Scream: The TV Series (2015) review

Scream The TV Series posterDirectors: Various

Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, John Karna, Carlson Young, Amadeus Serafini, Connor Weil, Tracy Middendorf

MR BRANSON: “The gothic genre is all over TV right now. American Horror Story, Hannibal, Bates Motel…”

JAKE: “What about Texas Chainsaw or Halloween?”

NOAH: “Those are slasher movies. You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series.”

The recent tragic passing of the legendary Wes Craven led to an outpouring of support on social media as dedicated and lapsed fans alike took to Twitter to namecheck their favourite Craven movies.

The vast majority of them didn’t realise just how fitting their tributes were, as Craven died just before the airing of the final episode of Scream, a TV series based on his genre-redefining horror film and airing on MTV.

You see, whereas the original Scream, released in 1996, had the killer mostly contacting his victims via phone calls, this time the reimagined Ghostface uses all manner of techniques – yes, including social media – to stalk potential future corpses. Continue reading “Scream: The TV Series (2015) review”

Scream 4 (2011)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin

“All there are now are remakes. It’s the only horror studios green-light. I mean, there are still rules, but the rules have changed. The unexpected is the new cliche.” (Charlie, Scream 4)

A lot has changed in horror cinema since the release of Scream 3 back in 2000. Remakes and ‘torture porn’ fims like Saw and Hostel are now the big box-office hits, and new film monsters like Jigsaw and Samara from The Ring are the ones that get today’s teens pulling their covers over their eyes in fear at night.

What’s more, the clever post-modern ideas made popular by Scream – that the characters in the movie reference the rules and situations in other horror movies – are now freely imitated in many of today’s films, with almost every slasher these days containing one wisecracker going on about how you’re never supposed to say “I’ll be right back”, how the black guy always dies first and so on and so forth.

Sidney's fear of steaks made preparing dinner a daily challenge

Scream 4, then, had an uphill battle to be relevant in this new all-knowing, self-referential, nudge-nudge-wink-wink horror landscape, one the Scream series itself essentially created in the first place. It’s impressive, then, that writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven have taken these decade-old characters and ideas and brought them into the 2010s so convincingly, giving them more modern sensibilities but still keeping the elements of what made the original trilogy so popular in the first place.

And so the usual “what’s your favourite scary movie” spiel continues, with newer films added to the killer’s trivia repertoire and more graphic threats made over the phone. The killer is made harder to identify now because it’s revealed early on (when someone calls their friend to trick them) that there’s a voice-changing phone app, one that potentially anybody could be using. The film geeks this time are a couple of horror nerds who screen annual movie marathons of the eight Stab films.

The worst forensics squad ever fail to notice the dead body in the room

And yes, those classic ‘rules’ once again return, but this time updated for this new generation with new rules about remakes, which Scream 4 seems to focus most of its criticism on – I wonder if the remake of Craven’s A Nighhtmare On Elm Street had something to do with it. Indeed, the whole third act of the movie, without giving too much away, is very much influenced by the deluge of horror films we’ve seen recently, with one humorous moment in particular seeing a distressed Hayden Panetierre answer one of the killer’s phone questions by screaming out a seemingly endless stream of films that have been remade in the past decade, drawing stark attention to the sheer number of them.

A livid Hayden smells blood as she spots the person who did her hair

While three cast members from the original trilogy – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox – all return for Scream 4, it’s perhaps unsurprisingly Cox who steals the show. Campbell is her usual drab, miserably-voiced self, while Arquette’s character seems to have shaken off his permanent limp from the previous film and is now the sheriff, essentially making him a bit of a dick. Cox, however, is hilarious as Gale Weathers, suffering writer’s block as she tries to get back in the spotlight while jealously watching on a Sidney (Campbell) has success with a book of her own and her husband Dewey (Arquette) flirts with his new female deputy. Almost all of the best lines belong to Gale, to the extent that it’s almost exciting to see her turn up in another scene because you know something else is coming. I never thought I’d be praising Courteney Cox as the star in a school play, let alone a film, but fair play to her.

When Bob saw his date waiting for him, he suddenly realised she was joking when she said the party was fancy dress

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Scream film without a whodunit plot, and while the red herrings are perhaps a bit too obvious and clearly overacting to make you think it’s them, the real killer’s identity is a nice twist that actually makes sense and results in a great performance from the cast member in question.

It’s worth pointing out that the final act of Scream 4 does assume some prior knowledge of at least the first film in the series at times, so while it’s not essential I’d recommend you at least go into this one having seen at least the original film (if not necessarily all three) because you’ll get more out of Scream 4’s references, particularly those near the end of the film.

While Scream 4 could never be the revelation and genre-changer the original film was, it still does a great job updating the series to address the changes in horror cinema since the trilogy ended. It’s probably the best of the sequels, and well worth a watch if you enjoyed the first Scream.

