‘Scream 4’ is worthy installment to horror series

In a majority of horror movie franchises, the only characters that leave an impression on the audience are the villains. We all remember Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and the Jigsaw killer, but how many people can actually name any of the countless victims they’ve claimed over the years?

This has never been the case with the “Scream” series. These are films about people we care about and identify with because, unlike the forgotten souls in a typical “Friday the 13th” picture, these characters actually watch scary movies on a regular basis.

The first two “Scream” movies were witty, chilling and overwhelmed with some of the best action set pieces I’ve ever seen in modern slasher pictures. The often-criticized “Scream 3” was admittedly a guilty pleasure on my behalf, although I’d be lying if I said that the film didn’t lack the freshness and innovation of its exceptional predecessors.

Eleven years later, we finally get “Scream 4,” which brings the franchise into a new generation of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and Internet blogs. Does “Scream 4” standout as an inspired take on 21st century thrillers? In comparison to some recent horror remakes and the seven “Saw” movies, which “Scream 4” takes the liberty of satirizing, I’d say yes.

Neve Campbell is back as Sidney Prescott, who has pulled off the unthinkable task of surviving three slasher films in a row. Sidney returns to her hometown of Woodsboro where, you guessed it, the Ghostface Killer is murdering more innocent teenagers. The long-suffering Sidney is reunited with Gale Weathers, the meddlesome former journalist, played by Courteney Cox, and Dewey Riley, the bumbling police officer who has been upgraded to sheriff, played by David Arquette.

In addition to the three soul survivors of the earlier movies, “Scream 4” piles up a stellar supporting cast. The most notable newcomers are Emma Roberts as Sidney’s cousin, Jill, and Hayden Panettoere as her best friend. We also get some fun performances from Alison Brie as Sidney’s insufferable publicist, Erik Knudsen and Rory Culkin as a couple of film buffs, and Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson as two deputies who believe that it sucks to be a cop in movies unless you’re Bruce Willis.

What holds “Scream 4” back from being on the same level of the original is an abundance of familiarity. The film is overstuffed with several red herring characters, one too many obvious set ups, and the inevitable scene where the killer isn’t really dead. Like the previous movies, “Scream 4” does have the courtesy to point out these clichés and make fun of itself. But even being self-aware has kind of become routine for this franchise. The only real shocker in the movie occurs in the final act, which might blow your mind, or you may find too preposterous to accept.

On the whole, “Scream 4” is a well-acted and worthy installment to the series. Much of the film’s success lies in the hands of director Wes Craven, who can be a master craftsman of horror when at the top of his game, and screenwriter Kevin Williamson. The film will delight fans of the original trilogy and perhaps even appeal to those unfamiliar with “Scream.” A part of me just wanted a little more out of this sequel though, especially after all this time. The real question is whether or not a franchise like “Scream” will ever really evolve beyond a masked person running around with a knife.

Reach the reporter at nspake@asu.edu

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