The legendary horror franchise Scream returns to the box office for a fifth hit

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Ghostface in a scene from “Scream”. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Have you a gun?”

“I’m Sidney Prescott, of course I have a gun.” – Exchange between Dewey from David Arquette and Sidney from Neve Campbell in “Scream”.

As recent films like Halloween Kills and Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Matrix Resurrections demonstrate, it can be difficult to stage a reunion with beloved characters from a franchise that debuted a long time ago, so we hoped best but feared mediocrity when it was announced that the first “Scream” movie in a decade would see the return of the original Ghostface Busters: Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers and David Arquette’s Dwight “Dewey” Riley.

Would they be awkwardly drawn into a next-generation story a la Ghostbusters: Afterlife? Would they be the focus of a new story that subverts the impact of the original films, as was the case with The Matrix Resurrections?

Good news: pitfalls avoided. With a razor-sharp screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick and stylish Wes Craven-influenced direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and the ease with which Campbell, Cox and Arquette return to their roles, the new Scream stands out and stabs our memories of the original and creates some gory fresh twists of his own. The franchise comes back to life – and death – by bringing back Sidney, Gale and Dewey in a clever and organic way, while also introducing some great new characters and keeping us always up to date with a wealth of fun and worth knowing references from the “Scream.” ‘ movies – not to mention the ‘Stab’ movies in the movie, which were based on the ‘real’ events from the ‘Scream’ movies.

(Remember Stab, right? Starring Tori Spelling as Sidney, Jennifer Jolie as Gale, David Schwimmer as Dewey, Luke Wilson as Billy Loomis, and Heather Graham as Casey Becker?)

As if there were any other way, our story begins in classic, time-honored “Scream” style, with Jenna Ortega’s high school student Tara Carpenter answering the phone (good thing her family has a landline!) while she’s at the same time texting her best friend, Bernstein (Mikey Madison). The mechanized voice on the other end of the line sounds exactly like the voice of the infamous Ghostface killer (and subsequent imitator), and Tara goes from mildly irritated to deeply annoyed to absolutely terrified, because that’s the way it always goes. Like Drew Barrymore’s Casey in 1996, it seems Tara won’t make the opening titles — but Tara is a fighter and ends up in the hospital, clinging to life. And away we go…

We meet a new generation of teenagers living in the outwardly charming but deeply haunted town of Woodsboro, California. Alongside Tara and her overprotective BFF Amber, there’s good girl Liv McKenzie (Sonia Ammar); nice guy Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), whose mother is Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), a returnee from Scream 4; and the twins, Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), a lovable jock who is Liv’s boyfriend, and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who is obsessed with the “Stab” movies, tell everyone they’re in the Basically All are IN a “Stab” film and delivers a brilliant monologue analyzing the differences between sequels and reboots and “Requels”.

Melissa Barrera (“The Heights”) plays Tara’s older sister, Sam, who mysteriously left town and became estranged from Tara, but is now returning with her boyfriend, Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid). As the body count mounts and we learn more about various characters’ connections to the past, Arquette’s Dewey, Cox’s Gale, and Campbell’s Sidney find themselves back in Woodsboro and in danger once more. “Scream” never fails to delight in horror film tropes, be it the hospital that “closes in the middle of the night”, an injured victim seemingly alone and possibly at the mercy of a killer who has returned to finish the job; the expectation that we’ll get a “jump scare” behind every door and in every mirror, or certain characters saying they’ll do what potential victims in a splatter movie never do — they’ll get in the car and get out out of town. (Somehow the filmmakers even manage to weave in a spectacularly gruesome and totally unexpected nod to a specific scene in a specific Quentin Tarantino film, and I won’t narrow it down any further. It’s one of the big crazy moments in the final film memory.)

We know that not everyone in a Scream movie will make it out alive. We know we’ll eventually learn the killer’s identity — but only after at least half a dozen suspects have been identified. We know that Sidney, Gale, and Dewey deserve some peace and quiet all these years later—but just as they’re out, Ghostface pulls them back in for a generation of actors who now predate Ghostface (or maybe one of them IS Ghostface! ) are on the run all offer great, funny and intelligent performances.

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