Scream 4 (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ten years had passed since Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was stalked by Ghostface. She had written a bestseller based on her experiences and Woodsboro was the last stop of her book tour. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) had gotten married. And while Riley, now a sheriff, was happy with the marriage, Gale was less than ecstatic because she missed being out in the field as a sassy reporter and solving crimes. It must be Gale’s lucky day because it seemed like there was a new killer in town. Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, “Scream 4” felt fresh. That is an important quality because sequels tend to run out of ideas over time. This film was an exception because it took advantage of what social networking sites and fame meant to the new generation. The eleven-year break felt necessary. The challenge our beloved trio had to overcome was to quickly learn how to adapt to the new rules. Failure to do was tantamount to being a big-breasted dumb blonde who decided to investigate a strange noise upstairs. We all know what would eventually happen to that character. There were new horde of sheep ripe for the picking. Jill (Emma Roberts) was Sidney’s cousin but they were never really close. She had two spunky but good-looking best friends (Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe), an ex-boyfriend (Nico Tortorella) who cheated on her, and two horror movie geeks (Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin) who had a crush on her galpals. There was also Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), openly flirtatious to Dewey while on the job and Sidney’s assistant (Alison Brie) who was actually elated when she found out that teenagers were being butchered. Needless to say, all of them were suspects. After a self-satirizing and highly enjoyable first scene (with a nice cameo from Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell), I immediately got the feeling that no one, including Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, was safe. After all, they weren’t getting any younger. Perhaps the writer and director decided that it was time to pass on the torch. Furthermore, the teens were very similar to the characters in the original picture. What I loved was Craven’s awareness of that suspicion. He held onto our expectations, turned it upside down, and shook it with purpose. In doing so, the story actually felt unpredictable for a change. I paid more attention to where the story was heading next instead of the horror movie references or how knowledgeable the characters were about scary movies. I felt like there was more at stake this time around. Most importantly, “Scream 4” had something to say beyond the fences of horror pictures. Admittedly, the idea wasn’t fully developed but it’s far superior than torture porn where the violence depicted on screen were done simply for shock value. After a decade, the knife still felt sharp.
Scream 3 (2000)
★★ / ★★★★
Post-college life was tough for Sidney (Neve Campbell) as she moved away from her friends and family to live in a house deep in the woods with her dog. Who could blame her for being traumatized after a masked killer, or killers, exhibited a fixation for murdering those she was closest to? “Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro,” a successful horror franchise, was in production in Los Angeles but the actors were attacked and killed by Ghost Face. It seemed like the killer’s plan was to murder the actors in which they died in the movie in order to attract Sidney’s attention and come out of hiding. The two obviously had issues to resolve. There was only one problem: Sidney, Gale (Courteney Cox), and Dewey (David Arquette) had no idea which script Ghostface had in hand because three versions were written. It meant there were three different order of kills and three different endings. Still directed by Wes Craven but the screenplay helmed by Ehren Kruger instead of Kevin Williamson, “Scream 3” had potential for excellence but the execution was too weak to generate enough tension to keep me interested. What I enjoyed was Sidney, Gale, and Dewey’s doubles (Emily Mortimer, Parker Posey and Matt Keeslar, respectively) because they were exaggerated versions of the real ones. What I didn’t enjoy as much was they weren’t given very much to do other than waiting to die in a gruesome fashion. And while the material played upon the actors’ self-centeredness despite being second- or third-rate celebrities, it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. What made the first two movies so enjoyable was the fact that the comedy and horror were connected in a smart way. In here, the material relied on spoiled celebrities as a source of comedy and Ghostface’s hunt for Sidney as a source of horror. Since the two failed to connect, the script felt painfully stagnant. I wondered where the story was ultimately heading. Furthermore, the chase-and-stab formula became less exciting over time. It was awkward how the film would stop in the middle of the suspense and cut into a less exciting scene. In doing so, the scares lost considerable amount of momentum. And when it finally decided to return to the murder scene, it just looked silly and gruesome. It began to feel like a standard slasher flick. “Scream 3” still winked at itself, like the villain in a trilogy becoming seemingly superhuman, but it lacked the edginess combined with other necessary elements to bring the movie to the next level. It just didn’t feel fresh anymore. When the unmasking arrived, I just felt apathetic. It’s not a good sign when you’re looking at the clock every other scene to check the remaining minutes you have to sit through.
