I’m having a really difficult time with this final post, denizens. Watching Scream 4 really brought home the fact that this truly is it. This was the final film of Wes Craven’s career. It’s a painful truth to assimilate on many levels, least of which is the reopening of the sorrow that I have felt ever since learning of his untimely death. I’m not going to lie: When I saw “Directed by Wes Craven” pop up in the credits, I teared up as it hit yet again that we will never see that for another new movie. It feels like we have lost so many incredibly talented people recently. To mourn each and every one of them as thoroughly as I have with Craven would pretty much become a full-time career. However, let it be known that the creative space within this existence has a lot of vacancy signs in the windows at the moment. We desperately need to see these vacancies filled. The world can be an ugly, cruel reality. Those who provide us with the safety of escapism, no matter how brief, are invaluable.
So, let’s get this final show on the road, shall we?
Let’s just address the elephant in the room right away: I severely panned Scream 4 when it hit theaters. I won’t rewrite that history for this review. I did not enjoy this movie at all on first viewing.
[Loba Tangent: I also haven’t been back to a movie theater since going to see this in 2011. And I am perfectly okay with this fact.]
I also didn’t really like the movie on my second viewing either. Even after reading a book that convinced me to give the fourth movie another try, I ended up writing elsewhere that I still found this to be a “shockingly bad movie, particularly for this franchise.”
Like I said, I won’t rewrite history. However, I also wrote of my second viewing that “the movie puts forward some truly salient points regarding what happened to us as a society, not just in horror but in general culture, within the more than 10 years between the third and fourth movie. And the author of the book I read even gives a convincing defense of what I felt on original viewing was a tacked-on cop-out ending. I still feel as though it’s a bit of a cop-out…but viewing it with the author’s defense in mind helped me to see it as the castigation against remakes and reboots that he proposes it to be.”
Re-watching this film twice for this series (yes, Craven gifted us one final director’s commentary) made me realize further that this movie shouldn’t stand with the original trilogy at all. That trilogy is a complete telling of the nightmare that Sidney, Gale, and Dewey endured and survived. That book is closed. This fourth film truly kicked off a new book completely—one that relies on the first book for frame of reference only. Only a handful of characters within this new film could possibly remember the events of the original films. For the younger characters, they were removed enough from the brutality of those events that, as Sheriff Riley points out, “One generation’s tragedy is the next one’s joke.”
[Loba Tangent: Although I don’t think this movie depends on the original trilogy for much in regard to actual storytelling, I think it does rely heavily on it for self-referential purposes, which I have already pointed out multiple times.]
As for my evolving thoughts on this fourth film, let me finally give kudos to Craven and Williamson for something that I rather backhandedly praised them for in my first review (spoilers ahoy-hoy): Their successful obfuscation of the main killer was utterly on-point. Even all my follow-up viewings of this film after the fact leave me continually surprised at how little Craven or Williamson offers the viewers in regard to this truth. While the secondary killer wasn’t a surprise (IMHO), guessing the main killer eluded me completely. I’m pretty sure I was irritated by this fact when I first saw the reveal, but now? I concede to the brilliance of both writer and filmmaker that they were able to surprise even an old horror hound like myself.
Secondly, and this is a concession that only could come now (although it makes me a bit uncomfortable to call it a concession, because it only can come at the hands of some truly disturbing and vile shifts in the reality in which we now live): I can sadly attest that Williamson and Craven possessed an upsetting prescience regarding the “new rules” of streaming murders online and craving fame without effort so badly that you would kill to attain it. We’ve seen both within the years between the debut of this film and now through some deeply disturbing crimes. What I once admittedly rolled my eyes at now threaten to become cultural banalities as we devolve deeper and deeper into our conscienceless mire of contempt and indifference toward each other. Could Craven and Williamson have seen this all coming? Was this their attempt at warning us? Our Woodsboro Cassandras, showing us what might happen if we didn’t check ourselves?
I don’t know. All I know is that, sadly, this movie has become possibly the truest of all the Scream films, and therein lies its most unsettling strength.
