ST. LOUIS — Horror movie fans haven’t had much to scream about lately, but that may be about to change.
With “Scream 4,” which opens Friday, director Wes Craven pumps fresh blood into his landmark horror franchise set in the not-so-sleepy town of Woodsboro, Calif.
Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, veterans of the three previous “Scream” movies, return along with original writer Kevin Williamson, whose presence was notably absent in “Scream 3.”
The tongue-in-cheek series helped change how we view horror movies, poking fun at “Prom Night,” “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” and other slasher classics.
Savvy characters in the “Scream” films talked about cliches in the genre: a big-busted woman runs up the stairs when she should be running out the door; only virgins can outlive the killer; a bad guy presumed to be dead pops up for one last hurrah; sequels have a higher body count than the originals.
“In the ‘Scream’ series, whenever rules are stated, it’s us as filmmakers saying these are the cliches, and we immediately break the rules, send up the cliches,” Craven says.
The original “Scream” grossed $103 million, followed by $101 million for “Scream 2.” Even the poorly reviewed “Scream 3” grossed $89 million in 2000.
Veteran horror-film director Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Last House on the Left,” “The Hills Have Eyes”) wasn’t initially sure a fourth installment was in order.
“We said we were doing a trilogy and that’s what we did,” he says. “If we did a ‘Scream 4,’ we didn’t want it to look like we were doing it for the money. We put it out of our heads for a while.”
But as the 10th year since “Scream 3” approached, Craven and Bob Weinstein of the Weinstein Co. thought the time was right to go back to the well.
They discussed how to best bring back young heroine Sidney Prescott (Campbell), hungry TV newswoman Gail Weathers (Cox) and Deputy Dewey Riley (Arquette), and what the secret twist should be.
“We had to do something distinctive and unique to its time, not just do a repeat of something we’ve done before with ‘Scream,’” Craven says. “Keeping that freshness called for a lot of work. I think what we have is original and wonderful.”
Many details about “Scream 4” are being kept under wraps. But the basic outline is that Sidney is now a best-selling author embarking on a book tour that comes to Woodsboro. Her return triggers more killings, and everyone is a suspect.
Dewey is now head of the police department, and he and Gail are married.
“She thrived on the blood and guts of the murder cases, and she’s been languishing,” Craven says. “There’s tension in that, and things start happening.”
Tension also exists between Dewey and Gail, which mirrors the real lives of the married Arquette and Cox, who separated last year.
“The characters in the film are going through their own marital tensions, so it does have that eerie echo of real life,” Craven says.
Craven says neither cast nor crew knew what was going on with Arquette and Cox.
“They were together, and everything was fine,” Craven says. “We didn’t hear a word from them. They’re both total pros.”
The couple also went on to do press for the movie.
“They love each other hugely and worked together on the press tour without any signs of friction,” Craven says. “It’ll all work out in a good and human way.”
Rumors of reshoots also made headlines for “Scream 4.”
“It wasn’t like we had to do anything,” Craven says of reshooting. “But Bob had an idea of how to make one scene a bit more spectacular, two scenes actually. The scenes were strong but could be stronger. We extended those scenes, and it worked so well. It was an enormous gift. He gave me free rein to write those moments and expand those scenes.”
Craven says the series did need updating in one key area.
The earlier movies relied heavily on the telephone as a menacing plot device. But it’s a new era of communication technology, and “Scream 4” reflects that, he says.
“The growth of social networking, smartphones, video cameras and recorders has a tremendous presence in every nook and cranny of our life, and we’re very much in that world,” Craven says. “I can’t imagine doing a film set in today’s world without those things being important to plot and character.”
A RECAP OF THE SERIES
“Scream” (1996) opened with the gruesome murder of high school student Casey (Drew Barrymore in a cameo appearance). The city of Woodsboro and the students at her school are rocked by her murder, including Sidney Prescott, who begins receiving phone calls from the killer, dubbed Ghostface. TV reporter Gail Weathers looks for the scoop, and dopey Deputy Dewey Riley tries to solve the crimes.
Spoiler alert — The murders are committed by Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and his buddy, Stu (Matthew Lillard).
“Scream 2” (1997) begins with the premiere of the movie “Stab,” based on Gail’s best-selling book about the Woodsboro killings. A double killing at the premiere restarts the murders, and Sidney and those around her are again targets.
Spoiler alert — This time the killers are Billy’s mother (Laurie Metcalf) and one of Sidney’s classmates (Timothy Olyphant).
“Scream 3” (2000) is mostly a movie-within-a movie, with the stars of “Stab 3” falling victim in the order they die in the script. Sidney, now a crisis counselor, finds herself back in the mix after she starts getting calls again. Gail and Dewey are back, too, in this overly plotted installment.
Spoiler alert — The killer is the “Stab 3” director (Scott Foley) who turns out to be Sidney’s half-brother.