Scream 2 (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two years had passed since the Woodsboro murders. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was now in college majoring in drama, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) became a best-selling author, and a movie known as “Stab,” inspired by the aforementioned killing spree, had just been released. But when a couple (Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps) was murdered during one of its screenings, Dewey (David Arquette) quickly, despite the limp, ran to Sidney’s protection and movie geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) was present to explain the rules of horror sequels. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, “Scream 2” was able to defy the odds by pointing its fingers on bad scary movie follow-ups without being one itself. The film worked on multiple levels because it had more than one joke that worked. For instance, it acknowledged the idea that horror pictures seemed to be lacking in African-American characters and other minorities. Aside from the doomed couple in the memorable first scene, we knew the joke made a lasting impression when a minority was randomly placed next to one of the main characters and we couldn’t help but chuckle. However, it didn’t feel forced because the story took place in college. While the murder scenes were less creative–but more gory and elaborate as Randy stated–than its predecessor, they retained a level of cheekiness, especially when Sarah Michelle Gellar was given the chance to shine as the “sober sorority sister,” so it was fun to watch. We knew that her decision to go upstairs, as we learned in the first film, was a very bad idea but she did anyway. Downstairs, it seemed like she knew how to defend herself so maybe, despite being blonde and pretty, she would be lucky enough to escape. But it wasn’t just about murders on campus. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney wrongly accused of killing her mother, had just been released from prison. The fact that he had motive to take bloody revenge and his thirst for fame warranted serious suspicion. It was a reminder that we couldn’t always trust Sidney’s judgment which was a small twist from typical slasher flicks where we take comfort in the virgin making all the right decisions to make it to the very end. The film spent more time on the characters and worked on the undeveloped strands from the first installment. What remained the same was everyone was a suspect. From Sidney’s pre-med boyfriend (Jerry O’Connell) and sassy friend (Elise Neal), Randy’s movie-loving classmates (Timothy Olyphant), to the reporter (Laurie Metcalf) desperate for the latest scoop. “Scream 2” was a vat of self-awareness; I relished every witty line and irony within an irony. Most impressive was sometimes the joke and horror came hand-in-hand.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was left home alone because her father had to travel for business. That probably wasn’t a good idea because one of her friends, Casey (Drew Barrymore), had just been butchered by Ghost Face, a masked figure who had a penchant for calling women and asking about their favorite scary movie. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, “Scream” solified its place in the horror genre because it successfully parodied slasher flicks that plagued the 70’s and 80’s without becoming another forgettable bloodbath. Or worse, turning into something it wanted to poke fun of. Half the fun of this film was that the characters had seen a bunch of scary movies. References from Paul Lynch’s “Prom Night” to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” most of the characters knew that running into a dark room and asking, “Who’s there?” meant a gruesome death. And deservingly so. Horror movies, in essence, is survival of the fittest. The colorful characters were aware of the rules (yet ironically breaking them) and by acknowledging such rules, the audiences had a feeling that anything could happen. Everybody was a suspect. There was Casey’s father who had gone missing, an ambitious reporter named Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) who was willing to do whatever necessary to deliver the breaking news first, and Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) who was never taken seriously as a cop because of his boyish good looks. Sidney’s friends were suspects, too. Sidney’s boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich) was very frustrated because she wouldn’t give up her virginity, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and his love for horror pictures was a red flag, Sidney’s sassy friend (Rose McGowan) was perhaps too supportive of her, and Stuart (Matthew Lillard) was just too strange and energetic–perhaps he needed an extracurricular activity which involved running around and cutting people up. Or maybe Sidney was just losing her mind because she had not yet moved on from her mother’s murder which happened to be exactly a year ago. What made the film even better was the finer details. Some of the characters’ names were references to other famous horror movie characters (like Billy’s last name being Loomis, a nod to Dr. Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”) while others were chuckle-inducing images (like the school janitor’s name being Fred and wearing red and green striped shirt, a wink at Freddy Krueger in Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street”). It was clear that the director loved the movies he cited. By highlighting the unspoken rules and exposing their formulaic silliness, Craven reminded us why we enjoyed being scared and then laughing at ourselves (after a couple of days) for being so scared once we got home to the point where we rushed in turning on all of the lights so we could feel safer. “This is not a movie,” Sidney claimed. I wouldn’t be too sure.
