In 1984, James Cameron released his sci-fi thriller The Terminator: the story of a killer cyborg sent from the future, and programmed to kill the mother of a future rebel chief. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the automated hit man roaming around present-day Los Angeles to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Her only hope is the guerrilla fighter Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) who has followed the killer machine back through time in order to protect her. Terminator has long staked its claim as a classic for the ages (The Library of Congress even added it to its National Film Registry in 2008) and three decades later, Terminator is still the best film James Cameron has directed, a resourceful low-budget thriller that recalls the canny exploitation work of George Miller and John Carpenter. While the film made a considerable profit for Orion Pictures, it only grossed $38 million during its original run, which by today’s standards, isn’t much. Although only a minor success in theaters, The Terminator was released when the home video revolution was taking off, and it was there it became a gargantuan hit. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s superstar status reached a peak; Cameron went on to direct Aliens and Linda Hamilton became a household name. The rest, as they say, is history.
With its relentless fast pace, great cast, taut economic direction, driving synth score and impressive effects, The Terminator stands the test of time. Cameron’s ability to sustain suspense and provide compelling characters in what is essentially, one long chase, is remarkable. Even more impressive is how the filmmaker was capable of achieving all this with a limited budget and without significant studio backing. Terminator blends action, science fiction, horror, and comedy seamlessly, but what separates the first Terminator from the most action/sci-fi movies, is heart. At the center of the story is a romance between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, and though they spend only one night together, their love feels genuine. In a pivotal scene, Kyle turns to Sarah and tells her, ”I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have.” The combination of optimism and tragedy is why the film has proven so enduring and their brief romance is the lynchpin of the entire series.
Cameron, as it turns out, borrowed heavily from science fiction author Harlan Ellison who later sued, arguing that The Terminator bore more than a passing resemblance to two of his Outer Limits teleplays, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand”. Plagiarism aside, The Terminator has often been criticized for its predestination paradox which is heavily tied to the concept of fate. The great final twist of the original movie, of course, is that John Connor’s father turns out to have been Kyle Reese all along. Reese travels back in time before his birth, fathers the son who will lead a rebel force, and is killed before he is born. It is one of the most ancient paradoxes dating back (and possibly further) to the classical play Oedipus Rex. However, this is not as complex as one would think; requiring only an understanding of time as fluid. Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The answer is neither and both. The theory is that a person can die before he is born as long as his personal timeline is unbroken. The photograph of Sarah Connor taken by the Mexican boy holds the answer: The photo that Kyle had in the future is exactly the same as the one taken of Sarah at the end of The Terminator, thus the events of The Terminator fulfilled the predestination paradox. The Terminator and Kyle Reese traveled back in time to fulfill their roles in history, not to change it.
“Defense network computers. New… powerful… hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.”
At its core, Terminator is a meditation on mankind’s obsessive desire for technological progress. In Terminator the results are unforgiving; with extinction being the ultimate punishment for the sin of creating artificial intelligence without moral thought. The robots become self-aware in the future, reject human authority and determine that the human race needs to be destroyed. It is unknown whether Cameron was deliberately calling attention to the religious undercurrents of his story but the biblical allusions are there no less, and they go deeper than the simple coincidence that John Connor bears the same initials as another, well-known saviour.
For years, Stan Winston had been creating imaginary creatures and monsters for the silver screen, from his nominated work on Heartbeeps to his groundbreaking effects for John Carpenter’s The Thing. But the film that truly established him was The Terminator – a production that was immediately recognized by his peers as a classic. One of Winston’s most remarkable skills was his ability to blend animatronics and physically created effects seamlessly with the latest computer graphics imagery. On creating a robot with human flesh encasing a metal robo-skeleton, Winston hired a team of seven artists who spent six months creating a puppet of the Terminator, along with a sculpted a reproduction of Schwarzenegger’s face in several poses out of silicone, clay, and plaster. Meanwhile, stop-motion models were used in several scenes in the film involving the skeletal frame. While some will argue the effects now seem dated, the work Cameron, Winston, and VFX supervisor Gene Warren Jr. did on the Terminator series brought visual effects to a whole new level.
