In 1996, Scream gave the horror movie genre a much-needed kick in the pants. Before Ghostface started hacking his way through Woodsboro, horror fans had been relegated to watching half-brained remakes and inane sequels (we had recently seen the sixth Halloween movie, the ninth Friday the 13th, and the fourth in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre saga). Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson had a vision, though, and Scream was as fresh and entertaining as anything to hit screens that year.

In 2011, the horror genre has, by and large, been relegated to torture porn (seven Saws) and found footage features (Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism). What better time than now for the Scream franchise to swoop back in and save the day?

And so it does.

Craven and Williamson, who have helmed the franchise every step of the way, are back, and back in fine form. After the so-so Scream 2 and the forgettable third movie, Scream 4 reminds us why we (those of us who did, anyway) fell in love with the original. It’s clever, witty, sometimes scary, awfully bloody, and it never ever takes itself too seriously. It’s a solid return that riffs heavily not only on the horror genre as a whole but very heavily on the franchise itself.

Of course, it helps that the familiar faces are back, that-much older and wiser but obviously still happy to be here: Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, David Arquette’s (now Sheriff) Dewey Riley, and Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers.

After an amusing (and bloody) opening sequence with cameos from Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Shenae Grimes, Aimee Teegarden, and others, we find ourselves back in the sleepy hollow of Woodsboro on the 10th anniversary (though it’s been 15 real-world years) of the massacre from the original movie. Sidney, with the help of her over-eager publicist Rebecca (Alison Brie), is wrapping up her book tour for Out of Darkness, by returning home. Just as she arrives, though, the carnage starts again. Ghostface jumps right back in, calling people (this time around, on their iPhones) and asking them what their favorite scary movie is. One-by-one, kids are gutted and filleted with Ghostface’s usual finesse, and Dewey, Gale, and Sidney need to band together to bring a stop to it all.

Along with the cameos, there are plenty of other new faces, too. Emma Roberts is Sidney’s cousin Jill, Hayden Panettiere is her best friend Kirby, and we even have a welcome (almost) return to Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, in the form of horror film geeks Charlie and Robbie (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen).

By the time we find out the killer’s identity, it seems half the town has met the business end of his knife (in truth, I lost count after the first 8 or 10 folks got offed) and more than a dozen horror films are referenced or paid homage to.

Williamson kept his tongue firmly planted in his cheek throughout the writing process, and while some of the lines are cheesier than what you would find in even the worst Schwarzenegger film, everything still comes together for jam-packed, highly entertaining ride.

Campbell has matured immeasurably from ‘those days’, and she easily makes the move from teenage victim to wiser, older adult. It’s a performance that’s full of charisma and intelligence. Likewise, Arquette and Cox are great in their updated roles, and you can tell that the supporting cast, particularly Panettiere, Culkin, and Knudsen were a little ‘geeked out’ to be part of the Scream fun.

Craven shows that he still has what it takes to make you jump out of your seat and to always keep you guessing, and while the resolution of the whodunnit is maybe a little too out of the blue, the sharp final act helps make up for it.

Williamson and Craven have already confirmed that the fifth and sixth films are being discussed, and now that it seems they have their groove back, that’s sounding more and more like a pretty killer idea.

3.5/5 stars