"How meta can you get?" wonders Courteney Cox, back in old Woodsboro, and back as TV reporter-turned-scribe Gale Weathers, in Scream 4.

The first Scream in 11 years, the return of the Ghostface Killer is, according to the movie itself, either a "shriekquel" or a "screamake." Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson's baby is also a reconstructed deconstructionist text on the state of horror movies today and yesterday.

Beginning with a series of jokey set pieces in which cameoing Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell (among others) discuss the form and formula of slasher pics and at the same time serve themselves up as potential victims, Scream 4 brings together old cast mates (besides Cox, Neve Campbell and David Arquette return) and new classmates Emma Roberts, Nico Tortorella, Hayden Panettiere, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Marielle Jaffe, and Aimee Teegarden.

Fresh blood.

And the blood gets splattered everywhere.

With references to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and even Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (the first movie "to show the killer's point of view," we're told), Scream 4 is like a perpetual film studies course, a reboot with a lesson plan.

For genre geeks, this can be fun - although nothing in Scream 4 is quite as clever as the filmmakers seem to think it is.

Lots has changed over the last decade. Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, texting, sexting . . .. Prank calls and fake e-mails are so commonplace they've become hard to take seriously, which creates new challenges for Ghostface and that I'm-outside-your-window-wielding-a-butcher's-knife m.o. Craven and Williamson milk the social-media stuff for all it's worth. Everything in our lives has accelerated, they note. Everything, that is, except the response time of cops en route to a crime scene.

Plot? You want plot? Campbell's Sydney Prescott swings into town on the last stop of an author's tour to plug her book about being a Ghostface survivor. Arquette is the dim Sheriff Dewey, determined to keep the peace on the anniversary of Ghostface's rampage.

But then, of course, the nut ball in the Munch mask begins to strike again. And again. And again.

Do Woodsboro High's film nerds (Culkin, Knudsen) have something to do with the killings? What about Sydney's publicist (Alison Brie)? And what's going on with Trevor (Tortorella), the dude all the girls are talking about?

One bloody filleting begets another. And one of the deputies is named Anthony Perkins.

Class, discuss.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.