It’s been more than a quarter of a century since the original “Scream,” starring David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Drew Barrymore, reinvented the slasher genre with a scary, funny and self-reverential take on things that go stab in the night.
Three sequels later, there’s a new edition, the inventively titled “Scream.” It’s the fifth film in the series, and they’re not calling it a sequel. It is, God help us, a relaunch, or, as they call it in the movie, a “requel.”
A mix of new and old characters, “Scream” takes place in Woodsboro, California, a sleepy little town whose peace and quiet was interrupted twenty-five years ago by a killer in the now iconic Ghostface mask.
The action in the new film gets underway as a new Ghostface killer sets their sights, and knife, on Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), a teenage senior at Woodsboro High who enjoys “elevated horror.” (MILD SPOILER) Unlike the opening scene characters before her, Tara survives and is tended to by older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) whose thorny history with Ghostface makes the pair a target for the masked killer.
As Ghostface’s killing spree continues, Sam turns to the old guard, Dewey Riley (David Arquette), television morning show host Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), for help.
“Scream” is much cleverer than the retread title and recycled killer would suggest. It continues the meta commentary on the rules characters in slasher movies must abide by if they expect to survive the knife but, more than that, it plays like a satire of itself. It’s a trickly line to walk but directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett stay the course.
As the killer carves notches on his belt, characters talk about “elevated horror,” and toxic fandom until the line between what the characters are talking about and what we’re watching on screen blurs into one bloody riff on postmodern horror and what it really means to be a “requel.” It is simultaneously self-reverential and mocking of the slasher genre, and values its cleverness as much as the kills that provide the scares.
The scary scenes don’t have quite the same atmosphere Wes Craven brought to his “Scream” instalments, but there are moments that linger in the memory. The old trope of revealing the killer behind an opening door is played for laughs and tension, and the loss of one of the “legacy” characters is actually kind of touching.
As expected, the killings are brutal and bloody, and mostly not played for laughs. The new “Scream” is the most gruesome film in the franchise, offering up piercing knives and gallons of pouring plasma. There are plot holes everywhere and the victims have usually done something to out themselves in harm’s way, but the killings are effectively played out.
“Scream” is a slasher movie that bends the rules of slasher movies but, best of all, it also breaks the sequel rule of diminishing returns. Adding a fifth entry to an established franchise, that holds up to the original, may be the movie’s biggest achievement.