Wes Craven’s Scream films, even at their most asinine, still take the slasher genre seriously. They diagnose a burgeoning cultural interest in trivia and factoids—convention over conviction, as Armond White once wrote of Quentin Tarantino. Craven’s Scream 4 updates these themes for the Twitterverse, where multimedia technologies aid the killers more than assist the victims. Different epochs of delivery systems are encoded within the film’s critique; one character is even stabbed through the mail slot of a front door—a figurative death of snail mail.
Craven’s films loom large over L.A. Slasher, which inflates the meta conceit (already borderline overblown) of a pop-obsessed, sex-negative serial killer to excessive but trite proportions, as the slasher systematically dispatches a group of former and current reality TV stars one by one. Conventional stuff, but the update for writer-director Martin Owen is a killer who not only films his murders, but tags each slaying, in a tweet, with a cutesy hashtag, ranging from #cleanupLA to #nomorecastingcouch. An L.A. news program called Buzz (transparently modeled on TMZ) reports each killing with enthusiasm, featuring soundbites from people on the street celebrating the murders and spouting easy, tiresome punchlines like “Snookie might be next.”
Owen goes for even lower, base targets in the decision to deny his characters actual names, instead introducing each key player with wink-wink title cards, like the Actress (Mischa Barton), the Mayor (Eric Roberts), or the Stripper (Marisa Lauren). None of the performers are afforded more than momentary agency amid Owen’s neon-coated Los Angeles, which is scored with electronic club beats and rightfully presented as a simulacrum harboring superficial hearts and minds, though Owen has little clue what to do with such suggestions. Instead, he apes Neveldine/Taylor’s aesthetics from the Crank films, especially during a strip-club sequence, and has characters spout pseudo-satirical proclamations, such as, “This is like Star 80 on steroids.” The in-joke is that Roberts was in that film and is, ya know, in this one as well. That’s about the extent of Owen’s perception on the intersections of genre, violence, and celebrity: All of it is beneath the castigating eye of his film, so he finds no compulsion to take any of it seriously, proffering a hollow lampoon in place of a more daring, formidable argument.
It’s too bad, because the premise is ripe for further insight, especially since the slasher (voiced by Andy Dick) is positioned as a neo-Travis Bickle, hell-bent on fighting cultural degradation with gunshots and stab wounds. Yet Owen botches all opportunities for insight; even when the killer decides on his own, eponymous name after scratching out alternatives from his notebook, it’s a weak gag, free from grappling with the underlying, imitative impulse that clearly breeds Owen’s own sensibilities. A more percipient moment could have had the slasher glimpsing Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper in a video store and lifting a comparable name, full stop. That would at least formulate a clear, satirical lineage that L.A. Slasher is charting, where artists of all forms—even those who paint with blood—are beholden to their predecessors. Instead, great films like Phantom of the Paradise and Taxi Driver are implicitly alluded to, though the film’s intervention regarding celebrity spectacle and postmodern aesthetics remains #bloodless.