Scream MTV Small Screen Slasher More Annoying Less Fun

First victim in Scream MTV
In 1996 Wes Craven started the Scream franchise, which to be fair came later, and, giving a great big cheeky nod to Alfred Hitchcock, killed off the film’s star in the first five minutes. The film was Craven’s homage with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to all things “slasher film” since the genre took off in the 1970s. The first film, like the rest, featured a strong female protagonist (or two counting Courtney Cox’s character) an endearing, and bumbling cop and some pretty spot on nods and winks to the genre and a lot of humor. It also featured Roger Jackson, who “appeared” (more accurately he was heard) in every Scream film as “Ghostface.”

The idea of taking the “scream-verse” to the small screen sounds like a great idea on paper, at least it must have to get MTV to get involved, but Scream lacks so much and the small screen slasher is more annoying and less fun than its inspiration. Certainly watching the first four episodes (“for free, then just sign into your MTV app and…”) there are things that work, albeit, barely.

There is a fairly good backstory, but it does feel like a Halloween borrow, giving the mask way more significance than Wes Craven or Kevin Williamson ever did. Certainly the creators of Scream “TV” have taken the idea of cell phone culture to heart. Using the young’s propensity to text rather than call on their cell, it almost negates the use of a “ghostface” voice changer, aka Roger Jackson (who, incidentally was never approached by the makers to work on the new series). Perhaps the most annoying thing about the show is the cheap trick by the program makers of having someone do a pretty underwhelming impression of Jackson on the phone and not having the “real deal.”

Certainly the unwillingness of the program’s makers to payout for the “real” Ghostface spells out all that is wrong with this show. Other problems deal with their use of the Internet, which Craven and Williamson opened the door on in Scream 4. Podcasts, the use of the net to promote instant “fame” (“How do you think people become famous any more? You don’t have to achieve anything. You just gotta have f***ed up-sh*t happen to you.” Jill tells Sidney this, before attempting to take over as hero of the Woodsboro story. Of course the proviso is that one has to film it, upload the footage and reap the rewards.)

Presumably the twist of the last Scream opened the door for this small screen version. The end result is one of overall disappointment. Where is the humor? Gone, like Roger Jackson and Kevin Williamson. The wry, sly, delivery that oversaw all the larger-than-life murders, buckets of blood, quips, plot twists and the likable main protagonists are all missing.

Emma Fitzgerald appears to be the small screen version of Sidney Prescott. She even comes from a broken home, single mom, versus Sid’s single dad scenario. Although mom is a coroner and dad is not dead, at least so far, he just does not live locally anymore. There is no Dewy and Gale Weathers appears to be taken over by a podcast crime aficionado Piper Shay, who lacks the career killer instinct that Weathers had in spades.

Noah Foster, played by John Karna, is a sort of Randy replacement, without the majestic geekiness that Jamie Kennedy infused the character with, although he is a crime buff and not a film one. He is also, a gamer.

The main problem with the small screen Scream is that this tries to be all things to all groups. There is a gay character, who was once bestie’s with Emma, who has yet to really prove to be anywhere near the equal of Sidney, but then who can really compete with Neve Campbell?

Answer?

Not many.

The acting is okay. There are things that stand out. John Karna’s broadcaster style delivery works and his (short-term) girl Riley Marra, played by Brianne Tju, had brilliant chemistry onscreen with Karna and Tju had the best death scene ever. Riley, who stupidly leaves the relative safety of the police station, gets stabbed repeatedly. She climbs to the roof and after slapping one bloody palm on the skylight to get the janitor’s attention, speaks to Noah, via FaceTime. Noah asks where she is, “What can you see,” he asks. As she dies, Riley rolls over to lay on her back facing the night sky. “Your stars,” she whispers and expires.

Not bad.

Unfortunately that two word descriptive fits the show all too well. Rather interestingly, the series seems to be fairly popular. Perhaps these fans are younger audience members who do not get what Craven and Williamson were doing with the big screen original franchise. Thus far the TV version lacks originality, which if would do as it is based upon a successful and beloved film franchise, and it has no humor. It takes itself far too seriously, going for the scare and leaving the humor out of the formula.

Although having said that, Noah does come close to being comic relief, but the working word here is “close.” Oddly, the best thing about the MTV show is the music. It sets scenes beautifully and supports the action very well. This makes sense, it is, after MTV. (Obligatory “Duh” entered here.) Sadly, great music and a kick-ass soundtrack do not a great series make.

