PrintE-mail Written by Abigail Chandler Sunday, 08 May 2011

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In December of 1996, horror fans were faced with one question, "What's your favorite scary movie?"  Total Box Office earnings of $173,046,663 revealed the answer to be Scream, directed by horror master Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson.

     Originally conceived under the title, "Scary Movie," Scream tells the story of Sidney Prescott played by Neve Campbell, who lives in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California, where a masked killer with a penchant for horror movie trivia is stalking her and her friends.

     By the mid-1990's, Craven had grown weary of being known as the "Master Of Horror," and wanted to escape the genre for awhile to test his directing abilities in a less bloody genre.  After teaming up with Eddie Murphy on the horror/comedy, A Vampire In Brooklyn, he slipped back into more familiar, bloody territory with a proposed remake of Robert Wise's 1963 classic, The Haunting.

    During this time, other directors such as Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete) and Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) were approached to helm the film.  Concerns arose when Rodriguez, Boyle and other directors who read the script interpreted it as a comedy instead of what it was; a satirical horror film.  It wasn't until production fell through on The Haunting that Craven accepted Bob Weinstein and Kevin Williamson's offer to direct.

     Filming for Scream began on April 15 in Santa Rosa, California on a budget of $14 million.  When Williamson sold his script to Miramax, he was asked to remove many of the gorier scenes, fearing they would inhibit the salability of the script.  Once Wes stepped into the director's chair, all the deleted violent scenes were written back into the script.

     Even though Scream provides horror hounds with plenty of the red stuff, the film was written to be more of a self-referential "whodunit."  The characters in Scream are very aware of horror films, with the character Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) giving a very passionate speech on the "Three Rules You Must Know In Order To Successfully Survive A Horror Movie."

     What sets the series apart from those generic and formulaic teen slashers being regurgitated by the studios around this time is its theme of a horror film within a horror film.  It references well-known horror films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  In fact, Drew Barrymore's character Casey is an homage of sorts to the Marion Crane character in Psycho, in that you have a well-known actress that gets killed fifteen minutes into the movie, throwing the audience off completely.  Among the film's many references, there are some cameos sure to excite those hard core fans including Linda Blair from The Exorcist, playing a reporter on the high school campus after the murder of Casey and her boyfriend.  Only a true horror fan would catch the more subtle references scattered here and there throughout the film including the character Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) as being named after Sam Loomis, Donald Pleasance's character in 1978's Halloween.  Also, when Casey's parents arrive home to find their daughter missing, her father tells her mother to drive down to the McKenzie's and call the police, similar to when Jamie Lee Curtis' character, Laurie Strode in Halloween, tells the two little kids she is babysitting to go across the street to the McKenzie's and call the police. 

     Wes Craven is known for giving up and coming actors and actresses their start in the business.  The most famous being Johnny Depp, who made his feature film debut in A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Shocker's Peter Berg.  Craven wanted to continue this tradition until the decision was made to cast actors and actresses who already had a substantial body of work.

     Party Of Five star, Neve Campbell was given the lead role of Sidney Prescott, because of her "girl next door" looks.  Wes believed that, despite her innocent appearance, she had the ability to handle the physicality that the role demanded.  Other members of the cast include Courtney Cox (Friends), David Arquette (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Rose McGowan (Encino Man), Matthew Lillard (Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College), and Skeet Ulrich (The Craft).  And who can forget the iconic, masked killer himself?  After a long search, Roger L. Jackson was picked to play the voice.

     Kevin Williamson in his script described the killer as only wearing a ghost mask of sorts.  This lack of character description left Wes Craven and executive producer Marianne Maddalena scrambling to come up with a killer that would prove to terrify audiences.  It was Marianne who came up with the concept of dressing the killer all in black and the mask that Wes found at a house while location scouting.

     As mentioned before, Scream splattered itself onto theater screens in December 1996.  It opened in 1,413 theaters, taking in $6,354,586 in its opening weekend.  It went on to take in $87 million during its initial release, and on April 11, 1997 it was re-released to theaters, where it went onto make another $16 million.  Fans considered Scream to be a breath of fresh air compared to the teen slasher films of the 1980's and their unsuccessful sequels.  They praised Williamson's script for its cleverness and self-referential, social commentary on the horror/teen slasher conventions audiences were so familiar with at the time.

