Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Scream 4’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Twenty-five years ago, the horror genre was on life support. In turn, the slasher subgenre was as dead as a doornail. But, that all changed with Scream (1996) — a movie that brought together fresh new talents & a master of horror to deconstruct the genre in a darkly comedic fashion. Of course, one Scream always leads to another. As such, I’ll trace how the best horror movie of the 1990s became a franchise, which is finding new life thanks to a legacy sequel/reboot under the same title. This time out, we’ll learn the rules of the remake/reboot with Scream 4 (2011) — aka Scre4m

Horror in the early-mid aughts could essentially be split into two subgenres. First and foremost, there was the novelty item of a subgenre that is torture porn; popularized by the Saw series and Hostel (2006). As it is distastefully referred to, torture porn horror was essentially a new spin on exploitation flicks of the 1970s. The other popular subgenre of the time was the much-maligned remake. In this very short amount of time, favorite horror classics from the 70s or 80s almost certainly got remade — many of them through the bane of my and many other fans’ existence at the time, production company Platinum Dunes.

With torture being the climate of the genre at the time, it came as a huge surprise when a fourth entry in the Scream franchise was announced. The story goes that the Scream’s creator, Kevin Williamson, who was busily producing The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017), went out to lunch one day with director Wes Craven (Swamp Thing). As they broke bread, Williamson presented Craven with the notion of doing one more sequel. See, Williamson felt they needed to in order to make up for the nurtured fumble that was Scream 3 (2000). Craven couldn’t help but agree since that third entry left a sour taste in the mouths of not only those who saw it, but also the folks who made it. As a result, Dimension Films agreed to fund the fourth film with Williamson, Craven, and the trio of remaining original cast members returning.

Thus, Williamson set to writing a screenplay utilizing one of his rejected ideas from the previous picture — Scre4m sees the whole gang back together in Woodsboro a decade after the bloody events of Scream (1996). Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox) are living there in semi-marital bliss. Unsurprisingly, though, Gale’s burnt out on the simple suburban existence wherein she’s also suffering from writer’s block. Meanwhile, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has become an author herself and returns home as part of a book tour to promote her autobiography Out of Darkness. However, the tour gets off to a rough start as the Ghostface killer also returns to dispense murder and mayhem! All the while, a new crop of high-school-aged horror fans hypothesize about who’s responsible and who will be killed next.

Of course, this story of returning to the home of the initial murders didn’t come together all that easily for the screenwriter. After delivering the initial draft of Scream 4 — along with an idea for a new trilogy — The Weinsteins started noting the screenplay to death. Following Williamson’s repeated clashes of creatively with the studio heads, and the writer’s ongoing obligation to The Vampire Diaries, he was once again replaced by Scream 3  scribe Ehren Kreuger. A move which no doubt salted the wound for Williamson, who, as mentioned, was no fan of Kreuger’s take on the third movie. It’s worth noting, though, that Craven said Kreuger’s revisions to to the movie in review were minimal.

Thankfully, the (uncredited) rewrites performed by Kreuger are not nearly as noticeable as they were in the previous installment. Scream 4 looks and sounds much more like a product of Williamson. That isn’t to say the screenplay is perfect, however. Personally, I never could buy two big conceits of this story. First and foremost, Sidney Prescott does not strike me at all as a person who would write about her trauma. If anything, I can say that Scream 3 found the best way for her to use her past to brighten the futures of others. Secondly, since when does Sid have any other family besides her dad in Woodsboro? That sure seems convenient.

It’s easy enough to overlook my minor qualms with the narrative, though, as everyone involved clearly wants to be here this time. Previously, they all seemed a little tired of the whole murderous meta affair. The original cast is as good as they’ve ever been here. It’s also fascinating to watch Cox and Arquette, whose romantic chemistry once again pops on screen even though they were going through a divorce in real life. Moreover, Sidney is given things to do this time. 

The OG cast is very carefully blended with the cast of high-schoolers to which they were intended to pass the torch. Led by Sidney’s cousin, Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), and her best friend and horror-fiend, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), I’m happy to say that this young cast has tangible chemistry. Such is more than I can say for the additions in previous sequels, even if these new characters are analogs for the ‘96 cast. My favorites among these fresh faces are Kirby (who is lauded among the fanbase as the best character from any of the sequels) and Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin). Alas, only the aforementioned new cast members are memorable, while the rest of the new group fade into the background.

Obviously, the movie addresses the nature of the remake/reboot as only this franchise can. But what makes this fourth flick so interesting isn’t its meta-movie commentary. Instead, it’s what Scream 4 has to say about the obsession with and the pursuit of fame through social media. Mind you, back in 2011, social media platforms and the idea of influencers they spawned were only just burgeoning. Unfortunately, though, it’s almost as if the screenwriter(s) were precognisant of social media and the insane-yet-false sense of importance folks would place upon this medium of communication. I mean, think about it — we now live in an age where live murders have been streamed via social media platforms. Such a horrifying occurrence is an idea this sequel almost runs with before dropping (or perhaps forgetting) the ball on.

Along with a renewed sense of violence and gore, the social media commentary gives this film its edge. Watching this flick in the modern, social media landscape, one thing is clear: this fourth installment is sharper now than it was upon its initial release. Moreover, Scream 4 is also the best sequel in the bunch! Thus far! Therefore, Scre4m is undoubtedly a Franchise Expansion!

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out two significant flaws in Scream 4. Quite frankly, the opening sequence is as weak as it gets and too self-aggrandizing. Beyond that opening, though, the film’s overall look is horrible. While the movie is otherwise helmed with the skillful hand of Craven, the cinematography choices from him and thrice returning cinematographer Peter Demming are misguided. The film has a jaundiced glow over it that looks dreadful and is somewhat distracting. 

Even with its flaws, though, Scream 4 is the best sequel I’ve covered in this franchise to date. So much so, that I wish Craven and Williamson’s proposed new trilogy came to fruition. Unfortunately, though, that ambition would not come to pass. Despite grossing nearly $100 million worldwide on a $40 million production budget, Scream 4’s box office take was considered a disappointment. It didn’t do well domestically, grossing only $38 million stateside, and Dimension put the kibosh on those potential fifth and sixth entries. A few years later, in August of 2015, Wes Craven sadly passed away (making this his final film as a director.) After which, the makers and viewers of this franchise assumed it would be well-enough left alone. Or would it?

Scre4m is available on all home video formats.

Next time, we learn the rules of the legacy sequel (or requel) with Scream (2021), now playing exclusively in theaters!

What’s your favorite scary movie?”

Scream (1996)

Scream 2 (1997)

Scream 3 (2000)

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