TORONTO – The last time a “Scream” film opened in theatres, actress Neve Campbell swore up and down it would be the last time she would appear in the popular horror franchise.
A decade later, she’s back helming the fourth incarnation of the self-referential horror-comedy.
Campbell says she just needed time, a good script and a reunion with the “Scream” originators — director Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson and co-stars Courteney Cox and David Arquette.
“I just didn’t think we had anywhere to go with it,” Campbell says of her earlier apprehension to resume the role of slasher victim Sidney Prescott.
“But now that so much time has passed, I suddenly had friends and family say, ‘You know Neve, people are tweeting about this and people are on the Internet and they’re blogging — they’re excited about the possibility of this movie and maybe you should reconsider.’ And so I did. A big one for me was Kevin coming to me and pitching the new concept and realizing he could keep it fresh and we could still do something fun and interesting. And also it was really important to me that Wes and Courteney and David be on board if I did it.”
The story picks up 10 years after the bloodbath of “Scream 3,” this time with Sidney returning to her ill-fated hometown of Woodsboro, Calif., to promote a self-help book, “Out of Darkness.”
Dewey (Arquette) has become the town’s sheriff and is married to the hard-bitten Gale (Cox), whose writing career has faltered now that the murders have dried up.
Campbell says seeing the cast and crew again really brought home how much time had passed.
“We’re all a little balder and a little rounder,” the 37-year-old jokes of her co-stars, noting it’s now 15 years since the original “Scream” melded meta with the macabre.
New cast members include Emma Roberts (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”) as Sidney’s teenage cousin Jill. Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”), Marielle Jaffe (“Percy Jackson & the Olympians”) and Rory Culkin (“Lymelife”) play Jill’s texting-obsessed high school friends.
Sidney’s return brings fresh memories of the masked killings that both mirrored and mocked the plots of famous horror films, and it’s not long before the mayhem begins anew.
Campbell says the young cast bring a new enthusiasm to the franchise, but she admits to being taken aback when she realized they were too young to have seen the first movie when it caused a sensation in 1996.
“They were five when the film came out,” Campbell points out, laughing.
“Which is a bit shocking. Courteney Cox and I, when we were at the read-through we literally looked at each other at the end of it and we said, ‘We could be their moms!’ Young moms, but we could be their moms, which is funny. I think three of them turned 21 during the film. But (it was) lovely. And you know what, I was 21 or 22 when I made the first…. It was nice to pass it off, in a way.”
This time, cellphones, live web cams, texting and apps loom large as a new masked killer stalks Woodsboro. The social media twist has been woven into promotion of the film, with Twitter and Facebook among the sites fuelling appetite with online teasers.
Unofficial promotion has come by way of enthusiastic blogs and fans sites, which made it their mission to uncover as much about the impending release as possible, says Campbell.
An unusual array of privacy precautions were imposed during the shoot, she notes.
“They had a team of people, even during the film, a team of people working just to keep it quiet,” says the Guelph, Ont. native. “Some information would come out and they would have to sort of give other leads to sway people from the actual idea. It was intense what they’ve had to do.”
“Every time we got rewrites we had to hand (the scripts) in and have them shredded. And even the scripts at the end of the film we finished we had to hand in.”
Campbell, who says she’s next headed to India to work with director Roland Joffe and actor Josh Hartnett, says she never imagined the “Scream” franchise would last this long or have such an impact on her career.
“When we did the first film we had Drew Barrymore, we had Courteney Cox and Wes Craven but for all the rest of us, most of us were up-and-comers,” she notes.
“It was my second year of (TV’s) ‘Party of Five’ and I’d done (the movie) ‘The Craft’ and I’d done some stuff in Canada but I certainly wasn’t a big name yet. Skeet Ulrich and Matt Lillard and Jamie Kennedy and Rose McGowan, there’s a whole slew of us whose careers really took off after the film.”
“Scream 4” opens Friday.