     With the film grossing $103,046,663 domestically and $173,046,663 internationally, it wasn't long before the studio was clamoring to cash in on the success of the first film with a sequel.


     Scream 2 was green lit in March 1997, just one month after the re-release of Scream into theaters.  Williamson admitted that when he initially wrote the script for the first Scream, he perceived the story as being part of a trilogy.  Production for Scream 2 began in July 1997, with another December release date set for that same year.

     Wes returned once again to the director's chair along with: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, and David Arquette reprising their roles from the previous film.  Newcomers included Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jerry O'Connell (Jerry McGuire), Jada Pinkett (The Nutty Professor), and Liev Schreiber (who had a small part in the first film) returns as suspected murderer, Cotton Weary.

     Scream 2 picks up two years after the events of Scream.  Sidney and Randy have moved on with their lives and are now attending Windsor College.  True to her nature, Gale Weathers has written a bestseller titled, "The Woodsboro Murders," which helped to free Cotton from his unjust incarceration for the supposed murder of Sidney's mother, Maureen Prescott, three years prior.

     If Scream was a horror film within a horror film, then Scream 2 is the events of the first film made into a horror film (Stab), within a horror film.  And, since Scream gave us the rules to successfully survive a scary movie, then Scream 2 gives us (via Randy) the three essential elements that go into make a successful horror film sequel: "The body count is always bigger.  The death scenes are always much more elaborate, with more blood and gore.  Never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead."

     When Stab hits theaters, the real life events of what occurred two years ago come back to haunt Sidney in the form of a new killer.  Once Dewey catches wind of a new Ghostface (Roger L. Jackson) stalking Sidney and her friends, he flies out of Woodsboro to protect her.  One by one the body count rises and everyone is a suspect, including Sidney's new boyfriend, Derek played by Jerry O'Connell.

     Production suffered major setbacks when the script was leaked on the Internet, which revealed the film's plot, including the finale and the identity of the killers.  Wes and the rest of the cast and crew were forced to throw out the parts of the script that were leaked, and continue filming with only a partial shooting script.  Williamson would go off to rewrite scenes to be shot that day, even changing the film's finale and the identity of killers and his intended victims.  Security measures were taken so that no more information would be leaked.  The cast were not given the last scenes of the script until days before shooting, and the killer's identity was not given until the day the final reveal was to be filmed.

     Despite these problems, Scream 2 grossed $33 million its opening weekend.  Many critics praised the film for being both funnier and scarier than its predecessor.  By the end of its theatrical run, Scream 2 had taken in a cool $101 million.


     Fans would have to wait three years for the return of Ghostface to slash his way back onto theater screens.  Wes and the rest of the cast returned once again to close the book on one of the most successful horror film franchises since A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th.  Unfortunately, this time around, Kevin Williamson would not be able to fulfill screenwriting duties, due to his involvement on the film Teaching Mrs. Tingle, that he wrote and would soon be making his directorial debut.

     Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Ring 2, Skeleton Key) was hired to write the script for Scream 3.  Kruger developed a script based on an outline written by Williamson, but quickly swayed far from both Wes Craven's, Harvey Weinstein's, and Kevin Williamson's script.  Sidney was written as a Sigourney Weaver-type heroine, mixed with the pumped up, badass-type Sarah Connor character in Terminator 2. 

     Craven moved in and helped rewrite the script so that the characters and story were more faithful to the previous films. The change that Ehren Kruger made to the script, that made it into the finished film, was the movie's location.  Which moved the characters from Woodsboro to Hollywood.

     Scream 3 finds Sidney Prescott living in a secluded area in California, working from home for a crisis prevention hotline.  When Cotton Weary is murdered, police detective Mark Kincaid, played by Patrick Dempsey, enlists the help of Dewey and Gale to help provide clues as to who the woman is in a picture left behind at the crime scene. The woman is later identified as Maureen Prescott - Sidney's mother.

     Meanwhile, in Hollywood, production is underway for "Stab 3," which fans of the series can appreciate as being the real life film franchise referencing itself as a trilogy within a trilogy (Stab 1,2,3).

