Darke Reviews | Scream 4 (2011)

The final (for now) installment of the Scream franchise. After 11 years of rotting, the producers, director, and studio thought it was time to resurrect Scream. Perhaps they thought they had something new to say? Perhaps they thought they had something new to satire? Perhaps it was about the money. If it was the last, then they failed miserably. With a production budget of $40 million (same as Scream 3) they made a whopping $38 million (domestic). It looked decent out of the gate with a solid $18 million opening weekend, then dropped 62% in the second weekend. Of course, it was against Fast Five that weekend, which pulled in an amazingly stunning $86 million. So perhaps it was the other two?

Well, actually it was. According to an interview Craven actually thought he had a new story to tell. The landscape of horror has changed dramatically over the decade, actually, that is an understatement, the entire landscape of the world has changed since the last Scream film. Not even getting into the geopolitical landscape, lets look at technology:

Remember these cellphones?

Remember these cellphones?

 

Facebook, Twitter, the deceasing size of camera’s, the increasing size and power of phones. Hell, my first two computers were less powerful than my last two cellphones. Horror has changed so much as well. We had the rise and fall of Torture Porn. For those not familiar with the genre, think Saw, Hostel, etc. These are the films that have an overwhelming focus of the gory deaths, pain, and screams for the sake of the gore, death, and screams but not story. The middle part of the decade was littered with these films and we (wisely) got tired of them quick enough, even if we did get SAW 9000. We also had the re-introduction of the low budget horror with films like Paranormal Activity where “everything” is recorded. Young teens absolutely litter the landscape, and morgues,  of nearly every horror movie coming out during this time; so much so that we’ve grown tired of it. It might be part of the reason for the lack of success as well. There is a lot we are tired of in modern movies, horror is no exception. So what do you do if you are a horror film maker since the beginning of modern horror and want to engage modern audiences.

Well, respect them.

You’ve got Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson returning to work together as director and writer. These two need to work more together on other franchises. Please. They actually do as promised and deliver, again, an intelligent thriller where there are stakes, there are risks, and you do worry someone may die. They don’t insult the intelligence of the returning characters. They successfully mock modern media again, modern movies, while making self referential remarks about how self referential movie characters can be within the movies. It’s a weird inception thing, but I approve of the continued awareness of the characters. We are also in the age of the reboot and reimagining, which is also referenced equally. We returned again to the deaths that have a level of simplicity to them.

A knife. A body. It’s not that hard.

They stick to that which becomes another reason the film works. They also went back to the roots by returning to Woodsboro and the highschoolers. They don’t weaken anyone in the film and the kills are not nearly as comical as they were in the last two. There is a driven intensity to the film. Even the lighting and score queues seem to know it with additional near natural looking lighting and shadows for many of the sequences; to the point where I didn’t feel as if I was on a set but instead my own home. This brought the feeling of the modern home invasion horror to play, while still playing with the stereotypical slasher vibe. Media outreach and inherent millennial connectivity were relevant plot points to the film as well as what it takes for 15 minutes of fame and how modern media responds to it. As much as the media was mocked, deservedly so, the millennial generation was not. Ok, there was some just due to the nature of stereotypes that come to play in a movie, but otherwise they were all (mostly) actually pretty interesting characters in their own right.

Good scripting, helps, but of course good acting. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox can probably play their roles in their sleep. Sidney is no longer a victim or on the verge of fraying, but has tried to reemerge through a book of her own. She is still as strong, still a survivor, and still a fighter. I am not disappointed in her. Cox, sadly has the weakest role and I am not sure why. Where Arquette who had been the comical role takes on the more serious part and Cox gets the comedy. We have our usual introductions of potential up and comers, such as Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Alison Brie (Community), Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), and Eric Knudsen (Scott Pilgrim, Continuum). It also features a host of names we do know (or at least I know). Anna Paquin (True Blood), Marley Shelton (Grindhouse), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Frozen), Hayden Panettiere (Nashville, Heroes), and Anthony Anderson (The Departed, Law & Order). Sadly no horror movie great cameo’s as we’ve had in previous films.