I mentioned that once again, Craven did a commentary for this film. Rather than being joined by technical contributors, this time he brought along actors Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, with Neve Campbell joining the conversation briefly via telephone. I was fascinated by his interaction with the actors. Mostly, I was fascinated and utterly delighted by their appreciation of and respect for Craven as their director. Listening to Campbell in particular, I was struck by how clearly connected she felt to Craven. This man helped solidify her fame throughout the 90s. His faith in her ability to bring to life one of the most iconic heroines from his body of work was so wonderfully obvious in her appreciation of him, not just as her director but as her friend. It made me wish that they had done a commentary with the original three actors and Craven. I’m sure that would have been quite the reminiscent foray.
As for what I just stated about Sidney Prescott? I think it’s true. I think Sidney might actually be Craven’s most iconic heroine. True, Nancy Thompson gets pride of place for being Craven’s own masterpiece and for being his first iconic horror heroine. However, there are two significant differences between Nancy and Sidney. The first, of course, is longevity. Sidney is, hands-down, the winner there, which connects directly to the second way in which these two iconic warrior women differ: Whereas Freddy Krueger was the linchpin of the NOES series, always the same while his defeaters almost constantly rotated, for the Scream world? It was always a rotating cavalcade of killers beneath the Ghostface mask, all trying to dispatch the linchpin of this series: Sidney.
As far as I know, Sidney Prescott is the first protagonist of any gender to anchor a horror franchise (do not come back with Ash as preceding her because I would qualify only the first Evil Dead film as a horror movie; the second was an unnecessary remake of the first and the third was just asinine). Laurie Strode technically could qualify before Sidney since she was in the first and second Halloween movies, and then returned for Halloween: H20. However, Michael Myers was always the same as well, so those two are forever linked as sharing the spotlight.
That all being said, Sidney ranks as one of the more unique “final girls” of horror history by dint of reason that she’s the ultimate survivor, and while we have Kevin Williamson to thank for penning her into existence, we have Wes Craven to thank for bringing her from the page to the screen and for casting the perfect actress to portray her. Neve Campbell stated it simply and beautifully in her tribute to Craven after his death:
We lost a great deal of magic yesterday. I’m devastated to hear of Wes’s passing. My life wouldn’t be what it is without him. I will be forever grateful for his brilliant direction, his wicked sense of humor, and his consummate kindness and friendship. He has entertained us all for decades and inspired so many to follow in his path. I loved Wes dearly and will miss him always. Thank you, Wes!!!
Little did we know that our few months in the sleepy little town of Santa Rosa, California, would give birth to one of the highest-grossing films of that decade and bring about a resurgence in a genre that had been deemed dead for years. Little could we comprehend the great success each of us would be gifted from having the opportunity to make Scream with the great Wes Craven.
Rest in peace, Wes! We’ll continue to watch your films and not sleep peacefully at all.
Many of the things that Campbell wrote of Craven could be repeated by Heather Langenkamp and Emma Roberts. Both of these women saw incredible boosts to their careers thanks to their work with Craven. With Jill Roberts being her first foray into the horror genre, Emma Roberts has gone on to make quite the (blood red) splash in other horror offerings such as American Horror Story and Scream Queens. And Langenkamp has parlayed her turn as Nancy Thompson into a somewhat self-appointed role as the Historian of Elm Street. Her documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is one of the most thorough and entrancing records of a movie franchise to date. And, again, listening to her interaction with Craven during their commentaries for NOES and New Nightmare, you can hear the sincerity of her devotion to Craven as a creator and a friend.
You can read more tributes from others in the Scream family here. The primary things you will read from all of those who worked with Craven and honored him after learning about his death were tributes to his kindness, his intelligence, and his gentleness. Not things you would anticipate hearing about such a Master of Horror. However, it’s a testament to his power as a creator of such legendary horror that he could give himself permission to go to such dark depths and resurface each time with his gentle spirit still intact.
I continue to mourn Craven’s death. I am forever indebted to him for gifting me and my generation (and, sweet prophets, I hope many generations to come) with some of the most iconic, inspiring, game-changing horror movies ever. He was brilliant in so many ways and, as far as I’m concerned, there never would have been a “right” time for him to leave this realm. However, his departure was far too soon. Leave it to the Master of Horror to spring a twist on you right at the end.