As a devoted fan of both the 'Scream' and 'Final Destination' franchises, the latest installments are two of the most highly anticipated releases of 2011. But, as much as I'm looking forward to 'Scream 4' on April 15th and to 'Final Destination 5' on August 26th, there's no denying the fact that 'Scream 3' and 'The Final Destination' just weren't very good. This is going to be a battle of redemption for each series and while our fingers are crossed both will exceed expectations, the horror film sequel odds are not in their favor.
Battle 1: Directors & Writers
From the moment 'Scream 4' was announced, that seemed to be a likely winner. Why would Wes Craven return to a beloved franchise ten years later if he didn't have a viable reason to do so? Originally, the answer was that he did have the reason to do so and it was likely because someone came up with a good story that made rebooting the franchise a worthy investment. After following the production process from beginning to end, hopes were still high, but then 'My Soul to Take' arrived and ... yeah.
If Craven thought this film was a good idea, who knows what kind of garbage he OK'ed for the fourth installment of 'Scream.' Even worse, a main problem with 'My Soul to Take' is Craven's disconnection from the teen mentality. Back when the original 'Scream' films came out, all of the characters were sensible – well, minus the fact that some of them were sadistic psychopaths. Other than that, they acted their age, spoke like high school and college kids, and therefore came across as real people. In the case of 'My Soul to Take,' on the other hand, Craven delivers a group of teenaged caricatures. What 16-year-old says, "Wake up and smell the Starbucks?"
On the bright side, Craven didn't write 'Scream 4.' The original 'Scream' scribe Kevin Williamson did. Then again, there was also the whole issue of Ehren Kruger stepping in to do some major rewrites. Regardless of the degree of Kruger's involvement, it's still better than having Craven write the piece himself.
'Final Destination 5'
Unlike the 'Scream' franchise, the 'Final Destination' series has had an assortment of filmmakers on board. First there was James Wong, who both directed and co-wrote the script, then we got David R. Ellis as a director for the second film backed by a team of five different writers, one of which, Jeffrey Reddick, worked on the first film. 'Final Destination 3' saw the return of Wong pulling double duty as well as one of his writing partners from the first film, Glen Morgan. Then, yet again, Wong was gone and Ellis was back for 'The Final Destination.' The director of what was arguably the best film of the franchise was back! What could go wrong? Apparently quite a lot. Ellis was entirely consumed by the 3D technology and the fourth film wasn't comparable in the least to the original three.
So now here we are with director Steven Quale and writers Eric Heisserer and Gary Dauberman. Having never seen his short 'Darkness,' the only way to formulate an opinion on Quale's abilities is to look at his visual effects work for 'Avatar.' For most films this would be a weak excuse for a qualification, but considering the fourth film's downfall was its visual effects, perhaps Quale is exactly what 'FD5' needs to properly unite the technology and story.
As for the writing duo, Heisserer's reboot of 'Nightmare on Elm Street' wasn't anything great, but apparently it was good enough to get him a few more gigs, namely the new 'The Thing,' a second 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' and of course, 'FD5.' Dauberman has just three credits to his name, a TV movie called 'In the Spider's Web,' a straight-to-DVD film and something called 'Swamp Devil,' none of which many people have seen, so he doesn't do much to up the film's credibility.
Basically we're looking at a team of old timers against a group of newcomers all battling to appeal to a similar audience. As much as this pains us to say, we're guessing this will be an out with the old and in with the new situation and it'll be 'Final Destination 5' emerging with a more appealing story and look.
Battle 2: The Stars
What began as a typical horror film packed with a bunch of no-names has spawned one of the biggest star-powered films of 2011. Here it goes; we've got David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Alison Brie, Marley Shelton, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Erik Knudsen, Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin. Now the obvious question is, will their performances be any good?
This should be easy for the vets. Arquette, Campbell and Cox are simply reprising old roles and, rumor has it, are just there to make way for the fresher faces. Between the images from the film and the new teaser, I'm inclined to believe the original trio is far more involved than we were first led to believe, but if it is true that they're just there to pave the way for the newcomers, 'Scream 4' will rest primarily on the kids' shoulders.
Roberts tends to be a bit dull. Whether she's playing a teenager in love in 'Valentine's Day' or a hospitalized cutter in 'It's Kind of a Funny Story,' she still seems like the exact same person. Panettiere, on the other hand, has far more range. As hard as 'Heroes' tanked and as much as 'I Love You Beth Cooper' stunk, she did the best she could and it showed. Culkin is seemingly always a winner. Minus 'Twelve,' just about every film he's appeared in has been a pleasure to watch – 'Signs,' 'Mean Creek,' 'Lymelife.' The rest of the youngsters haven't quite achieved famous face status, but have done enough for us to at least know they're wholly capable of delivering fine performances.
