Scream 2 (1997)

14 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Just as the terrific Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson horror film “Scream” featured characters who had seen other horror films and knew the basic formula, its sequel “Scream 2” not only brings back the survivors of the original film’s killings but also features characters who have seen a movie that was based on those killings (the title of that movie is “Stab”). Now they all trapped in another slasher nightmare in which a killer is out to make a real-life sequel.

This leads to two intriguing conversations about sequels. One takes place in a college film-class the day after the first murder has been committed, at the “Stab” premiere screening. The teacher argues that the movie influenced the murder, one student states that movies aren’t responsible for people’s actions (and indeed, if you recall in the first film, “Movies don’t create psychos—movies make psychos more creative!”), and another, film-buff Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), describes it as a “classic case of life-imitating-art-imitating-life.” Is it possible someone’s out to make an actual sequel to “Stab,” which was based on true-life slashings? “Stab 2?” actual-survivor Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) asks. “Who’d want to do that? Sequels suck.” Of course he forgets about “The Godfather Part II.”

The other discussion occurs midway through the movie, as it turns out someone really is making a “sequel” to the original murders, as the body count continues to increase. Randy and visiting survivor, police deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), discuss “rules of the sequels”—the body count is always higher and deaths are bloodier (“carnage candy”). Who could be the killer? Whomever it is is already in their lives, so who can be trusted before they can they start to turn on each other? (Of course, they don’t—“If I’m a suspect, you’re a suspect.” “Good point; let’s move on.”)

“Scream 2” deserves credit for knowing that it’s an attempt to cash in on the success of the original “Scream” because that’s exactly what the killer of this “story” is attempting to do: increase the terror brought upon by the release of “Stab.” Not many sequels are as good as their predecessors, but “Scream 2” is about as good—it maintains the effective mix of scares and laughs in Kevin Williamson’s screenplay. (And if a scene needed to be scary, Williamson reportedly added in his script, “Wes Craven will make it scary.” A sad yet accurate distinction.)

Yes, there is a new slasher sporting the same black cloak and white-ghost mask, and he stalks a bunch of college freshmen, particularly Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the heroine from the first movie. Randy is her classmate, and is still as knowledgeable about horror films as he was in the first movie. Dewey has come to aid in campus security once he hears about the murders. And Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), the bitchy news reporter from the first film and who has written the best-selling novel based on the original killings, is here as well, along with a new cameraman (Duane Martin) after her original cameraman…well, never mind.

New characters include—Sidney’s dull, dim-witted, hunky new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O’Connell); the aforementioned Mickey (“the freaky Tarantino film student”); Hallie (Elise Neal), Sidney’s sassy roommate; Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a sorority girl who may not last very long; and Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), a reporter who rivals Gale for the inside scoop. Mainly suspected is Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), whom it turned out was wrongfully accused of the murder of Sidney’s mother two years ago. He wants his time to shine (fame for redemption) and practically stalks Sidney to help him out.

One of the strengths of the two “Scream” movies is that the characters are not cardboard cut-out caricatures just here to be killed off; they’re genuine characters that we come to care about. Even Gale, who can be beastly when she’s desperate for a story, shows signs of humanity so that she isn’t a one-dimensional snob. It’s hard not to care for these people.

The dialogue is still very smart the second time around—particularly engaging are the “sequel” discussions; a scene in which Gale’s African-American cameraman wants to bail (“I don’t want to be the news; brothers don’t last long in situations like this!”) while Gale attempts to calm him down; and in the prologue in which two black characters (played by Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps) discuss the lack of African-Americans in horror films.

I forgot to mention the prologue earlier—these two I just mentioned have come to the free premiere screening of “Stab” where so many horror-movie fans are excited and happy to be there, while also wearing the same killer costume that the actual killer wore. They’re all pumped and cheering in the murder scene of “Stab”…until they notice that Pinkett is at the front of the screen, having been stabbed by a real killer and dying and screaming in pain—that, of course, stops their cheer and laughter. That’s a very clever move; horror-movie fans want more violence and then they notice real-life violence and realize how wrong it was that they were cheering about.

And give Craven a lot of credit for openly parodying “Scream,” particularly when he gets to allow Robert Rodriguez to direct his own version of the Drew Barrymore shocker-opening from the original, and making that the opening scene for “Stab.” (The “Casey Becker” role is played by Heather Graham this time.) And there’s also a clip featuring Tori Spelling in the “Sidney Prescott” role that we see later on a TV. I wish there were more of those “Stab” scenes, and I also wish there could have been some acknowledgement that this horror film “Stab” has become exactly what “Scream” itself was lampooning.

The resolution of the killer’s identity is as effective here as it was in the original film. Actually, I think it’s even more thought-provoking. While it does have its wink at the audience (“Didn’t see it coming, did you?”), it also has a uniquely interesting argument about the killer that I wish I could give away in this review. But I wouldn’t dare ruin the surprise for you. Let me just say that the effect that young killers leave on certain people, especially those closest to them, leaves more a drastic impact than you might think.

Wes Craven really knows how to play with the horror genre, as much of an admirer of the genre as he is. With this, and also with “Scream” and “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” Craven can come up with enough clever ideas to make an entire TV miniseries dedicated to designing parallels between plot and reality. “Scream 2” allows him to take that notion for a sequel—if he had just taken it a step further, the movie would have been great. As it is, “Scream 2” is still pretty good.

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