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INDEFINITE

Director Wes Craven used to make scary movies. Some, like Swamp Thing, are mucky messes; others are brutal and exploitative (Last House on the Left); and one—A Nightmare on Elm Street—turned child-molester Freddy Krueger into the hottest horror commodity this side of Camp Crystal Lake. Nowadays, though, Craven seems to prefer making movies about scary movies. First he came out with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was more an examination of horror stardom and the undying Freddy franchise than a legitimate fright film, and now he dishes up Scream, a self-conscious aping of popular slasher movies from the ’70s and ’80s. In Scream, a wholesome community is terrorized by a masked killer whose taste in victims will be familiar to anyone who has seen Friday the 13th. Or My Bloody Valentine. Or Prom Night. Or Happy Birthday to Me. Namely, big-breasted, sexually active teenage girls and their dumb boyfriends. Only difference is—the kids in Scream grew up renting these movies and are always making references to them. Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson also take part in this game, dropping frequent allusions to the modern terror classics. There’s a cameo by Linda Blair, a mention of great horror auteur “Wes Carpenter,” and a late-night screening of the ever-popular Halloween. Sometimes these in-jokes fall flat and the film stalls, but generally things speed along nicely—thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to a most excellent cast, which includes uberbabes Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox. In fact, it’s only toward the end, when the killer starts popping up in places like the supermarket and most of the best-looking girls are dead, that Scream gets ridiculous and begins to unravel. But by then no one should care—after all, they’ve already witnessed what might be a first: murder by automatic garage door. At area theaters; see Showtimes for venues. (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa)