm going to judge the film from what I do know and I know this: you don't spend three films feeding the blossoming relationship between Dewey and Gale only to have them get married and then drop the ball in exploring that aspect of their characters. You don't take a richly fiery woman like Gale Weathers (Gale freakin' Weathers damnit), with all her aspirations of fame and fortune (something that could have easily tied into the film's climatic statement on said matter), plunk her down in no man's land for a decade in the name of love and then not dig into that juicy nugget of dramatic potential. You don't take someone like Dewey who has been fighting for nothing but respect and for people to finally take him seriously for three films, and then not examine how that character may have grown since finally achieving that respect (I'll take his new found position as town sheriff as a sign that somebody believes in the boy). You don't champion Sidney as the face of modern horror's scream queens and then shade her character's return with no more soul other than that she wrote a book (that's it, that's all there is to her this time and it's not even used as a crux of the film's storyline). You just...don't do any of this. In effect, we the audience are left just as in the dark as we were at the conclusion of Scream 3. Hell for all the lack of material they are given to their 10 year back story, this movie might as well just have picked up directly after that one and gone retro. I've done a lot of daydreaming as a result by the way, and I've chosen to believe that Sidney has spent a lot of time regretting that she was always one step behind in the past, and her friends and family suffered as a result. Hence, the explanation as why in this film she goes barreling into danger like a bat outta hell, confronting the killer, rather than retreating (a brush stroke I must single out for praise, as it's quite awesome to behold of our gal, even if she is as unsuccessful in saving anyone as she was before).

The new, younger faces are a mixed bag. Besides being modern day incarnations of previous entry's characters, they're also not all that sympathetic (something the Scream series has always asked it's audience to do, is care when that blade slices flesh to ribbons and people start dropping like flies). It's my opinion that a degree of this is unintentional (you cut back your film's running time, you cut back your characters' dimensionality, assuming that it was there to begin with, period) but that a huge amount of it is intentional; commenting on younger generations' desensitization and their removed attitudes from real world horrors (they've seen it all on YouTube) in addition to growing up in a culture obsessed with fame and celebrity, this lot is more concerned with status and shallow pursuits than they are with one another. When their friends start getting brutally butchered in front of their very eyes, they go through the requisite screaming and hysterics, for a moment. Then the next day, it's seemingly back to business as usual: parties, gossip, snark. This new approach to the franchise's potential victims works in a blackly satirical way (if you dig in mind you, it's subtle enough where you wonder if this is indeed what is going on, or if everyone just happens to be unlikable assholes) but it doesn't do much for our sympathy which in turn doesn't make us give a hoot if they die, which in effect renders the scare sequences kinda toothless and so on. However, this is no fault of the actors as the young cast all turn in fine performances, Robertson and Knudsen standing out with Panettiere stealing the show as every geeks wet dream (she owns Suspiria and knows who Gunner Hansen is, hotness incarnate), even if she is kind of a bitch. As far as the cast of characters doing double time as red herrings, I say what red herrings? Besides a few suspicious, pointed camera shots and select characters being in suspect locations at certain points in the game, there are virtually no clues left for audiences to stew over. Largely gone is the series' format of murder mystery via slasher film. There really isn't any mystery. Or investigation. Or yes, clues. Instead, we have in its place a series of killings that stretch to the climax where the killers are revealed abruptly, without any diverting storylines laid, or red herrings worked for, that should make their ultimate unveiling shocking.

