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Scream 4 succeeds

It’s been 11 long years since “Scream 3” killed off a commercially successful franchise by ignoring what made the original “Scream” and its follow-up such a pop-culture phenomenon.

Much has changed since the last film, both in terms of horror staples like Jigsaw, who can be seen ruthlessly hacking off the limbs of innocent people in the countless “Saw” sequels, as well as the real-life horrors that have become so prevalent in the mainstream media.

While films such as “Saw” and 2005’s “Hostel” attempt to tap into that real-life horror, “Scream” always seemed content both scaring and entertaining. It’s nice to see that after a decade away, “Scream 4” allows the franchise to return to where it all started.

Everything appears calm when Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), tormented by the killings that took place in the first three films, returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, Calif., to promote her self-help book.

Conveniently, her visit coincides with the anniversary of the Woodsboro murders that occurred in the first “Scream,” and on cue, bodies start turning up all over again. Prescott’s cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) is warned that Prescott’s presence spells death for them all.

While the characters of the “Scream” films have always been important to the series’ continuing narrative, the addition of fresh faces like Roberts (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”), Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”) and Rory Culkin (“Signs”) had many fans worried that the series was simply looking to replace beloved survivors with new blood.

“Scream 4” certainly follows in the motions of its predecessors, but the new stars help it feel exciting and fresh. After the opening of the film, which displays the series’ trademarked self-aware personality, the fun begins when we are quickly introduced to all the citizens of Woodsboro both new and old.

Kevin Williamson’s screenplay for the original film provided the humorous, genre- deconstructing style that set it apart from the never-ending supply of slasher films that filled theaters in the early ’90s.

Even when the series’ self-referential nature finds itself delivering clunky dialogue like “the only policemen who survive in movies are played by Bruce Willis,” it is able to return to its witty ways once again. The “Scream” films have always remained intelligent, even when they tend to wade into the depths of bad screenwriting, and “Scream 4” is no exception.

Director Wes Craven, who has directed every “Scream” installment, makes a welcome return with his trademark flair for suspense. Even when the film starts to drag about halfway through, Craven keeps the film’s tension building.

This comes as a surprise, especially since Craven’s last few films, with the exception of the 2005 film “Red Eye,” have felt like soulless attempts to return to his former glory as “The Master of Suspense.”