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What’s your favorite scary movie?

Sam Stryker | Monday, April 18, 2011

To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of horror movies. I have the constitution of a 12-year-old girl and scary movies tend to, well, scare me too much. Having said that, I was excited to see “Scream 4,” the most recent installment of the popular horror franchise.

“Scream 4,” brings the “rules” of horror movies into the twenty-first century, providing scares, laughs and a clever take on the often-tired genre.

Throughout the film, my reaction tended to be laughter, punctuated by sudden jolts as the body count racked up. Characters often provided witty commentary on the grisly slaying spree of Ghostface, the signature masked-murderer of the series. “Scream 4” provided enough scares to keep my hands close enough to cover my eyes when necessary for most of the film.

“Scream 4” stars several returning actors from the previous films, along with a new generation of potential victims. Neve Campbell plays Sidney Prescott, survivor of the original Woodsboro Murders of the first three films. Courteney Cox and David Arquette return as reporter Gail Weathers and Sheriff Dewey Riley.

As Sidney returns to Woodsboro to promote her new book, local students start dying in a fashion mirroring Sidney’s past. Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is a prime target of the killer, along with friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe).

As Dewey and Gail both race to solve the series of murders, Sidney must deal with Ghostface’s signature taunting calls as friends and family fall to the masked murderer in increasingly gruesome ways.

“Scream 4” is two hours of fun at the movies. Unlike recent horror films that tend to focus on gore, this film is all about suspense, not shock value. Director Wes Craven and producer Kevin Williamson are masters of the genre, and their mastery of horror allows them to get clever with the subject matter.

While “Scream 4” — and all the other “Scream” movies for that matter — is certainly scary, its wit makes it stand out in a crowded horror genre. “Scream 4” is self-aware, or “meta,” as characters in the movie say. For instance, two cops comment on the not so stellar track record of policemen surviving in horror films. Additionally, “Scream 4” continues the franchise’s tradition of having a film within a film providing much of the movie’s wit. Cox, pitch-perfect as nasty Gail, and Panettiere, a spunky Kirby, are particularly effective at delivering the biting intellect of Craven’s latest “Scream” installment.

Part of the film’s success is also a result of a who’s-who list of television and movie stars acting in supporting roles throughout the film, as Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell and Adam Brody all make appearances.

At times, “Scream 4” gets bogged down between the new cast members and the seasoned veterans. While characters in the film comment on horror films “relaunching” or “reinventing” themselves, “Scream 4” works best when the new and old characters interact together on screen rather than switching back and forth.

Additionally, while the movie certainly makes the valid argument of horror films changing within the last decade as a result of advances in technology, it can get somewhat preachy about digital voyeurism. After all, the purpose of the film is to provide some fresh commentary (along with some scares) on a cinematic genre, not making grand claims about society’s problems.

Overall, while “Scream 4” may not win any Oscars, it is solid, clever, escapist fun. As macabre as cinematic murder may be, Craven and Williamson mock conventions of the genre while maintaining suspense. The film’s tagline “New Decade. New Rules.” may as well read “New Scares. New Laughs.”