Earlier this week I took my good pal Liam Mills (a very talented graphic artist) along to a preview screening of Scream 4. He’s one of a select cut of horror cinephiles who specialise in knowledge of the Scream franchise. He can tell you which characters died, when and by who for each of the movies.

It’s fair to say that Liam appreciated the invite more than most people would. So much so, in fact, that he pledged to draw a picture of me and him watching the movie, with Ghostface hovering over us, to commemorate the occasion. So here it is: there’s me on the left (notice the knife is poised directly above my head — thanks mate) and Liam on the right.

And now, here’s my review….

The tag team of director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson reunite to return the Scream franchise to cinemas 15 years after it sliced open the slasher genre and stuffed it full of smug self-referential postmodernism.

There’s no denying the innovation or impact of the 1996 original, which introduced stalked heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and “Ghostface” – the eerie gaunt white mask and black hood her attempted killer (who carves up her friends and family but inevitably fails to mince her) wears in each installment.

Ten years have passed since the last butchering. Now the author of a self-help book, Sidney’s last stop on the book tour is her hometown, Woodsboro. There she reconnects with what remains of the gang – Dewey (David Arquette), who is now Sheriff and even dumber than he used to be, and his feisty wife Gale (Courtney Cox). Another of her acquaintances returns too: ol’ Ghostface him/herself, this time, of course, with a different person behind the mask.

Victims get diced like sashimi while those still with a pulse observe how the world has changed since the last movie: namely the rise of remakes and torture porn and the advance of Web 2.0.

Scream pandered to the idea that modern audiences were intellectually superior to the cut-and-thrust of old skool slasher pics but not enough to second-guess the surprises along the way, particularly the unraveling of the killer at game’s end.

Scream 2 (1997) provided the perfect stomping grounds to make a sequel about making a sequel, the “rules of sequels” (i.e. the body count is always bigger; the death scenes much more elaborate) articulated by geeky film student characters who, like the audience, act like they’ve seen it all before but are ultimately caught off guard. By Scream 3 (2000) the gimmick had stretched to near breaking point, and, exacerbated by Williamson’s absence, it showed.

If the challenge for Scream 2 was to draw attention to drawing attention to conventions, the challenge for Scream 4 (let us ignore the third installment) was to add “drawing attention” one more time to the string — an exercise that always ran the risk of melting into a puddle of Craven and Williamson’s vanity.

With over a decade between drinks, the two staunchly contemp spooksters now have the bonus of time, which brings with it the capability of observing how the genre has changed since they changed it. The commentary is surprisingly light given the plethora of horror movie remakes in recent years, but then again, is there all that much to say about remakes?

Scream 4’s tireless self and inter-textual referencing will wear some viewers down, but the plot structure propping up this wink-athon is adventurous enough to satisfy while working within the ya-know-what-ya-gonna-get confines of the slasher genre. The opening 10 minutes is fabulously manipulative stuff, and the ending is a beast that takes an awful long time to die. Both bookends are chocked to the gills with fake-outs and screwy plot devices.

Scream 4 isn’t the sizzling cauldron of intellect Craven and Williamson might think it is, but their determination to satirise audience expectations while simultaneously gratifying and surpassing them more or less works. It’s an uneven experiment that periodically succumbs to the foibles it illuminates, but nevertheless serves up a wild rush for audiences keen to play the “try and second guess me game” and don’t mind paying for the rush of surprise with the cost of genuine suspense.

Scream 4’s Australian theatrical release date: April 14, 2011.