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Scream 4 is Essential Viewing Before You Catch Scream 6

The franchise’s most underrated installment conceals its greatest twist.

Neve Campbell holds a kitchen knife in 2011's Scream 4
Dimension Films

Keeping a horror franchise alive for nearly 30 years is easier said than done. Even beloved franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street have struggled to maintain pop cultural relevance, while Halloween spent years on ice before it became popular again. Arguably, the only horror series to maintain both quality and relevancy throughout its long lifespan is the Scream franchise.

In the 27 years since it began, the beloved self-aware series has remained one of the most popular and consistent in the genre’s history. Its most recent installment, 2022’s Scream, proved that it could continue even after the death of Wes Craven, who directed the first four entries. Craven, for his part, ended his directorial career on a memorable note with Scream 4.

The 2011 horror comedy is rightly considered the Scream franchise’s most underrated installment. It’s a relentlessly violent and entertaining slasher that, in keeping with the franchise’s tongue-in-cheek tone, manages to be as observant and biting as it is tense and scary.

Scream 4 spends most of its runtime masquerading as a soft reboot of the franchise. Set 15 years after the events of the first installment, the film follows Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) return to her hometown of Woodsboro just as a group of horror-obsessed teenagers start getting killed by a new Ghostface. David Arquette and Courteney Cox also reprise their roles as Dewey Riley and Gale Weathers.

The three legacy characters are joined by Jill (Emma Roberts), Sidney’s teenage cousin, and her friends, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) and Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin), among other potential victims. The supporting cast is arguably the Scream franchise’s best, partly because it features cameos from actors like Alison Brie, Lucy Hale, and Kristen Bell before they achieved their current levels of fame.

Scream 4 also features some of the most brutal murders in the franchise. But Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson ensure that the film’s bloodiness doesn’t get in the way of its morbid sense of fun; there’s a humorous edge to some of Scream 4’s darkest moments, including a gag in which it’s revealed that a character has been sneakily stabbed in the back through her front door’s mail slot.

Courteney Cox reprises her role as Gale Weathers yet again in Scream 4.

Dimension Films

Beyond how well it works as a genuinely thrilling slasher movie, Scream 4 also features one of the best twists that the franchise has ever delivered. In its third act, the film drastically redefines its entire story and throws its “soft reboot” status out the window. In doing so, Scream 4 manages to pack in some keen-eyed observations about the nature of legacy sequels and how the internet can warp our perception of tragedy. These little moments of social commentary only feel even more relevant now than in 2011.

Scream 4 works as both an entertaining slasher film and as the fourth installment in a horror franchise that has somehow yet to lose its bite. It’s worth revisiting on its own merits, but with Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Reed set to have a role in the upcoming Scream 6, now is as good a time as any to revisit its most underappreciated predecessor.

Scream 4 is available to stream on Netflix until February 28.

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