In Scream 4, the film kicks off with spoofs of the fictitious Stab series - the films within the Scream films. Apparently, in the Scream-verse, Stab has chugged along to something like seven or eight installments. Unfortunately, unlike Stab's witty recreation of the events of the first Scream wherein Heather Graham was substituted for Drew Barrymore's character and Tori Spelling for Neve Campbell and the restaged scenes were given a glossy Hollywood horror sheen, the clips of these later-day Stab sequels prove to be soggy spoof material. Mostly they're just there to set up a pair of fake-outs as we think we're watching the opening of Scream 4 with two female friends alone in a house being stalked by Ghostface only to have it revealed that it's a Stab sequel and then the gag is repeated again with another pair of potential victims before Scream 4 properly begins.
The content of these mock Stab sequels is so banal, it made me wish that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson would've tried to have some real fun in imagining where the phony Stab series might have progressed. If only they had seized on the starry precedent set by Hellraiser: Bloodline, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Jason X and gave their bogus Stab sequel an out-of-this-world setting. Even John Carpenter had once lobbied for a Halloween sequel in which the indestructible Michael Myers would be shot into space (whether he really thought that was a good idea or if he was purposely out to undermine the series, who knows?) so taking a horror franchise out of earthly orbit is enough of a reoccurring theme to warrant spoofing. Yes, it would've meant that the fake-out scares of Scream 4 would've had to go by the wayside but I believe it would have been a worthy sacrifice.
Seeing Ghostface lurking on a space station would've been a wonderfully cheesy way to kick off Scream 4. And honestly, I wouldn't have minded if it had been the real story to Scream 4, either. It would've been ridiculous, yes, but I have to say I miss the days when horror sequels would stray into strange, misguided territory. Back in the day, it frustrated me to see a phony Jason behind the hockey mask or to see the real Jason fighting a telekinetic teen or stalking Times Square or to have the Halloween series derailed by the odd mythology of the Cult of the Thorn (having already been really derailed by the machinations of crazed mask maker Conal Cochran) but in hindsight I appreciate the room for spontaneity that existed then. As inept as some of those sequels were, and as much as they showed a deep misunderstanding of the creative properties involved, I miss the willingness to deviate from the program.
In the '80s and '90s, there wasn't much thought as to whether fans might be affronted or outraged by the direction of a sequel but the keepers of today's franchises always stay on script (with the sole exception being the Child's Play films, but that series has sadly been on hold since 2004's under appreciated Seed of Chucky).
The Saw films never took any zany detours (no Jigsaw Goes To Washington, for example) and likewise, for however long the series lasts you'll never see Paranormal Activity spring any surprises on viewers. At least the Final Destination films can keep ballooning its set-pieces to increasingly absurd levels but in general, the days of horror franchises doing anything to challenge or test their base are over. Walking out of a movie like Jason Goes to Hell, I would've told you that's what I always wanted but I'm not so sure anymore.
Being too cautious is ultimately what gutted Scream 4. I enjoyed it myself but as I said in my review, it's a movie that favors the old guard over the new blood and horror is always about new blood. That's how it's continued to survive. As confounding as some of the horror sequels of the past were, in hindsight I like that they only followed formula to a point. It's true that most of the creative leaps those sequels took didn't pay off but at least the attempts were memorable. It's easy to tell one Friday the 13th from the other - but can anyone other than the most attentive Saw fan tell those sequels apart?
While the box office for Scream 4 on its opening weekend wasn't exactly dismal, it was definitely lackluster compared to its predecessors. The series now ironically finds itself in the same position of the '80s warhorses it used to mock - a once thriving franchise whose audience has shrunk. If another Scream comes around, maybe they'll decide to throw caution to the wind and set their sights a little higher.
Like, maybe as high as the moon even.