When the original "Scream" came slashing into theaters in 1996, it revitalized the languishing horror genre with clever jokes and genuine scares. It was so influential that for a while, every scary movie tried to copy it, including the passable "Scream 2" and the disappointing "Scream 3."
These days, horror is in another rut. There are so many ghost movies ("Paranormal Activity," "Insidious") and vampire flicks ("Twilight," next month's "Priest") that it's hard to tell them apart. If "Scream 4," opening April 15, works like the first film, then the franchise could once again shake up the genre.
To make that kind of impact, it needs the following things:
A believably human killer
Sure, ghosts are spooky and vampires are sexy good fun, but big-screen killers are even scarier when they could actually exist. In "Scream," the villains aren't superhuman killing machines like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, and they're not vengeful demons climbing through a Ouija board. They're just guys in ghost-face masks. Sometimes they trip and fall down. Sometimes they're slower than the people they're chasing, like the plucky heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, who stars in all four films) and conniving reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox, also back for a fourth round.)
More Entertainment stories
Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...
- Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
- See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
- Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
- 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom
- Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
But if you think about it, that vulnerability means the killers could be real people. They could be the dudes behind you in the movie theater, or the women cycling at your gym. They could be anywhere.
The movies need that dose of believable horror. Let's hope the killer in "Scream 4" will be an average person who went insane and not, say, the resurrected ghost of Laurie Metcalf's character from "Scream 2."Slideshow: 10 horror-movie icons (on this page)
A fantastic opening scene
Every opening scene in the "Scream" franchise has been fantastic. Drew Barrymore getting murdered in her house? As her parents are driving slowly up the road? The same goes for the opening of "Scream 2," when Jada Pinkett Smith dies in front of a movie theater full of people. Even part three, which descends into tired jokes and unconvincing twists, starts with the shocking death of Liev Schreiber, who seemed guaranteed to make it through all three films.
Since director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, both from the first two films, are reuniting for part four, there's a good chance they'll respect the opening scene. With any luck, they'll cook up something as memorable as what happened to poor Drew.
A career-boosting performance in a supporting role
Here's another thing about Drew Barrymore's performance in "Scream": It made her seem relevant and cool again. Meanwhile, David Arquette's turn as a bumbling sheriff practically launched his career. (Along with Cox and Campbell, he's the third actor to appear in all four movies.)
And thanks to their work in parts two and three, respectively, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Parker Posey seemed even cooler than they already were.
The new movie is bursting with talented stars in supporting roles, including Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Rory Culkin, and Adam Brody. Hopefully, one of them will have such a well-written part or memorable death scene that it will become a permanent piece of their legacy. What if Paquin, an Oscar-winner for "The Piano" and the star of HBO's "True Blood," gets offed in the first scene? What if Brody, best known for the series "The O.C.", gets all the best lines? They could brag about it forever, that's what.
Self-referential humor (but not too much)
Every "Scream" movie is going to make jokes about itself. The first one establishes "the rules" of horror movies — never say "I'll be right back," never have sex — then giddily kills characters who don't follow them. And when Pinkett Smith dies in that movie theater, she's watching a horror film called "Stab" that looks an awful lot like "Scream."
Of course, not every in-joke is worth telling. The first two "Screams" balance their humor with well-constructed stories, but "Scream 3" trades characters and plot for endless jokes about horror trilogies. It's exhausting.
Judging by the trailer, "Scream 4" could go either way. Characters talk a lot about the rules of horror, and there's an eye-rolling conversation about how returning characters can die when franchises reboot. (We get it. Expect the unexpected.) But there's also a scary-funny bit where a character has to name off recent horror remakes if she wants to live: It's a crack about "Scream" itself getting remade, but it also has real stakes for the character.Video: 'Scream 4' premiere in Los Angeles (on this page)
A complete lack of nudity
The "Scream 4" trailer features an in-joke about characters wanting to see nudity, which the first three films avoided. In the midst of all the gore, this was a satisfying touch, since it suggested the franchise was interested in more than cheap titillation. A peep show at this stage would feel like a tacky step backward.
A few moments of silence
Recent horror hits like "Paranormal Activity" and "The Strangers" have reminded audiences that silence and stillness can be the scariest thing of all. The "Scream" movies, meanwhile, have typically been loud and jumpy, like frantic music videos. This is one instance where the new film could learn from current horror trends.
A Drew Barrymore cameo
The odds of this happening are about six billion to one, since Drew Barrymore's character is dead. But since she dies in the first scene of the first movie, a return appearance now would be ridiculously awesome. If the creative team can find a way to sneak her into the movie, then they all deserve Academy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints