It’s almost unbelievable that Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven‘s seminal Scream was released 21 years ago. The slasher satire saw Williamson and Craven inspire a generation of self referential meta movies, including three sequels to their very own franchise. Scream is rightly seen as a contemporary classic, but this Nerdoween we’re here to propose a truly terrifying theory: though the original Scream‘s reach and impact can’t be underestimated, it wasn’t until the fourth movie that the franchise reached its peak. Yes, this Halloween we’re here to tell you why Scream 4 is the most underrated and maybe even the best Scream movie.
The original entry’s magic is in the heavy meta text that built a world previously unseen in horror movies, a place where the protagonists had actually seen genre movies, learned from them, and in the killer’s case been inspired by them. This mix of humor, horror, and self referential nods made Scream something truly special. Scream 4 is the ultimate payoff of the groundwork laid by the first film. It’s a movie 15 years in the making, a film that couldn’t exist without its predecessors yet somehow manages to elevate the concepts it’s built upon whilst doing it.
Whereas Scream was all about the mechanics of slasher movies as a whole and Scream 2 was about deconstructing sequels, Scream 4 is built entirely around the idea of remakes and reboots. So it’s fitting that the series returns to where it began–the fictional town of Woodsboro, where we find Sidney Prescott on the last leg of her self-help book tour. The celebrity survivor, Woodsboro’s prodigal daughter, returning to the town she left behind. There we join her fellow original franchise buds Gail Weathers and useless Deputy Dewey, as well as an entirely new generation of kids waiting for their throats to get sliced and diced, including Sidney’s young estranged cousin, Jill.
From the opening moments of Scream 4, the film is dissecting itself, laid open like one of Ghostface’s victims, picking apart every critique of the franchise and all of its enjoyably tropey sins. Three separate opening sequences feature a roster of female talent–including Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Shenae Grimes, and Britt Robertson–tear apart the idea of over saturation of horror, the shallowness of torture porn, and even the idea of the classic “dumb blonde” who always runs up the stairs instead of out of the door. Before the film has hit the 10 minute mark it’s already more scathing and meta than both of the preceding sequels.
Gale Weathers has always been a representation of America’s desperate obsession with salacious rolling news and true crime. Scream 4 focuses much of its satire on the way massively accessible media has driven that obsession to an entirely different level. When Sidney first arrives in Woodsboro the street lights are hung with Ghostface costumes, her real life trauma strung out as a decoration to entertain local residents. The local teens regularly celebrate the anniversary of the murders that killed her friends with quote along movie marathons, a reflection of our propensity to ignore the real life violence that inspires the horror we love so much.
Horror comedy is a hard beast to wrangle and it’s something the original Scream nailed–2 focused more on the scares, and 3 focused more on… who knows. But the fourth and final film manages to be a masterclass in bleak humor. One of the standout moments is Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby screaming a list of recent horror remakes down the phone to Ghostface in an attempt to save her crush from the knife. Even in the most intense and classically scary moments, Williamson and Craven have their fingers on the proverbial pulse of what makes the franchise great.
The films true strength, though, lies in the young cast. Alongside Kirby–an inversion of the classic male film nerd–are Kieran Culkin and Emma Roberts. Their performances elevate the film from simply a great movie to a rewatchable classic.
Emma Roberts role as Sidney’s young cousin is completely radical; a fresh take subverting the idea of a final girl and all of the viewers’ expectations of who exactly we should be afraid of in a horror movie. Her killer performance is completely groundbreaking and was likely a huge part of her becoming a genre TV staple in shows such as American Horror Story and Scream Queens. The final act reveal is one of the most satisfying and surprising in modern horror history. It’s dripping with savage social commentary about the lengths that people will go to to be famous, and how the nation’s obsession with canonizing serial killers leads to a world in which the line between celebrity and mass murderer becomes increasingly blurred.
Whilst we understand that Scream reset the standard for modern horror, we have a soft spot for this late stage entry that explodes many of the rules set by the first movie, elevating it to a contemporary cult classic. What do you think? Have we lost our Nerdoween minds? Or have you always thought the fourth installment of Scream was the best? Let us know in the comments!