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A 'love letter to Wes Craven': Scream directors talk staying true to horror roots

 The new Scream knows that it’s following in the footsteps of a game changing franchise.

By Benjamin Bullard
Scream (2021) PRESS

Slasher movie fans were already pretty story-savvy by the time Wes Craven dropped the seismic horror bomb that redefined the rules in 1996’s original Scream. Now the key cast is back together alongside a gang of newcomers for the first-ever Scream film not helmed by the late, great director — but can the new movie, which debuts this weekend, measure up to Craven’s subversive knack for letting viewers in on only part of the bigger picture?

That’s definitely the goal, as co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett recently confided in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. The new movie, the fifth in the hallowed horror franchise, is dedicated to Craven, and there’s no better way to honor the master’s gift for meta-sharing than to bring in those unexpected plot twists precisely when you don’t see them coming.

“There's a swing in the movie that [creator and executive producer] Kevin Williamson flagged in pre-production," Bettinelli-Olpin teased. “[He said], ‘This is the only thing that doesn't quite feel like it's in a Scream movie, which is why I think it's the absolute thing you need to make sure stays in the script.’”

In other words, the new Scream knows that it’s following in the footsteps of a scary-story franchise that, thanks to Craven, rewrote the rules for what smart viewers would come to expect from horror films. Scream has its own legacy to live up to now, and a big part of that is playing directly into viewers’ expectations of the trope-defying contributions the overall series has bequeathed unto the horror genre.

“We've always been reticent to step into a franchise because it's so hard to create new tracks in something, especially when it's been done so successfully,” Gillett confessed. “Obviously, we're fans of the original four movies and all of Wes' work, there was a sort of added layer of pressure with this. So we went in to reading that script and we were so blown away by the multiple layers of commentary in the movie…[t]here were moments when we were literally cheering when we [were] reading the script.”

Those layers of commentary fit right in with Craven’s groundbreaking first film, which wrested tons of popcorn-munching tension from toying with horror fans’ assumptions. After all, decades of jump-scares and formulaic whodunnits had conditioned 1990s viewers to feel that they’d already seen it all — that there was an inevitable, predictable progression toward the killer’s big reveal.

Of course Craven toppled that whole horror-movie formula, in the process creating a new set of expectations as the Scream franchise unfolded over three more movies. According to Bettinelli-Olpin, with a pair of new directors at the helm for the fifth film, it was vital to make sure the new Scream tells a fresh story that pays homage to its predecessors’ genre-breaking tricks.

“Our starting point was this has to be, on some level, a love letter to Wes Craven, Scream, and his other work,” Bettinelli-Olpin said. “I would say throughout the making of the movie and within the finished product itself there's so many little nods to Wes, there's big nods to Wes. At the end of the day, the entire thing is ultimately a love letter to Wes from us. He's one of the greatest directors, period, of his generation.”

Starring old-school Scream survivors Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Marley Shelton, and Roger L. Jackson, Scream hits theaters on Jan. 14 with tons of early love from critics. Rounding out the ensemble cast are newcomers Jack Quaid, Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, and Jenna Ortega.