Scream 4 Blu-ray ReviewOctober 03, 2011
The Scream series has a whole has, for the most part, been formulaic and trite. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Just in time for the Halloween season, Anchor Bay releases the latest entry into Wes Craven's slasher series, Scream 4 (or Scre4m, if you're into wacky mis-spellery) onto Blu-ray, and it stands shoulder-to-shoulder (and in some ways above) its predecessors.
It's been ten years since the previous installment, and since that time, perennial-intended victim Sidney (Neve Campbell) has returned to the murder-happy town of Woodsboro as part of the last leg of promoting her new self-help book.
Guess what happens next, folks?
If you guessed, "Yet another Ghostface-themed killer starts knocking people off, inspired by the rules of slasher movies and slowly works his or her way up the ladder towards Sidney," then you're the winner. Unfortunately, folks, there are no prizes.
In addition to returning characters, including Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and his wife, former shock-journalist Gail (Courtney Cox), Craven and company introduce a few new cast members into the mix, including Emma Stone, Hayden Panettiere, Mary McDonnell, Rory Culkin, and Marley Shelton.
As mentioned a couple times already, the plot of Scream 4 is nothing new. And, in some ways, that's a big part of what makes the Scream franchise works.
While the temptation of many horror franchises is correct inasmuch as they want to up the ante with each successive sequel, they often take it to ridiculous places. They go so off-book that it no longer seems connected to its predecessors. It's no secret that Craven's own A Nightmare on Elm Street was over-sequelized to the point that its iconic killer, Freddy Krueger, was delivering one-liners to rival the cheesiness of your average Schwarzenegger zinger.
The Scream series also uses its self-awareness (a trick that can become used to an extreme fault in the hands of lesser filmmakers) to its advantage. These are movies that know and acknowledge the fact that its genre is known for repetition with slight variation. And it's that self-awareness that makes these movies work.
The performances have always been good in the Scream series, and the latest installment is no exception. Campbell, Arquette, and Cox are clearly intimately aware of the nature of their characters, and they've managed to turn their portrayals of Sidney, Dewey, and Gail down to a science.
Also of note are the newcomers, particularly Panettiere (who, despite being most-known for her work on NBC's Heroes, may have found her new niche in the business) and Stone. They are very much the new kids on the block, but the film accommodates them in such a way that they never stick out like a sore thumb.
The biggest kudos, however, go to Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson.
While it would be a bit of a stretch to say that Williamson has penned a script that rivals Agatha Christie in terms of crafting a mystery, he certainly knows how to put together a story filled with potential Ghostface suspects, none of whom can be discounted.
As for Craven, this is a man who knows how to do this job.
The Scream franchise is, to some degree, meant to be derivative, but Craven's direction and pacing are so crisp and carry such gravitas as to make this film clearly distinguishable from the earlier entries into the series.
There are some flaws with the movie, however. As much as the series remains vital and fresh despite being the fourth time around, the movie does, in some places, lack any real scares. There is one level on which Scream 4 could have taken a cue from its horror franchise counterparts: You have to, if nothing else, make the kills and the scares bigger.
That's not to say there aren't some moments that will make you jump, but after you catch your breath, you'll find yourself saying, "Wait, that was it?"
And as much as the film does pay homage to its predecessors (the 1996 original in particular), it wants too much to eclipse it; sadly, the film's arms just aren't long enough to reach.
Finally, the movie could have done with some trims. As mentioned, the pacing is pretty decent, but there are a few moments that dragged and could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
The 1080p transfer is, quite frankly, as close to perfect as can be expected and is by far the best-looking aftermarket Scream release to date. There's a lot of dark scenes in the film (a prerequisite for a horror flick), and there's never a moment where you can't tell what's going on. Black levels are extremely sharp, but that's only part of how great the details are in this film. Everything, right down to David Arquette's stubble, is incredibly lifelike.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally up to the challenge. Everything down to the "whoosh" of a knife moving through the air is finely-detailed. Most importantly, though, the audio does a great job of amplifying the tension. Never before has silence broken by a ringing telephone produced such a jump-inducing impact.
On the whole, Anchor Bay deserves massive kudos for the presentation of the movie.
Beyond the Feature
The movie is presented in a two-disc set. Disc one contains the movie and the bonus features, while disc two serves as both a DVD copy as well as the digital copy.
Audio Commentary – The commentary features Craven, Roberts, Panettiere, and Campbell (via phone) and generally stays interesting throughout. But, while serviceable, there are some moments of dead air, and there's by no means any information disseminated that you can't live without.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 26 minutes) – The disc features nearly half-an-hour of deleted or extended scenes, all of which are presented in standard definition. Additionally, each scene contains an optional commentary track.
The Making of Scream 4 (SD, 10 minutes) – This mini-doc is actually a pretty interesting look at how Craven got the old Scream band back together, and casts a fascinating light on how the series has made conscious effort to evolve throughout the years while staying true to the spirit of the original. Unfortunately, it's way too short, and … again … it's in standard definition.
Gag Reel (SD, 10 minutes) – It's a standard gag real presented in, you guessed it (again; no prizes), standard definition.
All-in-all, Scream 4 shows that, against all conventional wisdom, this horror series still has a few breaths left in its lungs.
It knows its strengths and exploits them and, despite being a generally good effort, just can't reach new heights.
- Jason Jarman
Shop for Scream 4 on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (October 4, 2011 release date).
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