SPOILER WARNING: This story discusses crucial plot developments — including a major death and who is behind the murders in the movie — in the 2022 horror film “Scream,” currently playing in theaters.
When the filmmakers behind the new “Scream” — directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and executive producer Chad Villella, collectively known as Radio Silence — first read the script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, they loved how it applied this franchise’s self-aware sensibility to the state of franchise filmmaking itself. Rather than tweak the “rules” of horror films or sequels, this new “Scream” slices into fans themselves and how rabid demand for resurrecting long dormant movie franchises has led to the rise of the legacy sequel, or “requel.”
“It just hit a button with us,” Bettinelli-Olpin told Variety a week before the film’s debut. “We were like, ‘Oh, this is about something that’s very real and the way we watch movies now.'”
As presented in the movie, a “requel” is anything in which the old cast of a beloved movie franchise — like “Scream” mainstays Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) — return to help a set of new characters within the ongoing story: in this case, sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), the center of a new spate of gruesome murders by Ghostface.
By the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the deaths were an attempt to inspire a requel for “Stab” — the faux-horror-movie series within the “Scream” franchise based on the events of the “Scream” franchise. In Vanderbilt and Busick’s initial screenplay, the most recent “Stab” movie was titled “Stab 8.” But while Gillett, Bettinelli-Olpin and Busick were still in production, Paramount announced that the film — which fans expected would be called “Scream 5,” or, cheekily, “5cream” — was instead going to be titled just “Scream,” with no number at all.
“We all had, I think, the same reaction that most people have, which is, Huh?” Bettinelli-Olpin said. “And then we thought, ‘Wait, this was actually a wonderful gift if we can make it work within the movie and…do what we love about ‘Scream’ on that meta level, and just use the movie to look at the movie.'”
So a scene in which Sam’s boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) was supposed to be watching “Stab 8” on his laptop became Richie watching a YouTube video of a “Stab” superfan ranting about how terrible “Stab 8” is — starting with the decision to make the title just “Stab.” The video narrator even screams that the title “STA8” was right there.
“Many of those videos exist for stuff that we’ve made,” Gillett said, laughing. “It felt like the perfect way to tie that idea of fandom into that section of the movie.”
The Radio Silence team also talked with Variety about their thinking behind their film’s jabs at fandoms, reuniting Cox and Arquette on screen years after their divorce, and how they deflected the studio’s desire to keep hope alive about a dearly departed character.
The Cameo That Wasn’t…
One of the best, and most knowing, jokes in “Scream” comes when a character mentions offhand that “Stab 8” was directed by the guy who made “Knives Out.” That would be Rian Johnson, the writer-director of the blockbuster requel “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Anyone who has dipped even a toe into the internet’s noxious discourse about “The Last Jedi” knows how incandescently furious some of Johnson’s creative choices (like killing off Luke Skywalker) has made a certain subset of fans. So making Johnson also the director of “Stab 8” — a movie so reviled it literally drives two “Stab” fans to murder — is one helluva film geek dog whistle.
Vanderbilt and Busick had already cast Johnson, so to speak, as the “Stab 8” director when the Radio Silence trio signed onto the film. But the filmmakers told Variety they actually tried to get Johnson to appear in the movie as himself.
“We reached out and wanted to do a fake, ‘ET’/’Extra’ press junket thing with him,” Gillett said. “He was off making ‘Knives Out 2.’ So he had bigger fish to fry than our ‘Scream’ sequel.”
…and the Shot That Almost Was
Given Johnson’s experience with “The Last Jedi,” it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the more controversial parts of the new “Scream” among fans has been the decision to kill off Dewey. The Radio Silence team say that is where the legacy carnage stopped — there was never a plan for Sidney or Gale to bite it. But the studio also had second thoughts about killing Dewey, and asked them to shoot a version where he survived. They ultimately obliged, but in a way that all but guaranteed Dewey would stay dead.
“We very begrudgingly got one shot that you could put some voiceover over, like, ‘He woke up from surgery, he’s gonna be fine,'” Gillett said. “With no intention of ever fucking using it.”
“Just to describe the shot, it was it was an over-the-shoulder from behind Gale and Sid of a doctor’s legs,” Bettinelli-Olpin added. “It was absolutely not really a usable shot.” He laughed. “‘Shot’ is very generous.”
Bringing Together a Heartfelt Reunion…
Before Dewey’s death, he shares a heartbreaking scene with Gale in which the two talk about the dissolution of their marriage, caused by Dewey’s inability to cope with living under the shadow of Gale’s success. Arquette and Cox famously fell in love making the first “Scream” and married in 1999, and one of the many meta aspects of the franchise has been how the movies have mirrored their relationship: In 2000’s “Scream 3,” Dewey proposes to Gale. They’re still married in “Scream 4” — but Arquette and Cox announced their separation between when the film wrapped in 2010 and its premiere in 2011. They divorced in 2013.
New to the franchise, the Radio Silence trio had no prior history with Cox or Arquette, but they say any concerns they may have had about directing a divorced couple playing a divorced couple was dispelled by the actors themselves.
“They so clearly have a love for each other,” Bettinelli-Olpin said.
“We would have handled all of that differently if there was animosity,” Gillett added. “It was really about just stepping back and trusting that they knew how to get it to a place that was going to be useable in the movie, because it was really emotional.”
“The first take they did, it was just absolutely amazing,” Villella said. “They brought so much to it, and they just let it come out in that first take. Obviously, we had to do a couple more takes just to make it not as emotional. But it was totally an outlet for them.”
…and Avoiding Toxic Fandoms
In the third act of “Scream,” the killers are revealed to be Sam’s boyfriend Richie and Tara’s best friend Amber (Mikey Madison), who are disgusted with how disrespectful they believe “Stab 8” was to the longtime fans. They decide to go on a killing spree as Ghostface to inspire “Stab 9” to be a “requel” worthy of the franchise. At one point, Richie even screams, “How can a fan be toxic?!”
Which is to say, the killers in “Scream” are toxic fans, part of a small but potent assembly of extremely online zealots who have not evinced much of a sense of humor about themselves, and who have never been shy about castigating anyone they believe has slighted them or the pop culture they love.
So are the Radio Silence team prepared for any backlash?
“I think the short answer is: We are bracing ourselves; we’re not prepared,” Bettinelli-Olpin said. “People can take it as a shot across the bow or not. For us, we kept telling ourselves, ‘We are fans literally making a fan film about a movie franchise that we love.’ This is as much about us as it is about anybody else. This isn’t just about that niche culture of fandom, or whatever that is. Being fans of movies is the reason we’re making movies. It’s also about something personal to us. So it was just so easy to latch on to it emotionally and be a part of the conversation we’re also hoping to start with this.”
It’s hard not to notice that “Scream” is exactly the kind of requel that Richie and Amber so desperately, homicidally desire, filled with legacy characters kicking ass, shrewd references to current horror trends and past “Scream” movies and genuinely terrifying kills. The movie basically says to hardcore fans, “Maybe you don’t need to metaphorically butcher your perceived enemies to get what you want.”
“I think we just love the idea that you can love something dearly and take your love of something very seriously, but also not take yourself so seriously,” Gillett said. “At the end of the day, we’re in make-believe. The movie is making fun of itself as much as it’s trying to shed light on what we think is something we should all really be having a conversation about, and how we interact with the things that we love. It’s supposed to be fun and entertaining, and that’s okay. It can be about real things and also not take itself super seriously.”
He smiled. “And if you’re reading this, it’s not about you. It’s about somebody else.”