Neve Campbell - Sidney Prescott
David Arquette - Dewey Riley
Courteney Cox - Gail Weathers
Jamie Kennedy - Randy Meeks
Jerry O'Connell - Derek
Liev Schreiber - Cotton Weary
Timothy Olyphant - Mickey
Elise Neal - Hallie
Laurie Metcalf - Debbie Salt
Jada Pinkett-Smith - Maureen Evans
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 121 Minutes
In 1996, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson revived the horror genre for mainstream audiences with their self-referential homage to slasher films called SCREAM. While it started slow financially, SCREAM became a blockbuster hit with $103 million domestic due to large word-of-mouth. While the film has its haters, SCREAM proved that horror films made specifically for 90s teens with its sex and violence still had an audience of those 70s and 80s slasher fans who looked elsewhere when A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, HALLOWEEN, and FRIDAY THE 13TH got stale.
Like with any successful product, others came along to create imitators to ride on SCREAM's popularity. Kevin Williamson, screenwriter for SCREAM and later Dawson's Creek and The Vampire Diaries, himself did this by writing 1997's I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Because teen horror, due to SCREAM, was so profitable, IKWYDLS was also a big success that led into its own franchise [too bad the sequels sucked]. Williamson, feeling the need to continue the story and compete with his own product [as well as write another SCREAM film before working on Dawson's Creek], wrote SCREAM 2, which Wes Craven directed and Dimension Films released a year after the original SCREAM. Due to the fact that the first film was still fresh in horror fans' minds, SCREAM 2 was a hit right away, making $101 million domestic and establishing Ghostface as the new villain of horror.
I wasn't too big of a fan of SCREAM 2 on release. I felt it lacked the freshness and self-referential humor of the first film [still feel this way after a rewatch last night], as well as trying to do too many things that seemed to confuse the storyline rather than help it. It was the least watched film for me in the trilogy. 13 years later though, I find that time has been kinder to this sequel than I had anticipated. In fact, I think SCREAM 2 isn't a bad sequel at all. Is it as good as SCREAM? Not even close. But it's a slasher sequel through and through, which is okay since SCREAM 2 doesn't pretend to be anything else. While the film does have issues, SCREAM 2 does succeed in much of what it tries to do: make fun of horror sequels while being that kind of horror sequel to begin with.
Two years after her ordeal in her hometown of Woodsboro, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is trying to live a life of normalcy at Windsor College. Due to a film about her life based on a book by reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) called STAB, Sidney still gets prank calls from idiots who think speaking like Ghostface is cool [okay, it is cool - I wish I had that voice]. As she tries to toughen up and survive the circus that's become her life, she learns that two of her fellow college students (Jada Pinkett-Smith and Omar Epps) were murdered at a screening for STAB in what will become a series of murders by a copycat killer.
Due to the double murder, news reporters have stationed themselves on Windsor College campus, hounding Sidney about the crime. This includes local newswoman Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) and Sidney's old nemesis, Gail Weathers, who uses the opportunity to reunite Sidney with Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney had accused for the murder of her mother in the previous film. Even though she has the support of Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), friend and fellow college student Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), film student Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), and roommate Hallie (Elise Neal), Sidney knows that the copycat killer(s) is/are after her and will use her friends as a way to manipulate her and make her vulnerable. Will the new Ghostface finally succeed in what the previous ones couldn't? Or will he or she prove that they're inferior, just like this very sequel?
It was obvious once SCREAM made a ton of cash that a sequel would be made and released. SCREAM 2, while flawed for things in its narrative, is shockingly good for a movie rushed into production and doomed with multiple rewrites during production. It could have gone the horrible route of HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS, a film that was rushed and released exactly a year after the very good HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS. But the difference here is that both Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have a grasp of their intentions with this sequel. Sure, it's a cash in and it doesn't really need to exist [that goes to most sequels as well], but at least it continues the story in a pretty natural way that allows the characters of Sidney, Gale, Dewey, Cotton, and Randy to grow while building up the myth behind the Ghostface persona.
Like I said in the previous paragraph, much of my issue with SCREAM 2 is with the story. In a lot of ways, it feels almost like a retread of the first one, only this time the characters are self-referencing horror sequels instead of horror in general. Because of this, the film feels fresh, yet stale, at the same time if possible. It's stale because we've already seen this film before [and honestly done better], but it's still interesting to watch because the characters seem to recognize, without breaking that fourth wall, that they are in a second part of this Ghostface story.
In fact, I think one of the best scenes in the film is in that classroom scene where Randy, CiCi (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Mickey, and Joshua Jackson's character discuss sequels and how they don't seem to live up to the original [except for those few, like THE GODFATHER PART II]. In that very scene alone, we learn what Craven and Williamson are trying to tell with this film: most horror sequels are inferior to the films they're coming off from. It makes me chuckle because it's like an honest excuse as to why SCREAM 2 won't be as good as SCREAM - because it's a horror sequel and that's the rule of the horror genre. I don't know if I should take points off for that out of laziness or add points because it's kind of genius. It knows what it is and has no shame embracing that it won't live up to the original. You have to respect that on some level.
