Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Scream 2

Film: Scream 2
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When Wes Craven wrote and directed Scream, he made something that worked on multiple levels. It was a completely self-aware horror movie that openly played with the tropes of the genre. At the same time, it was an effective slasher movie in its own right. Scream wouldn’t have been anything like the success it was if it hadn’t been a good slasher itself, and the fact that it literally told the audience the tropes it already knew and had fun with them made it the genre rewrite it was. So what the hell do you do with Scream 2?

Well, what you do is you continue to play with the tropes of the genre, and you also play with the various ideas of sequels. We’re told at one point that the rules of the sequel include a bigger body count and more violent kills all the way through. One of the things that isn’t mentioned but is specifically played with is the fact that at least one survivor from the first film isn’t going to make it to the end of the second film.

So let’s play with some tropes here. One of the genius moves of Scream was that it gave us Drew Barrymore in the opening sequence. Everyone in the audience assumes that Drew is going to be the star of the film (she’s on the poster, after all), and she doesn’t make it 15 minutes into the film. We’ll get the same thing here when we’re introduced to a couple consisting of Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith. They’re attending a free premier of “Stab,” a movie inside the movie based on the first film. Neither one of them manages to make it through the movie (giving us the horror movie staple that the black characters are the first ones to die).

And, well, what follows is going to be a lot like Scream with the same self-aware dialogue and the same basic premise. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now a college student and is sealing with her unwanted fame/notoriety with the help of her roommate Hallie (Elise Neal). Attending with her is first movie survivor Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). When news of the murders at the premiere comes out, reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) shows up, in part to follow the story and in part to promote her book on which the in-film movie was made. Also showing up is former cop Dewey Riley (David Arquette). It’s old home week for much of the original cast.

There are some changes, of course. Since Gale Weathers’s cameraman was diced in the first film, he’s replaced by Joel (Duane Martin). We’ve also got a few new students/potential victims/potential killers in Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) and Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Also making appearances are the man Sidney had put in prison in the first film, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber). Gale has her own fangirl, local reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) to round out the cast. There are cameos by actors-of-the-moment Rebecca Gayheart and Joshua Jackson, as well as a nice short appearance from frequent film baddie David Warner. Other cameos include Tori Spelling as herself and both Luke Wilson and Heather Graham in the in-film Stab movie.

Honestly, where we go with this is exactly where you think we’re going to go with this. Just as Scream had a scene that detailed some of the explicit rules that slasher films live by, Scream 2 will have a long discussion of sequels and the way that they work. In particular, there is a very self-aware scene in a film classroom where various students discuss the merits of sequels and why sequels are never as good as the original film. This is exactly the sort of thing that made the first film a success, and exactly the sort of call back that both works in the moment and also helps the audience realize that this is, in fact, a sequel and therefore not nearly as good as the first film.

There’s no shame (and no shock) in saying that. Scream 2 isn’t as good as the first film by a long shot. The main reason for that is that Scream worked in large part because it felt so fresh in so many ways. The self-awareness of the film is what made it so much fun, and the fact that we as the audience didn’t know how it was going to play with genre conventions made every scene feel new in so many ways. You can’t get that same feeling in the sequel, or at least that lightning is very hard to catch in the same bottle a second time.

Scream 2 is a decent film. If you liked the first one (and you should have), there’s a lot to like here, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a letdown after just how exciting and new Scream felt despite it so clearly going with the conventions of its genre.

Why to watch Scream 2: All of the relevant surviving cast members from the first film have returned.
Why not to watch: It’s a sequel, so it loses a lot from the excitement of the original.


  1. While I think the first remains the best, the second film was still enjoyable as I think it also played with the conventions of horror sequels.

    1. Agreed. It could never be as much fun as the first one, but it's great for what it is.

  2. The original is a masterpiece. That said, I am a huge fan of this one as well. It's not quite up to the same level, but I honestly don't think it's that far off. By the way, did you catch how Joel's character speaks directly to Black viewers and becomes the stereotype we have of ourselves? We've long held that one of the reasons there weren't more Black characters in horror is because we have more sense than to be anywhere near a masked psychopath and won't do the "investigating" necessary to put us in harm's way. Therefore, I have always took him instantly quitting his job, removing himself from the situation, and never returning as a nod to that idea.

    1. It's a smart screenplay, and I think anyone involved probably knew it would never be quite as good as the first movie. It's okay, though, because it does have the same spirit as the original.

      One of the other black character tropes in horror movies is that they are killed off first, which is precisely what happens here as well. I do wonder how much of that walking out of the situation by the black characters comes from a sort of awareness of dangerous situations simply because of society. If you're more attuned to the possibilty of danger, you're going to be better at avoiding it.

  3. The Scream movies were really important to me in the 90s. Loved them, and your analysis is right on.

    To this day, Liev Schreiber freaks me the hell out in movies, and he isn't even the bad guy.

    1. He's a decent bad guy, though. He plays a decent turn as one in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate.