Craven and Williamson insist on bringing back “The Key Three” of Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell. While their faces are welcome in a nostalgic sense, they also repeatedly get in the way of introducing fresh blood like Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin.

There’s a lot of talk in “Scream 4” about the “rules” of horror movies: less attractive and minority actors must die first, remakes shouldn’t do a disservice to the original and the final showdown with the ax- or knife-wielding killer must occur at, or around, a crowded party. Oh, yeah, and all the participants must have an encyclopedic knowledge of every slasher flick ever made.


Absent, however, is any mention of the tenet that these bright-red blood baths should be, at the least, entertaining. This is an edict that completely slips the minds of director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, as they take a woeful stab at reviving the long-dead franchise they created 15 years ago.


Back then, “Scream” was somewhat of an anomaly –– a big-budget horror picture that dared to add humor to the murder and mayhem. The self-referential quips and the meta shenanigans in which Craven riffed on filmmakers slavishly adhering to the rules (there’s that word again) of the genre were at once refreshing and sly. But that was then.


Now, nearly two decades later, the concept is as archaic as transistor radios and 8-track tapes. The self-parody has been done to death, with not only the “Scream” franchise, but the “Scary Movie” one, as well. Toss in a couple of Sam Raimi (the godfather of horror comedy) pictures like “Drag Me to Hell” and tongue-in-cheek TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and we’re long past the saturation point.


That hasn’t stopped Craven and Williamson from trying to prove there’s still life in death. They pull out all the knives, guns and electronic media they can get their bloody hands on in a wayward attempt to resuscitate our interest. But they’re doomed almost from the start, mainly because they’re apprehensive about giving up the ghost in the past. Instead of starting over from scratch like other lucrative franchise reboots, such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Batman,” Craven and Williamson insist on bringing back “The Key Three” of Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell.


While their faces are welcome in a nostalgic sense, their presence always feels awkward and tacked on. They also repeatedly get in the way of introducing fresh blood like Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin. Not that the three younger actors are any great shakes, but who knows what might have been if the filmmakers had the courage to turn the movie completely over to them instead of trying to shoehorn in Cox, Campbell and Arquette.


OK, the movie still would have been mediocre, but at least it might have stood on its own. Instead, it serves as little more than a remake of the first “Scream,” in which the youngsters crack wise and crack heads at infamous Woodsboro High School, where the death count is always higher than the student body IQ.


Per usual, at the heart of the bloodletting is one Sidney Prescott (Campbell), who has just returned to Woodsboro to promote her new self-help book, “Out of the Darkness.” Almost as soon as she and her chirpy publicist (a very funny Alison Brie from “Mad Men”) arrive in town, a malcontent dusts off the Ghostface mask and begins eliminating the local populace, one by one. And worse, in an ode to Michael Powell’s horror classic “Peeping Tom,” the killer has been filming his-or-her crimes for a website.


Among the peach-fuzzed suspects are Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Roberts), Jill’s slightly slutty best friend, Kirby (Panettiere) and Kirby’s prospective boyfriend, Charlie (Culkin). Among the adults, no one seems young or spry enough to pull off such murderous feats. But if forced to choose, I’d keep a close eye on the hot new deputy sheriff played by a fetching Marley Shelton. Not only does she look great in uniform, she also makes the best lemon squares in town, a tasty treat she hopes will entice her boss, Dewey (Arquette), now Woodsboro’s sheriff. Of course, Cox’s Gale Weathers isn’t about to cede her dim-witted husband to such a sharp, pastry-wielding tart.


Gale, now the author of the best-selling “Stab” novels, also would be remiss if she kept her nose out of the latest series of murders. But her snooping, which is meant to be funny, only impedes the pace of an already slow-moving movie. It’s like Craven doesn’t know what to do with her. Ditto for Campbell and Arquette, who, excuse the expression, are little more than dead weight.


The story plays out exactly as you’d suspect, especially if you’ve seen the first three “Scream” movies. Only this time, Craven sets a new low for ridiculousness with an ending so preposterous that it’s hard for even “Scream” fans, including myself, to accept.


Compound that with the largely flat performances and the excessive display of gratuitous violence and you’re looking at a franchise that’s lost much too much blood to ever hope to survive.


SCREAM 4 (R for strong, bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.) Cast includes Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin. Directed by Wes Craven. 2 stars out of 4.