I also enjoy the self-references on African-Americans in horror films. The opening sequence is something most fans discuss - why are the protagonists in these films usually of a certain color, while the opposite color ends up being the sidekick or the first ones to die? It was smart casting to pick two high-profile African-American actors in Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett-Smith for the opening roles, as what they say becomes credible. It's also ironic that they're the first two that die in the film, even though they offered logical advice to the horror characters that were being chased by the killer on screen. I do wish it was explored a bit more because it is a good question to bring up about major horror films - why are the survivors usually Caucasian? A person of African-American descent does survive SCREAM 2 [being the unsung hero and voice of the audience in their own way], but three others are murdered in the 121 minute running time. There does need to be a bit more racial diversity in these films.
Another thing I wanted more of is the whole STAB deal. Now this could have been a really cool sub-plot if more of it was allowed to register in the film. The clips we do see from this fake film, like Heather Graham's take on Drew Barrymore's character in the opening of SCREAM [just with more nudity - that we don't see... cockblockers...] and Tori Spelling's Sidney acting with Luke Wilson's hilarious portrayal of Billy Loomis in the school hallway scene from the original, are actually fun and interesting to watch. I wouldn't have minded more "movie within a movie" sequences with STAB, but it just feels like a tease here. I do have to say that it's genius casting Tori Spelling to play Sidney, after Sidney mentioned she would probably be played by her in a film about her life. Great continuity there, which a lot of horror films don't have sometimes.
I also feel there are just too many characters in this film. The mixture of more character development to the original core characters of SCREAM with the introduction to, let's be serious, less interesting characters is a bit much and hard to keep track of. I know sequels do this all the time and Williamson did this to add more mystery to the identity of the new Ghostface, but most of these people did nothing for me. Derek, Sidney's bland boyfriend? I know he's supposed to be the anti-Billy, but he was as bland as they come. Hallie, Sidney's roommate? Token black character. That's not being racist. It's a fact. What about those two sorority girls? They should have been the first to go, even if they played to stereotypes. The only new character that was interesting was Mickey, because he had an edginess about him that made you want to know more. And he's not even in the film long enough either! I will say at least these characters act like real people and don't annoy me all that much. I just wish they had more depth for me to care about them more.
At least Sidney is given some great character development. While she's still afraid and vulnerable, she's a bit colder and less trusting of people due to her past. She becomes a theater major in order to play someone other than herself. The scene where she rehearses a certain scene from a play and is frightened by all the actors wearing masks and holding knives, to the point she sees Ghostface as one of the actors, says a lot about her mental state. And the fact she uses Caller ID, hesistant to show affection to Derek, let her friends in on what's going on, and just trying to keep a low profile show how guarded and protective she is of her situation. Sidney knows it'll never be over since books, films, and the media are still discussing her ordeal. She's a self-aware Final Girl, putting that wall up to make sure she survives whatever is coming her way without any distractions. That one scene where Sidney wants to pull off Ghostface's mask to see who he is shows how changed she is. The old Sidney would have ran away and cried for Dewey. This Sidney is confronting her fear, realizing she doesn't have anything to lose.
Gail and Dewey don't get much character development, but their relationship blossoms a bit more. Gail shows she really cares about the whole Ghostface deal beyond a superficial level. She also cares about Dewey, knowing he grounds her sensationalistic nature a bit. Dewey doesn't get to do much here. In fact, he's kind of annoying with his western music playing every time he's on screen. I hate the test screenings that changed his outcome in this sequel [yes, he was supposed to die but test audiences wanted him to live, causing Randy to get the axe instead]. Randy, unfortunately, gets sacrificed. It was inevitable though, as main characters should die in sequels to increate the tension and move the story along. But he was a favorite of mine and deserved better. And the evolution of Cotton, who went from a mention in the original SCREAM with a small cameo, to a deep character who feels he needs fame and money to replace the shame and tarnishing of his character over a crime he didn't commit is actually well done. I know a lot of people who wonder what was the point of Cotton in SCREAM 2, but truthfully, he's the opposite of Sidney. Sidney wants out of the spotlight that shines on her against her will. Cotton cherishes that spotlight and will use Sidney's ordeal to feel better about himself because he feels he's earned that right for what's been done to him. He's probably the most real person in the film. He's not trying to be a hero or a villain. He just wants what he feels is owed to him and will do anything to get it, even if he has to threaten and manipulate Sidney to make it happen. I mean, she put him through hell for something he didn't do. I don't blame the guy for his actions.
