Having survived the original Woodsboro murders and the Hollywood horrors that followed, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) returns home to Woodsboro to promote her survivor-tale bestseller, only to find a new killer – or killers – terrorising the town, once again wearing the Ghost Face mask.
Fifteen years ago, irony man Kevin Williamson and veteran horror director Wes Craven rewrote the history of the splatter genre by knowingly embracing its rules – or, less kindly, it’s clichés – allowing filmmakers and audience to collaborate in a bloody, and bloody funny, exercise in pre-millennial post-modernism. The inevitable sequel – even the lamentable House had a Second Story – followed in 1997, allowing the Williamson and Craven to play on a movie-literate audience’s familiarity with the tropes of sequels, including the one about them never being as good (or, at least, as original) as the original. True to traditional genre form, the threequel (2000) arrived belatedly, wasn’t as good as its predecessors, but managed to wrap up the trilogy and leave the audience wanting – well, not quite less, exactly, but certainly not more. The same year, Scary Movie to put the last nail in Scream’s coffin.
And now there’s Scre4m, the ostensibly redundant, nobody-but-the-studio-was screaming-for-it fourth instalment, born less of a desire to satirise recent genre tropes such as done-to-death remakes, zombie flicks, handycam horror and torture porn, and more on the need to flog a few Scream box sets. For the comeback movie, it is customary to bring back the original cast and crew – although Craven’s old Nightmare on Elm Street series had notched up six instalments before his New Nightmare (1994) gave his post-modern muscles a pre-Scream workout – and die-hard genre fans will already have glanced at the credits to be sure the original gang (Campbell, Cox, Arquette, Williamson, Craven) is back to join the requisite newcomers (Hayden Panetierre, Emma Roberts), even as they brace themselves for the customary diminishing returns of a moribund franchise twitching back to life. Wisely so.
Scre4m tries hard to show us what a Scream movie might be like in the age of Facebook, iPhones and YouTube, and there’s sporadic fun to be had wondering who’s behind the killings, and why, and how many new Twitter followers the murders will get them. Today’s audiences, jaded and impatient, are likely to be way ahead of Williamson, making the outcome predictable or tiresome, or both. It’s not entirely witless, but after the imaginative contraption-killings of the Saw septology, watching multiple knife murders, however ironically intended, is about as thrilling as standing in line at the butcher’s – without a bag of sausages to make it worth your while.