‘Scream 4’ (2011) review: The rules have changed (if not the movie)

New ‘Scream’ brings series into 21st century

UPDATED – It’s true: The more things change, the more they stay the same. And therein lies the crux of the major flaw with the newest “Scream” release, “Scream 4”: For all the suspense, self-deprecation and satire it brings to the screen, “Scream 4” simply boils down to a rehashed version of the 1996 neo-classic original. By attempting to reinvent itself for the 21st century (using webcams and challenging the standard horror movie rules), “Scream 4” lost all of its 20th-century charm. One of the last lines of the movie succinctly sums it up: “You forgot the No. 1 rule for remakes: Don’t (expletive deleted) with the original.”

For the latest iteration, director Wes Craven (previous “Scream” movies) and writer Kevin Williamson reassembled the original ensemble — Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette — to discover who the newest Ghostface is and why he or she is terrorizing the small town of Woodsboro.

The movie opens with the franchise’s usual prologue, this one somewhat clever if only because of some hilarious cameos from Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell and others. But it was enough to get the action rolling, as we’re quickly thrown into the all-too-real murder spree of the newest psycho to don the infamous mask.

Years after surviving several murderous rampages, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) has returned to her hometown of Woodsboro to promote her self-help book, which deals with her surviving all the attacks on her. However, as she enters town on the anniversary of the original murders, two more murders are reported, in the same slasher fashion. It seems death follows Sidney wherever she goes, earning her the nickname “The Angel of Death.”

Sidney is instantly drawn into the mix when her cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”), and her friends (played by Hayden Panettiere and Marielle Jaffe) start receiving threatening phone calls from Ghostface. Soon after, Dewey Riley (Arquette, previous “Scream” movies) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Cox, “Friends”), both having survived along with Sidney all of the other attacks and gotten married 10 years earlier, delve into the scene. Dewey, now the sheriff, finds himself in a strange predicament as his wife, a tabloid journalist-turned-novelist who helped solved the previous murders, wants in on all the action, whereas he has to keep such information private.

But as Sidney and company soon discover, the rules governing the first murder have changed, more aptly fitting the 21st century now. It then becomes a mad dash to the finish line to see who gets stabbed first: Sidney or Ghostface.

And speaking of stabbings, the reunion of Campbell, Arquette and Cox manages to be a double-edged sword: Their starring roles help connect the latest movie to its predecessor of 11 years, but it’s too reminiscent of the first “Scream.” They even retain their roles: Campbell as the strong heroine-victim, Arquette as the somewhat simple cop and Cox as the manipulative reporter. It feels a bit too much like 1996. 

Even with the infusion of flesh blood in the familiar form of the new high school girls, along with the movie geeks (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen) who explain the rules and the suspicious boyfriend (Nico Tortorella), it still is not enough to differentiate the movies.

Despite all the criticism, “Scream 4” is actually a pretty decent slasher flick. There’s enough suspense, gore and comedy to remind us all why we loved the original. But that’s the problem: No matter how hard it tries, it’s not “Scream,” and Craven would do well to remember that should another sequel be on the horizon.

All in all, when asked “What’s your favorite scary movie?” it probably won’t be this one. But for anyone who liked the original trilogy, this one comes highly recommended.
And just remember: If you’re facing off against a crazed, masked murderer, follow the rules. They may just save your life.

Three stars out of five.

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