One can forgive the lack of a Ghostface voice, since the plot does pretty much rely upon the text function of today’s smart phones, but to then use another actor Mike Vaughn to do a Roger Jackson style delivery is insulting. Not only to Jackson but to fans of the original who so desperately wanted to love this small screen Scream. Granted, it is not really clear if Vaughn is the voice on the phone, he is listed as “killer” rather than phone voice or “ghostface” wannabe. Just one more annoying thing about this show that is much less than the film franchise that inspired it.

Scream airs Tuesdays on MTV. Watch it and “catch up” if you are behind and see what you think. Prepare to be a little underwhelmed, this is a lot less fun than Craven’s films. Fans of horror with humor may want to hold out for Scream Queens on FOX.

My Soul to Take (2010): The Film Critics Love to Hate?


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Written and directed by “tongue-in-cheek” horror master Wes Craven, My Soul to Take opened to almost universal pans. No-one, it appears, liked the film and critics united in an effort to slam this film. As a huge Wes Craven (and fan of all the Screams) I am amazed at the amount of “Craven-bashing” that took place when this film premiered.

It is almost like a rerun of Craven’s other film, Cursed; which to be fair was a pretty messy affair (being re-shot no less than 3 times) and critics again rallied to beat Craven metaphorically about the face and eyes in their rush to show their hatred for this film. I waited for the film to be released on DVD and watched it.

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I liked the rated and un-rated version…

I liked it.

So when critics slammed the s**t out of  My Soul to Take, I withheld my judgement (as usual) until I’d seen it. Unsurprisingly, I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much I bought a Blu-ray copy of the film. So while I have to restrain myself from giving the middle finger of disdain to the world’s film critics, I have no problem with sending a huge raspberry their way.

Starring:

Max Thieriot
Denzel Whitaker
Raul Esparza
Shareeka Epps
Bug looking pretty damned guilty.
Bug looking pretty damned guilty.

The Plot:

On the night that an almost unstoppable serial killer with a split-personality is seemingly dispatched, 7 babies are born in the local hospital. 16 years later on their birthday, they are all hunted down by the presumed dead serial killer and one boy, Adam ‘aka Bug’ (Thierot), finds out that his dad was the serial killer. Adam must figure out who is killing all his peers and stop him or her.

The Device:

*Warning: this could be seen as a spoiler.*

All the film’s action hinges on the device of “soul eating” and that when a person dies their soul is consumed by their killer. Apparently, when the original serial killer died, his soul was split into 7 parts and each baby born on that night took a portion.

The Twist:

The killer isn’t who you (repeatedly) think it is.

The Verdict: 

The film is honestly not as bad as the critics would have you believe. Okay, so some of Craven’s sly humour is missing here. The overall plot is not too complex and basically folks, if you’re expecting another version of the Scream verse; you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not as clever as Scream or Cursed (which I liked remember) so be prepared.

It does feature another “super-human” Big Bad that is fairly impressive. So overall, I really cannot understand the total lack of love that this film gets.

The Score: 

I would have to give this a solid 4 out of 5 stars just for the split-personality angle and the 7 souls schtick. A good popcorn munchin’ film with solid performances by all.

*This is an experimental review format that I’m trying out for this film. Let me know what you think. Vote on the format you like best and I’ll try to write future reviews in that format.*

*Just to let you know, I’m popping my Poll cherry here, please be gentle! I’ll “post” the results after a week or so. Thanks guys.*

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The Craft (1996): A Twisted Teen Tale

Cover of "The Craft (Special Edition)"

*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming and Peter Filardi (who came up with the original story) The Craft is about four teen girls who use wiccan magic to improve their lot in life. This 1996 film was a sleeper hit. Something it has in common with the 1984 film The Karate Kid. Word of mouth after The Craft opened made it popular.

The four girls that the film centres around are all in high school and each one is a social outcast and misfit. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to Los Angeles with a troubled past. She appears to naturally have magical powers of her own. When she starts at the local high school she meets three other girls who have taught themselves magic and have formed a coven.

The leader is gothy girl Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) who comes from a severely dysfunctional family unit. The other two members of this small coven are Bonnie (Neve Campbell) who suffers from disfiguring burns and Rochelle (Rachel True) who appears to be the only black person in the school.

Leader Nancy, pretty scary even before the power.

