SCREAM 2 is a slasher sequel that had a rare level of difficulty. The fringe nature of the subgenre normally allows part 2s some leeway as exploitational cash grabs, making room for everything from an okay continuation (HALLOWEEN II) to an experimental misstep (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE) to a perfection of the formula (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2) to a re-inventing masterpiece-in-its-own-right (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2). But SCREAM was such a mainstream smash hit, and it created such a new interest in horror among non-horror people, that it had different expectations to live up to.
Also, its horror-movie-where-the-characters-know-about-horror-movies gimmick positioned it as sort of above horror movies, so they couldn’t get away with a normal sequel, they had to also say something about sequels. At the same time, it couldn’t really follow the template of the sequels it was supposed to be commenting on because it’s a series where the bad guys die and the good guys come back in sequels, so it’s a totally different type of story from most popular slashers.
As if all that wasn’t a tall enough hurdle to jump over, this was maybe the first movie production to get screwed by internet spoilers. A first draft of the script got leaked online, so they changed the twist ending during filming. (I bet Elise Neal was bummed she didn’t get to do her killer reveal speech.)
Reunited director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson took an interesting, idiosyncratic stab at it (get it, stab) and I always thought it was pretty good, but watching it now I don’t think it holds up all that well. Like so many sequels the strengths of its predecessor are weakened, the weaknesses are enhanced. And I think it’s pretty superficial in the ways it goes about being meta about sequelizing. Williamson had such a good gimmick the first time around that we took it for granted he knew something about horror movies. In this one the movie nerd shit, at least by modern standards, is for dummies.
The premise is cool: the survivors of the Woodsboro murders (Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Jamie Kennedy as Randy) are in college now, where an unknown party uses the same type of “ghostface” mask, cloak and voice-distorted phone harassment to commit murders as a “sequel” to the other ones. Or possibly as a sequel to the tasteless movie STAB, based on the book by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and supposedly directed by Robert Rodriguez, back when he was a hip up and coming director for Dimension films. Gale shows up to exploit the situation of the new murders, and then she slowly gets a conscience again and tries to actually help. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) also shows up in his police capacity. Unfortunately for him he now has nerve damage from being stabbed in part 1, but in the plus column he has a piece of music from BROKEN ARROW as his theme song. So it’s not a bad trade.
Also, remember Liv Schrieber was briefly seen in SCREAM as Cotton Weary, the guy who was falsely accused and convicted of the murder of Sidney’s mother? Now he’s a major character and he’s in an Amanda Knox type situation where he’s been exonerated except people still treat him like a murderer, so his solution is trying to set up a big TV interview to talk about it.
This movie is very big on that pre-internet idea of everybody wanting to be famous by being on the news. They didn’t know about viral videos back then. The Pam and Tommy Lee tape wasn’t even on the internet yet. Paris Hilton was still a 16 year old attending a school for emotionally troubled teens in Utah. The O.J. Simpson trial was only two years in the past. Things were different.
The opening scene kind of captures what’s good and what’s bad about the movie. A couple played by Jada Pinkett (not yet Smith) and Omar Epps go on a date to a raucous preview screening of STAB, with a cheering crowd in ghostface masks, and get murdered without anyone realizing at first that it’s real.
STAB is an enjoyable meta-joke type deal because it’s fun to see Craven re-staging his own scenes with different actors. He uses some of the same locations and shots, but purposely adds bullshit like a shower scene, an early reveal of the killer, and dialogue like “You know I don’t even know you, and I dislike you already!” It’s almost like Craven’s bragging. This is how you jokers would’ve done this scene. I did it better.
But is it supposed to be kind of a satire about the media exploiting crime and violence, which was a popular topic in the ’90s (MAN BITES DOG, SERIAL MOM, TO DIE FOR, NATURAL BORN KILLERS)? Williamson keeps hitting on this theme, with Weathers being a Current Affair type reporter whose career is given a huge bump by being a crime victim and writing a book about it. And the killers in part 1 were in part trying to become famous. And this one has more media swarming around and lots of talk of big exclusive interviews and ratings and shit.
Therefore I believe that this horror movie based on their lives is supposed to be saying something. But it’s not very convincing, because instant true crime horror movies were not a thing back then, still are not, and don’t seem to be on the horizon. And that’s not the only thing that doesn’t ring true. As fun as this movie screening idea is, it’s just not something that exists. I’ve been to many a promotional preview screening, and I just don’t buy that they would pass out a full Halloween mask and costume to everyone in the theater, and have William Castle style in-theater effects. And then when Epps gets killed in the bathroom it’s weird too. I have a hard time believing he would hear somebody mumbling and put his ear up to the side of the booth, I don’t care how non-germphobic he is. And I have an even harder time believing a knife could stab all the way through that wood. Even if it was a Rambo knife.