The technicals work out in this one fairly well as I spoke before. They wisely didn’t go with shaky cam as many movies these day do and kept with steady cam. The deaths work. So no real technical flaws here and yes when people are severely injured – they go to the hospital!!

TL;DR

As it was a financial wreck, I don’t imagine we will get another. I hope that we don’t unless there is a new story to tell and the landscape changes enough for them to have something truly to satire within the confines of a serious slasher film.

It isn’t a great, but it was a really good send off. I do recommend it, not just as part of a marathon of Scream films, but as a standalone film. It doesn’t treat the audience as an idiot. Its simplistic and complex and it works. I have to say I actually like Scream 4 – I think you might too.

If you don’t, let me know why? I always welcome other opinions on films.

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Darke Reviews | Scream 3 (2000)

Alright,  I figured I should continue the reviews of this particular franchise, you’ll notice by the timing this is certainly not one of the classics. It does some interesting things but really does not quite reach the same level as the first two. I am not sure what the studio was thinking as this does come out a full three years after the last one. Granted the last one did ok, bringing 4 times its budget back in domestic income. Scream 3 comes along and Dimension films, who at the time were throwing anything they could out gives Wes Craven 40 million, nearly quadrupling the original budget. This is continuing proof that additional money given to a director, no matter how good, is not always a good thing. Some directors, especially the talented ones, do better when they have to fight and claw for every effect.

Again, spoilers, as we are talking about a serial killer franchise. Stop now and return from whence thou came if you wish to remain spoiler free!

 

As mentioned Wes Craven returns to direct, but this time without a script by the previous partner Kevin Williamson. Instead Ehren Kruger is brought in. I have absolutely no love for this man. While he may have given us the import of The Ring and Blood and Chocolate  he is also responsible for the last three Transformers films. Yes, all three of the horrible ones. Ones so bad that I offered to pay people to not see the last one. He isn’t entirely horrific as there are some gems in this script that are worth enjoying.

We return several years after the last film and in near traditional fashion for the franchise, we have movie within a movie aspects. Where Scream 2 simply had the movie Stab as a background element, this movie actually has us in Hollywood while Stab 3 is being filmed. Rather than joking about movie in a movie, this one literally is. Sidney has actually chosen to hide from the world as a response to the events of the last two films. I appreciate that they let the weight of all thats happened begin to fracture her. She’s strong, but there’s only so much she can be expected to take. She is still the Sidney we know and love, still very intelligent, strong and a fighter, with some fraying on the edges. Of course, also in Scream fashion they introduce us to the rules of film for Trilogy. These are things we all recognize when they are spelled out, so that becomes one of the beautiful elements of the film; especially when delivered by the Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy. I think the delivery mechanism would have annoyed me had it been any other character, but for him it worked. The continual false leads, twists, and turns work in this but not nearly as strongly. There’s also the introduction of a contrived romance for Sidney, which while cute I think only works because of the two involved.

From an actors perspective, we have Neve Campbells return, who had not had much between 2 and 3 other than Wild Things (I should review that too). She has definitely grown as an actress between films and how she handles walking onto the set of Woodsboro is really well done. We also have Liev Schreiber, Courtney Cox and David Arquette returning as their surviving characters, both of which have as much growth in their characters off screen as on. There’s not as much of a change in the actors themselves as the characters, but they are pleasant and welcome on screen. The movie also brings us some old (non related) faces such as Lance Henriksen, Roger Corman, Jenny McCarthy, and Carrie Fisher. In what also seems to be a trend for the movie, it gives us Patrick (Grey’s Anatomy) Dempsey, before he was McDreamy. He had a smaller fan base, but a loyal one from those who had seen him in Run and MObsters, or even Will and Grace. Scott Foley is another new face, who then went on to appear in several TV series over the rest of his career including Grey’s and True Blood.