All three girls suffer mistreatment from their fellow classmates, especially Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) who is the leader of the bullying faction. Sarah notices the high school hunk Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and he in turn notices her. After their one date together he ignores her and tells the entire school that they had sex. Sarah is furious.

Bonnie and Rochelle notice that Sarah seems to have some magical power and they talk Nancy into recruiting her into their coven. Because of Sarah’s latent power, the group’s magic becomes more powerful and the girls all do spells to improve their lives.

Bonnie heals her disfiguring scars. Rochelle casts a spell on Laura (her tormentor) that causes her hair to fall out. Nancy causes her abusive stepfather to die and she and her mother inherit a huge insurance payout. Sarah casts a love spell on Chris.

Everything seems to go well for a short while. But Nancy is enjoying her first taste of real magic and she forces the group to take part in a rite called the “Invocation of the Spirit” where they call on Manon a deity described as being more powerful than God. Nancy wants the power they’ve raised for herself. At the end of the ceremony she is struck by lightning and becomes incredibly powerful.

Invoking the spirit…for Nancy.

Things start to go wrong for the girls.

Chris tries to rape Sarah. Laura is found huddling in the floor sobbing because of her hair. Nancy decides to punish Chris for his attempted rape and kills him.

Sarah decides that she wants nothing more to do with the coven and the others of the group gang up against her. Nancy decides that if Sarah won’t rejoin the coven that she will kill her like she did Chris.

What none of the girls have bargained for is the fact that Sarah is the only real witch in the coven.  Earlier in the film, Nancy takes the newly recruited Sarah into a magic store. The proprietor of the store focuses on Sarah telling her that she is extremely powerful in the world of magic and that  she has inherited the gift from her mother.

When the final battle between Nancy and Sarah erupts, Sarah wins and the intensity of the magical bout drives Nancy insane. The end of the film finds Nancy strapped to a bed in a padded room, clearly out of her mind and Bonnie and Rochelle attempt a reconciliation with Sarah.

There are at least two interesting things to note about the film’s cast. Firstly, all the actors were well past their teen years but Rachel True was the oldest as she was almost 30 years old. Secondly this was the first time that Neve Campbell worked with Skeet Ulrich. They went on to work in Wes Craven‘s Scream. Ulrich was Neve’s love interest in Scream and in a case of history repeating itself, he played the same type of unpleasant character.

Hello, to the future Billy Loomis…

The Craft is a fantastic film that has aged quite well in the special effects department. The plot, dealing with the vagaries of high school and the misery that it can inflict on its inhabitants, is still relevant.

The vast majority of people who live through the fishbowl world of high school do not enjoy it. There are the few who excel in this micro environment, but  they usually never replicate the success they enjoy as the leaders and charismatic magnets.

The Craft focuses on the losers and the misfits and their small taste of power. It is a brilliant look at how power, whether it is magical in origin or not, can change a person.

At the beginning of the film we can all relate to the little coven and their newest recruit. We are shown why their lives are so out of balance and unhappy. The strict Catholic high school world they inhabit does not have the latitude to help them out of their social “class” or their unhappy home lives.

Bonnie is  shy and has no self-confidence  because of the horrible scarring that covers so much of her body. When she is able, with the addition of Sarah’s real magic, to heal or cover her scars she changes. She turns into a narcissistic creature with no room in her life for anything else.

Nancy is pushy but socially inept. Because of her abusive and unhappy home life she will never be able to claw her way out of the life she seems doomed to lead. She has anger management problems and easily “rides herd” over the other two members of her coven. Once she has tasted life, again with the addition of Sarah’s real power, she becomes almost maniacal. The magic, for her, has never been about just improving her life but about punishing others.

Rochelle, a bit flat…

Rochelle is sadly the only almost two dimensional character in the film. Oddly, she appears to be the only non-caucasian student in the entire school. Her tormentors are stereotypically racist, almost comically so, and it is the only part of the film that has not aged very well. We never see any of Rochelle’s home life to see why she is so bothered by Laura and her racially motivated verbal attacks and her lack of ability to deal with them.

Sarah, despite her troubled past, is clearly the most “normal” one of the group. She is an outsider, the newcomer who will have to find her place in the new school she has to attend. Her emotional burden is having to deal with the death of her mother and a stepmother who is in the unenviable position of having to fill her place. What Sarah has in common with the other girls is her lack of focus and her unhappiness. That she has magic is clear from the very beginning of the film.