'Final Destination 5'
The casting situation here is entirely different. Minus the first two films, the cast changes from film to film. Most of the time we get a roster of unknowns, but this time around, not only do we get the return of Tony Todd, some seasoned actors, too.
The best of the bunch is Nicholas D'Agosto. Minus 'Fired Up!,' which wasn't exactly well received but did earn itself an edition of Defending Bad Movies, D'Agosto has been relegated to entirely overlooked features and a handful of television performances. Okay, 'Fired Up!' wasn't anything fantastic, but D'Agosto is absolutely hilarious in it and certainly proved he's got what it takes to lead a film. Second to D'Agosto on our list of cast favorites is Emma Bell. After 'Frozen' we've been dying to see her in something else. 'Frozen' wasn't just any horror film, it was a horror film with a serious amount of heart and most of it came from Bell's performance. Even after seeing 'Frozen' a handful of times, her monologue in the middle of the film still makes us teary-eyed.
From there, there's a bit of a drop off. Yes, everyone recognizes David Koechner from 'Anchorman,' but other than that there isn't a whole lot to his name, or at least anything that would prove he's good for 'FD5.' Arlen Escarpeta has some horror experience from the new 'Friday the 13th' and Miles Fisher was pretty damn funny in "Pinkberry: The Movie," but they're far from sure things.
Based on experience alone, we've got to go with 'Scream 4' on this one. We're talking about three people who are reprising roles they know well and a bunch of young stars almost all of whom have rather lengthy resumes.
Battle 3: What We've Seen So Far
Ever since shooting wrapped, the official images have been pouring in. The tone seems appropriate so far, mimicking the earlier films with a blend of terror and a hint of camp, but just two make a major impression. There's nothing better than a hefty dose of dramatic irony, so the shot of Cox trekking through a barn with the killer lurking in the background is particularly striking. Then there's the image of the new crop of kids hanging out by the fountain, which is guaranteed to hit home for any fan of the first film. Even without any blood and guts, the conversation between Billy, Stu, Sidney, Tatum and Randy while they relax by the fountain is one of the most memorable moments in the film.
Sadly, the teaser trailer is a bit of a killer. The montage is generally chilling, but the whole thing comes crashing down with the final shot. Yes, seeing Gale Weathers about to meet the knife is a pretty powerful way to end it, but does she have to say, "Go ahead if you have the guts?" All that line makes me think of is the shoddy dialogue from 'My Soul to Take.'
'Final Destination 5'
'FD5' is at bit of a disadvantage in this department, simply because we haven't seen very much yet. The whole concept of that bridge collapse we've been hearing about sounds like a great way to open the film, but so did the idea of having a racetrack disaster. If Quale can keep his focus on delivering an opening that really resonates rather than merely one that pops off the screen, hopefully we'll end up with something like what the first three films had to offer; something that makes you think twice before taking part in certain everyday activities in real life.
What we do have in terms of visual elements are the very first images from the film. The first shows D'Agosto assisting someone during what could be the big bridge accident. Nothing too exciting here and D'Agosto looks more like a nerd than a potential hero, but it's a fine start. The same goes for the second image which features Bell trying to be super silent in what seems to be a bar. There's really no hiding from death, so I wonder who she's trying to avoid. Click on the gallery below to view both images.
This is a bit of an unfair competition at this point, so I'm calling it a draw. Once shooting wraps on 'FD 5' we'll likely get some sort of trailer and a side-by-side comparison could certainly be warranted at that point. Minus that dialogue misstep in the 'Scream 4' teaser, both films are shaping up fine at this point.
'Scream' is one of my favorite films of all time and Craven one of my favorite filmmakers, but 'My Soul to Take' really dashed hopes for 'Scream 4.' As much as we'd like to believe Craven wouldn't be making this grand return unless he had something of quality to deliver, the fact that he'd let 'My Soul to Take' hit theaters is extremely disconcerting. Could 'Scream 4' really be that bad? We hope not, but after 'My Soul to Take,' it's certainly not out of the question and this is exactly why we're leaning towards 'Final Destination 5' for the win.
As bad as the fourth installment is, Ellis is gone and we've got someone who specialized in visuals in the driver's seat. Plus, the return of Tony Todd is a fantastic sign that the filmmakers are considering making a connection to the source material a top priority, something the fourth film lacked entirely. As much as we'd like to see both films emerge wildly successful, at the moment, it's looking like 'Final Destination 5' has a better shot at actually doing so.
What do you think?