'Scream 4' is tech savvy yet tech wary

In this publicity image released by The Weinstein Company, Courteney Cox is shown in a scene from the horror film "Scream 4." (AP Photo/Dimension Films-The Weinstein Company, Gemma La Mana)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - When the original "Scream" sliced into theatres nearly 15 years ago, the term "blog" had yet to be invented, and the closest thing to Facebook was America Online. While such innovation serves as fodder for the tongue-in-cheek slasher series' fourth edition, it's also a threat to the franchise's first sequel since 2000's "Scream 3."

As with the previous films, the filmmakers have worked hard to keep "Scream 4" under wraps. Wes Craven, the franchise's director, said it's only been shown six times prior to the previews for the media ahead of the film's April 15 release.

"We took everyone's cellphones," declared Craven. "We made them sign non-disclosure agreements, and we went on the Internet and watched all night to see who posted what. ... By in large, people honoured our plea to keep it a secret."

Besides the sharp wit and tense action sequences, the "Scream" films have always been known for their whodunit twist endings that reveal which suspect was actually slicing through the cast of characters while sporting a Ghostface costume. "Scream 4," however, is being unmasked at a very different time than the original trilogy.

With the tap of a "tweet" button, "Scream 4" could be spoiled faster than it took Rebecca Black to become a YouTube sensation, potentially decreasing moviegoers' motivation to see the latest stab-a-thon. In fact, for those who look hard enough online, the film's actual ending has already been described in detail — but so have several fake ones, too.

"I hate people that spoil things for me when I'm going to see a film," said David Arquette, who reprises his role as the not-quite-as-bumbling Sheriff Dewey in the fourth edition. "It's kind of a creepy personality trait: wanting to be the person that ruins things."

Neve Campbell returns to "Scream 4" as Sidney Prescott, the franchise's heroine, who has authored a self-help book titled "Out of the Darkness." When her book tour brings her back to Woodsboro, the suburban setting of the first film, another round of serial slayings is unleashed on the town, and everyone — including Prescott — is suspect.

"The secrecy part is really hard because you so want to run out and tell your friends every amazing part about it," said Emma Roberts, who joins the fray as Sidney's teen cousin, Jill Roberts.

In an effort to keep plot points from leaking to actors who didn't get a part, unlike the other three films, Craven only auditioned actors with pages from the first "Scream" script instead of new material from "Scream 4."

Craven said he was lured back to the franchise by Dimension Films chief Bob Weinstein and original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who sketched out a rough idea for another trilogy and later created a clear vision for the fourth edition. When he heard that Campbell, Arquette and Courteney Cox agreed to sign on for another installment, Craven was hooked.

The horror mastermind behind "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Last House on the Left" insisted that he didn't film any alternate endings, and the film's conclusion is what Williamson originally intended.

"When I was reading the script, I didn't see it coming at all," said Cox, who reprises her role from the original trilogy as cutthroat journalist Gale Weathers, now wife of Sheriff Dewey. "I think they do a good job of keeping you guessing."

Streaming cameras, smartphones, apps and other technological doo-dads play an integral role in this super-cynical chapter of the franchise. For instance, after Ghostface first strikes again in Woodsboro, Sheriff Dewey swiftly tracks the cellphone of the killer — or killers — to the book store where Sidney is making an appearance. No, it ain't 1996 anymore.

The cast and crew also embraced technology behind the scenes. Craven and several cast members cautiously tweeted and posted photos online during production last year in Michigan, which prompted many die-hard "Scream" fans to dissect the information for clues. Craven said that dialogue helped to build buzz for a film franchise that was long thought to be dead.

"We were able to keep the interest of the audience up and get instant on-set feedback," said Craven. "It was extraordinary. We could also do very gentle diversions and misdirection of who the killer might be and things like that. It was a lot of fun keeping people guessing. It just engages the audience more and lets them know they're part of it."

The director also employed computer-generated effects for the first time in a "Scream" film to give Ghostface's weapon of choice a 21st-century makeover.

"The only options you have are a rubber knife, which looks silly because it wiggles, or the collapsing knife, which occasionally doesn't collapse the way that it's supposed to," said Craven. So he added the knife's blade after filming, which meant Ghostface could stab victims without any inhibitions while the actors stayed safe.

One effect that Craven was adamant about not thrusting into the franchise was 3-D. He and Weinstein agreed before the movie went into production that a "Scream" film wouldn't "feel right" in 3-D.

The franchise's rebirth leads to the inevitable question: Will there be more sequels? The latest installment, much like the first three films, doesn't end with a cliffhanger and Craven said the tone of another "Scream" film would ultimately be up to Williamson.

"Kevin has a very fertile mind," said Craven. "There's always ways to continue the story. There are people that survive, or there's always ghosts or evil twins."

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AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.scream-4.com/