Photographed by Adam Greenberg, The Terminator is a film that employs very little exposition and lets the visual storytelling do the heavy lifting. It’s a visual masterpiece, with the first shot and moving forward. The opening scene establishes a key visual motif that carries through the rest of the movie. The monochromatic blue tones and low values contrast in every way with the images that we associate most strongly with nature (most memorable is the Terminator seen in silhouette with a bright edge-light surrounding him). The framing, placement, and movement of the camera are virtually flawless, from the masterful handheld Steadicam capturing every chase – to the static compositions of the Terminator highlighted with pulses of red light – to the carefully placed security camera capturing Kyle’s interrogation – and finally – to the last image which callbacks to the very opening of the film. In retrospect, The Terminator isn’t just Cameron’s best film, it is also his best looking to date.
One criminally underrated feature of the classic science-fiction film is the mysterious synthesizer score by Brad Fiedel. Comprised of only six compositions, the score is a spectacular collection of haunting tunes, with each track perfectly capturing the urgency and stakes of every scene. The second half of the soundtrack, performed by various artists, may seem dated, but the latter-day new wave and
primitive, techno sound feel right at home in the 1984 setting. The opening theme “Main Title” is, of course, one of the greatest and iconic themes of our time and the percussion beat during the car chase will have your pulse racing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is perfectly cast as the shotgun-wielding titular character. I can’t think of any other actor who could have been a better fit than the former Mr. Olympia. With limited feature acting experience, Schwarzenegger’s stiff mannerisms and blank stare made him seem more robot than man. The role demanded only the occasional one-liner, and yet Schwarzenegger delivered each one with such gusto, such verve, that his dialogue became notorious alongside the most memorable movie quotes in history. Cameron saw every one of Schwarzenegger’s perceived negatives as strengths and in the process, helped changed how Hollywood viewed him. Casting the extraordinary physical specimen of Schwarzenegger for an action film made sense, but putting him in the role of the antagonist instead of the protagonist (as he originally auditioned for), was a stroke of genius.
The Terminator a landmark in the advancement of special effects.
“All right, listen. The Terminator’s an infiltration unit: part man, part machine. Underneath, it’s a hyper-alloy combat chassis, microprocessor-controlled. Fully armored; very tough. But outside, it’s living human tissue: flesh, skin, hair, blood – grown for the cyborgs”.
The film’s other two leads, Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton also shine. Hamilton goes from sweet, innocent Valley girl Sarah Connor to one of action cinema’s most believable heroines, while Biehn a Cameron regular, gradually disappears into the shadows as the film unfolds to give Hamilton the spotlight. Meanwhile, Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen (originally pegged for the role of Reese) have some good moments as a police inspector and his assistant, and Earl Boen does a nice turn as Dr. Silberman, a snide criminal psychologist.
Not only is The Terminator a landmark in the advancement of special effects, but it manages to do more in 107 minutes than most action blockbusters nowadays do in over two hours of running time. One can add that The Terminator established James Cameron’s name in Hollywood, allowing him to go on to direct some of the greatest sci-fi films (Aliens, Terminator 2) and the two biggest box office sensations, Titanic and Avatar. Decades later, The Terminator continues to be an influence on sci-fi and action flicks, and it’s easy to see why.
– Ricky D
“I want a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range.”
In the Terminator universe, you can’t travel back in time with any inorganic matter, which explains why both the man and machine first appear naked and unarmed. So how else would the Terminator find some ammunition? The answer is to head to a local gun emporium to stock up on an arsenal of weapons. The scene is a perfect example of how James Cameron was able to master the drastic shift in tones throughout the film. What begins as darkly comic ends in tragedy.
“The final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight…”
Cameron’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future leads into a title card, perfectly introducing the story and setting up the entire series with a few simple words. It is perhaps one of the most effective moments in the entire franchise.
“Hey, I think this guy’s a couple cans short of a six-pack”.
