Ghostface: "Time for your last question. Name the remake of the groundbreaking..."
Kirby: "Halloween. Texas Chainsaw. Dawn of the Dead. The Hills Have Eyes. The Amityville Horror. Black Christmas. House of Wax. Prom Night. My Bloody Valentine. It's one of those, right?"
Ghostface: "NONE OF THE ABOVE!"
That Scream and it's sequels take the horror genre to task, while simultaneously celebrating it, has sort of been it's bread and butter over the years. No cliche, no genre staple, no tradition escaped it's (loving) razor sharp wit. In fact, it was this very aspect of it's story that I used to convince my mother to go and see it with me in the theater in early '97. She hates horror films more than anyone I know and she put up a mighty fight in her reluctance to accompany me (apparently, John Carpenter's Halloween permanently traumatized her when she was in high school and then The Fog tipped her over the edge) . So I bent the truth a wee bit, and told her that Scream was different. I lied and said that Scream "makes fun of scary movies" (making fun of, and observing the genre's tropes with smart ass abandon are two different things). I told her "You'll have a blast, even people who don't watch horror films are going to see it." After two weeks of back and forth debating, she relented. I still don't know if she had a good time (she's not the most forthright woman) but apparently she didn't have an awful time seeing as her steadfast hesitance for horror waned and it wasn't nearly as hard to twist her arm into seeing I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2 (the latter of which, I took gleeful delight in deserting her in the empty theater to use the restroom during 2's opening 10 minutes because well, I can be an ass like that). But the only reason I ever got that far with my mom, was because there was a kernel of truth to the lies I told to get her butt into that damn theater seat. Scream was funny. Scream did jokingly poke, with a gore drenched stick, at the same horror conventions that kept my mother away from experiencing them for nearly two decades. I believe that it was because of this refreshing and groundbreaking approach, Scream went on to be a massive, cross-over hit with mainstream audiences like nothing we've seen since Jodie Foster grasped at the darkness in Buffalo Bill's basement. Which is all rather shocking in retrospect, that Scream connected so successfully with the general audiences the way that it did. The regular mainstream theater goer ( en masse) typically not being inclined to take chances on films that are not easily definable after all.
It's so easy to lose sight of now, after a decade's worth of like-minded slasher ripoffs full of sassy, know-it-all-teens who've cynically seen it all, that initially nobody knew what to make of this little slasher film that could. Was it a horror film? A comedy? A mocking send up? Audiences weren't entirely sure (they just knew they liked it, whatever it was) and for some time, neither were the makers and stars. This confusion hung over the project from very beginning when a legendary bidding war broke out in Hollywood over Kevin Willamson's script (they didn't know what it was they were buying, but like the audiences that would later make it a runaway hit, they knew it was special). You'd think that we lived in a world bereft of horror comedies like An American Werewolf In London or Gremlins. However, I am of the opinion that it was because Scream was so thoroughly harrowing from beginning to end, that the majority of us did not know what category it fell into. Ultimately (and thankfully), the consensus seemed to be that Scream was an outright horror film, seeing as how it was so sincerely scary, with dashes of humor used to punctuate the fright. Humor of course, that wouldn't have gotten the amount of mileage that it did, if it wasn't for the fact that (in truth) the horror genre had made of itself over the years, an easy target, just begging for someone to take a swipe at it.
With the first Scream, we enter a world where scary movies actually exist, and the characters having seen every last one of them, behave accordingly in their new found situation of fighting for their lives from a masked killer that's like something "right out of a horror movie." Here, slasher films are taken down one by one for their predictability (which is promptly exploited then turned on it's head), their rigid moral codes (again, subversively brought into the "real world") and a host of other hand-me-down constructs. Scream 2's comedy moved onto more specific and focused inspections, examining through it's ever snarky lens that of the college bound slasher films (The House On Sorority Row, The Dorm That Dripped Blood etc.) and the art of (or more commonly the lack thereof) sequels. As before, it's insights were both cuttingly witty and dead on. Scream 3 sets out to take on the mother of all movie institutions, Hollywood itself, but subsequently finds that it's bitten off more than it can chew. It would seem as though by the time Scream 3 had concluded and it's closing credits rolled, that the franchise had by then effectively probed every nook and cranny of the genre and said everything that it could possibly have to say on the subject. What more could there possibly be to say? Well, as it turns out, after an ten year absence from the fright scene that has in that duration been dominated by nothing but "torture porn" and remakes of the classic titles Scream tipped it's hat at to begin with, a lot. The current fear film landscape looks drastically different from the one that the franchise vacated in 2001, but as Scream makes it's glorious, bloody return, this "new' horror genre is certainly going to be torn asunder again. Joyfully.
From what I have pieced together from various trailers, TV spots, press releases /conferences and interviews (I'll only go so far, ultimately I want every surprise and plot twist intact), Scream 4's targets are that of the remake phenom and the excessive suffering seen in the "torture porn" sub-genre. With it's first target, I am spiritedly waiting by the sidelines, ready to jump up and down and applaud every pot shot that the film takes at the tiresome reboot trend. Really and truly, I'm hoping it goes down hard. Scream 4 is apparently mirroring the state of Hollywood horror by itself being a sort of "remake"; the action has been returned to Woodsboro, the locale of the original murders, there is a passing of the baton from those who came before (Sidney, Dewey and Gale) to a new generation of younger, fresher meat and the killer's modus operandi is to fashion a real life remake of the film Stab (the series' film-within-a-film franchise), itself a retelling of the events of the first film, which by extension are now being recreated with a decidedly 21-Century bent. That modern new angle is of course, that things have gotten a whole helluva lot more bloody and vicious since Sidney and the rest of the gang naively thought they were going to put all the horror behind them and watch movies and eat popcorn with Patrick Dempsey. Rumor has it, that the killings in Scream 4 are absolutely heinous to behold. Or at the very least, the most brutal in the series. This of course, reflecting the brave new world of terror that our heroes now find themselves caught in. It all sounds terribly clever if you ask me and I hasten to wonder if the younger generations (mainstream audiences and horror fans alike) will even pick up on the subversive through-line. I only wonder because it has seemed as though only us fogey ol' curmudgeons have taken issue with the remake trend in the first place. For instance, the day I heard a young lass proclaim that Michael Bay's / Marcus Nispel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre redux bested the original in very nearly every way was the day that my fanboy heart died for the first time. Though worry not dear readers, it has died no less than 15 deaths since and somehow I manage to still be here (though the big one of '06 aka Black Christmas very nearly did me in permanently). It would appear then in light of all the drastic changes our beloved genre has endured since Scream 3, that this refreshed franchise has plenty of things to sharpen it's satirical knives over and disgruntled fan that I have been, I say may it be an hilariously scary orgy of blood with a metaphorical body count that threatens to part the sky. Ready, steady and take aim...I'll gladly pull the trigger.
Scream 4, opening April 15th in theaters nationwide, is released by Dimension Films and stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Aimee Teegarden, Brittany Robertson, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody and Mary McDonnell.