Which leads us to the motivation of the killers, film geek Charlie Walker and Sidney's cousin Jill. Again, much like most else in the film (I'm getting really sick of saying that at this point), Jill's initial motivation, that she deserves the spotlight after growing up in the shadow of Sidney's fame, that she deserves a chance to be Sidney, is very intriguing until you realize that again, what filmmakers have shown us contradicts the information coming out of their character's mouths. Throughout Scream 4's runtime, we witness the denizens of Woodsboro mostly meet Sidney with scorn or derision (save for a few stragglers at Sidney's book signing). When the murders start anew, townspeople congregate outside the police line and heckle Sidney, blaming her presence for the the death of one of their own. Her own Aunt Kate even seems initially put off by her return ("nobody asks me about my scars"). Likewise Jill's very friends, though they regard Sidney from afar as a pseudo-curiosity, want nothing to do with her ("What are you doing in the house with her, that's like being on Top Chef with Jeffrey Dahmer"). So we are yet again being told something contradictory that we haven't seen, at which point we are left but no choice but to try and take Jill's word on matters (an unreliable witness no doubt, though I get the impression we are supposed to believe her sob story) . As far as Charlie? Well he is along for the ride apparently, seeking the same fame and notoriety that Jill is perusing (he's to be the new Randy to Jill's Sidney). Despite the above criticisms, I personally liked this turn of events, or the latter half of Jill's motivation. I'm just about as over this nation's obsession with fame, reality TV and celebrity gossip as anybody could be and I found Jill's statement that she didn't need friends, she needed fans, very dead-on in the moral rot it was portraying. I fear that her Jill Roberts is a very accurate representation of a certain contingent of modern day American society (hey, if parents are willing to concoct elaborate ruses like setting their small children adrift in balloons to gain attention, I'm not putting anything past anybody anymore) and I think this last magic trick the filmmakers perform; pulling back the curtain to reveal a selfish motivation even sicker than bloodlust, insanity or revenge, is one of the film's few, genuinely amazing moments (and finally, a relatively concise deceleration escapes the movie's other, muddled fumbles at them). If the film had ended in the glare of flashing light bulbs and swarming reporters in the vein of Sunset Boulevard, as Jill was wheeled away on the stretcher (achieving her goal), I think frankly I would have been stunned at both the statement and the balls on display. But alas, Scream 4 has no balls, and we are drug along to the hospital for a protracted climax that even one character has the sense of mind to realize is "getting silly", or more aptly, way over the top (Sidney even resourcefully uses a defibrillator as a weapon, ala Dr. Giggles, now there is a film you want to model yourself after, good Christ). As expected by this point, Jill goes down (several times, per tradition) and Sidney, Gale, Dewey and Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) triumph. The end.

You probably have forgotten by this point and after all of that nitpicking, that I actually enjoyed Scream 4 (three times now, and there is sure to be many more times in the near future). I think what you have just have borne witness to, was the inner struggle of a rabid fanboy against his more critical nature (a nature that knows better). However, when all is said and done, the overly eager, salivating fan who waited 90 minutes in the lobby for the film to start, so impatient he was to get to it, wins (mark it down, because it isn't likely to happen again for another 10 years). In all honesty, if I judged Scream 4 by the merits of everything else that is getting produced in Hollywood these day, it would surely rate a lot higher. In all reality, it could be so very, very much worse than it is (even Campbell has stated publicly that it is a "miracle" it came out at all, considering the behind-the-scenes drama that hounded it endlessly). And when stacked up against other part 4s in major horror franchises (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation, Jaws 4: The Revenge, Hellraiser 4: Bloodlines, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Saw 4 but to name a few), it looks all the more like a regular class act. However, I'm not grading the film on a curve. I'm holding Scream 4 up to the franchise's own standards and it is these standards (not mine, not Hollywood's, not sequel's, not remakes) that it fails to live up to.

Scream 4 stars Neve Campbell (The Craft, The Glass Man, The Dark), Courteney Cox (The Tripper, Cougar Town), David Arquette (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ravenous, Eight Legged Freaks, The Tripper), Emma Roberts (It's Kinda a Funny Story, Homework), Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, I Love You Beth Cooper), Lucy Hale (Fear Island, Pretty Little Liars), Shenae Grimes (Sugar, The Cross Road), Anna Paquin (True Blood, Darkness, Trick R' Treat, Open House), Kristen Bell (Pulse, Roman), Marielle Jaffe (Locked Away), Marley Shelton (Valentine, Dark Shadows, Grindhouse), Erik Knudsen (Saw II, Beastly, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Rory Culkin (The Zodiac, Signs, Mean Creek), Aimee Teegarden (Beneath the Darkness, Beautiful Wave), Brittany Robertson (The Secret Circle, From Within), Alison Brie (Man Men, Parasomnia, Born), Nico Tortorella (The Lowenfish Party, Trespass), Anthony Anderson (Scary Movie 3 & 4, Urban Legends: The Final Cut), Adam Brody (Jennifer's Body, Smiley Face), Mary McDonnell (Donnie Darko, Independence Day) and Heather Graham (Scream 2, From Hell, Twin Peaks, Nowhere). Scream 4 is currently in theaters worldwide.

Skull Ratings:
5 Skulls - The Best
4 Skulls - Very Good
3 Skulls - Good / Average
2 Skulls - Poor
1 Skull - The Worst
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