An abbreviated version of this story was published today in the Media Briefs section of the Crikey newsletter.

There are certain unwritten rules a film reviewer must abide by in order to a) maintain professional integrity and b) not get chased down, strung up and burnt at the stake by the general public, proverbially or otherwise.

One of them is simple: don’t spoil the ending of a movie. Understandably, readers tend to get incensed when they read a review for a film they want to see and learn what happens in the end. Even worse if that film happens to have a twist or two — like, say, a murder mystery.

Scream 4 opened yesterday in cinemas across Australia. The fourth in a series of bloody self-referential slasher movies, it is in essence a whodunit. As is custom in the Scream flicks, the killer is revealed at the end of the movie, so it’s pretty obvious that if you’re reviewing the film you shouldn’t tell readers who the murderer is, right?

In the very first sentence of his review, published yesterday online on Fairfax websites, veteran critic Jim Schembri took the “who” out of whodunit. His critique opened with the following line:

Only the sight of <xxx> getting all kill-happy in the frenzied, formulaic final-reel bloodbath makes this totally unwanted, utterly predictable franchise stretcher marginally worthwhile.

When the papers went to press the next morning, however, that opening line had mysteriously changed. It now reads:

Only the sight of <xxx> getting caught up in the frenzied, formulaic final-reel makes this totally unwanted, utterly predictable franchise stretcher marginally worthwhile.

Fairfax was careful to alter the copy on each of its websites: The Age, The SMH, WA Today, even Optus My Zoo, which syndicates Fairfax content. But eradicating all traces of old copy online can be tricky, or impossible. Google, for example, has an extensive cache, and while big news websites are good at updating cached pages there is only so much they can do. At the time of publishing Google was still indexing the original words of Schembri’s review, before he changed it:

One presumes Fairfax was hit with a smattering of complaints from furious Scream fans venting their fury on websites such as Twitter and managed to change the copy in time for print the next day.

It is staggering how a critic of Jim Schembri’s experience (he began as a full time journalist at The Age in 1984 and started writing about films shortly after) appeared to have no qualms about breaking one of the cardinal rules of being a film reviewer.

A bunch of people took Schembri to town on Twitter, including a writer for ABC’s Hungry Beast and The Drum editor Jonathan Green.

Schembri was contacted early this morning but did not respond to Crikey before deadline.  He did, however, log onto Twitter shortly after Crikey emailed him and sent the following two tweets:

Note the present tense in the sentence “We do not give away the ending.” Not “We did not give away the ending.”

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