The most original horror movie to be unleashed upon the world since Halloween, Scream literally re-invented the slasher flick on December 20, 1996.  Wes Craven, the director of The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and more notably, A Nightmare on Elm Street, committed to direct a screenplay by Kevin Williamson.  In the script, for a change, the characters and victims were fully aware of the trappings and conventions of horror movies, an awareness that would lead to a listing of the rules of horror movies, their sequels and trilogies by the characters.  This leads to more inventive traps, wordplay and escapes.  Interestingly, the first two movies feature computers that don’t even have Windows ’95 on them.  Each film of the series built upon the other, killing big name stars at the beginning of each film, and often killing major characters along the way.  It also made stars of Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Kennedy.  Now, a full 11 years after Scream 3, the team has reassembled for a fourth film.  Now is as good a time as any to give a series recap.

Scream (1996)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Henry Winkler

Sidney is not so innocent as she appears...McGowan not so hardened.

The intro scene with Drew Barrymore is one of the best cinematic surprises since Janet Leigh became the first victim in Psycho. Her interplay with the killers provides much of the twist to the film, letting you know a bit more of the mind of the killer (preoccupation with movies).  This opens up the possibility of several red-herrings.  Campbell gives the heroine more substance than anyone since, say, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.  Cox provides an obvious potential victim who becomes a not so obvious survivor.  Arquette, however gives the movie some comic relief (along with Kennedy), allowing klutziness to be a lifesaver.  Ulrich is so detestable, you want for

She can't hang up for the rest of her life.

him to be the killer.  Lillard, on the other hand, is an engaging high school idiot.  The real star of the movie, though, is the script and it’s direction.  Williamson provides so many possibilities that you are constantly guessing and kicking yourself for not thinking outside the box that he is so easily blowing apart.  Craven, a veteran producer/director of many series, never had a script like this, and he works it for everything it is worth.  The camera work is sublime and the intensity is ratcheted up, so that even after the mystery is revealed, you know something else is going to happen.

(***** out of *****)

Scream 2 (1997)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jada Pinkett, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Liev Shreiber, Omar Epps

Starting off with not one, but two stars biting it during the preview of the movie “Stab” based on the incidents of the original film.  According to Mickey, it is a “classic case of “life imitating art imitating life.”  This one is a near classic.  Seeing Kennedy pine after Campbell gives a good red herring.  Cox is sublime as someone who was made to let success go to her head.  Bringing the thing to a college setting adds a fertile

What? You don't want to be surprised by Cotton Weary?

playground to play on cliché’s and offer a whole new list of victims and suspects.  Dewey limping around provides a realistic example of the effects of really being hurt.  Liev Schreiber’s presence is perhaps the creepiest of the film.  He just oozes sinister.  Laurie Metcalf and Timothy Olyphant provide effective performances.  My only regret is that Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi, were not taken out.

Williamson is at his self-referential best here, mining his own work, Craven’s and sequels.  Craven, for his part, continues the solid tradition of showing other movies in the background during tense crucial moments.  Starting with Halloween in the original (which itself showed The Thing), he uses Nosferatu during a crucial early scene.  Using cuts, motion, tempo and tension as a partner, he produces a sequel that is, if not superior, is nearly equal to the original.

In fact, the only once they get on stage and the props start falling, things ever look really stupid.

(**** out of *****)

Scream 3 (2000)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey, Lance Henriksen, Patrick Dempsey, Jenny McCarthy, Jamie Kennedy, Patrick Warburton, Emily Mortimer, Scott Foley

Screenplay by Ehren Kruger based on the original story by Kevin Williamson

First of all, what the heck is the deal with Courteney Cox’s hair?  It was a constant distraction throughout the entire film.

The scariest thing in the series...Courteney Cox's hair.

Research has discovered this quote from her about the horrific mop:

“In Scream 3, I did have the worst hairdo in the world. I can’t believe that it’s forever on film. It’s brutal. I would do anything to go back and get that changed.”

A new vocal twist revealed

Aside from that hideousness, Scream 3 is really pretty good.   Just like part 2, they start with the deaths happening in some sort of pattern, and then deviate from that pattern with no explanation.  The original twist to this film is that the voice changer now can copy other people’s voices.  This adds an element of surprise when conversations start out with a woman, and then change into the famous tones of Roger L. Jackson, the voice of ghost face.  The characters are more of the throwaway variety, with several having no more than a few lame one liners before being dispatched.  This kind of feeds into the idea of most of the “talent” in Hollywood being disposable.  It also indicates a lesser writing talent.  Kruger replaced Williamson, who was working on other projects, and he did a decent job, especially with the ending.  There is a reason, however, that many of the killings escape the mind soon after viewing.  Not that there are not any memorable moments.  The deaths at the beginning of the film are quite sly, as is Sidney’s fight for life on the Woodsboro set.

Absolutely horrific ghost of Maureen Prescott

One of the most memorable and inexplicable scenes of the whole series takes place early on, at Sidney’s secluded home.  She wakes up from a dream, only to see the ghostly visage of Maureen Prescott.  This somewhat unexplained scene is played off as a mixture of a questioning of Sid’s sanity and tricks of the killer.  Neither scenario is ever fully explained, and the coda of the film is another reference to the possibility of a ghost.  This is a good thing.

As for the performances, two stand out.  Parker Posey makes the most of her role as the movie version of Gale Weathers.  Posey’s manic energy is a perfect salute to the bitch that Weathers can be,  versus the kind, caring person who can’t live without Dewey.  She has almost all the films best lines, which is both a blessing and, somewhat of a curse.  Her energy, as it turns out, makes everyone else seem a little older, a little more tired.  This should only be  more apparent in Scream 4.

Even Dewey gets a shot to end it...

As the ever tortured Sidney Prescott, Neve Campbell ratchets up her game for the third installment.  She starts off afraid of every noise, but you can tell that she has grown tired of the game.  Aside from playing the victim, she takes it to the Ghostface killer, especially after the big reveal.  The core to the effectiveness of the series was her development from wincing victim to a hardened responder to her travails.  It is key that she leaves the door open.

Craven, as usual, does not waste a shot.  Aside from the inexplicable decision to leave Cox’s hair in the flick, he does a good job making the stars of the film series believably effective.  His decision to twice leave Patrick Dempsey looking clueless to the point of ridiculousness is the one gaffe.  How his cop character can’t get a lick in on the Ghostface while Sidney (and hell, even Dewey) get to hold their own looks kind of silly.  Small complaints though, for a fluid, professionally directed series.

(***1/2 out of *****)

A decade ago, I might have given a few of these films a lower rating, and truth is,  only one of the films is truly  indispensable.  Watching them again, however, I found that I never had a true moment where I did not feel like completing them all at once.  Not even Star Wars gives me that feeling anymore.  I suspect that I have the prequels to blame for that, however.

How will Scream 4 work, a decade after the last film?  Knowing that they have written it as the first in another trilogy is a good sign.  Knowing they have not decided to make 5 and 6 until they discover how well this one does is not a good sign.  This is one reviewer who will be in line to find out.


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