'Scream 4': The First Mainstream Feminist Horror Film

Scre4m’s task was never easy. Not only was it rebooting the first “self-aware horror franchise” and hauling the institutional weight of a generation, it was also selling its shtick to a new batch of teens so savvy they can plug their tongues directly into iPads to sync their brains. Remember the halcyon innocence of 1996? How tickled we were that a horror movie was listing slasher-flick rules and mocking Richard Gere? Yeah, kids now consider that about as edgy as a Nu Shooz reunion tour.

And sure enough, no one wanted to see it. Opening weekend was dismal, grossing a mere $18.7 million (which ain’t bad for a horror flick, ’til you consider the projections were for over $40 mill). The youngs are apparently too busy planning Green Beret death missions on Rebecca Black. As for us olds, well, we’re famous for not wanting to be reminded that we’re old — no one wants to see Sidney Prescott as the hoary 30-something with neck wrinkles and a book deal.

Still, despite the fact that it bombed harder than a convent donkey show, Scre4m is nontheless an important contribution to the Horror Canon. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and dub it the first mainstream feminist horror film.

From the ultra-meta opening to the semi-ridiculous ending, this is a woman’s show. The ladies dominate nearly every scene, bitching, snarking, joking, and [WARNING, HERE COMES A BIG FAT SPOILER] stabbing with rapturous abandon. And, most important of all, they’re not being punished for it. There’s no comeuppance for hitting on another man’s husband or telling the hot jock to fuck off. The notable one-liners, ballsy moves, wisecracks — all are made by girls (with the exception of a “Please don’t kill me, I’m gay!” crack from Erik Knudsen and Anthony Anderson yelling “Fuck Bruce Willis!”)

The male characters are bumbling, depth-free distractions, there to look like fools, or look like fools and then get killed, or just serve as continuous reminders of the ’90s. (It’s David Arquette looking like a washed-up gambling addict! And look! They even cast a Culkin!) Meanwhile, the chicks get to shout and punch and spout out lists of classic horror films and treat boys like dryer lint and generally act AWESOME. And they don’t get killed for doing so (well, ok, some of them get killed — but Jesus, it’s a horror movie).

Even ’90s weep-queen Neve Campbell adds a bit more gravitas to Sidney’s trademark watery squint. (Funny how Neve looks exactly the same as she did in ‘96… or is it just that I’ve aged at the exact same rate? Don’t answer that.)

But the true femme accompli here is Courteney Cox. She slashes her way out of the 40-something female stereotype, and takes over this movie with a flick of her scorn-ready (albeit Botox-ed to the hilt) brow. Let’s face it: Few film archetypes are more brutal than the “older woman in a horror movie” — either you’re the psycho nutcase (Friday the 13th, Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby) or you’re the pathetic victim (nearly every other movie). And no matter what, you’re ALWAYS an obsessive mother.

Cox pulls off a pretty impressive coup, upstaging not only the cute flouncing teens, but also her 15-years-younger self. Her character — now successful, childless (!), and utterly bored with the “middle-aged wife” role — shrugs off all orders to “stay out of it” and leaps back into the murderous fray, husbands, younger blondes and kitchen knives be damned. She takes nothing for granted, and thinks not a second about sneaking into dark corners to catch homicidal fruitcakes (and bitch is 47!!!). While Arquette and Campbell slide into their ’90s cliché groove, Cox reinvents and one-ups, kicking this meta-fest to life and providing the only sexy thing onscreen, gelatinous lips and all. Gale Weathers is shrewd, aggressive, cunning, but never heartless;despite it all, she still loves that stupefied ass clown Dewey. And she does it all while sporting a better ass than the 20-somethings. And [yet another spoiler coming] she doesn’t even have to die for it!

Oh yeah, and there’s not a hint of sex or drugs. Seriously. Not even a half-finished joint or awkward boob-grab. Apparently teens today have moved on to other pursuits — like creating Internet memes and starring in reality shows.

Melissa Lafsky wants to be scared by your movie.