If there's one lesson to take from the Scream movies, it's to be careful which calls you answer. So, when Kevin Williamson's phone rang with requests to return to Westboro for a fifth installment in the franchise, he initially declined. "I just said no," he recalls.
With 1996's Scream, Williamson first introduced audiences to final girl Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) and her would-be killer, Ghostface, rewriting the rules of the slasher genre and becoming the highest-grossing slasher ever in the process, a title it held for 22 years until the release of Halloween in 2018. Scream 2 followed in 1997, then Scream 3 in 2000 and Scream 4 over a decade later in 2011, every single one directed by horror maestro Wes Craven. (Williamson penned all but the third movie, though he had a hand in crafting its story.) But when development on a fifth movie stalled, Williamson wondered if it was time for new blood.
"That's when I first got hit with a wave of, 'Should I be doing another Scream?'" he says. "Wes and I had often talked about maybe it was time to turn it over to new filmmakers and sort of shepherd it, see if we can bring some more talent in and get some fresh and newness to it. But we never did. After Scream 4, it all sort of stopped."
Until 2019, that is, when the rights to Scream were acquired by a new production company who subsequently tapped screenwriters Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt to script a sort of sequel, sort of reboot that would bridge the legacy characters (including Cambell's Sidney, David Arquette's Officer Dewey and Courteney Cox's Gale Weathers) with a new class of scream queens. They turned to Williamson to serve as an executive producer, which he refused. "I just felt like, 'Let's just put this to bed," he says. "I didn't know how to be a part of it without Wes."
Wes passing was a big deal for me. It really hit me hard. He was such a mentor to me.
"Wes passing was a big deal for me. It really hit me hard. He was such a mentor to me. He was the beginning of my career," Williamson says of the director, who died in 2015. "I think about him every day."
But the studio kept calling, having gleaned a different lesson from Ghostface. (Speed dial is your friend!) "And I remember one day waking up, going, 'Do I really want this movie to happen without me?'" So, Williamson took the meeting, and the new Scream team went about pitching their take on a franchise he originated. "My whole thing was, Just get to the motive," he says. "I want to hear why the killer's killing."
To reveal anything more would be to spoil the very essence of Scream, the series: Not just the whodunit, but the whydunit. Ghostface's motive – whoever he, she, or as tends to be the case, they are – has to be original, a meta spin on genre tropes that also holds up a mirror to the world we live in. What Busick and Vanderbilt concocted, Williamson admits, "I wouldn't have done, because I wouldn't have been smart enough to come up with it!"
Williamson had one final condition before signing on. "Being the bleeding heart, I said, 'Should we dedicate the movie to Wes?' And they said yes, so I said, 'OK, I'm in."
In Craven's stead, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, collectively known as Radio Silence, were hired to helm the fifth film. "They are children of Scream. They have studied it, and they embrace it," Williamson explains of why the duo were especially well suited to succeed Craven, while likewise raving over how impressed he was by their 2019 film, Ready or Not. (He happily recounts that he saw it three times in theaters.)
"They remind me of Wes," he says. "They're just kind, gentle people and Wes was this really, really kind, gentle human being. They have such love for Wes. I think it infused them and made [this] movie very special, which is what we felt when we were making Scream 1. That's what they felt making this new Scream."
Working alongside Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett, Williamson found himself having his own full-circle moment with Scream. "I'm the old dude now," he laughs. "When we were making Scream 1, I was the young kid and Wes was the old dude. Now, I think I'm the exact same age Wes was when he was directing Scream 1." (At 56, Williamson is now just four years younger than Craven was at the time Scream was released.) Still, "It really rejuvenated me. I didn't want to be a part of this, and then, once I committed to it, I had the best time. They let me be involved as much as I wanted to be. They listened to me when I spoke up with my dumb ideas. They were so respectful, though I'm sure you [could] talk to them about what a pain in the ass I was."
With Scream (as this installment is titled) opening in theaters on Jan. 14, Williamson admits to a change of heart about the franchise's future. Before, he was prepared to see Ghostface hang up the knife for good. Now, his fingers are crossed that this film proves successful enough that fans won't have to wait another decade for another Scream film. If Williamson were in charge, he'd greenlight a sixth Scream movie right now, with the same writing and directing teams attached.
When asked whether he will ever write another Scream movie, Williamson promptly and definitely responds no. Rejuvenation aside, "As a writer, you have to keep moving forward," he explains. "You can't keep doing the same thing over and over again. I'm a big advocate of that. I did that with Dawson's [Creek]. I did it with Vampire [Diaries]. It's like, I'm around for two or three years and do the best that I can and I give you 180 percent of everything I've got. But then it's time to let someone else's voice shine."
"I think 100 percent this was the perfect passing of the baton," he adds. "Without Wes, our little team of me and Wes is not around anymore, and I think it's time to honor the franchise and let new filmmakers have a whack at it." And once they've had their fill of blood and guts, someone new will answer the call. "I'd love to see Scream 20," exclaims Williamson. "I hope I'm in an old folks' home somewhere watching Scream 25."
Scream opens in theaters Friday, Jan. 14.