Here’s where the movie starts to break down, the technicals. I talked in the previous two films how a slasher if done right doesn’t need too much on the way of effects beyond a good blade or good blood. Maybe a good prosthetic for an injury or slit throat. In traditional Dimension fashion they gave us explosions that look horrific. It was unnecessary and didn’t work. Even the so called science behind an explosion of that size is ridiculous – suspension of disbelief or no. It, and a few other niggling points make the technicals not work. There’s some IQ dropping from the characters (damn you Kruger) combined with this that don’t work either.

TL;DR?

Alright, the movie is watchable. It isn’t good, but it is actually watchable.

It has just a few too many characters to the point where you don’t give a damn who lives or who dies.  Thats a problem, since in the first film you do actually care. The second one you care less, and here you just don’t care at all. There is almost no subtlety in the work and the movie suffers for it. It actually killed the franchise for a full decade. The jokes aren’t as funny, the kills aren’t as interesting, even the bad guy(s) aren’t nearly as strong. It’s almost like a looney toons film for one or two of the deaths.

If you are doing a Marathon, you don’t get a choice here.

If not it isn’t unbearable, but I wouldn’t watch it as a standalone given the choice – at least not without alcohol or nothing else on in the middle of the night.

 

Darke Reviews | Scream 2 (1997)

Ok, so yesterday I talked about a new classic, Scream. I advise you now do not read this review if you have not watched the first, by the nature of being a sequel in a slasher franchise, this does contain some spoilers. Consider yourself warned, I will keep them to a minimum, but it’s unavoidable. The 90’s were starting to turn around for horror after the year prior. We got The Craft, From Dusk til Dawn, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Wishmaster, and Mimic.  Sure there was still some crap, but we were getting some decent things now. We also have a quickly rushed to production Scream 2.  Scream was made on a budget of $14 million and made just over $100 million; seven times profit is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s try it again with more money right? How does $24 million sound. Not a bad start. People were still talking about the first, this is good. Did the trailer intrigue us though?

Actually, yeah it does. It takes the trend, that also started in the 90s, to rapidly exploit true stories into film and yet again puts a lampshade on it. The movie even starts with a movie in a movie, about the movie. It talks about books made just to profit from these stories, but more importantly talks about how the victims deal with it. Can they move on. What happens to them and those around them. On top of all this beautiful satire and storytelling the movie also brings back the rules of horror movies. It tells us the rules of the sequels to the films and reminds us of all the sequels to our franchises we’ve endured. Let’s face it , the word here is endured in so many respects. At this point we have had 7 Nightmares, 5 Halloweens , and 8 Friday the 13th’s.  We have had…Leprechaun in Space.

headdesk

What next Hellraiser in space? Oh…wait…

So, even though we are but a calendar year away from film to film, within the story it is a little bit longer. We’ve moved from high school to college and the survivors of the first have largely gone their separate ways, but they are pulled together when a new serial killer starts the real life killings over. You actually feel as if these were real people and that many are still friends; and the survivors of the Dixie Boy are still survivors. Sidney (Neve) remains our protagonist and has evolved as much as the movie has. It keeps aware of modern technology and how it can change the old tropes, you know like caller ID?  It still makes fun of stereotypes in interesting and brilliant ways. It adds additional intelligent and aware characters, especially of film industry, and lets that awareness help inform the movie. We have both Craven and Williamson behind this, working together again.

Of course, again the right actors help. Returning, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Kennedy. We also have yet more career starters with Timothy Olyphant (Justified, Hitman),  Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), and (a pre Buffy) Sarah Michelle Gellar. Jerry O’ Connell tries to keep his career alive after My Secret Identity and being fresh off of Jerry Maguire. The interactions between the characters work, some telegraphed more than others, but they do work. The movie tries to write some elements like the first and it’s up to you to decide if they are real or imagined.  They even have good call back jokes to the original, with Tori Spelling playing Sidney.

