The Complete Collection
The conceit of the Scream films is that horror movie fans, when finding themselves in a real-life ‘horror movie,’ can draw on their knowledge of the genre’s cliches to anticipate what will happen next. As it turns out, that foreknowledge doesn’t help them the slightest bit.
The first Scream is a fairly traditional slasher film. Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is a high school girl whose attractive friends are being picked off one-by-one by a masked killer. Some of the characters, in particular a horror movie fan named Randy Meeks, recognize the situation for what it is, a low-budget horror movie come-to-life. The difference being that this ‘real-life film’ is considerably better made, with a seasoned director, tighter script, and good actors.
Scream is accredited with reviving teen horror in the nineties, a genre which had lain dormant for some time. Ironically, this leaves Scream feeling a little archaic. All the movie references the kids make are over a decade old, which makes them sound less like the shallow teens they’re supposed to be, and more like film-nerds. There’s a nice reference to Freddy Kruger in the form of the school’s janitor, but I wonder how many of the 16 year-olds seeing the film in the ’90s would have gotten it.
The killer, Ghostface, isn’t very scary. He’s not creepy like Michael Myers, or imposing like Jason. The most effective thing about him is that he’s so nondescript that he could be anybody. In that way, the masked killer isn’t nearly as off-putting as all the unmasked people around Sydney, because they are the ones with something to hide.
The second two films repeat the same premise in new settings; first a university, then on a film set. The movie-within-the-movie, ‘Stab,’ based on the ‘real-life’ murders, are shown to degrade quickly in quality with each passing sequel. This ends up being a microcosm of the trilogy as a whole. All the nice details that made the first Scream stand out a little from other slashers are repeated over and over again, turning the series into the very thing it was criticizing.
The fourth Scream film was made eleven years after the third and is, dare I say, the best of the series. Right from the multi-leveled opening, we see that this Scream is not beholden to the same tired cliches. As one of the characters said, in a world of remakes, defying convention is the new convention.
Perhaps that’s the source of this movie’s strength; having revived horror in the ’90s, Scream 4 had all sorts of new material to parody and reference. Or maybe its simply hindsight; Wes Craven was able to look back at the first trilogy and see what worked and what didn’t. The main cast is back, but they’ve actually grown (unlike the first three films which essentially rebooted Dewey and Gale’s relationship at start of each one). It also does away with the silliness that dragged down the third film, refocusing on the suburban setting that works so well for this kind of movie.
If there’s a blanket criticism you can make about all the movies in the Scream series, it’s that in exposing the cliches of horror, it becomes rather cliched itself. When you’re recycling a plot point that’s been used a million times, pointing out that it’s been used a million times doesn’t change the fact that this is the million and first. The fourth film uses a lot of genre conventions, but it’s crafted so much better that you don’t mind as much. An old story, told well, can still be very entertaining.
This collection comes from Canadian distributor Alliance. The discs themselves are the same as those found in the American release, but in a single keep-case. The set comes with a life-size, though cheaply made Ghostface mask.