When is a franchise past its prime? The original Scream movie was one of the first horror movies to feature characters who knew the rules of horror movies -- and then came two more sequels with that basic setup, from the aware victims to the horror movie-loving killer Ghostface. Eleven years after Scream 3 comes Scream 4 and an update for the Facebook and texting crowd -- sort of.

It's the tenth anniversary of the Ghostface murders, and they've become pop culture fodder in Woodsboro. We're told that Stab, the movie-within-the-movie, is up to part 7; Ghostface costumes and props abound; and high school students are celebrating the anniversary with "Stabathon," an underground viewing of all seven movies back to back. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back in town, promoting her book about surviving the Ghostface murders. Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) likes the town quiet, and he's now married to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), who left reporting but can't find anything else to do. Then a new Ghostface strikes again, stabbing through people left and right.
Of course a new Scream movie needs new high school students and lots of possible killers/ potential victims. The main teenager is Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), Sidney's cousin who is tired of being famous for their relation. Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) is Jill's best friend and a horror movie buff. Robbie (Erik Knidsen) is a film geek who videotapes everything for posterity, and his buddy Charlie (Rory Culkin) is a fellow movie buff with a thing for Kirby. There's also Trevor (Nico Tortorella), Jill's ex-boyfriend who keeps popping up.

Need more? How about Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), who flirts shamelessly with Sheriff Dewey? Or Rebecca Walters (Alison Brie), Sidney's publicist who sees the killings as a massive cash cow? Could it be one of them -- or more than one of them? Not for long, as the body count increases very quickly.

Scream 4 promotions included the tagline "New decade. New rules" -- but that's far from the case with the actual movie. While there's lots of chatter about who can die in the world of the horror remake, in the movie itself pretty much anyone can die, at anytime. Writer Kevin Williamson acknowledges the potential cheesiness of the high-numbered sequel with a number of fake-out openings from the high-numbered Stab flicks. After that, though, it's very common situations from both horror and the Scream movies that came before: Is the caller in the house -- or even the closet? How does the killer manage to pop up everywhere and kill with virtual impunity? Does a character appearing in the shadows, or with a poor explanation of how they came to be there, mean that they're the killer?

I've enjoyed a lot of Wes Craven movies -- including and especially the first Scream -- but Scream 4 doesn't really offer anything new from this series (or from horror movies in general). From the self-aware references to the return of the original cast, nothing here is really impressive or creative. Craven does have a skill at jolting the audience, but everyone here should have looked at the original films and taken another horror-movie message to heart: High-numbered sequels are never a good thing.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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