Scream 2. 1997. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Elise Neal, Liev Schreiber, Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joshua Jackson, Timothy Olyphant, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, Lewis Arquette, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia de Rossia, & David Arquette.
Dimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Craven-Maddalena Films.
Rated R. 120 minutes.
★★★★Disclaimer: It’s been 20 years. If you haven’t seen this yet, expect to be spoiled.
Make no mistake, I loved Scream. When it first came out my friend and I watched it together, we were maybe 12, and it truly scared us. Wes Craven is one of the masters of the horror genre. While the first film in the series took a – pardon me for this – stab at horror movies in a post-modern, metafictional style, screenwriter Kevin Williamson comes back with Craven for the sequel, Scream 2, and they not only stab again at the heart of horror cliches, as well as sequels, they genuinely up the seriousness of the story while still staying fresh and self-deprecating at the right moments.
There’s a lot people take for granted when it comes to this series overall, but especially this sequel. Everyone expected something particular, which is always a gamble when it comes to a huge movie many fans loved. But this sequel offered many things that horror fans who don’t give it the proper credit don’t often notice, at least not the first time around. Sure, the whole thing with the new Ghostface picking off victims using the names of victims from the original massacre, that’s something, and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks has more Rules to Survive a Horror
MovieSequel to offer his friends and the audience.
But the true strength of this film comes in the writing of Williamson, and its execution at the hands of Mr. Craven. Running the gamut from horror parody (Stab with Tori Spelling and Luke Wilson) to the inclusion of high art and stage tragedy (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon from the Oresteia), it’s like a great piece of literary fiction and Scream 2 is better than many are willing to admit. I don’t pretend to know why, and I also know not everything is for everyone. I do know a few reasons why it’s worth reconsidering and popping on for another watch.
Starting in the first film, Craven takes aim at many things, including his beloved genre of choice. Mainly though, he focuses his assault on the media. Gale Weathers (Cox) is a ruthless reporter, the epitome of ‘willing to do anything to get the story’ even if that includes dragging victims through the mud. By the same token, she’s also, now and then, shown as a double-edged sword, someone who, like in the case of Cotton Weary (Schreiber), also wants to get to the bottom of the truth, eventually. What’s interesting is that this sequel – and continuing in the third film – marks a transition for Gale, where she’s still clinging to her old ways but also finding out there’s another side, that reporters just need to work a little harder and they can be respected, instead of being the latest fodder generating instrument for headlines. Moreover, she’s too busy chasing the next story in this sequel to see a killer right in front of her.
Gale’s nastiest moment comes when she confronts Sidney (Campell) with Cotton in tow; an effectively awful scene concerning exploited victims, all at the hands of Ms. Weathers in her search for the next big thing to keep her fame from fading. Strange how she’s basically the precursor for people like Piers Morgan, Nancy Grace, and other media ‘personalities’ today clinging to any kind of controversy or whatever it takes to stay in the spotlight.
The opening sequence is really the nail in the coffin of media exploitation. Audiences are desensitised, something I’m sure Craven was very aware of, long before Scream 2. When Jada Pinkett Smith’s character perishes during this opener, we see the wreckage of desensitisation. People are so jaded that she literally has to die on stage for the crowd to see, to understand it’s real and not a gimmick. Further than that there’s the idea of media exploiting true crimes to turn into films, franchises, merchandise, et cetera. Everyone is so caught up in the Stab gimmick – all the Ghostface masks, rubber knives, all those toys and replicas – they probably imagined this woman getting stabbed in front of them was a marketing campaign, the next step in the film studio evolving to the times. And what’s funny is that this was released 20 years ago as of my writing, yet it’d be even more genuinely believable in this day and age than then, you could see this happening in 2017. Craven rubs in the reality when JPS hits the stage, lingering on her dead face, the blood, her cold eyes, before cutting to the title. A jarring image.
The age old question rears its head once more in Craven’s sequel: do horror movies and violent images breed killers and/or homicidal thought? As we find out with Mickey (Olyphant), life really does imitate art like he points out, and he even plans on using it as a defence. This is spectacular for a couple reasons.
Number one, Mickey is one of the Ghostface murderers in this film and he goes against the killers of the first film, Billy Loomis and Stu Macher; they were big horror movie lovers, but were motivated primarily by revenge for Sidney’s mom sleeping with Billy’s father before their family fell apart. Mickey is wholeheartedly invested in movies as motive, the media has warped his mind and he’s going to use it to try getting off with murder.
Number two, life imitating art factors into the big finale. We start the film with a death on a movie theatre stage, we end the film with a final confrontation on a theatrical stage. Not just that, the play Sidney is a part of is Agamemnon, which is a tale of family and revenge; this directly parallels Scream 2‘s story that ultimately deals with family and revenge. When the other killer is unmasked it links to family, the first film. Then the deaths, completing the tragedy of a Greek play, add another effect to the whole. Sidney’s performance itself, her character, is a great inclusion. Plus, the audience witnesses a head trip of a rehearsal as she loses herself in the masks onstage, believing Ghostface lurks around each costume. Not only does Williamson use the Greek tragedy in parallel with his plot, the sequence at the rehearsal comes off as impressively theatrical, a nice visual and thematic few moments. All this together makes clear that the screenplay is well crafted, not just another sequel to a slasher waiting to be forgotten.
As was the case in the original film, Williamson writes a nice whodunnit scenario, as Craven spins the words into near constant tension. Nobody here is safe from suspicion, and seeing Scream 2 for the first time is real fun because it’s a great guessing game for a while. More than that there are a couple perfect slasher horror scenes, a unique score like we got the first time around, and the returning actors – Campbell, Cox, Arquette, Kennedy – do a fine job carrying the material, sinking further into their characters this time around.
One last mention is that I love how they didn’t throw Cotton Weary to the side. He wasn’t forgotten, and the inclusion of his character, following up on his false imprisonment for the killing of Sidney’s mother, is not just good for the whodunnit mystery, it does wonders for the whole concentrated universe of the Scream series. I actually wish Weary lasted longer in the next movie, but alas, we at least get a bit more Schreiber!
Either way, this is a great sequel, one of the better and more underappreciated sequels to a slasher over the past 20 years, that’s for damn sure. I know this did well at the box office, but over time I feel like many horror fans fell out of love with it, if they ever actually loved it in the first place. All I know is that Craven directs this film at a masterful level, the suspense is unbearable and he keeps you on edge, while the story Williamson weaves adds to what made the first film so perfectly creepy and effective (in terms of its aim at media and the sensationalised way people view true crime), as well as provides serious weight to the story overall in his use of Agamemnon.
You’ll do far worse than this Craven flick if you want to throw in a sequel. Take a stormy, eerie night when the wind outside is blowing, turn off the lights, and let Scream 2 get in your head.