This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wes Craven’s Scream, so each Saturday in October, myself and a cadre of like-minded individuals will be re-watching the franchise one movie at a time. Is the series influential — and if so, positively or negatively? How does each installment reflect the time in which it appeared? What does the series’ reboot as an MTV television program indicate about the state of horror today? We’ll answer all of these questions and explore whether or not the franchise holds up as we go along.
Dimension Films, 1997
“Ain’t nobody gonna spend $7.50 to see some Sandra Bullock shit unless she’s naked in it.”
Scream 2 had potential to be a great sequel. The introduction, set at the premiere of a film about the original Scream (Stab), was remarkable. When Stab is released it is viewed as an ultra-quick exploitation of the deaths of teenagers in a small town and seemingly creates a crazed copy-cat killer. The theater killer was able to disembowel two victims in plain sight amongst hundreds of fanatical masked movie go’ers, setting a terrifying tone early on. This was the perfect opportunity for Scream 2 to shed the unsustainable fourth-wall shattering horror-satire premise established in the first film and move on as an original thrasher franchise. Stab, released nationally, with mass-produced props as part of a large scale Hollywood marketing campaign, places the potential for masked Stab killers everywhere. But the killings aren’t everywhere. The killings are isolated and despite establishing the potential for widespread pandemonium, they’re all connected to the teenage victims of the Woodsboro killings, whom were able to kind’ve sort’ve move on despite them all attending the same University.
Jamie Kennedy is back as Randy, the lovable loser with encyclopedic knowledge of horror movies. Like in the original Scream, Randy is used to poke fun at horror movie tropes while establishing rules for the one we’re watching. While in a class discussing the responsibility of the Stab film for the actions of the new murders, Randy is able to break the fourth wall early enough in the movie for the writers to abandon any real plot development while casually mocking viewers who placed their faith they might be in store for an entertaining sequel. Spoilers alert, this sequel isn’t safe from Randy’s rule. Later on, in another plot-buster, Randy defines a great sequel as one with a higher body count and bloodier murders. Scream 2 made bold promises but yet again the first ten minutes are the most well executed and most dramatic of the film. I can’t say that the murders were any bloodier. If they were more plentiful, I didn’t notice as they were meaningless. The writers failed to give the new characters any depth and although sex and sexuality is alluded to in both films as critical criteria for slasher films, nudity in The Scream franchise through Scream 2 is non-existent.
The plot twist in the final moments of the film was so poorly executed and so remarkably anti-climatic I was still expecting the real twist when the movie ended. The mastermind of the murders revealed as one of the original killer’s Mother was exactly the type of predictably poor plot twist that the first film was so vigilantly opposed. Whereas Scream went out of the way to break the mold of the individual killer and established two characters as one villainous entity, Scream 2 chose to simply replicate the process while putting forth zero effort in establishing the killer’s’ motive throughout the film. Scream 2 opted instead to focus on the least likely suspect ad nauseum, insinuating that the wrongfully convicted, one dimensional, eternally awkward Cotton Weary was the masked killer until the last minute twist revelation of the Mother fueled by revenge and a barely present, entirely forgettable, friend of the boyfriend attention seeker.
If one were to write twenty movies around the copy-cat killing in the first ten minutes of Scream 2, you’re bound to end up with twenty better movies. The door to creativity was slammed shut after the opening credits. What’s left is 90 minutes of teen-drama star cameos and slashings void of the drama, tension, or wit that established Scream as a blockbuster success.
I’m looking forward to Scream 3. With the easy Friday the 13th/Mother plot twist out of the way and Jamie Kennedy’s character killed, the third iteration of the masked killer is bound to have a few original ideas.
Nick Spacek is a writer and podcaster based in Lawrence, Kansas. He runs this website (obvs), as well as the From & Inspired By soundtrack podcast, in addition to writing for Cinepunx, Modern Vinyl, the Pitch, and the UK’s Starburst Magazine. He can be found spewing nonsense on Twitter @nuthousepunks.
When I first considered this series, I had a concept wherein all the films were best examined through the lenses of the movies on which they were commenting. Scream is the slasher film, Scream 2 is the sequel, Scream 3 is the conclusion of the trilogy, and Scream 4 is the reboot. When looking at each film through these lenses, then you get a more accurate glimpse at the films: considering Scream 2 as a sequel means you get more out of it when you look at the tropes which it’s aping.
It kind of works, I suppose: Scream 2 returns some characters, introduces new ones, and shit gets really crazy and stupid really quickly. The vast majority of the film — and it’s kind of reinforced by the plot summary on Wikipedia — is pretty much a rehash of the original, until you get to the end, much as Craig opined. So, I guess, it basically is a take on sequels: you repeat what worked from the original, and then you use the ending as a way to go absolutely nuts, introducing characters whom you’ve never met, then upping the kill count.
And, yes, again, the opening ten minutes are the best part of the film, especially considering the meta take of characters in a movie commenting on the movie which is based on the events of the first film in the series. Then, you double the meta commentary by killing someone during the screening of a film which is so filled with promotion that the killing itself is considered to be just another way to sell the film on screen. It aches with film nerdery, and for the second time, the remaining 80 minutes can’t possibly live up.
