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Scream 2

Review by Eddie Cockrell
Posted 12 December 1997

  Directed by Wes Craven

Starring David Arquette, Neve Campbell,
Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar,
Jamie Kennedy, Laurie Metcalf, Elise Neal,
Jerry O'Connell, Timothy Olyphant, Jada Pinkett,
Liev Schreiber, Lewis Arquette, Duane Martin,
Rebecca Gayheart, and Portia deRossi

Screenplay by Kevin Williamson

Neither as awful as the sequels it makes fun of constantly nor as giddily inventive as the surprise hit that spawned it, Scream 2 exists somewhere in that emotional netherworld of movies that come prepackaged with astronomical expectations and ubiquitous hype. Since it can't possibly duplicate the terror of the original, which of course was based on the unexpected, self-referential twists of it's self-conscious plot, Scream 2 approaches the Herculean task of deflating its own importance with dogged determination, spending far too much screen time updating relationships from the first film before getting down to the business of dispatching photogenic young stars with wit and style. Since it does this part well, the film seems poised for big opening numbers and sustained business. Yet this kind of success cuts both ways, as it is the very self-awareness of the original that deflates much of the sequel's fun.

The distributor has cordially requested discretion when relating specific plot points, and Nitrate Online shall comply. OK, let's see... uh, try this: two years after the grisly murders in Woodsboro, California, survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) are concluding their freshman year of study at Windsor College, a bucolic midwestern university. While they've been busy studying, tabloid reporter and fellow survivor Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has written and published "The Woodsboro Murders," a sensational tell-all that has been adapted into a hotly anticipated movie, Stab. But the movie has also stirred a darker force in someone, who begins a killing spree at a premiere showing of the movie that moves closer and closer to Sidney's new life. Now the intrepid young survivor, older, wiser and stronger, must dodge the inquiries of Gale and other reporters, maintain the normalcy of her college life to date, and, just maybe, survive this new threat and unmask the demented killer.

Suspects include, from the original, the unjustly accused Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber); the fourth Woodsboro survivor, former Sheriff's Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette); Sidney's current boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell); film student Mickey (Timothy Olyphant); and even Randy – despite his ever-increasing crush on Sidney.

Others along for the ride include moviegoers Maureen (Jada Pinkett) and Phil (Omar Epps); Stab stars Heather Graham (in the Drew Barrymore role) and Tori Spelling (doing Tori Spelling doing the Neve Campbell part); motormouthed co-ed Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar); dogged reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf); Gale's querulous new cameraman Joel (Duane Martin); snobbish sorority sisters Lois (Rebecca Gayheart) and Murphy (Portia deRossi); fatherly local police chief Hartley (Lewis Arquette, David's father) and Sidney's perky roommate Hallie (Elise Neal).

This multi-car pile-up of hot young Hollywood talent must've dictated at least part of the film's overall strategy. "We wanted to acknowledge that we were making a sequel and have part of the theme be the idea of sequelness," director Wes Craven has said of Scream 2 (which apparently flirted with the kinda neat title Scream Again before returning to the obvious). "We tried to go beyond the idea of commenting on a horror film or a scary movie about a scary movie." The semantics may get complicated, but you can see where he's going with this. Unfortunately, Kevin Williamson's script, which everyone says began as a treatment written before the original was even sold, makes the same mistake as its killer: you can't copy a true original. Randy addresses this directly, first in a spirited film-class debate (amusingly set in a building marked by a huge brass plaque that says "School of Film") on the relative merits of sequels and more pointedly in a later discussion where he insists that to be successful a horror sequel must have a bigger body count and more gore. Oddly enough, Scream 2 has a lot more of the former but doesn't seem to display as much of the latter as the original – and certainly nowhere near as much of the red red groovy as classics of the slasher genre (still, someone saw fit to give this an R rating).

In addition to its multitude of pop culture references (Entertainment Weekly, Sandra Bullock, Star 69, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, Showgirls, etc., etc.), the movie also specifically questions such difficult and important issues as sensationalism in the media and the effect of big-screen violence on impressionable young minds – only to drop them like the hot potatoes they are. Even more disturbing is how flat some of the gags fall, including the murky pre-credit sequence, the bit with Cici and her cell phone, and the Greek stuff – both the fraternity/sorority kind and the classical tragedy which stars Sidney as Cassandra. Some of these shortcomings are the inevitable result of a rushed production – filming began in mid-June – but not all of them.

Of course, parts of Scream 2 are genuinely funny/scary, including the ongoing odyssey of durable Dewey (what'll he look like by Scream 3?), a truly terrifying sequence in a crashed police car and the movie's absurdly logical centerpiece (and dramatic high-water mark), in which three of the principals are terrorized via cell phone by the madman while standing in the middle of the nearly deserted university commons on a sunny day. Craven and Williamson are a good team, the almost patented horror style of the director perfectly in synch with the demographic-friendly hipness of the writer. When they're on, they're on, and nowhere is this more evident than the running gag that finds most of the principals inevitably doing exactly what Randy hates horror movie characters doing: going back into the house, around that corner, or into the nearest dark room. This happens so often that the gleeful audience is invited to yell out instructions ("Don't go up the stairs!") that transformed the sneak screening into a 1990s version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (thankfully, without the frankfurters).

The memorable performances come about where you'd expect, from Kennedy's nervous energy as film-geek-turned-film-student Randy (unsettlingly enough, he's featured with Scream co-star Skeet Ulrich in a pivotal sequence in the upcoming Jack Nicholson comedy As Good as it Gets) and the younger Arquette's John Wayne-ish intensity as the eager-to-please-and-even-more-eager-to-survive Dewey. And all these reports about the Byzantine secrecy surrounding the script make for good publicity, but you don't have to crawl inside Williamson's head to figure out who the next one will be built around, as the dogged determination and mettle of Cox's Gale prompts one adversary to point out that she's "got a Linda Hamilton thing going on."

While the original featured clever, uncredited cameos by Henry Winkler, Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Priscilla Pointer and Craven himself (as a mumbling, striped-sweatered, fedora-wearing janitor named Fred – get it?), Scream 2 must make do with the great British actor David Warner as a drama coach (he's in the upcoming Titanic as well), cinematographer Peter Deming as a concession stand worker ("Popcorn Boy" in the credits) and choreographer Adam Shankman as something called "Ghost Dancer."

The movie has also been nearly upstaged by current events, as Sidney's college life comes to resemble what Chelsea Clinton might be going through trying to preserve some sense of normalcy (including plainclothes police shadowing her almost every move), and one character's cry of "I'm going to blame the movies! It's never been done!" to justify his actions eerily echoes the early information coming from the recent high school tragedy in West Paducah, Kentucky.

In the face of such a cultural juggernaut, carping may seem feeble or churlish. Don't take these complaints the wrong way, as a good movie of this ilk is a thing of creepy beauty – and Craven's made his share, from his truly disturbing breakthrough Last House on the Left twenty-five years ago through such genre mainstays as The Hills Have Eyes (1975), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The People Under the Stairs (1991). Yet, at the risk of sounding truly petulant, it can be argued that even though Scream breathed new life into an unhip and strip-mined genre, barely a year later Scream 2, as coldly calculated as a balance sheet (someone has taken their love of profits one step too far), is poised to take the money and run – thus giving slasher movies and sequels a bad name all over again.

 


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