Not everything has to be realistic, especially in slasher movies. But compare this to the opening scene of SCREAM, and the things that made that scary. We may never have been a teenage girl home alone getting weird phone calls, but we can relate to the situation. We know the creepiness of a quiet, isolated town like that, an empty house surrounded by yards and trees. All the sudden you get this idea that someone is watching you. Your lights are on and you look out the window and see only darkness, and you feel like you’re in a fish bowl. The feeling that someone is invading your space, and you’re not sure exactly where they are, you don’t know who they are, or what they look like.
It’s scary because it’s so universally relatable. So everything fantastical about the movie theater, every little thing that takes you just a little out of it, is a step backward.
And then there’s Williamson’s idea of witty dialogue between media savvy characters, which has not aged well in my opinion. Admittedly this was kind of a new idea at the time, and it’s understandable that they felt they had to be very basic for audiences to understand it. But Pinkett, whose character doesn’t want to go to the horror movie, deserves a better argument. She projects an intelligence that the script doesn’t live up to. She wants to watch an unnamed Sandra Bullock movie instead. (Assuming this takes place in 1997, that means SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL.)
She brags, “Listen, I read my Entertainment Weekly. I know. My. Shit.” Which gives you an idea of how little you had to do to be considered knowledegable about pop culture back then. When she yells at the screen “Bitch, hang the phone up and star-69 his ass!” I think it’s supposed to be a clever take down of their own movie, the way it tried to take down other horror cliches. But it doesn’t really make sense, because all *69 does is call them back. She already hung up on him. Why would she call him back? It’s not gonna tell her his identity.
To be fair, she’s not necessarily supposed to be a movie (or phone) expert. The real crime is the character Randy, beloved by SCREAM fans as the audience-identifying “movie geek” and horror fan character. I still hear from people who (SPOILER) feel betrayed that their guy got killed off early in the movie. I would like to propose that you not identify with Randy. Randy sucks. He’s an entry level fake ass movie geek. His big insight in film theory class is that “sequels suck.” When he asks to name a good sequel he’s surprised that Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) is able to come up with T2 and ALIENS. And then Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar) says, “You have a hard-on for Cameron,” as if that’s something only an obsessive Cameron fan would come up with, and not an obvious first answer for every single person who has casual knowledge of mainstream movies of the ’80s and ’90s.
Also, I have to shame the class in general for how long they took to come up with THE GODFATHER PART II. These must be those type of film students who know the entry level art films and black and white classics but their parents wouldn’t let them watch television or play with friends who were aware of popular culture.
Randy does a Schwarzenegger imitation, a Brando imitation, and later a random English accent. He makes a Razzies-esque hack joke based on the false premise that SHOWGIRLS is a movie to look down on. If he had a blog or commented on here nobody would like him. He would probly be good on Doug Loves Movies. He at least knows horror enough to know of SPLATTER UNIVERSITY, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and FINAL EXAM, and that last one especially is a deep cut. But we haven’t seen him provide any kind of interesting analysis of anything. I’m not saying he deserves to die, but in my opinion he’s getting much too much credit as a movie expert and comic relief character.
They keep pointing out that Randy’s the nerd who didn’t get the girl, and has a crush on Sidney. Just to twist the knife (and add a red herring), they give her a new boyfriend named Derek (Jerry O’Connell), who’s a super nice jock guy. Williamson – who must’ve been preparing Dawson’s Creek at the same time, since it started a month after SCREAM 2 came out – shows that the teen soap opera stuff is at least as important to him as the horror. In a way it’s cool because it expects you to care about the characters more than many horror movies do. (It even has their pictures on the end credits.) But for me it just gets too far into corny territory at times. There’s an uncomfortable scene where Derek, to smooth over relationship troubles while his girlfriend is being targeted by a serial killer, publicly (and badly) serenades her. And of course Mickey has to say “Uh, Tom Cruise, TOP GUN, 1986.” You know how we, as movie fans, always say the year after the title of the movie. Even when it’s ambiguous whether it’s even a reference since he’s not singing the same song or in the same situation.
In the end (SPOILER FOR MOVIE THAT’S OLD ENOUGH TO VOTE) we learn some more about the backstory that gives a revenge motive to the killers. At least it’s not just about fame again. One killer is the local reporter played by Laurie Metcalf, revealed to be part 1 co-killer Billy’s mother. I like that because it’s kind of a reversal of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series where in part 1 it’s the mother and in part 2 it’s the son. Also I always liked Metcalf on Roseanne.
But the brains behind the murdering operation belong to Mickey, foreshadowing Olyphant’s future as a DIE HARD villain. Mickey may have “a hard-on for Cameron,” but in my opinion his murder spree is definitely not ALIENS to the original Woodsboro murders’ ALIEN. He doesn’t change genres or add to the mythology. What a chump.
There are much worse sequels to slasher movies. To name a couple random examples off the top of my head, SCREAM 3 and SCREAM 4. Some of this works, I can appreciate what they’re going for, and it’s certainly not your generic horror part 2. But I can’t say it’s a great movie. You want greatness, stick with SCREAM.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.