Bill Paxton, in one of his first roles, appears as one of the three punks who foolishly decide to pull their switchblades on the naked Terminator who demands they hand over their clothes. Before a knife fight can even break out, the machine picks up one of the punks and punches a whole right through his chest, ripping out his heart.
“Come with me if you want to live!”
Usually, when we think of action movies best using slow-motion, we recall the work of John Woo (The Killer) or Quentin Tarantino’s (Reservoir Dogs), but James Cameron used slow-motion throughout the first Terminator movie in the most effective way possible. Take, for instance, the scene at the dingy nightclub, Tech Noir. After noticing Kyle is following her, Sarah calls 911 and hides out in the dimly-lit, smoke-filled chamber waiting for the cops to arrive. Little does she know that Kyle isn’t the threat. In barges the T-800, and taking no prisoners he begins to shoot everyone in sight. Just when he has Sarah locked in his crossfire, Kyle Reese swarms in to save the day. This moment houses the birth of one of many classic one-liners from the Terminator canon, and introduces Kyle to Sarah.
“Listen, and understand. That Terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
The moment Kyle Reese and Sarah drive off in a stolen car after narrowly escaping the spray of bullets from the T-800 at a nightclub is a great example of keeping audiences at the edge of their seat. Reese relays a huge chunk of exposition to both Sarah and viewers without the movie ever slowing down for a second.
“Hey buddy, you got a dead cat in there?
25 years later, Arnold’s facelift in Terminator still makes for a great scene, from the moment the scalpel punctures his artificial skin, to the close-ups of the expanding red laser retinas.
“I’ll Be Back.”
With Sarah Connor supposedly safely locked away at the local precinct, her robotic stalker hunts her down and smashes through the front of the station in a beat-up car. It’s without a doubt the most iconic line uttered in the series and considered to be one of the greatest movie quotes of all time. But that’s not what makes this scene great, rather, it’s watching the T-800 square off in a bloody shootout against a total of 17 police officers.
History of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – the Movie that Made me a Movie Buff
Wes Craven intended Nightmare to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another stalk-and-slash horror movie, and not only did Nightmare offer a wildly imaginative, inspired concept, but it was a solid commercial genre entry for the dating crowd. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark), and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. New Line Cinema was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the film, and was jokingly nicknamed “the house that Freddy built.”
Perhaps the most influential horror film of the ’80s, Craven’s 1984 slasher about a quartet of high school kids terrorized in their dreams by a torched boogeyman in a fedora hat and dusty pullovers spawned countless sequels and even a TV series.
One great thing Nightmare offered, perhaps more than anything else, was a new horror star in Robert Englund. Englund based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), making Freddy one of the most recognizable modern horror villains: vicious, but with a sense of humour as sharp as the blades on his gloves. The horribly barbequed man with the ragged slouch hat, dusty red-and-green striped sweater, and metal gloves with knives at the tip of each finger, had not yet become the ridiculous wisecracking clown of the sequels. Here he says very little, and when he does speak, his words are powerful for its brevity – and oh those infamous razor gloves scraping against metal is enough to send shivers down your spine.
The inspiration for the character of Freddy came from several sources in Wes Craven’s childhood. The name, Fred Krueger, came from a schoolmate of Craven who had bullied him for several years and Freddy’s appearance was inspired by a hobo lurking around Craven’s house, who Craven spotted from his bedroom window one night at the age of ten. But the basis of the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times on a group of Khmer refugees, who were suffering disturbing nightmares, and refused to sleep – with the most extreme cases leading to actual death in the throes of horrific nightmares. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome.
“I don’t know who he is, but he’s burned and he wears a weird hat and a red and green sweater, really dirty. And he uses these knives, like giant fingernails… “
This was the film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, a monster who exists in his victims’ dreams and preys on them in the vulnerability of sleep. The idea behind the glove was a practical one on Wes Craven’s part, as he wanted to give the character a unique weapon, but also something that could be made cheaply and wouldn’t be difficult to transport. The end result brings a macabre ghostly figure throughout – indeed, precisely what nightmares are made of.
