Film discussion

Throwback 20: Scream 2

Baz Greenland revisits this slasher sequel 20 years after its cinema debut...

There’s a general rule that sequels are rarely as good as the original and that goes doubly for horror movies. Do any of the sequels to Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street match the first entries? Scream 2, released a year after post-modern cult classic slasher movie Scream, had that unfortunate job of trying to build on the hype of the first and up the ante in terms of gore, thrills and fun.

While Scream 2 doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first film it does a great job of being a fun, scary thriller in its own right. I was fortunate to catch it in the cinemas back in 1998 (being just a little to young to catch the first a year earlier) and it proved to be one of the most fun cinema experiences of my life. It made you jump, it was tense and it was a whole lot of fun. The subsequent two sequels certainly failed to measure up (though I have a lot of time for both), but Scream 2 is undeniably a great slasher movie.

Let’s start with that opening. It might not have that sense of isolation, rising tension and terror of Drew Barrymore’s iconic death sequence, but it fun and horrible in equal measure. The film takes things to another level with ‘Stab’ and film based on the first film that has a lot of fun sexying up Drew Barrymore’s death with Heather Graham in the blond victim role while a packed cinema of people in the same ghostface killer masks howl and cheer with delight. Stab is terrible but that’s the way it is played, a cliched bastardisation of what made the opening to the Scream franchise (and still the best sequence) so memorable. And in that you have the two victims, a younger  Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps as Maureen and Phil.

It’s a perfect use of having the killer in plain sight; with a hundred cinemagoers in masks welding fake knives, who is going to notice that one them is brandishing a real one? After goofing around teasing Maureen, Phil heads to the toilet and listens in to the stranger noises in the cubicle next to him. The knife to his head is swift and brutal and sets up the killer’s ability to return to the packed cinema in Phil’s jacket and a ghostface mask and lure Maureen in for the kill. There’s also a nice contrast that she is a no-nonsense woman with intelligence – shouting at the screen for Graham’s victim to run rather than hide (a nice repeat on Sidney’s criticisms of slasher movies from the first Scream).

So when the killer turns and guts her, it makes her death all the more harrowing. Made worse is that she is able to stumble away and he continues after her, slashing and gutting her while everyone around her – the very people who should be able to save her – cheer at the fake killing on screen. Stumbling onto the stage, in front of Stab, screaming in agony is Wes Craven’s statement that Scream 2 is going to continue to subvert, shock and play with the very ideas of the slasher genre just as he did with the first film.

Like Scream, the intensity of the first film does fall off once we settle into the rest of this world and follow Sidney’s journey once more. The university setting is a gorgeous, almost gothic setting for the second film, one that will be put to great use. Craven deftly introduces new best friend, Elsie Neal’s Hallie who has plenty of sass but doesn’t quite light up the screen like Rose McGowan’s Tatum from the first film, new boyfriend Derek (a charming ‘nice guy’ performance by Jerry O’Connell) and a Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey (a character with little depth). These three make up the new series of friend / victims / suspects, though none of them compare to the original cast members. The biggest failing Craven makes is in this film is failing to add anyone new without any real dynamic.

At least not in the core cast. Laurie Metcalf’s Debbie Salt is entertaining in her bumbling desire to try to be Gail (of course it’s all a facade), and there is genius is bringing in Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was hot property at this time, and there Craven attempts to tap into this cultural zeitgeist (there’s also a brief appearance from  Joshua Jackson in the film class with Gellar’s Cici, Mickey and a returning Randy (Jamie Kennedy), capitalising on the teen success or Dawson’s Creek too). That whole film studies scene (while reminiscent on my own late teen college and university experiences) is also a great nudge nudge to the wider discussion on sequels that Scream 2 is keen to embrace. But it is the way that the film delights in having Buffy,  aka Cici, hunted down and killed in her own home – a twist on the twist that a young woman can be strong – that adds an element of cruel black humorous wink to the audience.

