With its deft handling of humor, suspense and horror-movie cliches, the Scream franchise gave a much-needed hit of adrenaline to a flagging horror genre when it debuted in 1996. The series centers on cinema's ultimate Final Girl, Sidney Prescott, (Neve Campbell), as she becomes the target of a set of tenacious serial killers in her small suburban hometown.
In Scream 4, which opens April 15, Sidney returns to Woodsboro as a successful self-help author on a book tour, and it doesn't take long before she's reunited with old friends Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox), and, of course, the latest incarnation of Ghostface.
"I think we're all amazed that we're in this drama, really, that is taking place over 15, 16 years. It's just extraordinary," director Wes Craven said last week during a press gathering in Hollywood. "I don't know of another film that has done this, so I think we're all pretty damn excited about being part of it."
Arquette was visibly moved when he spoke about what the film franchise has meant to him. "I just love working with all these amazing people and, you know, we've developed this family not only, you know, of fellow actors and directors, but, you know, the crew -- all of this crew -- that we've shared 15 years together," he said.
"Wes was instrumental in us being together," Cox explained, gesturing to her husband Arquette. "He was, you know, he's like, kind of our mentor in relationships and growing. And to come back and do it again, it was just really fun."
Cox also confided that there was another benefit of returning to the franchise after 10 years. "I became closer with Neve during this movie than I did in the first three, and I just enjoy that girl," she said.
Along with its cast of long-suffering veterans, the latest installment introduces the audience to a new cast of victims and suspects, including Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Emma Roberts (Unfabulous, Nancy Drew), Rory Culkin (Signs, You Can Count On Me) and Anthony Anderson (Law & Order, Transformers).
"It was lovely to have a new cast come in," Campbell said. "They were great. They came in with great enthusiasm, and they were excited to be a part of it. And as actors I don't think we really needed to teach them the ropes in any way. They're all professionals in their own right and did a great job."
Panettiere, who's been acting since age four, said she enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside the original cast. "They were always great!" she said. "They really had an interest in knowing us and including us and really made that effort and it made it just a great experience."
"It was cool," said Culkin, whose film-savvy Charlie Walker interprets the horror-movie rules to a new generation of fans. "I mean, they were sort of in our position 10 or 15 years earlier, so they understood where we were coming from."
"I grew up watching this franchise," said Anderson, who wasted no time sharing a bit of horror trivia. "I actually spoofed this movie in Scary Movie 3 and 4, and now I'm a part of the franchise that I spoofed."
Roberts, who plays Sidney's cousin Jill, was too young to have seen the first Scream when it premiered in theaters. However, the movie still had a profound effect on her. "It's the most plausible, and that's why it's so freaky," she said, before admitting she's easily scared. "I was covering my eyes through most of Scream 4, and I was in the movie."
After the runaway success of the first film, Internet spoilers and a leaked script nearly derailed the sequel. Consequently, the secrecy surrounding the latest installment has been intense.
"When I read the script before I signed on to do the movie, I had to go to Wes Craven's house and, like, sit down and read it," Roberts revealed. "And when we got our scripts -- well, we were all ... I think all of us were scared because they were watermarked and so if you lost it, you knew who lost it."
When Craven was asked about being so closely connected to the horror genre, he laughed and said that once his his first film, the now-classic Last House On The Left, was released, "Nobody asked me to make a romantic comedy or anything else after that."
The director's unique approach to crafting multi-layered horror films might have something to do with his early career as a college professor teaching Greek mythology: "I realized that horror films were like a 20th century -- at that time -- mythology and that, rather than looking down at it and feeling a little embarrassed by it, just treat it like that and make it the mythology as much as you could of your current generation and your era."
Craven did admit he wasn't entirely pleased with Scream 3, and said, "If we were going to come back and do one, I'm sure all of us felt like it has to be really, really good and not just to prove something to anybody else other than ourselves. It deserved to be good. The audience deserved for it to be good."
Craven also spoke about his fans, and why he enjoys creating movies for them. "I think the audience is very smart and very adventurous," he said. "They're people that can face fear -- which a lot of people can't -- and I find that the most interesting people I've met in general are the people who can face fear and even have fun with it."