MGM watched helplessley as Miramax made a killing with its "Scream" flicks. Now the studio takes its own stab at the lucrative generation-hex audience.

If you want to know how to make a teenage horror movie, hang out in the lunchroom of Cradle Bay High. Everything’s in place. The pretty cheerleaders in shrunken sweaters. The brooding, studly guy. The janitor who looks like he’s out for blood. And the director frantically calling his producer on a borrowed StarTAC.

You don’t need to be a whiz in calculus to figure out what’s going on here on the Vancouver set of MGM’s Disturbing Behavior. Miramax made $320 million worldwide with its first two films in the Scream trilogy; now every studio worth its weight in retractable butcher’s knives wants to go howling for dollars. On Aug. 5, Miramax lets slash-happy Michael Myers loose for the seventh Halloween. In October, Columbia releases John Carpenter’s Vampires, about a Vatican-organized anti-Dracula squad, and Universal unleashes the evil Chucky doll on an L.A. killing spree in Bride of Chucky. And shooting just wrapped on Scream scribe Kevin Williamson’s next shriek-fest, Killing Mrs. Tingle, about four high school students who plot to kill their teacher.

“The scariest thing about making a horror movie these days,” Behavior director David Nutter says, “is making sure yours is out before everybody else’s.”

Timing isn’t everything, of course, and spending a few hours on the Disturbing Behavior set is like reading Cliffs Notes for Hollywood Horror 101. Here’s a quick review. And you will be tested….

C’MON, GET SEXY! Load your cast with good-looking young people. Since Leo’s not available, get a guy like James Marsden to play lead hunk. No matter that his biggest role to date was in The Nanny; girls will swoon and say he looks like Tom Cruise 15 years ago. “Two minutes ago, it seems like I was having my own high school identity crisis,” Marsden says. “I didn’t know whether to hang out with the jocks or my fellow geeks in the musicals.”

For the female lead, it helps to have a household name (in households with 16-year-olds). Someone like Katie Holmes, star of Dawson’s Creek (written by Kevin Williamson—yesss!). It’s also smart to get a James Dean-type character played by someone like Nick Stahl, with highfalutin credits like Terrence Malick’s upcoming WWII film, The Thin Red Line. He’ll draw the disenfranchised, the outsiders, the misfits (i.e., teenagers). Let him utter pensive thoughts to visiting reporters like: “Most teenage scripts read like they were written by people who forgot what it’s like to be a teen. I know. I’m 18.” Make this kid the psychological center of the film.

KNOW YOUR TEENS! Make sure you have all teen subcultures covered. Today the cafeteria is packed with all sorts: skateboarders in baggy pants. Whiz kids with tattered copies of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Jocks. Ravers. Punks. Freaks. Explains Holmes: “Everybody in high school wears a mask of some kind. It helps them play well with others.”

When it comes to villains, play up every adolescent insecurity and make the bad guys the peppiest, happiest, best-looking bunch in the room. Here, they’re the Blue Ribbons, a frighteningly chipper group of picture-perfect teens whose idea of fun involves bake sales and car washes. Never mind that an evil Cradle Bay doctor has surgically removed their negative impulses and sexual urges; these kids are still totally annoying. Says Marsden, “They’re, like, the scariest people you could ever meet.”

Disturbing Behavior
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