WILMINGTON — The latest installment of “Scream,” the slasher horror franchise created by Wes Craven in 1996, has raked in over $30 million at the box office in its first four days of being released. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, “Scream” surpassed the number-one Marvel hit, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” during its opening weekend.
The film’s connections to Wilmington, N.C., run deep in the latest iteration, the fifth in the franchise history, budgeted at $25 million. Its original writer Kevin Williamson — who also created “Dawson’s Creek” — signed on as executive producer, though the 2022 film was written by James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Murder Mystery”) and Guy Busick (“Ready or Not,” “Castle Rock”).
In July through December 2020, “Scream” set up shop in Wilmington, one of the first movies Paramount launched in the middle of the pandemic. With a new Covid department ensuring film-industry magic would continue — testing crew and actors multiple times a week for safety on set — the reels rolled all across town.
The downtown Riverwalk, Forest Hills neighborhood, Reggie’s 42nd Street, Cardinal Lanes Shipyard, 5th Avenue near the Rusty Nail, the Greenfield Lake area, Williston Middle School, and EUE/Screen Gems became the idyllic California town with haunted demons rising once again. Serial killer Ghostface returns to terrorize a new generation of teens — played by Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid and Marley Shelton. They’re all tethered to the original film’s characters, Skeet Ulrich, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, who make a return appearance in the 25-year-old franchise.
On Thursday evening, ahead of its Jan. 14 release, “Scream” production designer Chad Keith, who lives in Wilmington, rented a theater for some of the local film crew to view the movie. Swag from Paramount was up for grabs: Ghostface masks, T-shirts, stickers, large and small movie posters.
“I thought it would be fun to see it together with everyone,” Keith said.
Essentially a “whodunnit” gore fest, “Scream” comes with a lot of camp, proverbial jumps scares, and snappy pacing and dialogue — quite similar to the original. Assistant set decorator Beth Robinson was sinking into her theater chair, fingers peeled over her eyes, taking in one of the kill scenes.
“It was so scary,” she admitted after the credits rolled. “I might have missed a few scenes. I was not a horror movie fan, but I am now!”
Robinson, who worked under Keith in the art department alongside head decorater Helen Britten and set dec coordinator Catherine Bayley, said watching it transported her back immediately to the “weird times we were living in.” As one of the first movies back in action during the pandemic, aside from dealing with new Covid-19 protocols and regulations, Robinson said supply chain shortages made her job more difficult.
“Finding the simplest of everyday items was a huge challenge for set decoration,” she said.
The set dec team were tasked with matching all the furniture and decor as close as possible to the house in the original film: “sofas, chairs, upholstery fabric, tables, right down to books, vases and lamps,” Robinson said.
Keith oversaw plans to construct the Woodsboro home and sent a designer to its original California location to get specs.
“I really loved seeing all of the exterior shots of the house,” he said. “It’s very iconic to the original. I was glad we could replicate it.”
“Chad had construction crews build the house, but also its entertainment cabinet and bookcases, even the crown molding,” Robinson said.
261 Turner Ln. was recreated in a studio at EUE/Screen Gems, also where the art department brought to the life Dewey’s trailer and the inside of a hospital, both backdrops for key scenes in the film.
“The downlighting in the hospital hallway looks great,” Robinson told Keith during the screening, noting every minutiae of detail. The hospital’s façade and lobby scenes were shot at the Wilmington Convention Center.
Robinson surmises out of the six or seven rooms created for the Turner Lane house, around five made it to the screen. She pointed to the den as a personal favorite, dressed precisely from curtains they had to dye to an Asian piece of furniture they constructed from scratch.
“The flashback when Ghostface comes behind the sofa, while Randy, from the original film, is watching the movie, required some serious flexibility and creativity, since we needed specific items to match the original,” Robinson said.
“Scream” is known for building a metaverse. For instance, in the 2022 film, Randy’s niece, Mindy Meeks (Jasmin Savoy Brown), is watching him in “Stab” from two decades ago. She sits in the same den he was in — though he was watching the horror movie “Halloween” — also at a high school party, in essence recreating the same scenario she is about to endure with Ghostface.
The directors and writers of 2022’s “Scream” build the plot as a “requel” — a movie that revisits earlier content from its original film but does so in homage, building upon layers of super fandom and legacy characters.
It gets even more meta with Wilmington pop culture. One of the main characters, Tara (Jenna Ortega), watches the Wilmington-filmed “Dawson’s Creek” as she’s recovering in the hospital — and it happens to be a season-one episode titled “The Scare,” nonetheless. Easter eggs are hidden throughout the film for cult fans and locals to adore.
And in true “Scream” fashion, the characters are still hashing out the rules of horror films, questioning the patterns of the killer (“look at the love interest first”) and the behaviors of the victims (“never go into a basement alone”). It’s all part of the fun for the audience and the onscreen personalities alike to crack the code: Who is Ghostface?
Fans sit through plenty of victims who endure or succumb to cartoon-like injuries — multiple stabbings, incessant gunshot wounds, even fire — which provides gruesome payoff along the ride.
“I was impressed with every department that showed up for the challenge of working in a pandemic,” Robinson said, “but anytime you watch a knife go through a person’s body I ask, ‘How on earth do they make it look so real?’”
The team at Bearded Skull Makeup and Fx Group — who also worked on the Wilmington-filmed “Halloween Kills — are the masterminds behind the wounds, cuts, and fake blood in “Scream.” Each film — and its brief two-season series — has an incremental kill scene.
Jeff Goodwin has been in the industry for four decades and has been hailed for his work, most notably the severed ear on “Blue Velvet.” Goodwin helped devise one standout moment in the 2022 “Scream” that he said wasn’t originally in the script.
“It was an effect that Rick Pour [the special effects department head] and I proposed to the directors in a Zoom call very early on in the whole process of prep, before we all actually met in person,” Goodwin said. “Rick and I felt we needed to raise the bar with the kills on this film.”
Goodwin flashed back to his “Rambo III” days in 1988 and pulled out a technique he created that presents a brutal effect on screen.
“I don’t want to give it away, but it’s one I’m very proud of,” he said.
Very little CGI was needed to pull it off, making it more authentic.
Goodwin said when the cast and crew viewed it for the first time during a run-through of the scene, audible gasps and screams from behind the monitors gave the team the confidence that they were hitting all the right veins, so to speak.
“We had a feeling we were onto something good with those reactions right off the bat,” Goodwin said.
Watching the “fake carnage” he and his Bearded Skulls crew brought to life Thursday night also brought sheer joy. The cringes, the wails, the peering behind clutched fists, the laughter: Goodwin said making bloody magic happen on screen never gets old. Still, “Scream” felt different.
“I enjoyed the original when it came out because it was very clever,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think the sequels ever matched the original — but they seldom do. I think our ‘Scream’ is the best since the original and hopefully will spark a lust for more carnage in the future for the franchise.”
[Ed. Note: The writer of this piece worked on “Scream” for six weeks before taking a position at Port City Daily and attended the screening for this story.]
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