Scream 3 (2000)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Parker Posey, Patrick Warburton, Lance Henriksen

“Is this simply another sequel? If it is, same rules apply. But if you find yourself dealing with an unexpected backstory and a preponderance of exposition, then the sequel rules do not apply. Because you are not dealing with a sequel, you are dealing with the concluding chapter of a trilogy.” (Randy, Scream 3)

“All I know about movie trilogies is that in the third one, all bets are off”. In a roundabout way, this single line of dialogue attempts to account for Scream 3’s plot but instead sums up everything that’s wrong with it. Gone are the clever references to horror films from the first Scream and the cheeky nods at sequel clichés in its follow-up, replaced by confusing plot points, tired fourth wall references and an ending that’s about as satisfying as using beehives as football boots, with the simple explanation each time that “hey, it’s the third one, we can do any old shite and it’s fair game”.

Sidney couldn't believe the Scottish one had been kicked out of The X Factor

Taking place a couple of years after the events of Scream 2, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now living out in the middle of nowhere. Along with her change of address comes a complete change of identity, her name and job altered in an attempt to avoid any more crazed killers who might want to call her up and give her hassle. Ironically, her new job is telephone counselling, in which she helps women over the phone who are suffering from sensitive problems. Guess what happens next?

"I don't care if it's a ghost instead of a woman this time Tiger, you told me you were going to pack this shite in"

The whole “film within a film” thing from Scream 2 is copied again in Scream 3 but it’s taken to the nth degree by setting the majority of the action on the set of the next Stab movie. All the ‘disposable’ characters are actors playing the real-life Sidney, Gail Weathers and the like, making for a silly sub-plot in which the killer is seemingly killing the actors in the same order the real characters died – a sub-plot that mysteriously disappears halfway through the film when the writers seemingly realise that most of the real characters aren’t actually dead yet.

It’s just a mess, really. The instances of humour are clumsy (look, it’s Jay and Silent Bob taking a tour of the film set! It’s real actors playing fake characters in a fake real film set of a fake movie based on fake real events! And look! It’s Carrie Fisher playing a woman who looks just like Carrie Fisher!) the secondary characters have as much personality as a stapler, the blatant shoehorning of Randy into the film – because he was the only interesting character in the previous two instalments – is unsatisfying and the whole thing in general is just underwhelming.

Stella McCartney's winter range was something of an acquired taste

By far the most disappointing aspect, however, is the ending. The whole point of the Scream movies is trying to figure out the identity of the killer and their motive, but when it’s revealed to be one of the least interesting characters in the film and they then go on a boring rant about something or other that nobody really gives a shit about, then Scream 3’s status as a crushingly inadequate end to an otherwise great trilogy is cemented.

My advice is to watch Scream and Scream 2 back-to-back then pretend the third one didn’t exist. As for Scream 4? Well, that’s for another review…

Scream 2 (1997)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Neve Cambell, Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Liev Schrieber, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O’Connell, Timothy Olyphant

KILLER – “What’s your favourite scary movie?”
RANDY – “Showgirls.”

After slicing apart the horror genre and aiming knowing winks at many of its foibles in Scream, some felt that there wasn’t much opportunity to do the same in Scream 2 since so much had been covered already. By its very nature though Scream 2 provided Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson a chance to poke fun at one very important aspect of horror films that went unchallenged in the first film – sequels.

Set two years after the events of the first film, Scream 2 sees Sidney (Neve Campbell) at college with a bunch of new vict… um, friends. Sidney’s been getting hounded by the press because of a new movie called Stab, a ‘true story’ based on the events of the first film. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some students have been turning up dead too. Could there be a new killer following in the footsteps of the previous ones? Of course there is, it’s Scream 2.

"It's a good job the killer has a chronic case of narcolepsy," thought Susan

While the clever digs at horror convention and the ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ lines aren’t quite as frequent or obvious as they were in the original film, Scream 2 still has a bit of fun with the genre. The most entertaining dialogue-based scene in the first film – in which Randy teaches his fellow students the rules of horror movies – gets its own follow-up in which, during class, Randy and his peers discuss which movie sequels are better than the originals. Clearly they’ve never seen Return Of The Killer Tomatoes.

Don't be too upset, Ms Cox. Some people just didn't like Friends. Granted, this chap seems to be taking it a little bit too far

Much like in the first film, there are also a bunch of cameos stashed away for eagle-eyed viewers. Some are obvious – the Drew Barrymore role of ‘famous person who dies before the opening titles’ is this time taken by Jada Pinkett-Smith and Omar Epps – whereas others are more subtle. Keep an eye out for Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson and writer Kevin Williamson all making brief appearances.

