When Good Trilogies Go Bad

The Internet is a wonderous thing. Even in an underdeveloped country, it lets me keep up on current events, listen to the newest music and stay abreast of trends in pornography.

Unfortunately, it also allowed me to download a pirated copy of Scream 4.

Don’t get me wrong… I wasn’t expecting anything transcendent. A few scares, a few chuckles, a bit of fulfilled nostalgic yearning.

I learned my lesson… when you buy into nostalgia, the inevitable buggering is richly deserved.

On the list of movie trilogies, Scream is the forgotten little sister. It’s easy to discount as nothing but a trifle, a piece of pop culture best left behind. It suffers from the an overdose of the culture it helped to create. We are so awash in irony, in post- and meta-, in snarky pop culture references that we can’t recall a time before. But when the first Scream was released in the theaters, its simultaneous deconstruction and celebration of horror movies was fresh and original. It turned screenwriter Kevin Williamson into a minor celebrity, allowing him to get crap like Dawson’s Creek and I Know What You Did Last Summer made.

Why did it work? Number one, it reminded people that they loved horror movies. At the time, the genre was pretty much dead, with even legendary director Wes Craven struggling to find work. Obviously, any thought that horror was permanently dead was shallow… it has been a staple of cinema since the first Lon Cheney starred in silent films. But by the 90s it was in a pretty strong coma, caused by an overdose of slasher franchises like Friday the 13th cashing in with schlocky sequels.

When he was about to buy the script for Scream, Dimension’s Bob Weinstein (the skinnyish brother) asked Williamson, “Am I buying a comedy with scares or a scary movie with jokes?” That the answer was the latter was the key to the film’s success. Scream never let the pop culture references get in the way of the scares… its parlor trick was getting you to buy-in even after it told you what it was going to do. And the deconstruction, personified by the surprisingly bearable Jaime Kennedy, always came from a place of love. Williamson was a fan who loved horror as much for its foibles as for its successes.

And, while not as strong as the original, the trilogy kept up surprisingly well. Scream 2 dealt with all the ridiculous conventions of horror sequels and introduced the film-within-a-film Stab series, which was actually an original move at the time. With Scream 3, the franchise began running out of energy, but it was still entertaining (and several critics I respect claim that with time it reveals itself to be a satisfactory ending).

So why not let sleeping dogs lie? Because this is fucking Hollywood. Because Craven, Williamson and the original cast of Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette have absolutely nothing going on and haven’t for a while. Because the Weinsteins hope that Generation X has reached the point in their lives where any kind of nostalgic crap will get them to the theaters. But whatever the reasons, it wasn’t enough to make sense of this trainwreck of a movie.

It’s easy to say what the biggest problem with Scream 4 is. Number one, it isn’t scary or funny… that’s a pretty big hurdle right there. Also, it doesn’t know what it is. Ostensibly, it’s supposed to be examining the horror remakes that have flooded the theaters recently (i.e. Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.), with a touch of the popular violence porn subgenre (Hostel, Saw, etc.) But it doesn’t really deal with any of it.

Horror films have been reborn and died yet again since Scream revitalized the genre. If Craven and Williamson wanted to celebrate/mock this era in a movie, that’d be great. But they don’t… they just pay lip service to it as they badly make a traditional horror film. Bringing the original cast back, rather than simply starting over as horror reboots do, shows what they’re really after. There’s no rational reason for Campbell, et. al. to be there, and having to deal with their stories makes Scream 4 incapable of doing anything fresh. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with Neve Campbell, except for her limited acting ability and disinterest in being there. But Cox and Arquette are trainwrecks. I might be willing to sit through the Godfather III with all its flaws to see Al Pacino play Michael Corleone again, but Arquette as Detective Dewey doesn’t exactly warm me with thoughts of what once was.

And Courtney Cox… good god. I’ll give her this… she is without a doubt the scariest thing in Scream 4. If Ghostface and Cox were walking toward me on opposite sides of the street, I’d cross to the Ghostface side. Even if he was followed by a group of Latin Kings carrying guns. And Bette Midler singing Wind Beneath My Wings in a thong. I know that it’s hard for an actress to keep up appearances in middle age, but there’s no way Cox would have looked worse naturally than she does now after her Botox overdose. She’s a cross between David Gest and that chick who tried to turn herself into a cat. I will never be able to listen to Dancing In The Dark again without weeping. As they say, I wouldn’t fuck her with Bea Arthur’s dick.

All of which brings us to the real question… how much damage can a bad sequel do to what came before? Much of it has to do with the placement/time frame of the followup. Scream 4 may be an abomination, but it’s easily forgettable… even if they make the planned second trilogy, it probably would color my opinion of the first three to the extent that the second Star Wars trilogy enters my mind when I think of the originals… not at all. They’re the delayed money grab after the first burst of inspiration (and the original money grab).

The Godfather III is the go-to example of a bad sequel tainting great movies. I’ll agree that it was much worse than the first two, and not a particularly good movie on its own. Not paying Robert Duvall and casting Sofia Coppola when Winona Ryder bowed out for “exhaustion” killed any chance it may have had. At the same time, it isn’t horrible… the parts that deal with the Vatican as a business are actually quite good. Anyway, I think of it as a connected but separate entity from the first two, which came in succession twenty years earlier.

The real killer is a bad sequel that comes on the heels of a good movie. The most disappointed I’ve ever been in a movie theatre was during The Matrix Reloaded. That a movie that brilliant was being quickly turned into a trilogy… well, I couldn’t help but get excited. Three (four? five?) hours later, I trudged out of the theatre completely deflated (although, sucker that I am, I held out hope that the third one would fix things… not so). Now I’m forced to pretend The Matrix is a stand-alone movie; unfortunately, that the creators used its momentum to make such horrible crap is always in the back of my mind.

Given the complete dearth of ideas in Hollywood these days, where a solid original film like Inception feels like an all-time classic in the sea of remakes, reboots and the retarded, Scream 4 is unfortunately more the exception than the rule. The only recourse… ignore it or steal it, don’t buy it. Torture yourself if you must, but please don’t encourage them.

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Filed under David Simon Cowell, Film Has AIDS

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