In addition to offering the visceral thrills that are necessary in a genre entry, Craven’s screenplay works on several levels. Here the idea of sleep as the ultimate threat is ingenious and incredibly insidious. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two. The primary element that elevates A Nightmare on Elm Street above many other slasher films is that the storyline invites intellectual observation: At times, we’re aware that the characters are trapped in a dreamscape, but there are times when we are not, and there are occasions when we suspect they’re awake and they are actually asleep – as if the children are in a never-ending state of hypnagogia.
The ultimate revelation however is that Freddy is really the byproduct of parental vigilantism. The teenagers in the film are paying for the sins of their parents —and thus the brute is determined to exact revenge in using their children as his victims. Nightmare has been described as a reaction to the perceived innocence of American suburbs: parents in the film’s fictional suburb dispose of Krueger and hide any form of his existence in an attempt to build a safe environment for their children. There’s a clear generational divide in A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the children trying to stay awake both figuratively and literally and the parents continuing to ignore the situation, utterly avoiding taking responsibility for their hideous actions. They instead bury their memories of the crime they once commuted so deep down inside, it remains lodged in the far reaches of their brain, where we can also find their declarative memories. As a result, the sins-of-the-father biblical warning (in a slasher-movie setting) have allowed Krueger to amass incredible power in his nightmare world – power he uses to exact his revenge. More so, Freddy’s actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Sexuality is ever present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (i.e. Tina’s death visually evokes a rape, Freddy’s glove emerges between Nancy’s legs in the bath, a centipede crawls out of the mouth of one of the victims and finally a mattress swallows up Johnny Depp only to ejaculate him immediately after). The original script actually called for Krueger to be a child molester, rather than a child killer, but somehow the idea was lost in the process of shooting.
Craven claimed he wanted someone very “non-Hollywood” for the role of Nancy, and he believed Langenkamp met this quality. Depp was another unknown when he was cast; and initially never intending on auditioning. Instead he was only tagging along with friend Jackie Earle Haley (who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake), yet it was Depp who got the part of Glen instead. Nightmare was both the feature debut and breakthrough for Depp and a stepping stone to bigger things to come.
Nightmare is the story of the courage and resourcefulness of one extraordinary girl. At the age of 19, Langekamp portrays one of the most perfectly realized and well-expressed teenagers/heroines of the 1980s. The best slasher films all have realistic heroines, and Langenkamp ranks as close to the top as Janet Leigh or Jamie Lee Curtis. As Nancy, Heather Langenkamp is closer to Alien’s Sigourney Weaver than to Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis: quick-witted, adventurous and courageous, and willing to enter into Freddy’s realm even when she knows he has the upper glove. Nancy and Freddy are incredibly well-matched: during the climax, she even uses a few survivalist techniques to turn the tables on Freddy. Her character is one of the greatest “final girls” in the history of slasher films, and goes on to reappear throughout the franchise in the only two solid sequels (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare).
Visually, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a real treat hovering somewhere between gothic, supernatural imagery and the typical 80’s slasher fare. Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s work here is innovative and atmospheric, capturing a malevolent mood with light and shadow, most notably in the surrealistic basement scenes set around the furnace. Like so many films of this genre, its artistic ingenuity is intensified with various bloody set-pieces and visual effects. A Nightmare on Elm Street boasts several impressively conceived and well executed dream/kill sequences. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. The special effects, most of which are low-tech, are surprisingly effective, and this was the first film to use a breakaway mirror.
Craven’s probing of the waking/dreaming barrier results in some memorable kill sequences. Tina’s (Amanda Wyss) death scene, which featured her trashing across the ceiling, was partly inspired by the movie Royal Wedding (1951), which was the first movie to use a rotating set. The set here slowly spun to allow her to roll into position, with a camera bolted to the wall and a cameraman strapped into a chair beside it, which turned in tandem with the room. It’s important to remember that this was a low budget film shot in 30 days. For the two shots where Rod (Jsu Garcia) and Tina reach out for one another, Tina is actually lying on the floor and Garcia is hanging upside down with his hair pasted to stay flat.