Donkey Punch (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Donkey Punch is the term used when a man and a woman are engaged in anal sex and the man punches a woman on the back of the head. Supposedly, the anus tightens and it gives the man more pleasure. Now that we have the definition out of the picture, I wished I would have enjoyed the film a lot more because its nightmare-at-sea backdrop reminded me Phillip Noyce’ thrilling “Dead Calm.” In “Donkey Punch,” three girls (Sian Breckin, Nichola Burley, Jaime Winstone) met four guys (Tom Bluey, Julian Morris, Jay Taylor, Robert Boulter) in a bar–who were obviously looking for sex–and the girls almost immediately agreed to go aboard a yacht. After one of the guys donkey punched one of the girls, he accidentally broke her neck. The rest of them had to decide what to do with the dead body. All of the characters lacked common sense and moral compass. Honestly, it didn’t surprise me because they were rich and (arguably) good-looking and that’s a common conceit when it comes to thrillers like this. But what I didn’t expect was its lack of ambition to turn the genre around and deliver twists that worked. After the borderline pornographic sex scene that went terribly wrong, it was a standard turning-on-each-other picture and it was a matter of guessing who would make it until the very end. I became so bored that I wished the shark from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” would have appeared to eat them all up. (The film did have nice shots underwater where the shark could’ve appeared from an angle.) I wanted to see blood and carnage with a little bit of imagination and intelligence on the side. I was sick and tired of their whining and “Oh, my gods!” When the two girls were locked in a room, they spent their time crying and arguing instead of formulating a plan to outsmart those stupid and indecisive men. And when the girls were out and about in the yacht, they didn’t bother to look for weapons. The kitchen was not that far. They didn’t even need knives or guns. It would have been so much more fun if the characters were smart enough to use chemicals or fires or electricity. In a nutshell, the film being set at sea was utterly useless. The script got stuck in delivering creativity that the story might as well have been set in Woodsboro like in Wes Craven’s “Scream.” Written and directed by Oliver Blackburn, “Donkey Punch” is a one-joke, straight-faced, non-thrilling thriller that glorified sex and drugs. As far as survival story goes, the film lacked tension and therefore it was no fun. I wished I watched an episode of “Gossip Girl” instead.
Black Christmas (1974)
★★ / ★★★★
A series of obscene phone calls terrorized a group of sorority girls during Christmas break. Little did they know that the person making the calls was hiding in their attic and he was just waiting for the right opportunity to kill them one by one. The three main girls were Jess (Olivia Hussey), reluctant to tell her boyfriend (Keir Dullea) that she wanted to abort their child, Barb (Margot Kidder), the one who did not seem to take anything seriously, and Phyl (Andrea Martin), the geek-chic with a funny haircut. I watched this film with incredulity. Chances are, if one had seen a lot of slasher flicks, one would not find anything particularly new from this picture. First of all, if I get multiple prank calls, I’l just unplug the phone. I’m not quite sure why such an action did not occur in the girls’ minds. The characters made one bad decision after another and I would not have put up with it if they weren’t so funny. I particularly liked the house mother (Marian Waldman) of the sorority who seemed to hide alcohol everywhere. She even used booze to wash her mouth after brushing her teeth! There were times when the comedic angle outshined the horror aspect which could not have been a problem for me if it wasn’t so hit-and-miss. At times I felt like it tried too hard to be amusing and it took me out of the experience. Like in most slasher flicks, the incompetency of the police force was highlighted. There was one obvious decision that was overlooked. When one of the girls from the sorority went missing, I was astounded when the police failed to search the sorority house from top to bottom. The girls had informed the police that the last time they saw the girl in question was when she headed upstairs, possibly to her room. A good detective knows where to start looking first. Since such an important piece was overlooked, I felt like the whole picture was merely a gimmick, to capitalize on the fact that the caller was actually in the house. Undoubtedly, “Black Christmas,” written by Roy Moore and directed by Bob Clark, influenced movies like Fred Walton’s “When the Stranger Calls” and Wes Craven’s “Scream” franchise. It did have its truly creepy moments such as the extended silent confrontation in the basement toward the end. I also liked the fact that certain questions remained unexplained so I could not help but think about it afterwards. But in the end, it felt too convenient. I’m just glad John Carpenter’s “Halloween” came out 4 years later to redefine slasher pictures or else “Black Christmas,” despite its good intentions, might have taken its spot.
