Movie Review – Scream 2 (1997)

Following the overwhelming success of 1996’s Scream, Scream 2 (1997), also directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, was released just shy of a year after the first film. Following the same winning whodunit slasher formula, the film nevertheless suffered considerable production problems, most notably being that the screenplay was leaked onto the internet revealing the identity of the killers. Major rewrites, therefore, had to be completed as the movie was being filmed. The actors did not even know who the killers were until those scenes were set to be shot.

Set two years after Scream, the film once again centers around Sidney (Neve Campbell) at her college campus as murders begin to spread familiarly around her. The script ups the meta ante, having a film within a film as the events of the first movie are dramatized in a feature called Stab. As Scream was partly inspired by the very real Gainesville Ripper murders, it’s fitting that the Woodsboro murders would get their own satirical Hollywood treatment complete with bad acting and even worse wigs. Craven shows just how skewed and shallow the Hollywood version of reality ultimately is.

While there are still horror film references, this time focusing more on Friday the 13th (1980) instead of Halloween (1978), many more references are dedicated to the other projects of the actors and actresses involved, such as Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers mentioning Friends co-star Jennifer Aniston or the character of Sarah Michelle Gellar, who had recently begun playing the titular television role on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, watching 1922’s Nosferatu. These are certainly timelier and, as a result, have not aged as well.

In addition to this self-analysis Scream 2 also confronts the nature and quality of horror sequels, which historically have been largely terrible. As Randy (Jamie Kennedy) comments, “The entire horror genre was destroyed by sequels.” Randy also, as in the first film, lays out the guidelines for the audience: “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – carnage candy. And number three…” Here he’s cut off in the film, though the movie’s trailer has him continue with: “never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.” True to form, Craven gives the audience a higher body count and some elaborate tension-filled set pieces, the first involving Sidney and her friend trapped in a police car with the unconscious killer and the second involving Gale Weathers in a soundproof booth.

The performances from our returning cast are strong, including David Arquette who adds a sympathetic vulnerability to Deputy Dewey. His and Gale’s story arc is the best written. That being said, the new characters are never really fleshed out. We learn too little about them to be emotionally invested, and also too little to suspect them to any real degree, with the exception of Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary. The movie becomes less of a whodunit mystery and more of a waiting game, as the red herrings are not nearly as convincing as in the first film.

Scream began strong and ended strong, and this film inverts that, though not purposefully. The opening scene is rather over-the-top and the ending not nearly as satisfying. However, considering the re-writes that occurred it’s impressive that Scream 2 is as solid a sequel as it is, even if it does not quite meet the standards of its predecessor. When compared to the other teen slashers that were being released or about to be released, including Williamson’s own I Know What You Did Last Summer (also starring Gellar) which came out the same year, Scream 2 is definitely a superior entry.

Grade: C+

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