FX man Jim Doyle was responsible for designing and constructing the ingenious full-scale gyro rotating room which was again used for Johnny Depp’s kill. For the famous blood geyser sequence, the furniture, cameraman, director and actor were fixed in place, and the room would spin upside down, thus allowing the rigged room to appear right side up while thousands of gallons of fake blood would seem to gush, erupt and ejaculate from the bed. On the DVD commentary, Wes Craven remarks that the room spinning the wrong way was like a “Ferris Wheel from hell.” This scene was partly inspired by the elevator scene in The Shining. Particularly effective is the scene where Nancy is attacked by Krueger in her bathtub and pulled under the water into a pitch-black pool leading to a back alley chase where Freddy stalks her. To achieve this effect, the tub was put in a bathroom set that was built over a swimming pool. During this underwater sequence Heather Langenkamp was replaced with a stuntwoman. Also worth noting is the “melting staircase” as seen in Nancy’s dream, which was created using pancake mix and directed by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham (who is uncredited). Finally, the sequence in which Freddy is set on fire, shot in one long take (with several cameramen), featured one hell of an elaborate and dangerous stunt by stuntman Anthony Cecere (who won best stunt of the year for it).
Finally I just couldn’t end without mentioning Charles Bernstein’s spare score, the musical cues, synthesizers, creepy sound effects and the film’s unforgettable children’s rhyme – which is all perfect for the material – eerie but never overwhelming.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is tailor made for those who like their scares evened with thought-provoking ideas – something that is a rarity in this genre. Yes, there are plenty of shocks, but there’s something much more: a psychological fantasy thriller that tears away at the barrier of dreams and reality, making us think twice before settling in for a good night’s sleep. The film may be a bit rough around the edges for the new generation, and multiple viewings do tend to expose its low-budget origins, but Nightmare is still to this day dark and forbidding, chilling and incredibly unnerving – a near masterpiece of independent genre filmmaking.
35 Years Later: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is an Important, Dark Dream
It’s hard to believe that Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is still relevant horror. Sure, it was a foundational film for its time, and spawned a massive-yet-under-performing franchise, but modern horror is almost an entirely different type of genre, and Craven’s nightmare can tend to feel a bit dated and powerless.
However, that doesn’t mean that A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t important. At the time of its release, the entire slasher genre was slowly breathing it’s last, dying breath. Box office numbers were low, and studio interest was waning, primarily because of market saturation and media hysteria.
On the surface, Craven’s film seems like an average, schlocky horror flick. On sleepy Elm St., Boogeyman Freddy Krueger exacts his revenge on a group of young teenagers; by entering their dreams, the monster picks them off one-by-one in gruesome and suggestive fashion.
But there’s so much more to it than “bad guy chops up kiddies in their dreams.” Many years down the line, A Nightmare on Elm Street is still an important piece of cinema that opened doors for personality-driven slashers like Child’s Play and Scream. In doing so, Craven’s vision blends genres to bring new life to the psychological horror genre of the 80s.
Breaking the slasher formula
It’s no secret that A Nightmare on Elm Street is absolutely oozing sexual transgression, but it does so in interesting ways. Like many slasher films of the era, it plays upon the societal fears of promiscuity amongst the youth, and offers thrilling retribution for their actions. This is solidified very early in the film when Linda and Rod (the first to die) hook up during a sleepover and are punished by death at the hands of the dream killer.
But A Nightmare on Elm Street breaks from tradition to create something a little more frightening. Although Glen makes the mistake of advancing on Nancy, she turns him down. In fact, their relationship is a shining example of a caring and respectful teen couple. Contrary to the slasher formula, Glen is still brutally murdered by Freddy, even though he broke no boundaries, leaving Nancy alone as the chaste final girl.