Sorority Row (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Sorority girls (Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman, Audrina Patridge) from Theta Pi tried to pull off a very mean practical joke involving a fake death on a guy (Matt O’Leary) but it all went wrong when the whole thing ended up with a real dead body. This movie is one of the worst I’ve seen in a long time because it had characters so rotten, I was disgusted with what I was watching. Let me start with the practical joke: letting someone believe that that someone killed another is not only not funny, it is immoral. Since I chose to not associate myself in a Greek house, the movie made me wonder whether these kinds of “practical jokes” happens in real life. If it does, I’m at a loss for words because it’s just so wrong to me. This movie also contained the dumbest characters I’ve ever seen on screen. The way they talked, the way they carried themselves and the way they weighed what was important in their lives was very insulting, not just to the audiences but specifically to women. There was also a plethora of degrading scenes of breasts being flaunted everywhere for no apparent reason. If the writers of this slasher flick spent the same amount of time planning out the story and actually giving the script some depth as they did planning to strategically place the camera to get a peek at naked women, they would probably end up with a good movie. Instead, everything was so obvious and played out that I was just annoyed, angry and tired of it twenty minutes in. It had no element of tension; it was just one party scene after another. Was it too much to ask to see these characters actually going to class and trying to learn something? The people I know who are part of a Greek chapter certainly do. For me, “Sorority Row” was a very, very weak attempt to recapture the glory days of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and its sequels. Don’t even get me started with the identity of the killer. It tried to justify itself but the reasoning was devoid of intelligence. Again, I found the whole thing insulting and almost laughable if it weren’t so pitiful. Directed by Stewart Hendler, I say do yourself a favor and do not waste an hour and forty minutes of your life digging through this heap of garbage. I have no idea how this movie received a green light. I end up detesting movies like this because it did have an opportunity to take advantage of the Facebook generation without sacrificing wit, intellect, satire and genuine scares–kind of like what “Scream” did to the 1970s and 1980s flicks and their sequels. Instead, it settled for less than mediocrity. But that doesn’t mean that you should, too.
The Unborn (2009)
★ / ★★★★
This horror movie was so bad, I didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry after the final scene. Odette Yustman suddenly starts having nightmares about a boy who obviously wants something from her. It starts off that way but eventually, the evil that was once in her dreams begins to manifest itself in reality, affecting her relationships with her best friend (Meagan Good), her boyfriend (Cam Giganget) and her own sanity. I am not exactly sure how much I should give away because it tried to be about a lot of things but ultimately became about nothing. One minute the lead character was running around (literally–her jogging scenes felt like forever and a day) moping about her mother and the next she was asking people to give her an exorcism. The so-called twists did not make sense to me at all. While it did try to make homage to horror greats such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” it felt contrived and there were definitely some parts where I thought it was merely stealing ideas instead of using such ideas as a template and taking the story to the next level. I did enjoy some creepy images but the suspense was simply not there. When the obligatory “jumpy” scenes arrived, they felt uninspired because it was all sharp film cuts and loud soundtrack to me. When I watch a horror picture, I want my heart to pound like mad and anticipate what’s going to happen next. With “The Unborn,” written and directed by David S. Goyer, I felt like each scene was a punishment I didn’t deserve. I think one of the main problems is the script. The dialogue absolutely killed me. I actually lost count how many times the lead character said, “I know this is going to sound crazy but…” I don’t know if that’s worse or cheesy lines like “I don’t think you’re crazy, I just think you’re hormonal.” I mean, come on. Hasn’t Goyer seen the “Scream” franchise? If you ask me, I think he’s asking to have a bad movie with that kind of writing. Obviously, I’m saying to skip this one because I’ve seen it all before. If you’re interested in a modern exorcism picture, rent the superior “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” instead. That one truly gave me the creeps.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
★ / ★★★★
This is another one of those typical horror movies where the characters make stupid decisions as they run away from the killer. After the brilliant and truly terrifying “Scream” and “Scream 2” and the mediocre spoofs that came after them, slasher campiness rarely works nowadays. This is also one of those horror movies where a particular event happened ten years ago and the survivors’ paths collide ten years later from where it all started (preferably a small town that is “God-fearing”). “My Bloody Valentine,” directed by Patrick Lussier, stars Jensen Ackles, Jaime King and Kerr Smith–the three survivors of a killing rampage performed by a person in a masked miner atttire. I’ve seen it all before (and you probably have as well) and there’s nothing particularly imaginative about this movie. While there were some notably interesting death scenes, the story just doesn’t work so I found it difficult to care for the protagonists. I found this horror flick particularly one-note in all respects especially the acting. The actors are either yelling at each other or they’re trying to look scared instead of actually being scared. Not to mention that the script felt like it was torn from a bad daytime soap opera. There’s just no modicum of subtlety; the characters always voice out what they’re thinking instead of bottling up some of their emotions and they always act on their first impulses. Real people simply do not act like them so I was rubbed the wrong way right off the bat. Moreover, I could tell that this picture had a low budget. But what’s worse is that it’s the kind that has a low budget with no redeeming qualities. Now, I don’t have a problem with pictures (especially horror pictures) with low budgets as long as it has a brain–such as the original “Halloween.” It’s just that, to me, if a movie is lacking something, it needs to try to excel in other aspects such as its script, acting or soundtrack, for instance. “My Bloody Valentine” did not even try to impress in any way. It’s purpose was clear: to attract blood-thirsty teenagers (particularly boys as they drag their terrified girlfriends along) during Valentine’s Day to waste their money on something that is neither engaging nor rewarding.