Again the technicals on this work out. It’s a slasher film, which are surprisingly easy in many respects. If you can get good blood and a good blade you are in decent shape. I also had a realization watching this one as well. It plays equally well on the trope of the unstoppable killer. Here, and in the first, the killer isn’t perfect. They get hit. They fall. They trip. This adds to the human realism and makes it work. The fight scenes and escapes are well planned. The biggest problem this one has over the first is there are some deaths that rely on too much coincidence to make work. That leads me to the…

TL;DR

The movie is good. It isn’t quite as good as the first. The first film has some levels of coincidence to be executed properly within the story. This one relies on it too much. Timing of some events are too reliant on chance to be real and to be functional for a decent plot.

I still feel comfortable recommending this one to watch as part of a marathon. Just don’t expect the same level of play as the first, and thus this one is not quite a classic, but not nearly as bad as so many sequels to horror movies. I should note, that among the things this one pokes at is how bad sequels are typically. There are very very few sequels that are as good or better than the original. This one almost hits the bell, but missed it by that much.

 

Darke Reviews | Scream (1996)

The early 90’s were fairly horrible when it came to horror movies. With only a handful of minor exceptions, the films were little more than retreads or sequels of better works from the 80’s. They also gave us the start of many a horrific franchise (Leprechaun) and the death of others (Alien 3). I mean sure we were getting Stephen King movies as mini series on TV, we got Flatliners,  Tremors, Bram Stokers Dracula, and Prophecy. We also got things like Graveyard Shift, Gremlins 2 (it classifies as horror..not sure why), Nightbreed, and Tales from the Hood. There are a few gems, but the reality is horror was generally horrible during this time. So 1996 comes around and we get a trailer for a new slasher film with a name that we associate to real horror.

The trailer puts a lampshade on all the films we have watched for the past two decades. Rules around sex, what you can say and can’t say, what to do and where to go. All the things that we shouted our TV’s when we watched these films on VHS time and time again. It showed us Drew Barrymore who had nearly vanished into a career of obscurity. It showed us Party of 5’s Julia – Neve Campbell talking to us with a certain self awareness of horror movie tropes. We had no idea what precisely we were getting, but it intrigued us.

That name I mentioned earlier – Wes Craven. The genius behind Nightmare on Elm Street, who had not been having a good decade, that had also given us Shocker, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare, and Vampire in Brooklyn. He somewhere along the way was given a script by new comer Kevin Williamson. Between the two of them they put together a movie that is both satire and a love letter of what horror had become since the beginning of the slasher flick. It is beautifully self aware of what it means to be a horror movie and what it means to be a character in a horror movie. It mocks and flaunts the rules and even calls attention to them. We had not had a film that does this ( to my knowledge) before this and to our benefit and our detriment have had dozens since then. This also probably single handedly relaunched the teen slasher film. Williamson, would go on to write I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and The Vampire Diaries. While he sticks to some tropes, he does actually know how to write teens. This is more rare than you would think.

Craven himself being the master of horror knew what buttons to push, how to craft this, and what to draw out of his actors. He, being one of the forerunners of teen slashers and having seen what it had become was the prime person to do this. Giving him a decent cast also helps. Neve Campbell is our heroine and protagonist of the film and unlike so many others prior – starts strong. She may be virginal, but she is also damaged in her own way and because of that damage is stronger than the typical victims in films prior. The movie also launched the careers of Rose McGowan (Charmed), Jamie Kennedy, and Matthew Lillard (Hackers),  and Liev Schreiber (Wolverine, Salt). Skeet Ulrich, previously seen in The Craft, plays a similar role where its hard not to see him as scummy.  We also have the movie that introduced Courtney Cox and David Arquette, that lead to a marriage in 1999 until 2013. All of these actors combined actually turned a good performance together and made this film work as well as it did.

Even from a technical perspective and execution of the work the movie holds up. We’re almost twenty years out from this one and the plot holds. Even on repeated viewings it holds. That’s not something that you see often. Even the minor bits of gore in the film look good with decent attention to detail. The combat sequences, yes I call them that, are just as inventive and show a growing perception of using the environment to your benefit.

TL;DR

Scream is the rebirth of the teen slasher.

It is a well made, well planned, and well executed film that delivers on all counts and deserves recognition. I happily put this as a modern day classic and worth watching. The sequels…well I will cover them later.