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Scream returns to satirise new ‘golden era’ of horror

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A man wears a mask of the horror movie Scream. AFP

Scream returns to satirise new ‘golden era’ of horror

Twenty-five years ago, Scream – starring Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox – revitalised horror with its highly self-aware take on the increasingly stale and formulaic slasher genre.

This Friday, a film again entitled Scream – again starring Campbell and Cox – returns to breathe new life into the . . . you get the idea.

“Thank God we are working in a franchise, and in a universe, where it’s okay for a movie to be wildly self-reflexive,” co-director Tyler Gillett said.

“There were more instances of that meta experience than we can count when we were making the movie.”

Just like in the 1996 original, characters in the new Scream spend much of the plot debating the tropes of horror movies in order to guess which one of them – female? Black? virgin? – will be killed off next.

They realise that the latest swathe of attacks in their bafflingly violent California hometown are targeting people related to the killers from 25 years before.

Handily, one character explains horror audiences’ new fondness for “requels” – films that follow chronologically from previous movies, but reboot the franchise with younger characters related to the original cast.

“There are certain rules to surviving – believe me, I know,” a returning David Arquette tells his younger, new co-stars.

The film also revisits several locations and scenarios.

It starts with a scene that evokes Drew Barrymore’s infamous and shocking death in the original, when she ill-advisedly answered her landline, with the killer on the other end, before the opening credits have even rolled.

In the new film’s opener, a Gen-Z teen is so baffled to find that her parents’ old landline still functions that she initially does not even answer.

“The disregard we all have for landlines . . . for us, it’s fun,” said co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin.

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US actress Courteney Cox poses for photographers upon arrival at the Ivor Novello awards in central London. The actor stars in the movie Scream. AFP

“Placed at the beginning of the movie, it just lets you know we’re aware of it, the movie’s aware of it, we’re going to move forward with that awareness together.

“One of the things that Scream does so well is it never underestimates its audience.”

Whodunit?

While the filmmakers wanted to make a “love letter” to the late Wes Craven – who directed all four previous Scream films – Gillett said the movie could never just be “pure nostalgia.”

Unlike the original, which emerged when the slasher horror genre was floundering, the new Scream arrives in an era of critically acclaimed, socially aware arthouse horror from the likes of Jordan Peele.

Characters in the film pompously discuss their love for “elevated horror,” referencing films like The Babadook and Hereditary as well as Peele’s Get Out and Us.

“We’re in the middle of a golden era. And so we’re hoping that this movie introduces people to some of those movies that they aren’t familiar with,” said Bettinelli-Olpin.

“We’re obviously playing with and poking fun at this idea of ‘elevated horror,’” added Gillett.

“Regardless of what you want to call it in order to feel good about watching a horror movie, for us it’s all gravy. As long as people are excited about the stories . . . that’s all upside to us.”

One thing that has not changed is the Scream franchise’s “whodunit” element, with the identity of the killer hidden behind a distinctive “Ghostface” mask.

Keeping the plot’s twists from leaking was vital to the filmmakers. During the audition stages, actors were only shown scenes from the film’s first two acts.

“Even when the cast members got there, we only gave them pages up until where their characters were,” said executive producer Chad Villella, who worked on 2019 hit Ready or Not with the two directors.

“They really embraced the secrecy of it all.”

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