Gale (Courteney Cox) is in mortal danger again in "Scream 4." (Gemma La Mana / Dimension…)
Following a bloody scene near the conclusion of "Scream 4," the character played by the horror franchise veteran Neve Campbell turns to series newcomer Emma Roberts and self-referentially cautions her to not mess with the original, though she uses cruder language to express her displeasure.
The question this weekend is whether fans of the first three films also might feel that the new thriller tramples on the "Scream" legacy.
It's been 11 years since "Scream 3" arrived in theaters, and franchises don't normally relaunch themselves after such a long hiatus. Audience tracking surveys suggest that "Scream 4" will be eviscerated at the box office by the animated comedy "Rio," but there are precedents that make "Scream 4" maker Weinstein Co. optimistic about its long-term prospects.
Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in 2008 followed the previous Harrison Ford treasure-hunt tale by 19 years with poor reviews but a global gross of more than $786 million, and last year's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" from New Line, which trailed the previous Freddy Krueger movie by seven years, grossed a respectable $63.1 million domestically.
"Audiences like it a lot," Bob Weinstein says of the new horror film, which so far is attracting fair but not great reviews. "'Scream' is an icon of a franchise."
The first three films, which both poked fun at and delivered on the clichés of modern fright flicks, were presented as a completed trilogy. "There was nowhere to go with the story line," Weinstein says.
The Weinstein Co. eventually became eager to develop a sequel, even though screenwriter Kevin Williamson (who wrote the first two films) and director Wes Craven (who made the first three films) didn't feel there was a new story worth telling. "We all just went on with our lives," says Craven, who had directed "Red Eye," "Cursed" and "My Soul to Take" since making "Scream 3."
Then Weinstein called two years ago, saying that Williamson, who is writing and producing the television series "The Vampire Diaries," had an idea for a new film. Over dinner in late 2009, Williamson sketched out the idea for "Scream 4" and possible plots for fifth and sixth films. "It sounded really interesting," Craven says.
When Williamson handed in a screenplay draft, Craven committed to the film as soon as he read its opening scene. But the filmmaker did so with some concerns.
"It had to be damn good, or all of us were going to look a little foolish," Craven says. "It was going to be starting up something that was 10 years gone, and the last one was not the strongest," Craven says of "Scream 3," which not only was thrashed by critics and fans but also grossed the least amount of money — $89.2 million — of the three releases.
Williamson ultimately had to leave "Scream 4" to return to "Vampire Diaries." He was replaced by screenwriter Ehren Kruger (though he is not credited on the film), who worked on "Scream 3" and this summer's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." It apparently was not an easy parting.
"There are some things that are not being talked about," Craven says of fights between Weinstein and Williamson, who was not available for comment. "There were some differences between Kevin and Bob creatively, but I don't know exactly what they are."
Adds Weinstein: "I think Kevin was probably unhappy on the first 'Scream.' He's just continually unhappy. But the film came out great."
In the new installment, a group of young people is tormented by a masked slasher, while the rules of the genre are debated by characters in the film. The film features extensive use of social media and live video streaming, while at the same time referencing "Scream" itself as a plot point. The movie also takes numerous shots at unnamed torture porn movies such as "Saw," slamming them for a lack of imagination.
In addition to Campbell, "Scream" veterans Courteney Cox and David Arquette reprise their franchise roles.
Kristen Bell, who plays a minor part in "Scream 4," says she knows "Scream" enthusiasts can be hard to please. "You can never really control what the fans will think, and sometimes they feel slighted because they wanted to see something different," the actress says. "I just loved that they've been so consistently good and they're so familiar to people."
Adds Anna Paquin, who appears in a "Scream 4" scene with Bell: "It's nice coming into a franchise that's already been around for a long time and is really loved. You already know that everybody loves it. It's like your work's already been done for you, in a sense, because they established everything years ago."
Craven believes that even though there hasn't been a "Scream" movie in more than a decade, the new film can play to both those who remember the first three movies and others who are walking in cold. "That was a great deal of the appeal for all of us."
Times staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.