The mystery of the killers, I have to say, is pretty obvious for the most part. Well at least one-half of the mystery is. I even knew the identity on my first watch years ago, even though the second one was a decent twist. I feel that the mystery was a bit stronger and more fun in the first film. Here, it seemed like Williamson was trying a bit too hard to make the revelation exciting. I will say that the motives do make sense, especially when it comes to the twist. So it's got that going for it.
And I have to mention one scene that I really despise in this entire franchise: that cafeteria scene where Derek sings David Cassidy's "I Think I Love You" to Sidney. My God. Not only can't Jerry O'Connell sing, but it just ruins the entire flow and mood in this sequel. I guess this was supposed to be sweet and funny, but I found it to be the total opposite. A 121 minute horror film [which is too long, by the way] doesn't need annoying filler like this. Ugh.
And what kind of movie theater did Maureen and Phil go to anyway? Not even the worst theaters have audiences that rowdy and annoying, do they? Sure, there may be a gunshot or two, loud talking, or dirty seats here and there, but this audience was made up of animals all dressed as Ghostface. I guess this was a commentary on how people celebrate things based on horrible situations [like the media acting like vultures when something bad happens to people], but it was just freakin' weird...
The gore in SCREAM 2 is pretty tame for the most part. There's blood, sure, but we don't really see anything too extreme. I thought the first part was more brutal than the sequel was. Aren't sequels supposed to be bloodier and more violent? SCREAM 2 doesn't really follow the rule, even if the body count is higher.
The direction by Wes Craven is still top notch though. It looks like a SCREAM film. It feels like a SCREAM film. The editing is great. The angles and composition works. There are some nice moments of suspense and tension, especially that scene where Sidney and Hallie have to get out of the car by stepping over Ghostface. It makes you wonder if they'll actually do it or if Ghostface is playing possum and will kill them. It's a great moment in the film. The rehearsal scene is another great one. It's a beautifully shot sequence. I still feel the film is too long and that Jerry O'Connell scene could have been edited out, but other than that, Craven does more than a good job here.
The acting in SCREAM 2 is very good. Neve Campbell is believable as a colder, more aware Sidney. I like her watered eyes as well for some reason. There's a lot of emotion behind them and it helps elevate the character somewhat. I think she carries the film well. Courteney Cox and David Arquette don't really get much new to do as Gail and Dewey. Ms. Cox looks hot as usual, while Arquette was kind of annoying - even though some call him eccentric. I liked his performance in the first film more. Jamie Kennedy is great as Randy. He handles his dialogue with great comedic timing. Too bad he's not in the film long. Timothy Olyphant rocks as Mickey. I don't think I've seen one bad performance from this man and SCREAM 2 is no exception. He made a one-note character interesting just by his performance. Great job, sir! Laurie Metcalf, from Roseanne, was kind of cool as the eccentric local reporter. Jerry O'Connell did nothing for me as Derek. He's better as a comedic actor in my eyes. And all the cameos by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, Portia de Rossi, Rebecca Gayheart, and Joshua Jackson all did what they needed to do in various degrees. I think the cast was too big, but at least it was a good cast.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE KNOWING FRANKIE MUNIZ WILL PROBABLY PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC
- Phil told Maureen that no one would pay $7.50 [God, I miss those days] to see a Sandra Bullock film. He has a point. Jesse James didn't - as a matter of fact, he spent that money to see ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS more than once!
- Don't ever press your ear against the bathroom stall out of curiosity. If there's no opening everywhere, it's not a glory hole. That sharp thing penetrating your skull is not a penis. Stay away!
- Maureen was stabbed repeatedly and died on stage. At least she won't hear her daughter make horrible music years later.
...Oh, this is only a movie? Well then, she better whip her hair back and forth!
- CiCi was thrown off the roof of her sorority house to her death. Obviously, someone had a GRUDGE and didn't find her SIMPLY IRRESISTABLE. Talk about having CRUEL INTENTIONS...
- Jerry O'Connell sang a really bad rendition of David Cassidy's "I Think I Love You." He should have just used his sliding abilities and travel to an alternate universe instead of signing up for this mess. No one was coming on or getting happy...
- Ghostface really wanted to kill Dewey inside that radio booth. It must have been Jennifer Aniston. Not only did she want to get revenge on him for cheating on Courteney Cox, but she was tired of competing for her affections with him. After all, she's still very lonely according to tabloid reports. And she gets to be in a film people will actually pay money to see! Smart move, Jen!
THE FINAL HOWL
SCREAM 2 is not as bad as I had remembered it to be. It's not as good as the original SCREAM, but at least it moves the story forward and kind of has fun with the conventions of a typical horror sequel. I still think the wrong main character was killed off and the story tries too hard to convince audiences that SCREAM deserves to be a franchise. But it's watchable and smarter than most horror films that have been released since.
3 Howls Outta 4