Wes Craven sadly passed away on August 30, 2015 and left behind a legacy of horror movies which are considered to be classics in the slasher genre. But do they still hold up well today? We’ll find out in the following tributes to his impressive work. This will also start our week of Halloween review specials exclusively reserved for movies.
(USA 1996, director: Wes Craven)
After the violent death of her mother, Sydney Prescott and her school friends are stalked by masked killer who doesn’t let the past go away.
Scream is a perfect example of how a genre can be deconstructed and still be entertaining. The reason for this is a witty script with many references to slasher flicks like Friday 13th, Halloween and even Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (although he only directed the first and seventh installment). What’s especially fun is the way how characters speak of horror clichés, e.g. victims always running where they can’t get out or supposedly dead villains getting up again, and at the same time doing them anyway.
Sydney’s friend and movie buff Randy is the best example for this type of self-reference, as he introduces rules one has to abide by in order to survive in a horror flick. However, the movie doesn’t shy away from delivering exactly what fans of the horror genre want: blood and guts. The kills are quite vicious, although never really that imaginative, maybe again showing that it’s difficult to be that innovative.
Still, with Ghostface (only named by one character) being one of the fastest killers in horror film history, compared to slow-moving maniacs like Michael Myers from Halloween or Jason Vorhees from Friday 13th, and scarily reminiscent of the “Scream” painting (no coincidence, considering Craven studied psychology) this is a modern take on the genre with twists and turns that make the whodunnit template relevant again. With a satisfyingly brutal and sick ending, likeable characters, the movie is as enjoyable today as it was in the Noughties.
(USA 1997, director: Wes Craven)
At university, Sydney and her friends witness another killing spree after the opening of Stab, a movie based on what happened in the small town of Woodsboro.
Scream 2 does everything expected from a sequel, with the addition of more blood, more creative kills, etc., or at least that’s what the character Randy wants to make the audience believe. It’s true that there are more violent scenes and kills, but is it really more innovative than the original?
Again many self-aware lines are to be taken ironically, as most of the characters abide by the funny slasher rules of running where there’s no exit or being in places they shouldn’t be, at least not on their own. So the concept is the same, with a mix of suspenseful chase sequences, bloody parts, and a lot of wise-cracking plus enough whodunnit-this-time scenes to make one’s head spin.
It’s here where the movie tries too hard to fill in the gap of what the first one hinted at: the death of Sidney’s mother. The identity of the killer is also a bit far-fetched and difficult to discover, although it fits the madness of the plot and Sidney’s mental instability.
Scream 2 is still a very entertaining slasher flick with funny dialogues, but at times it takes itself a bit too serious. It has the same ingredients of violence, tense moments and jump-scares, but it lacks the originality of the first one.
(USA 2000, director: Wes Craven)
The Hollywood set of Stab 3 becomes a place of bloodshed, as Ghostface returns in order to make Sidney realize what the story behind her mother’s past is.
Planned as a trilogy but without Kevin Williamson as a writer on board this time, the third installment is a small letdown. Again the script wears the self-awareness and irony on its sleeves, with the Stab 3 movie making fun of characters Gale Weathers, the ambitious reporter, or Dewey, the struggling police officer. It’s more than a parody of the genre and the movie industry than the first one was, and that’s where the problems start. There are just too many funny scenes to make it really scary. Jumpscares are still present, but they’re far and few in between. While Ghostface is again fast, furious and vicious with his kills, guessing the identity is less intriguing, and the resolution is also quite ridiculous.
Speaking of ridiculous, making fun of horror conventions and also how trilogies work is taken to the extreme. While it was always a trademark of the series, it doesn’t pay off as well here, which is mainly due to its in-your-face humor, e.g. when all the actors portraying Sid, Dewey, and Gale meet their real counterparts, or when Randy warns his friends about the rules and dangers of trilogies. There is certainly enough potential in the meta-fiction concept, but it’s not always used to the same great effect as the predecessors did. This can also be said about the past of Sidney’s mother. There’s obviously a what-did-she-do-and-why-and-how-is-it-all-connected tension, but the movie struggles with the same problems so many other sequels have faced, namely the over-familiarity and soap opera elements. Granted, the characters are still likable (even reporter Gale Weathers), but there are just too many dialogue fillers to make their interactions relevant. This becomes obvious with the supporting cast of which none is memorable, being nothing more than faceless caricatures.
So in the end, what remains is a movie that can’t really decide what it wants to be. On the one hand, there are suspenseful moments which are triggered by the killer’s ability to use the voices of any character. There are also some creative kills and a mildly interesting backstory. On the other hand, there are too many comedic elements and a discrepancy with the Hollywood-gone-bad message in addition to a disappointing ending, something that is maybe the worse thing that could happen to the final part of a planned trilogy.
(USA 2011, director: Wes Craven)
Back in her hometown, Sidney has to deal with more than a PR tour for her book, as Ghostface wants to make her friends remember the past more violently than ever.
It’s over 10 years, so the question is how relevant the series still is and why Wes Craven returns to it after such a long time. Fortunately and surprisingly, this was the best thing that could have happened, as it’s the most accomplished entry so far. This is mainly due to Kevin Williamson returning to script duty after a rather convoluted and also more comedy-oriented third part. The death scenes are also more brutal, while the meta-fictional elements are subtler than in the former installment. The first minutes are pure surprising genius, as they make the audience doubt their perception and expectations.
There’s of course the typical talk about genre conventions, and this time it’s about remakes. Even if it feels like déja vu, it’s implemented quite well, and the use of modern devices like text messages and live video recording give the movie some suspenseful and funny scenes.
The movie also succeeds in its resolution, i.e. the identity of the killer (or killers?). With the second and third part treading on often eye-rollingly stupid ground, the sick ending (with an Oscar-worthy psycho performance) makes perfect sense and fits nicely with the original. While Scream 4 certainly doesn’t reinvent the genre or has the same impact as Scream, it’s still a worthy sequel and a great slasher flick in its own right.
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