[review by Joseph Henson]
|Phil (Omar Epps) and Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) further establish the celebrity cameo death scene the series became well known for with SCREAM 2.|
In late 1996, over a decade removed from the golden era of the slasher film, a little indie effort by the name of SCREAM, directed by horror maestro Wes Craven and written by fresh talent, Kevin Williamson, took the City of Angels by storm. Suddenly and certainly unexpectedly, knife-friendly cinematic content was all the rage again. In came the promise of a treasure trove of riffs and, not to be outdone by those, its first sequel. To say SCREAM reinvigorated a long-dormant sub-genre would be an understatement: box office receipts were piling up, and Generation X-ers across the globe were ravenous for more movie murder, and thus, plans were immediately set into motion for SCREAM 2, with a projected release date less than a single year past its predecessor. SCREAM 2 promised more blood, more gore, and yes, carnage candy! But could it, and would it, live up to the genre-defining power of the original?
SCREAM 2 moves the action from the quiet suburbs of its predecessor - the quaint (but fictional) town of Woodsboro - to the sprawling Windsor College campus (also fictional). Two years have passed since the original killings, and now, Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley, Gale Weathers, Randy Meeks, and Cotton Weary, all having survived the killer's blade previously, must face a familiar yet all-new psychopath, seemingly bent on recreating the pattern of the original killings. Meanwhile, a pesky little movie called STAB, based on those gruesome events that have been fictionalized in a book by reporter Gale Weathers, is tearing up the box office and just might be the motivation driving the killer to sharpen the knife blade anew.
|Ghostface makes a welcome return in Wes Craven's sequel to the film that kickstarted the 90s slasher movie boom.|
To preface this review, I have little to no interest in rehashing the behind-the-scenes drama of SCREAM 2's production woes (the leaked script fiasco is the stuff of legend, I will say), or its effect on the cultural zeitgeist of the late '90s; that stuff has been told ad nauseam elsewhere - and better than I ever could. Instead, I will start off by saying that, despite the odds stacked against it (a rushed and problematic production), and the (then) probability of diminishing returns and/or quick audience malaise (not from me), SCREAM 2 not only lives up to the freshness of the OG (mostly), but arguably improves on a lot of the story beats that made SCREAM such a smash success. It's certainly bloodier, meaner, and snarkier than the original, applying effective moments of black humor to its murders and taking the absolute piss out of media sensationalism to boot. The returning characters are given a sharper dynamic this time around, leaning on their shared previous experiences to craft a zig-zagging narrative of character uncertainty and panic. Whilst they act as an anchor for the madness afoot, the new characters step in to provide the film with a bigger body count and the usual spate of red herrings. SCREAM 2 also has the good sense to be just as self-aware as the original, this time leaning into the perceived notion that all sequels are inferior products driven by greed, and by that token, the film argues against itself, but playfully. Between murders, we are treated to a handful of dialogue-snappy moments with characters discussing sequels both good and terrible, the rules that govern horror film follow-ups, and how all of that applies to the current rash of campus killings. And, with the inclusion of a film-within-a-film (STAB), we get hilarious and biting satire of the previous film's biggest plot points, retold in a manner befitting of a Lifetime movie of the week. Great stuff.
|Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) have an unwelcome reunion in SCREAM 2.|
So, yes, the satire is more or less spot on. But what about the slasher action? Not much could ever live up to that moment in the original where Drew Barrymore found herself at the end of a knife in the film's shocking (and undeniably suspenseful) opening sequence, which I still contend works as a bonafide classic mini-slasher in and of itself. However, SCREAM 2 excitedly follows Randy's insistence that all slasher movie sequels up the ante in the body count department, and executes it with bloody aplomb. The number of victims has been increased, and the crimson shines brighter. "Your core audience just expects it," bemuses the Randy character at one point, arguing that if you can't repeat the verve, you can at least double the shocks, and SCREAM 2 has more than a handful, including the death of one character in particular that's still a stinger almost five films later. Of the new characters, special mention must be made of Portia De Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart as two sorority sisters who always seem to find themselves just on the outskirts of the mayhem afoot. Gayheart gets the film's best line when she argues oral sex etiquette. It also takes moments like Sidney's chase sequence through the Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard, who has a blink-and-you-'ll-miss-it cameo here) residence in the original and prolongs it to good effect, including a set piece where Sarah Michelle Gellar is terrorized in a large sorority house, a tense sequence with Gale being stalked through a cavernous film department sound studio, and during what still may be one of the greatest moments of suspense ever put to film - any film - where Sidney and her best friend, Hallie (Elise Neal), find themselves trapped inside of a police car with the killer who's been rendered unconscious, and they must slowly - and quietly - climb over him/her to escape. I will never forget the audience pause during this moment, and the loud gasps elicited by patrons when Sidney's free hand accidentally pressed the horn on the steering wheel, threatening to awaken the sleeping murderer. It was audience participation at its very finest.
|Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is roughly taken from behind by Ghostface.|
Unfortunately, while SCREAM 2 is a very good slasher sequel, it can't quite escape the near-perfect shadow of its predecessor, and that is felt in a prolonged runtime, and with some of the new characters who aren't given much to do until they're killed or revealed to be the killer(s). At just shy of two hours, a little too much time is spent on Dewey and Gale wandering around the college campus looking for clues, and while these scenes give the characters time to come to terms with their predicament both past and present, it skirts dangerously close to killing the film's overall momentum. The same can also be said for a cringe-tastic scene where Sidney is serenaded by her new boyfriend (Jerry O'Connell) in a packed campus cafeteria. And yes, while the body count is much bigger this time, there remains little to no variety in Ghostface's murderous modus operandi (knife play remains the order of the hour; can Ghostface just once take time out to visit a hardware store?). Also, the identity of the psycho behind the ghost mask this time around isn't nearly as surprising as the reveal of the original, and that's down to some hasty editing choices and the fact that it more or less repeats the same revelatory shtick, only with a different avatar lamenting the motive. Having said that, SCREAM 2's denouement still packs enough of a wallop by allowing the actor(s) playing the killer to go completely over the top in the best way possible, calling to mind the teeth-gnashing joie de vivre of Betsy Palmer in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH.
I caught SCREAM 2 at a midnight sneak preview on the eve of its premiere, an event that eerily and presciently echoed the movie's film-within-a-film opening sequence. Local news channels were at the six-screen cinema covering the big event, with more than a handful of patrons dressed to the nines as the iconic Ghostface. It was loud, wild, and remains THE best cinema-going experience of my four-plus decades as a slasher movie aficionado. Whatever problems SCREAM 2 may have, and it does have a few, that premiere will forever be etched into my mind, and thankfully, SCREAM 2's best assets, all of which easily overwhelm its faults, are as well.
What's YOUR favorite scary sequel?
female: 4 / male: 6
1) Male stabbed through the ear with a knife
2) Female stabbed repeatedly with a knife
3) Female stabbed in the back with a knife and tossed over a balcony
4) Male stabbed repeatedly with a knife
5) Male throat slashed with a knife
6) Male impaled through the head on loose construction rebar
7) Female stabbed repeatedly with a knife
8) Male shot through the heart
9) Female shot repeatedly
10) Male shot repeatedly
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