     Ghostface has managed to find Sidney and informs her of the murders that have taken place.  She flies out to Hollywood to meet up with Dewey, Gale and Detective Kincaid.  The killer has begun targeting the cast members of "Stab 3," which includes Jenny McCarthy as Sarah Darling, Parker Posey as Jennifer Jolie, Matt Keesler as Tom Prinze, and Patrick Warburton as Steven Stone.  The ironic twist is that these characters are portraying the real life characters of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale.

     Though here Kruger's script placed more emphasis on the humor and satire, rather than the violence, the studio was still nervous about the violence and red stuff in the film.  Rightly so, because the media was laying the blame on horror films around this time, following the tragic events of the Columbine shootings that occurred not long before the filming of Scream 3.

     Despite the media scrutiny, Scream 3 opened on 3,467 screens in the United States alone on February 4, 2000.  Grossing $34 million its opening weekend (just $1 million more than the previous film), Scream 3 spent two weeks in the #1 spot in the North American Box Office, eventually earning a total of $161 million worldwide by the end of its theatrical run.

     Scream 3 became the highest earning entry in the famed trilogy, but received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike.  Just as some people praised Scream for revitalizing the horror genre, Scream 3 is said to have spoofed it.  Maybe it was a good thing that this was the last film in the series, as it was suffering the same fate that Freddy Kruger did in later Nightmare On Elm Street films, when he was seen as the jokester killer - like Ghostface was fast becoming.  By the time Scream 3 was made, Ghostface's antics were more of the slapstick variety, rather than a faceless killer seen as scary.

     As the year 2000 drew to a close, so did the film series that turned the teen slasher sub-genre on its face.  Or so it seemed.


     Ten years later, after many false starts, Bob Weinstein approached Kevin Williamson to pen the fourth installment to what is rumored to be a brand new trilogy, with Scream 5 and 6 soon to follow.

     With a budget of $40 million, Scream 4 began filming on June 28, 2010, with Wes Craven back in the director's seat.  Cast members David Arquette and Courtney Cox returned to familiar territory as Deputy Dewey and Gale Weathers.  Sidney Prescott herself was almost played by someone else. Luckily for both the production and the fans, Neve Campbell agreed to return to the series.

     Ten years after the tragic events at Woodsboro, Sidney is now the bestselling author of a self-help book.  While finishing up her book tour, she makes a pit stop in Woodsboro, where she meets up with Dewey and Gale, who are now married.  She also is there to visit her cousin Jill, played by Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) and her aunt Kate, played by Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves).  Sidney's presence back in her old stomping grounds lures Ghostface, once again voiced by Roger L. Jackson.  He begins stalking and killing Jill's friends.  Just as obsessed with horror films, Ghostface has now begun referencing horror movie remakes and basing his murders similar to the killings of the characters in "Stab."  To survive and stop Ghostface's killing spree, Sidney, Dewey, Gale and Jill must follow the rules set by horror films of the 21st-century.  Also joining the Scream family are Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Anthony Anderson (Scary Movie 3 and 4), Adam Brody (Jennifer's Body), Anna Paquin (True Blood), and Alison Brie (Mad Men).

     Like the films in the series to come before it, Scream 4 wasn't without its trouble and controversies.  Though Kevin Williamson did return as screenwriter, Ehren Kruger was once again brought in to perform rewrites on the script, and argued that, despite Kruger's rewrites, it was still very much Kevin Williamson's script and vision in terms of characters and plot.  To prevent the script and identity of the killer(s) from being leaked on the Internet, like on Scream 2 and 3, the cast and crew were only given 75-pages of the 140-page script.

     Despite the setbacks and extra security surrounding the filming of Scream 4, production wrapped on September 24, after a 42-day shoot.  Now seven months later, a whole new generation of gore hounds will be able to witness what is sure to be another groundbreaking trilogy, sure to give the horror genre the boost it so desperately now needs.

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0 #2 Tom Roberts 2011-07-10 22:07
Brought it right back to me. Scream 2 was the first one that I saw, and remains my favourite.
+1 #1 Robin Pierce 2011-05-17 19:21
Very nicely done retrospective. Kudos.

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