Unlike the other girls though, Sarah has no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Nancy’s true goal has been domination of her “fellow-man” and Bonnie and Rochelle are her friends mainly because of her rebellious nature and gothy magical leanings.

At the end of the film we see Bonnie and Rochelle’s attempt to get back with Sarah. That their motives are suspect is soon proved when Sarah rejects their advances and they walk off angrily. As they leave the girls begin to grumble that Sarah obviously doesn’t have any real magical talent and that they wasted their time. She gives them a taste of her still very powerful wiccan prowess and they leave silently.

All the actors involved in the film sell their characters. Fairuza Balk is scary as the pushy Wiccan goth chic. She never fails to convince that she is so tightly strung that she might snap. When she becomes almost unstoppable later in the film she goes from scary to terrifying. She does induce sympathy from the viewer, especially when we get a glimpse of her home life, but the feeling is replaced with fear when she shows just how power mad and vengeful her character is.

Scary “Losing her shit” Nancy

Robin Tunney did have a habit of appearing a bit lackadaisical in the acting department. I will admit it took me a bit of time to warm to her character. Even when she is fighting for her life at the end of the film, I felt her actions were just short of lethargic. She does manage to give her character a bit of umph at the very end though so I don’t want to sell her too short.

Neve Campbell’s performance suffered only because in my mind she will always be the fighter Sidney Prescott from Scream. Sorry Neve. But future boyfriend Skeet Ulrich was suitably nasty and  love struck in turns.

This film with its theme of magic and teen angst is a must see.  It is a definite two popcorn bag film and I highly recommend it.

Scream 4…Sidney’s Last Stand

Scream 4
Scream 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fell in love with the original Scream after watching the first five minutes. When Wes (we are not worthy) Craven killed off the “name” star in the first reel. With this one action he showed us, the audience, that he knew and loved horror films and thrillers. The little nod to Hitchcock’s killing of Janet Leigh at the beginning  of Psycho told me immediately that this was a film-maker that was going to have fun with the genre.

Scre4m aka Scream 4 is the last of the Scream franchise. I had real reservations about the last of the Screams. I was afraid that Wes had gone to the well once too often and that the bucket he drew up would be empty. Boy was I wrong. This was a brilliant end to a series that has always shown a stroke of genius in each sequel. Yes I know that Wes cannot take all the credit. These films work because of the writing and the acting as well.

Scre4m opens with a murder similar to the first Scream films. Although it comes to us initially via various trailers to the fictional Stab films in the Scream verse. We are introduced to Sidney Prescott’s cousin Jill, played with great panache by Emma Roberts. We then get to see all our favourite living characters from the previous films.   Deputy Dewey, played again by David Arquette, is now the sheriff of Woodsboro and has married Gale.  Gale Weathers-Riley, played by Courtney Cox, has retired from the mainstream news world and is trying to write “the great American novel” and not getting very far with it. Sidney Prescott, played again by Neve Campbell, is now a writer. Her book, about living through and dealing with the events from the previous films, is a bestseller. She returns to Woodsboro as part of her book signing tour.

Sidney Prescott
Sidney Prescott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also meet the new cast of “victims.” Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, one of the slew of friends that Jill has, makes the most of her part. She was born to play this kind of role. I of course still think of her as the cheerleader from Heroes, you know “Save the cheerleader save the world.” But she does a brilliant job as the future “man-eater” Kirby. The other memorable friend of Jill’s is Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker. Charlie is the Randy substitute in this Scream film. A necessary replacement since Randy is dispatched by Ghost Face in Scream 2. Although not in the victim department I have to mention Marley Shelton. As Deputy Judy Hicks she rocked it out of the park. Her characterisation of the love lorn Deputy Judy was both comedic and scary, sometimes at the same time.

Of course Ghost Face is still voiced by Roger Jackson. Could anyone else have done it? I think not. His voice is synonymous with Ghost Face and always will be. I can’t reveal anything else about the plot because I will be heading into spoiler territory if I do. I can and will tell you it deals with the theme of the internet and it’s propensity to make celebrities out of those who know how to use it.

So that’s it. I have, like so many other Scream fans I am sure, waited for this film for ages. I loved it so much that I sat through two viewings on two separate occasions. I also couldn’t wait for a special edition blu-ray to come out. As much as I want special features, in this case it did not matter.

So  hats off to Director Wes Craven for once again pulling it off. The grande finale of all the Scream’s was nigh on perfect.