The "Scream" franchise is the most popular example of a strange subgenre called metahorror. A metahorror movie knows and understands the tropes and clichés of horror movies, folding them back on themselves, playing with audience expectations and even allowing the characters to understand that they're in a horror movie.
A typical masked killer stalks the usual teen victims in "Scream." The difference is that the killer and some of the victims realize the murders are following standard slasher movie protocol. While the movie addresses topics like disaffected youth and attitudes toward drugs and sex, it simultaneously comments on horror movies themselves.
"Scream" director Wes Craven experimented with self-aware horror before. "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" came out in 1994, two years before "Scream," and deals with the emergence of "Nightmare on Elm Street" villain Freddy Krueger into the real-world of actress Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the original "Elm Street movie. Craven appears in "New Nightmare" as himself. But it was the runaway success of "Scream" that introduced audiences to metahorror, opening the door for self-aware horror movies like "Zombieland," "Seed of Chucky," "Jason X" and "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil." 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods" might be the apex of the metahorror subgenre, with the characters trapped in a horror movie simulation and a plot that ties all horror movie tropes together into a single theory of ritual sacrifice.
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