Revisiting the Scream franchise in preparation for the fifth film
The best possible horror sequel director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson could’ve made was one that simultaneously functioned as a sendup of horror sequels and one that ended up being better than its predecessor. Against ostensibly insurmountable odds, Scream 2 succeeds.
While I retain my original opinion upon rewatch — that Scream 2 is indeed superior to Scream — let it be said that the film is in a place to surpass expectations thanks to its expansion of the universe. The groundwork was laid, yet that doesn’t make the aforementioned task any easier. It’s the do-diligence of Craven and Williamson that make it look so seamless.
The film opens approximately two years after the original; again with another self-aware prologue. It’s not Casey making Jiffy Pop this time, but instead a young couple (Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps), who are attending a preview screening for a movie called “Stab.” “Stab” is based on the “true life” events of Scream, dramatizing what happened to Sidney Prescott and her peers. Moreover, Pinkett’s character wants to see the new Sandra Bullock movie and is simply going to this schlocky horror movie to appease her husbands.
“It’s a dumbass white movie about some dumbass white girls gettin’ their white asses cut the f*** up,” she tells him. And she has a point. The self-aware commentary extends itself when Pinkett’s character adds that African-Americans are the first to die in films of this nature. Amidst the chaos of the screening, where dozens of patrons are wielding plastic knives while donning Ghostface masks, the two are stabbed to death. The copycat murders have begun.
Following this, we’re reacquainted with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has left her hometown in favor of Windsor College, where her cinephile friend Randy (Jamie Kennedy) also attends. It takes very little time for news of the multiplex murders to hit campus, signaling a flock of media personnel to hound Sidney. Rising above the breathless tabloid scourges is Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who brings along Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney falsely accused. Gale has also become famous for a book on the Woodsboro murders, and her liberal dramatization of the events has irked Deputy Dewey (David Arquette).
Along with the survivors, new faces and prime pickings for the new murderer(s) pop up all across campus. There’s a blonde woman named Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar); Sidney’s new hunky boyfriend, Derek (Jerry O’Connell); Gale’s new cameraman (Duane Martin), who is disturbed after hearing what happened to her last one; a local newswoman (Laurie Metcalf), and a gaggle of sorority sisters (Rebecca Gayheart, Marisol Nichols).
Craven and Williamson’s incorporation of the “movie within a movie” framework permits them to have some fun in parodying the original parody. There’s more than a few jokes about Sidney’s prophetic comment about Tori Spelling playing her in the Hollywood adaptation, and Heather Graham makes a cameo as a damn-close lookalike to Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker. The excerpts we see during the opening screening function germanely to the real-life horror that slowly shows itself on a busy evening.
The character development afforded to the survivors shines as well. The romantic tension between Gale and Dewey is given time to breathe. It’s played less for laughs and more for sincerity. Where Scream‘s sole fault was its lack of suspense, due to an emphasis on light-heartedness and constant references, the extended sequence of Gale and Dewey running for safety in the college’s film lab is given added importance due to the fledgling romance. As it unfolds, we find ourselves realizing we’ve grown to care about these characters; by now they’ve transcended their archetypes.
Craven employs some delicious aesthetics alongside these fleshed-out characters. He turns walls of soundboards and stacks of reels into a labyrinth-like maze for Gale to navigate while evading Ghostface, as well as some terrific blocking choreography that keeps everything in our full-view. It informs us how grateful we should be that such a craftsman was able to take this series and run with it, realizing its full potential.
Even if eyeing the nuances of Scream 2‘s interworkings isn’t your bag, yes, the sequel does feature what you came for: gore, along with a copious bunch of satisfying kills. Williamson’s pacing permits them to have a greater sense of buildup. We’re happy to be patient because what we’re given in the time-being is carefully crafted and twisty, constantly pulling red herrings and keeping us guessing about the killer(s)’ identity. By lampooning the derivative nature of sequels, Craven and Williamson have churned out one of the best of the 1990s.
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jerry O’Connell, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber, Laurie Metcalf, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart, Marisol Nichols, Jada Pinkett, and Omar Epps. Directed by: Wes Craven.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!