The ‘film within a film’ subplot also offers the filmmakers the chance to put the boot into another tired horror cliché, this time one propagated by the media – the copycat killer phenomenon. Wes Craven has covered press attitudes toward horror and its influence before in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and he’s no easier on the subject here. It’s claimed by the various new reporters throughout the film that the killer is doing this because they’ve been inspired by the Stab movie, a theory that (while understandable in this case, given the Ghostface mask and the like) is ultimately shot down when their true identity and motives are revealed. Take that, journalists!

The killer isn't a vampire, you stupid mare

Speaking of the ending, it’s underwhelming. While the film – much like the first Scream – is essentially a whodunit, with the audience trying to guess which of the supporting characters is the murderer, the revelation here is nowhere near as shocking as it was in the original movie with the same twist getting churned out again. What’s more, the killers’ identity turns out to be disappointingly predictable, as it turns out the guy who had the evil grin and looked like a killer all the way through the film ends up revealing he was the man behind the mask all along. In fact, he was so blatantly a killer that by the end of the film most audiences will have already passed him off as a red herring because he was too obvious.

Scream 2 is fun. It’s by no means as fresh, as mould-breaking or as engaging as the original film and many of the kills are about as tame as an abused pet (throwing someone off a roof off-screen? Come on), but when a film openly admits in its dialogue that sequels are never better then that should come as little surprise. Check out the first film instead and if you enjoyed that then give this a go, it’ll keep you amused throughout its two-hour duration.

Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Neve Campbell, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Courteney Cox

“Never say ‘who’s there’. Don’t you watch scary movies? It’s a death wish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise or something. ” (Ghostface, Scream)

Scream is to modern horror films what the Beatles were to rock music. Look at it now and it’s easy to forget the impact it’s had on so many of the films we’ve seen since. Nowadays almost every slasher movie has some sort of “clever” post-modern fourth wall-breaking scene where the black guy says he knows he’s going to die first, a hysterical teen screams that their situation’s “like something out of a Jason film” or someone says “we shouldn’t split up, that’s how people die in the movies”. Scream did it first, and while it’s been imitated countless times since it’s somewhat telling that Scream still does it better than most, 15 years since its release.

Mary-Kate Olsen was looking a bit rough

The film centres around Sydney Prescott (Campbell), a teenager still trying to come to terms with the murder of her mother a year ago. Her boyfriend is trying to pressure her into having sex, which doesn’t help matters, and if that wasn’t bad enough some or her fellow classmates have started turning up dead. Sydney soon realises she’s the killer’s next target, and that her mother’s murder may in some way have something to do with it. She has to find out who’s committing the murders and stop them before she ends up giving the local gravedigger overtime work.

Randy didn't realise his cushion wouldn't adequately shield him from knives

The real genius of Scream lies in the character of Randy (played by the otherwise irritating Jamie Kennedy). A die-hard slasher film fan, Randy knows all the “rules” to surviving a horror film – if you have sex you die, if you say “I’ll be right back” you won’t be – and spends a good part of the film discussing with other characters who the killer may be if they were going by horror convention. While primarily paying tribute to the countless slashers that paved the way for Scream, these horror “rules” are also in a way mocking the genre for its lack of originality.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Scream sets about breaking a lot of these rules. The girl who has sex doesn’t always die, the villain doesn’t necessarily come back to life for one final showdown and the identity of who’s doing the killings can’t really be worked out due to the numerous red herrings and double-bluffs the film chucks at the viewer throughout. While making fun of the predictability of the slasher genre, in the same breath Scream provides something truly unpredictable.

The latest Gillette advert was a tad strong

There’s no way of guessing who’s killing everyone or what their motive is, and with the death of top star Drew Barrymore right at the start of the film (a nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which also killed off its star early on to throw audiences) it’s difficult to know for a fact who’s going to survive either.

Drew’s death isn’t the only knowing wink to the horror classics. John Carpenter’s Halloween constantly plays on a TV in one house during the film’s final half-hour, with many of the goings-on in the house mirroring the action on the telly.

"Miss Olsen, we're taking you to rehab. Eyyy"

More subtle moments include a brief cameo from director Wes Craven as Fred, the school janitor with a striped sweater that’s oddly familiar. Another short scene sees Sydney getting hassle from a news reporter played by none other than Linda Blair (Regan from The Exorcist), complete with huge crucifix earrings. They’re cheeky little moments that, while unnoticed by mainstream audiences, reassure horror fans that Scream is really a love letter to their favourite genre.

While it may not necessarily be the case nowadays thanks to its many imitators, at the time of its release Scream was a breath of fresh air in a genre suffocating itself with a plastic bag of predictability. It may have lost some of that impact 15 years later but it’s still a great slasher film that should entertain from start to finish.

If you live in the UK you can get Scream on DVD here or on Blu-ray here, or if you want to go the whole hog you can get the Scream trilogy on DVD here or on Blu-ray here. Americans, you can get the DVD here, the Blu-ray here, the DVD boxset here and the Blu-ray boxset here. Phew.