With the rousing success of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s Scream, a film that attached jumper cables to the nascent slasher genre and juiced it through the roof, a sequel was all but inevitable and sure enough, barely a year later, the returning writer and director dropped Scream 2 in our laps.
While the first movie gleefully deconstructed the rules of the horror genre via the conduit of movie savvy teenagers, this part deux attempts to pull off the same trick but instead unsurprisingly aims it’s blood slickened stabbing implement at it’s new target of sequels. Of course back in 1997, sequels had far more of a bad rap than they do now and were a far more plump target for Williamson’s knife to find more rules to mine and subvert and the result is a zippy, hugely satisfying shocker which gleefully deals out it’s suprises (a couple of them fairly nasty) with a snickering, ghost-masked poker face.
A year has passed after the infamous Woodsboro Massacre and a college based Sidney Prescott is trying to put it all behind her – something that isn’t all that easy to do considering one of her fellow survivors, the ruthless journalist Gail Weathers, wrote a tell all book which has since been turned into a major motion picture called Stab. However, when a couple of seniors from her campus is murdered during a preview screening by an assailant wearing a Ghostface mask everyone starts to worry that a copycat killer may be at large and one by one, the figures who are linked to that blood drenched night find their way back to Sidney for various reasons. Former deputy Dewey comes to help and protect his friend while Gail tastes another exclusive but mixed up in this fresh bout of slashy carnage is new boyfriend Derek, new best friend Hallie and film student Mickey – not to mention uber-geek Randy who besides also experiencing the horror 12 months prior, has lots of new theories, the main one being that these new killing are less a copy… and more of a sequel.
While Randy lays out the rules for sequels to a perplexed looking Dewey and Gail thoughtlessly tries to reconnect Sidney with Cotton Weary – the man previously thought to be the murderer of Sidney’s mother – the bodies start to pile up with each death more cruel and ingenious than the last. Who could be possibly targeting Sidney this time and how close to the orginal crime is the killer planning to stick – after all, Sidney’s boyfriend Billy Loomis was the mastermind behind the cinematic slasher slayings the first time round, has lightning struck twice with Derek?
In a genre full of lackluster follow ups and saggy second go rounds, possibly the best thing about Scream 2 is how hard the filmmakers are striving to up their game. Craven and co. are to be applauded for not allowing themselves to slip into the pitfalls of getting complacent with the murder scenes and instead stage hugely audacious sequences where the masked killer manages to cleave the life out of his/her/their (?) victims in such unlikely murder spots like crowded rooms or wide open spaces drenched in daylight. But setting the scene is the bravura pre-credits sequence which, while not as teeth-grindingly stressful as the original’s flawless opening, still manages to be hugely meta (murdered in a theatre showing a movie version of the first movies events?), includes a conversation about the treatment of black characters in horror AND shows off the enhanced confidence the franchise exudes with a stalk and slash sequence that’s almost Dario Argento-esque in it’s theatricality. In fact the scene, in which Jada Pinkett-Smith student is slaughtered in full view of a packed cinema while the crowd mistakenly cheer on the killer is one of the most profound scenes in 90’s horror. Not only is it tragically quite moving (Pinkett-Smith sells it SO HARD, complete with a screeching death wail as the onlookers finally catch on) but it’s quite a stirring commentary on the effect movie violence has on real life (a favourite topic of Craven’s).
The cat and mouse moments keep coming thick and fast, showing impressive innovation and a Hitchcockian style vibe usually reserved for the Italian giallo films of the 60’s and 70’s. Watch Gail creep through a maze of sound proofing panels in a recording room, or the cuticle gnawing experience of Sydney having to crawl OVER the unconscious body of Ghostface slumped in the driver’s seat in order to escape the police car she’s trapped in. It’s fantastic stuff and the vastly more complicated set-ups play like an awesome rollercoaster ride where there’s a 75% chance of getting stabbed in the face; even Marco Beltrami’s score is ramped up to an hysterical degree creating an almost majestic feeling to a genre that usually aims a lot lower.
The vast majority of the surviving cast returns (somewhat of a rarity is slasher movies as by the end of them 95% of their cast has been sliced into mince meat) and it’s thankfully a pleasure to see them again. Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, toughened by her experiences of banging a murdering lunatic (and you thought YOUR ex was bad) is an even more formidable “final girl”, stubbornly digging her heels in when things get bloody and even getting stuck in and trading blows with Ghostface’s alter-ego when presented with a flight or fight option. It’s also still sweet seeing Courtney Cox’s real life relationship with David Arquette literally come off the screen as Gail Weathers and Dewey meet up again after a year of not speaking (again, an actual established romance plot that’s given time to legitimately form in a slasher film sequel is practically unheard of) and the newcomers also fit in well with Jerry O’Connell, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Michelle Gellar (doing significantly worse against slashers than she does against vampires) and Liev Schreiber all filling out the legitimately likable cast of suspects/victims/both.
The film also manages to recreate that balance of sarcastic, meta, black comedy that made the first movie such a hoot, bending over backwards to cram the existence of Stab down our casts throats although the clips we see show us that the filmmakers took the low hanging fruit route of making it a typical dumb slice and dice. Still, it’s still funny and the cameos for Tori Spelling, Heather Graham and particularly Luke Wilson (who mercilessly apes Skeet Ulrich right down to the ratty fringe) score high.
However, Scream 2’s constant bringing up of the timely subject that sequels rarely surpass their originals ends up being slightly prophetic as the expanded scale of the film unfortunately means it’s not as finely tuned as the lean, mean original and certain lapes of logic are required to make room for the theatrical nature of the kills. For example why on earth would Sydney continue to participate in the performance of a Greek tragedy that involves being surrounded by masks, robes and daggers – and why does Hans Zimmer’s theme from John Woo’s Broken Arrow keep popping up whenever Dewey’s puppy dog expression comes on screen? By the time we get to the hugely ambitious climax the movie starts to audibly groan under the weight of it’s own melodrama with an epic amount of twists, double crosses, resurrections and exposition which ends up more exhausting than exhilarating. Also despite the movie actually broaching African American experiences in genre movies, it fails to adequately back them up with the only other black characters featured in the film is Sydney’s flakey friend and Gail’s panicky new camera man Joel, who simply disappears by the halfway point – somewhat disappointing from the man who gave us The People Under The Stairs…
However, while being a notch below the first film (possibly by design maybe to prove a point, who knows?) it still captures more than enough of the spirt of the original to be a hugely worthy follow up and contains some of the best and most intricate work Craven managed to put out during the 90’s.
Yes, as proven here and elsewhere, sequels rarely match up to the original, but this one gets SO close you could simply just scream… too.