Treble the meta-ness, actually, given the fact that there’s actually a discussion of whether sequels can be better than the original in the first twenty minutes of this one, making one wonder if it’s possible to get any more meta? The soundtrack even backs this up, using Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” again — referencing the original Scream — but also kicking in two covers, making this so ridiculously referential that the third will have a high bar of “hey, look at this!” to clear.
Liam O’Donnell is co-host and co-creator of the Cinepunx podcast as well as Editor in Chief of Cinepunx.com. He also co-hosts Horror Business and Eric Roberts is The Fucking Man. When not hosting, editing, or promoting so many damn podcasts, Liam works in higher education in diversity and equity programming and education, and lends his promotion and event planning skills to This Is Hardcore Fest and the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Fest. Find him talking all kinds of crazy shit on twitter at @liamrulz.
Let me be the first to say the thing that I am sure everyone thought when watching this film but is just awkward to acknowledge: Scream 2 tries to be less white. The original is so incredibly lacking in any acknowledgement or engagement with race, at a time when it seems like those questions were infiltrating popular culture more. Yet the world that Scream inhabits is blindingly white, in a way that is hard not to notice. I assume SOMEONE must have noticed at the studio, because Scream 2 conspicuously starts not just with African American characters, but recognizable actors!
Granted, you immediately know this is not going to go well. The set up is brilliant, as folks have already pointed out, but it is also predictably doomed. The set up needs this first kill, the first sacrifice to begin the stroll down meta narrative lane. Yet, why Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett, two immediately recognizable characters? Perhaps to seal their fate, that as the most obvious cameos in the beginning of the film, much like Drew Barrymore in the first film, you are prepared to watch them die?
Of course, this choice, to being the film with two African American actors, who themselves begin talking about race in film, is somehow both meta AND tone deaf, and maybe that is the issue with Scream 2 perfectly encapsulated. It is not just our first couple, with their film school level discourse of White and Black relationships to horror. Apparently, Woodsboro might be the whitest town in America, but the university has a smattering of diversity. It becomes so rote, that each crowd moment and classroom sequence must have at least one POC in the shot, and sometimes two. There are a few actual characters, as well, like Neve’s friend Hallie or the camera guy Joel. Yet, these roles are lightly written at best, caricatures at worst.
It is during the ‘90s that tokenization was perhaps at it’s worst, when concerns about political correctness first raised their complicated head. Scream 2 is perhaps better because it injects some small amount of diversity, of a world not so rich and white and isolated. Yet, does it ever go past the surface, allowing the presence of a few of these faces shape the story or events, let alone have them be full and realized characters?
Granted, few folks would look to this film for any sort of insight in how it deals with something as complicated and nuanced as race and representation. However, for me this reflects, in a small part, my overall issue with the film. It is, in many ways, a better experience for me than the first film. Yes, they ratchet up the mata factor to such a navel gazing self congratulatory degree it could possibly have ruined postmodernism for me as a concept entirely.
However, the ideas animating the story, including the issue of sequels as an organizing concept for the movie is surprisingly effective. In fact, it is maybe the strength of these ideas that point to problem. On paper, Scream 2 is maybe a best case scenario, really building on the ideas of the first one while adding some tension, some dynamism, and some character development. As I consider the film, in abstract, it is almost a better film that the first.
Watching it, however, nothing quite works as it should. Much like the sudden addition of diversity into the film, it is a good idea, and yet somehow executed in the worst possible way. This is maybe reflected in most dramatic relief in the aforementioned Black cinema discussion at the beginning of the film. How stereotypical of this time, when the nation had started to grow weary of identity and representational politics to have such a strangely self referential discussion.
Maureen (Pinkett) points out that horror, as a whole, is a very white genre and the experiences and expressions therein have been dominated by white faces and norms. This seems, to me, to not be the ranting of some millitant person outside reason, but a valid and accurate critique. Phil (Epps) immediately mocks this perspective, not just for being inaccurate, which maybe it is and I am wrong as well. No, Phil mocks it for being so BLACK! This perhaps felt fun and self aware at the time, but for me, now, it was telling. Too often, when the stitching is showing in Scream 2, that is when the meta voice comes out. Much too often, the film has an interesting idea, or a realization of its own absurdity, and it responds in a way that just doesn’t work. It should, but it rarely does.
Scream 2 was the first “Scream” film I saw in the theater, and I remember loving the shit out of it. Now, some 21 years later, I can safely say that 13 year old me was an idiot. I don’t even know where to begin so let me start with the good. I actually enjoyed the theater bit at the beginning, warts and all. It’s ridiculous, but it’s so over the top that it can still be fun. The use of “Red Right Hand” was unfortunate, as it has zero power during such a campy scene; not to worry though, it comes back AGAIN later in the film at a random scene that has nothing to do with the opening.
So yeah, I pretty much hated the rest of it. The classroom film class was too hip for its own good, the Pepsi product placement was over the top, and instead of a few Jamie Kennedy scenes we get lots of Jamie Kennedy scenes. Even the random DMB song couldn’t save it for me. One other redeeming factor; I liked the Friends joke that Courtney Cox made about Jennifer Anniston. Sometimes I miss the 90’s.