It’s this fact that makes the film not about punishment for the transgressions of youth, but retribution for the actions of their parents. Sure, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels like a very slasher-esque and retains a lot of the genre’s hallmarks, but there are the darker elements of inherited sin and pedophilia that lurk underneath.
It’s this notion of the “something” the parents have “done” to their children that creates the film’s unique nightmarish quality. Either naïve, absent, or alcoholic, the parents open the door for a horror to steal the innocence of their youth. That, combined with Freddy’s overt sexual advances on Nancy, make for the darkest piece of all.
Adding a dash of fantasy
A crucial development by A Nightmare on Elm Street is its blending of the fantasy and slasher genres. While previous horror films tended to keep the narrative grounded in reality, Craven’s work uses fantastical imagery to provide an otherworldly quality.
While there had always been slight supernatural elements to genre staples like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street uses dreams to open up new vistas for the genre and new dreamscapes to explore. This provided an entirely new playground for Craven to bend the laws of cinema and create interesting twists that keeps audiences guessing.
In doing so, Craven places a much heavier focus on using a special effects team to create inventive uses of set. While borrowing much of these images from sci-fi and fantasy films, the director still brings a greater usage of these stunts into a genre normally known for its portrayal of stark reality.
A little humor in horror
A Nightmare on Elm Street is also notable for its interesting use of comedy to punctuate the darker subject elements. Although not an overtly funny film, the sinister playfulness of Freddy’s character comes across as almost slapstick at times. While probably not intentional, it’s the cat-and-mouse game that Freddy plays with Nancy that is disgustingly humorous, and Englund’s movements and facial expressions somehow blend horror and farce together to disorient the audience.
It honestly feels like Craven may have taken some inspiration from a film that makes brief cameo in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Evil Dead. While not intentionally funny, Raimi’s low-budget work married humor and the grotesque in interesting ways, and Campbell’s portrayal of Ash borrowed much from his comedic background.
It’s this new personality-infused villain that offered such a breath of fresh air to the genre at the time. By making Freddy a fleshed-out personality instead of a silent, hulking behemoth, Craven reached the psyche of audience in new ways. This personality-driven horror eventually became an important part of the genre in the late 80s, opening new avenues for writers to expand the slasher concept with characters like Chucky and Pennywise.
Future of the franchise
Unfortunately for Freddy’s personality, later entries into the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise have transformed his character from a cold-blooded killer into an murderous jester, offering goofy one-liners and wisecracks while butchering teenagers in ridiculous ways. It all started when Craven lost control of his character by turning down a sequel, and the horror icon began spiraling down from a nightmarish villain into a parody of the genre itself.
It’s interesting how the later films in the franchise actually make the original A Nightmare on Elm Street feel more comedic than intended. There is an almost diluting factor to Freddy’s character that has happened over time that makes him seem less like the stuff of nightmares and more like a Scary Movie stand-in.
That being said, the 2019 franchise reboot does a spectacular job of blending these two realms together, making Freddy back into a frightening force that occasionally still drops a horrifying one-liner here and there. By replacing Englund and taking a new direction, the film offers a glimpse of the gritty, realistic horror that the franchise still has the capacity to offer. Although Freddy might take breaks from stalking teens, the time is always ripe for another Nightmare on Elm Street film. There are still plenty of dark dreams on the horizon.
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
‘Scream 4′ is Bloodier, Smarter, Better and Just Plain Scarier Than all Three Before It
This isn’t a comedy, this is a horror movie. People live, People die, people run, but more importantly people scream in Wes Craven’s fourth installment. In horror’s most self-reflexive and in some ways most successful horror franchise, Scream 4 is bloodier, smarter, better and just plain scarier than all three before it. In an era of reboots and remakes, Scream 4 treats its fans with an entry as salient as the original. More importantly, Scream 4 obeys the number one rule: “Don’t fuck with the original.”
“You’re addressing a generation of young fans, but also a generation that has gone with you for three, as well as a decade worth of other films. You have to be as good as, or better than those films.” – Wes Craven
Much like Scream, Scream 4 is a rarity and more than a simple winking nod to films from the past. The secret ingredient is effortlessly merging humour with genuine scares around a story taken seriously. Unlike most slasher films, characters are fleshed out, and you care who lives and dies, so the tension is high throughout, and the fate of the characters actually matters.
