In these days of elaborate traps and serial killers with mechanized death-basements, a killer with a knife just isn't that scary.
After all, you can't walk down the street without tripping into some maniac's torture-Batcave and activating a handcuff-bot, a rotating tie rack made out of meat cleavers, and a webcam.
It's no wonder YouTube was renamed The Graphically Dismembered Victims Of Psychotic Thomas Edisons-Tube. These hordes of killers aren't impossible to spot -- given that their one-use machines must cost tens of thousands of dollars apiece, they're basically limited to evil lottery winners -- but you're dealing with guys who know how to turn the contents of their gardening shed into an automated slaughterhouse. You think you can avoid them forever?
Hmm, wait. Got my universes mixed up. In this one, you are approximately infinity-plus-one times more likely to get killed by a dude with a knife than by the guy with the torture basement. So as meta as sometimes gets, it's nice to see Scream 4 continue to throw back to the era of bad guys who just want to stab you.
On the anniversary of the brutal killings she narrowly escaped, Neve Campbell is back in town on a tour of her autobiography. But a new killer has risen to take the old one's place -- and now Campbell's younger cousin Emma Roberts is getting threatening phone calls from him.
Sheriff David Arquette and his journalist wife Courteney Cox try to track the killer down. But as the bodies mount, it doesn't look as if Campbell and Roberts are going to make it out of this one alive.
So, Scream 4. Fourth entries in horror franchises are usually about as original as an assembly line with ennui. Normally, you're looking at either a repetitive retread or a plunge into a mythology so tangled it could pull double duty dragging behind a StarKist trawler. By that point, the first writer and director are usually long gone, leaving less-talented fill-ins to tell insane stories that are about as far from the original vision as I am from being able to sleep without rubber sheets.
But Scream 4 returns original director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. Maybe that's why it's able to bring something new to the table.
Scream 4 kicks off with two intentional false openings, clever horror riffs with cameos from Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell. It's a funny and moderately insightful take on the torture-heavy horror hits of the last decade-plus. But then it's back to business as usual: girls start getting threatening phone calls. Next thing you know, knives are sticking out of backs across town while witty teenagers have a grand old time comparing the killings to horror classics.
Meanwhile, it leans heavily on its older characters, which is good and bad. The new teens are underdeveloped. Not quite half baked, but if they were brownies, they would still be thick and unfluffy, and I don't know about you, but I like my teens fluffy. On the other hand, putting so much weight on Campbell, Arquette and Cox is probably more satisfying for fans of the series and anyone else who possesses the thing I hear is called a "memory."
For the rest of us, the characters' backstory and relationships are handled well.
But the overall premise is a little rote at this point. Scream 4 constantly threatens to descend into the territory of "Well, I believe I have seen this before. Time to turn on this like a terrier turns on a dropped piece of lunch meat." Williamson's dialogue is sharp enough to keep things snappy, however (Cox is especially funny), and he's got some genuinely twisty twists to unload.
I'm not in love with Scream 4. I wouldn't make it a sandwich just because it asked. But I would be its friend. I would drive it to the airport if it presented a compelling argument why it couldn't drive itself. I would watch it again in a marathon some time.