By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

I scream, you scream, we all scream for more Scream.

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Or at least scream-agers do.

That’s the apparent assumption of the folks in charge of the commercially successful horror/humor franchise that once again gives us the relentless killer “Ghostface,” as he’s called, the black-hooded, white-masked homicidal maniac who now returns after an eleven-year hiatus.

He’s been the rotating boogeyman in Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), and Scream 3 (2000), a trio of popular horror thrillers that were, in the final analysis, merely which-teen-dies-next slasher flicks.

Scream 4 (or Scre4m) is the third sequel in the franchise, and because nobody wanted to change horses in mid-Scream, it is once again part suspenseful slasher-fest, part parlor-game mystery, and part campy parody.

And although this might seem damning with faint praise, as fourth installments go, this one goes in the books as a very pleasant surprise.

It picks up a decade after its immediate predecessor, as published author Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell (above), arrives at the last stop on a book tour for the self-help book she has written about her frightful experiences and her struggle to emerge intact.

Returning to Woodsboro on the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre (and the fifteenth anniversary of the first Scream) that reduced the population of her hometown in the first place, Sidney gets to reconnect with her married friends, Sheriff Dewey and writer Gale, played by David Arquette and Courteney Cox, as well as her best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), and her Aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell).

And there’s more new blood — some of it literally that — provided by Anna Paquin, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Marley Shelton, Adam Brody, and Kristen Bell.

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And wouldn’t you know it, Ghostface returns as well. This time he stalks and, copycat that he or she is, does his or her murderous business in ways that parallel the crimes committed in the original film.

Wes Craven — who directed the first three installments, as well as Red Eye, Music of the Heart, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Last House on the Left — starts with the series’ customary right-out-of-the-gate, suspenseful and violent movie-within-a-movie set piece, trying to outdo the prologue of the previous installment.  Which he does, gleefully, with a slam-bang opening sequence that features a horror franchise called “Stab” that mirrors the self-aware Scream series.

Horrormeister Craven works from a script by the writer of the first two installments, Kevin Williamson, who reminds the audience that, although there’s plenty of ultraviolence on hand, this will not be an exercise in torture porn by referencing, among other horror movies, Saw and its sequels.

Instead, he concentrates on stocking the pond with a whole school of red herrings.

Craven, who knows what viewers are cravin’, once again toys with and plays to his audience, delivering a fair share of false-alarm shock scares that will have impressionable viewers jumping out of their seats.

But he honors the horror conventions while simultaneously sending them up, and updates the on-screen world by incorporating modern technological elements that weren’t nearly as prominent or even existent when the series began fifteen years ago: now the characters are routinely texting, checking the Internet, and taking cell phone photographs.

The combination of graphic bloodletting, a whodunit guessing game, and a parade of pop culture in-jokes is sufficiently stimulating for an indulgent audience, and Craven somehow manages to make this concoction both ridiculous and thought-provoking simultaneously.

So let me take a wild stab at 2½ stars out of 4 for the shock-and-mock thriller the title of which answers the question, “How do you warn golfers?”

Scream 4 isn’t for everybody, but should please fans of the series, who just might find this fourth fillet-a-thon the best one yet.

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