Written by: Kevin Williamson
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate - more blood, more gore - carnage candy.”
If ever there was a film destined to have a sequel, it was Scream; as a loving tribute to horror films (particularly slashers), it inevitably would have to become a continuing saga, as one can never assume a horror series itself is dead so long as a profit can be turned. In fact, the end of first film hinted at this with Stu’s insistence that “these days, you gotta have a sequel”—to be a raving lunatic, he sure was prophetic. And indeed, Scream was a smash hit, and, in true slasher form, a follow up arrived in theaters less than a year later (and made for a pretty memorable 14th birthday for yours truly). Once again helmed by Wes Craven and armed with another witty, self-conscious script from Kevin Williamson, Scream 2 had all the necessary ingredients for making the definitive slasher sequel.
Two years after the Woodsboro Massacre (which has been immortalized in the recently-released film, Stab), Sidney Prescott is in college and has attempted to put her bloody past behind her. Someone just won’t let her do that, however, as some enterprising madman takes his love of sequels too far and begins to craft his own killing spree modeled after Billy and Stu’s rampage. Both the survivors of that massacre (Dewey, Gale, and Randy) and Sidney’s new crop of college acquaintances become caught up this latest bloody mystery.
Though I love the Randy character, I can’t hold with his insistence that sequels are inferior films, particularly within the slasher genre, where the likes of Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, and Slumber Party Massacre were often outshined by their follow-ups, precisely because they embraced the notion of being bigger and bloodier. That said, Scream 2 doesn’t quite fall into the class of sequels that outdo their originals (a topic of discussion that arises in the film itself, as most of the characters are film students, of course). However, in many ways, it is a textbook slasher sequel that does follow through on its own sequel rules, especially as it pertains to upping the carnage count.
It’s also a smart film in the sense that, like its predecessor, it knows how to embrace the conventions that it mocks. Yes, it itself is a quick sequel made to cash in a quick buck, and it essentially sticks with delivering the same elements that made the first outing so successful. Like the slasher sequels that inspired it, Scream 2 did not set out to slash away with an entirely new knife; instead, it was content to pull out the same, blood-stained blade and prove that it was as sharp as ever. And it is—the dialogue, particularly the fourth-wall musings on sequels, still crackles with hip energy, and fan favorite Randy (whom I’ve always seen as a stand-in for Williamson himself) has his finest moments. The winks and nods still abound as well--the opening ten minutes alone reference Corman-like theater gimmicks and Black Christmas, while the familiar campus setting compels Randy to name drop everything from The House on Sorority Row to Final Exam.
The plot itself is rather inspired—yes, it is ostensibly “more of the same,” which any good slasher sequel should be, but it also manages to toy with the audience’s expectations from the original by doubling up on some of its conventions. The existence of the fictional Stab film within the narrative provides a natural extension of the first film’s fourth-wall-shattering musings, and makes itself a target of satire (unfortunately, this seems to foreshadow how Scream 3 itself would become an outlandish parody). Here, however, the wit is still reigned in, and the film remains rather believable, intimate affair. It is particularly clever in the way it ties itself back in with the original; this is one case where a slasher follow-up actually feels logically conceived and not just foisted upon audiences as an excuse to see people get carved up in creative fashion.
Of course, Scream wasn’t just effective for all the horror references and bloodletting (in fact, one might argue that the original film only has two signature murder sequences); instead, it worked because of the characters, and part 2 continues this trend. It’s always nice to see familiar faces return, and it’s a true rarity to see anyone besides the final girl make it back for the second round; here, five characters (including Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary) clock in for sequel duty, which is a staggering amount by slasher standards. Joining them is set of new faces rounded out by some similar casting choices as the first film—notable names like Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and even Tori Spelling. Though the new kids aren't as consistently memorable as their original counterparts, there are some stand outs. There's Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey, a film nerd that can give Randy a run for his money, and Laurie Metcalf’s Debbie Salt, a reporter who proves to be Gale’s foil. Also, all bets are off in many respects as it pertains to the cast, as Williamson and Craven are quick to establish that no one is safe from Ghostface.
One can argue that Scream 2’s biggest flaw is that it simply doesn’t quite measure up to the original, which probably isn’t fair; however, I will say that it’s just a baby step down from it. From a pure slasher perspective, it’s just as fun—there’s plenty of outlandish gore bits suspense sequences. It’s sort of amazing how Williamson and Craven basically lead you down the same road and practically give you a map, yet you’re still left on the edge of your seat as the film speeds by all the familiar signs. It also twists and turns, of course, and it all leads to another fantastic finish that pays homage to one of slasherdom’s most famous reveals. The first film’s climax unfolded in the shadow of Halloween, and this one is informed by that film’s most famous rip-off, Friday the 13th. Unlike that film, however, the ultimate reveal is a genuine shocker and a twist that actually manages to outdo the original Scream as well.
Thankfully, Scream 2 doesn’t come off as tacky and derivative as Cunningham’s film either; instead, it’s still vigorous and delivers everything you’d want from a slasher sequel. I’ve always considered Halloween II to be the film that established the first sequel slasher template, as it’s a film that both delivers more of the same and advances the story (in an admittedly contrived manner). But the second Scream is this and much more, as it interacts with its original film in a way that enriches both, and there’s a true sense of seeing a saga unfold. To see the story continue, check out Dimension’s collector’s edition DVD, which was released in 2001; as such, its presentation shows some age, which will no doubt be improved by the film’s recent Blu-ray release. Special features on the standard-def offering include deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, 2 music videos, a behind-the-scenes featurette, cast and crew bios, outtakes, and a commentary with Craven and crew. Scream 2 might not be remembered quite as fondly as the first, but it’s hard to fault a slasher sequel for giving you more of what you liked in the first place. It’s the calling card of the effective horror follow-up, and few do it as well as this one. Buy it!
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