The main four returnees are all big and more vibrant than they were in Scream. Sidney is stronger and more feisty than she was as the young girl traumatised by her mother’s death in the first movie. There’s a passion to Neve Campbell’s performance while still retaining that innocent victim vibe; she knows the game now, she just chooses not to participate until pushed to her limits. Randy is still the wizard of film mythology, laying down all the steps for what a sequel should be  – bigger and bloody is the key (and this film does have a higher body count indeed) and his death, dragged into the van and repeatedly stabbed to death is one of the most shocking moments of the movie. Even on repeat viewing, there’s a sense of dread knowing it is coming.

Courtney Cox’s Gail Weathers is vamped up to the max this time round; with a sexier look at a ruthless passion to find the killer and increases her book sales at the same time. Interestingly, you still engage with her, even despite her nefarious attempt to bring Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary into the mix and force an on-air reunion between Sidney and the man she mistakenly sent to jail for her mother’s murder. The addition of Weary doesn’t add much though – he kind of hangs around the college campus in a creepy manner, presumably to make you think this time, he is the killer (which probably would have been a better reveal). And finally we have deputy Dufus Dewey Riley who remains as adorable as ever and has great chemistry with Cox’s Gail (you can see the spark that brought them together in real life).

There is a lot thrown into the mix; the repeated glimpses at the release of Stab, complete with the self-prophesied Tori Spelling playing Sidney are hilarious – the replay of the school hallway scene with Luke Wilson playing Billy and the over the top intro are worth watching this movie for alone. It also packs in some great actors, like the great David Warner as Sidney’s drama teacher and throws in some nice ‘blink and you’ll miss it cameos like Scream‘s Matthew Lillard in a party scene. But the death of Maureen, Phil, Cici and Randy are just the warm up for the tense finale. (Yes you have to get through the cringe-worthy scene where O’Connell’s Derek sings ‘I Think I Love You’ to Sidney and professes his love in the crowded cafeteria scene).

Ghostface’s attack on the police car is one of the most tense sequences in the movie. The two detectives prove to be inept as we expected, but even then they don’t deserve the brutal deaths they receive; the first stabbed through the car window while the twitching body of the second as he sits impaled following the crash is horrible. Sidney and Hallie having to crawl through to the front of the car and over the unconscious killer in the driver’s seat is real nail-biting stuff; Craven layers the scene with every worst case scenario possible – the back seat doors locked, the front door jammed, so that they literally have to crawl over the lap of Ghostface to make their escape through the window. It’s a moment where you’re holding your breath every step of the way and while you can commend Sidney’s decision to walk back to the car to unmask the killer, it leaves her friend the next bloody victim and sets the stage for the climax.

Gail and Dewey hunted by the killer in the media labs is equally as nail biting. The expanded setting of the university allows for a number of different, innovative locales and the scene where Gail screams in terror as Dewey is attacked and stabbed repeatedly in the sound proof booth is a fantastic, terrifying moment.

It all culminates in the grand theatre and there’s more murder aplenty as Gail is shot (again) and poor Derek exits with a bullet to the chest. The uses of stormy effects and falling fake columns certainly add a sense of drama to the climax, perhaps to take away from the fact that the killer reveals aren’t quite as satisfying this time round.

Laurie Holden’s Debbie is in fact revealed as the deranged, revenge-fuelled mother of original killer Billy Loomis; it’s a surprise that fares better on repeated viewings but I remember feeling a little underwhelming first time round. Maybe that was the point, playing homage to the fact the original Friday the 13th killer wasn’t Jason but his Brady Bunch-inspired mother; plus kudos for her violent murder of Randy.

Mikey is less eventful though; he suffers from a bit of a ‘who was he again?’ and serves to be there just because it wouldn’t have been believable Mrs Loomis could have committed all those murders. And his ‘it’s all about the trial’ feels like a poor attempt to trade on the manic ideas of the other original killer Stuart.

Still, the sensationalist drama of it all goes a long way and it gives Scream 2 a fitting climax. It’s not a movie as perfect as the original, but it is bolder, bloodier and very exciting at times, upping the ante for sequel territory all the way while being very much aware that this is what it is – a sequel. It’s definitely one for consideration in the film class of the late Randy and Cici…

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