Ghostface from the Scream series**Spoiler alert**

Genres, like many other systems, experience cycles: first is the primitive stage, which is the most basic form of the genre; second is the classical stage, which tends to last the longest as it performs on the established conventions and formulas; third is the revisionist stage, in which the recognized standards are questioned or reversed; and the final stage is parody, in which conventions are satirized. The first Scream exists in the third phase (nearing the fourth) as it was pretty original and incredibly self-referential. It earned our affections by turning the genre on its head, laying out and rejecting the conventions and formula horror fans had embraced for decades. It also opened the door for the Scary Movie franchise (stage four), but that’s a whole other conversation.

Like modern day, very bloody morality tales, the slasher flick showed us that if you drink, do drugs, have sex or neglect your responsibilities, you’ll die. Saying “I’ll be right back” isn’t exactly a sin, but it still decreases your survival rate significantly. Scream actually told us these actions would be punished. Of course, our courageous protagonist Sidney loses her virginity to one of the killers but manages to survive, and Randy was clinking beer bottles minutes before he’s not fatally wounded.

The full disclosure policy continued in Scream 2 when Randy, also the series’ resident film expert, explained the rules of a sequel. This picture wasn’t as good as the first, but it had its moments such as the chase scene in the soundproof room and edge-of-your-seat escape from a crashed police car. Randy later outlined the rules of the final instalment of a trilogy from beyond the grave because he sadly bit it in the second movie. The third film relied on solving the mystery of Rina Reynolds, which provided an interesting twist to the standard formula. And though it was somewhat disappointing to see all the returning characters live to tell the tale after the credits rolled on the concluding chapter, it was also another instance of playing against the expected.

The franchise had closed the curtains on a strong ending, so when I heard about Scream 4 I was equally intrigued and sceptical. Entering the theatre, I placed my trust in the wisdom of horror master Wes Craven and the belief that he would not have revived the franchise if he didn’t have something awesome up his sleeve. After all, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a brilliant concept that finished a fading franchise on a high note. Plus, I was endeared by my favourite part of the reboot’s trailer: Ghostface begins to ask a question about horror remakes, but before he can finish Kirby frantically rattles off a list of the numerous remakes that have plagued movie theatres in the last decade (not even including the endless list of English remakes of foreign films that capitalize on the creative of innovative filmmakers and the fact that so many people refuse to read subtitles).

Happily, that is not the only highlight from the film. Ghostface’s kills are more inventive than ever, including a lobotomy of sorts and the resourceful use of a mail slot. The original movie’s homage to Psycho is also revived with a character named Anthony Perkins. The self-referencing of the first films is increased exponentially. It not only takes jabs at torture porn, remakes and many of the horror conventions it revealed and defied, but Scream 4 also offers an updated narrative that is contemporary and highly involved in technology and social media. There is even mention of a Facebook killer and posting videos of the murders online – though the latter is only defined at the end, which felt like a wasted opportunity. Furthermore, the new batch of kids is as fluent in the genre as the first set and just as captivating to watch. As Kirby informs Charlie, “I could trivia your ass under the table!”

But it is the fate of the new generation of Woodsboro High teens (particularly versus that of the veterans) that places the categorization of this film into question. At the end of Scream 4, the only characters left alive are the ones who have nearly perfected outliving anybody insane enough to don the Edvard Munch mask. Can it really be considered a reboot if none of the new kids live to fight Ghostface another day? Moreover, by once again following the adventures of Sidney, Dewey and Gale, haven’t we just been treated to another sequel? It’s extremely enjoyable, but that doesn’t change the fact that the torch was not passed.

This leaves the future of the franchise somewhat in the air; especially if rumours of a fifth and sixth film are true, as well as Craven’s and writer Kevin Williamson’s frustration with the production. The final act looked quite promising as Sidney is tortured by her teenage tormentors, but then it cops out. That was definitely a new one for the series and it wasn’t a pleasant change. The question is: can it carry this new energy forward or will the novelty be short-lived? Only time will tell.

And finally, why wasn’t the movie held for a Halloween release? It wouldn’t even have to challenge Saw for the box office this year. Instead, Scream 4 was decisively pecked out of the top box office position by Rio.


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