Scream 4 may not feature a scene that matches the masterfully conceived and terrifying stand-alone opening sequence featuring Drew Barrymore from the original, but what it does offer is one hundred and eleven minutes of nail-biting suspense. While the first entry spent too much time with characters cocking guns and spraying bullets, in what is supposed to be a slasher film, the fourth installment paints the screen red with gallons of blood. Scream 4 earns its R rating since the film’s many stabbings don’t cut away from showing the penetrating blade. It cuts and it cuts deep.
Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson worked hard to re-imagine familiar territory and do a superb job in bringing the franchise up to date. Scream 4 boasts a witty script, one that kills off the genre’s clichés with panache. And while it displays some of the same attributes present in its predecessors, the film’s references to social networking sites, it’s use of mobile phones, portable digital cameras, live internet feeds not only help in making it more current but for once these tools are used in intelligent and constructive ways to actually help move the story along. After all, the best horror films have always reflected the times in which they were made.
Scream 4 isn’t just a horror movie about horror movies, but a commentary on how they’ve changed since the first Scream was released. As the tagline reads, “New Decade, New Rules.” Sex doesn’t necessarily equal death; ‘I’ll be right back” can mean you most likely will return; the unexpected is the new cliché; everyone is expendable — including victim royalty — and running up the stairs might be your best option this time around.
Much like the original, the plot manages to cast suspicion on a barrage of characters and there are enough red herrings for five more movies. Craven reunites the lead trio (Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette), and introduces a new cast whose stellar efforts carry a critical role in securing the film’s success. Eric Knudsen and Rory Culkin star as the most technologically savvy of Scream’s teens; the duo rightfully replaces the much beloved and missed Jamie Kennedy as the prototypical film-geeks. Rounding out the rest of the teen cast is newcomer Marielle Jaffe, Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Nico Tortorella, Alison Brie, Emma Roberts, and Hayden Panettiere. And that’s just the start: Adam Brody, Mary Shelton, and Anthony Anderson all play deputies and two-time Academy Award nominee Mary McDonnell stars as Aunt Kate. Of course, Scream 4 wouldn’t be proper without cameos so look out for Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, and some ghosts from the past.
Kickstarting with a movie within a movie within a movie within a movie and so on, the film piles through a dozen set pieces, heavy doses of blood, and a sweaty workout of self-references. Once the frenzy of artifice and self-congratulatory winks are all said and done, the climax shifts into auto-drive relying on the basic genre tropes to unveil “the big reveal” that Ghostface is in fact … (insert your own speculation as to who the killer or killers are here). For some, the ending may disappoint, but in my opinion, it perfectly reflects the past ten years of the genre.
Scream was a box office success, grossing $173 million internationally but it actually only made $6.3-million over its opening weekend, a disappointing figure for a film whose budget hovered around $15 million. It was word of mouth that made Scream a cultural cinematic phenomenon, selling out theaters three weeks after its initial release. Scream arrived at the perfect moment. Slasher films were no longer commercially viable. The first film was released in a decade that offered some of the worst horror films ever made. Creativity was at an all-time low. Fans were sick of seeing the same story featuring a killer chasing down a group of good looking teens in either the suburbs or a cabin in the woods. Scream took those very ideas and twisted it in such a clever way that even though we were watching the very same slasher film we’d seen hundreds of times before, audiences didn’t care. Fans appreciated how the film commented on such a fixed genre while operating as a sharp example of what a slasher film is. And like Scream, Scream 4 also came at the right moment. With the sudden and unwelcome rise of torture porn in the ’00s, audiences were craving some good old-fashioned Craven.
For genre enthusiasts, Scream 4 is a hard left lead followed by a right cross, a horror movie that slices its way through expectations and, a sequel that takes a stab at altering the shape of horror films for another decade.
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