Grossing in excess of 15 times its production budget at the box office, 1996’s Scream proved that life still remained in the ailing slasher genre. Naturally, a sequel was swiftly green-lit, and Scream 2 hit multiplexes in December of 1997, barely a year after its predecessor. Yet, despite such a quick turnover time, Scream 2 does not feel like a shoddy rush-job. The only movies more ripe for satire and ridicule than mindless slasher films are the endless sequels to mindless slasher movies, and the filmmakers behind Scream 2 were able to capitalise in this ideology. Instead of simply reheating the rules from the original film, this sequel builds a new story and has a lot of fun acknowledging the “rules of sequels”. At once a satire of sequels and a satisfying extension of the characters we know and love, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have managed to create an entertaining, intense slasher that rises to the cerebral level which characterised its forerunner.
Scream 2 begins two years after the infamous Woodsboro murders that occurred inScream. Since then, Gale Weathers (Cox) has released a book about the murders which has been converted into a movie called Stab, while Woodsboro murders survivors Sidney (Campbell) and Randy (Kennedy) have departed for college. Upon the release of Stab, a copycat killer wearing a Ghostface mask begins killing local college students. As the killing intensifies, Sidney, Randy, Gale, the returning Dewey (Arquette), and Sidney’s new boyfriend (O’Connell) are forced into a deadly race to catch the killer before he slaughters them as well.
In addition to the handful of returning stars, Scream 2 enjoys a genuine rarity in the horror genre: the same writer/director duo that masterminded the first film. The fact that both Williamson and Craven returned to the series is evidence that the sequel was planned from the get-go rather than arbitrarily assembled in an attempt to capitalise on past success (although the speed at which it was produced would ostensibly suggest that). Horror veteran Craven was in fine form for this sequel; showing a sure hand behind the camera whilst orchestrating the mayhem. Williamson’s writing is fortunately just as sharp this time around – his dissection of horror sequel clichés is spot-on, the characters are still three-dimensional and self-aware, the dialogue still crackles with wit, and the frightening scenes still induce chills. Most impressive is a classroom discussion about film sequels and if they are inherently inferior or if they can actually outdo their predecessors (films like Aliens, Terminator 2 and The Godfather: Part II are mentioned). It may not be said, but it seems to be implicit that the filmmakers were highlighting the fact they did not want to churn out a worthless sequel, but instead produce a follow-up that favourably measures up with the first film.
1996’s Scream opened with a bang; a thrilling, extremely clever extended set-piece which set the scene for what was to come. Scream 2 continues this tradition with an intense opening sequence in which a couple of characters visit a local theatre for a preview screening of Stab. This scene is full of smart dialogue, with the role played by Jada Pinkett Smith bemoaning the lack of African American participation in slashers (it therefore cannot be a coincidence that Scream 2 features a number of black characters). Shortly thereafter, her and her boyfriend have been violently gutted, signalling the start of another series of grisly murders. Craven and Williamson let loose a torrent of tongue-in-cheek creativity for the “movie within a movie” sequences. They had the chance to openly parody the first Scream, and accomplished this with great panache. Stab features Tori Spelling as Sidney, Heather Graham in the role played by Drew Barrymore, and Luke Wilson as Sidney’s boyfriend. Sadly, only a few scenes from Stab are shown. It would have been a lot more fun if Craven and Williamson found time to show lengthy Stab excerpts.
Another strength of Scream 2 is that it features a group of legitimate characters as opposed to a stream of cardboard cut-out stereotypes lined up for slaughter. Predictably, Neve Campbell is a delight once again; ably communicating fear, passion and emotion, not to mention vulnerability. Considering the usual standard for acting in slasher movies, Campbell is a great find indeed. Both Courtney Cox and David Arquette also returned for this sequel, and both of them deliver fine performances. Meanwhile, Jamie Kennedy is his usual amiable self as Randy (SPOILERS: Unfortunately, the biggest flaw of Scream 2 is that Randy is killed off. He was much too solid of a character to be killed off, and this represents a huge misstep on the part of the filmmakers. END SPOILERS). Of the newcomers, Timothy Olyphant exhibits exceptional acting ability in the role of Mickey, while Liev Schreiber (who had a verysmall role in Scream) is terrific and occasionally chilling as Cotton Weary. And finally, there’s comic relief in the form of the hilarious Duane Martin playing Gale’s new cameraman.
Unfortunately, the finale of Scream 2 feels a bit on the sloppy side. While the plot twists are indeed quite surprising, the typical Hollywood “reveal everything before I kill you” speech is a tad silly, not to mention the climax is dragged out to an interminable length. This aside, Scream 2 is a fun, effective and scary follow-up. It may not be a better film than its predecessor – or quite as excellent as it – but it remains one of the better horror sequels in history.