Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Film Appreciation - The Sequel to Scream

Cody Hamman has Film Appreciation for the rushed sequel Scream 2.

Reaching theatres on December 20, 1996, Wes Craven's meta slasher Scream had a soft opening weekend, and some of those involved thought the film was destined to just fade into obscurity. But then something happened that's virtually unheard of these days - word-of-mouth was so good that the film actually did better its second weekend than its first. Its third weekend, its take increased again. By the time it left the big screen, Scream had made over $170 million at the global box office on a budget of $14 million. So of course Dimension Films rushed a sequel into production.

Director Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson returned to knock out the sequel to Scream (and when the project was first announced, that was presented as being the title of it: The Sequel to Scream) as quickly as possible, and it arrived in theatres just shy of a year after its predecessor. Scream 2 was released on December 12, 1997.

There is some evidence in the finished film that it was a rushed product, it's not entirely perfectly polished, but I have always been quite fond of it. As with the original, I was there to see the movie on opening weekend, and I did not walk away disappointed... except for one thing about it which did annoy me.

The thing about Scream that won over a lot of its viewers was the way its characters were knowledgable of the slasher sub-genre while still being put through the familiar paces of a slasher. Scream 2 carries on that meta commentary, with the first scene being set at a sneak preview of a slasher movie called Stab, which is based on the events of the first film. The characters we follow into this theatrical screening are Phil (Omar Epps) and his girlfriend Maureen (Jada Pinkett, pre-Smith), and Maureen is giving a lot of attitude about the horror genre, especially about its treatment of African American characters. Part of the reason why she's so down on horror is that she's extremely scared of watching horror movies, as we can see when she sits down in the theatre.

It's a rowdy crowd around Phil and Maureen, which is somewhat strange - these people are partying and running around in Ghostface cosplay as if they were fans of the first Scream, not just people going to see a movie based on a real life murder spree.

While the audience watches a sub-par and exploitative recreation of the opening scene of Scream, with Heather Graham as Drew Barrymore's character, the murder spree continues right there in the theatre. Phil and Maureen are both killed by somebody wearing a Ghostface costume.

This deadly preview took place in the city where Scream heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and fellow survivor Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) are attending Windsor College, with Randy apparently having followed his unrequited love Sidney across the country to go to school with her.

Sidney is carrying on strongly after the ordeal in her hometown of Woodsboro, fielding prank calls from people caught up in Stab hype. When it becomes clear that there's another Ghostface running around campus and targeting her, Sidney becomes understandably paranoid, but she also displays great strength when actually faced with the killer.

She's doing some stage acting at school, as we see in a sequence where her teacher David Warner gives her a talking-to and then she gets freaked out during a rehearsal of Agamemnon - stuff that's really only in there to set up the fact that the climax is going to take place on that stage. The film starts in a theatre of one type and ends in a theatre of another type.

Sidney's roommate at Windsor is Hallie (Elise Neal), a psych major who badly wants to get into a sorority. Sidney has a new boyfriend - Randy is sidelined again - who is such a perfect, nice guy that he's extremely bland. That's Jerry O'Connell as frat boy Derek, who serenades Sidney with a cafeteria rendition of The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" when she's down about people dying around her. Another new friend is Mickey, "the freaky Tarantino film student", who doesn't make much of an impression despite being played by Timothy Olyphant.

Of course, Randy, the horror-loving character I had so related to when watching the first Scream, is studying film, and he's not quite the Cody stand-in he was the first time around. Our opinions certainly clash when he says in film theory class that "Sequels suck." I've always been fascinated by franchises, so I would never say that. Randy stumbles again during the ensuing sequel debate when he corrects a fellow student (Joshua Jackson in a cameo) when that other student quotes Aliens. Trouble is, Jackson got the line right, and Randy is wrong to correct him. Jackson really comes out the winner of this scene when he says he prefers House II: The Second Story over the first House. Any time House II gets a positive reference is a great moment in my book.

Then again, Jackson's character also says movies are responsible for the violent behavior of their viewers. Obviously I disagree with that, so he's a mixed bag. And that's his only scene, so he's not important.

A more important student in film theory class is Casey "Cici" Cooper, a sorority girl played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, then in the midst of her Buffy the Vampire Slayer days. Cici is the first victim to get phone calls from Ghostface before she's murdered, with Roger Jackson again doing the disguised voice of whoever the killer happens to be. The fact that Cici's real name is Casey is important for a scene in which the characters realize all of the victims share names with victims killed in the first spree back in Woodsboro - a pattern that is ditched as soon as it's noticed. Sloppy, unnecessary little things like this might have been cut out along the way if Craven and Williamson weren't made to put this together so quickly.

With bodies piling up in Sidney's vicinity, more familiar faces show up at Windsor. There's Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), still a highly driven reporter who will hurt people on her quest for fame and fortune, and did hurt the feelings of Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) with the way she wrote about him in her book about the Woodsboro murders. There had been a romance brewing between Gale and Dewey in the first movie, which gradually heats up again as they work together to figure out who the new killer is, bickering their way through the mystery.

Another element of Scream 2 that's in there because it was made so quickly is the presence of a piece of temp track that's still in the finished film. That's a track of music Hans Zimmer composed for the John Woo movie Broken Arrow, used here as Dewey's own theme song... and it's absolutely perfect for the character. Arquette's performance as Dewey is also pretty perfect in this film, very endearing. Dewey was stabbed in the back in the previous film, a severed nerve leaving him with a limp and arm that doesn't move like it used to. This doesn't stop him from running around Windsor campus, putting himself in danger in hopes of bringing the killer to justice.

Gale is a better character than she was previously, as she has learned to care for people more. She has the same hard exterior, but it becomes clear that she has changed for the better. While on campus, she has a bit of a rival in the form of local reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), who idolizes Gale and starts beating her and her new cameraman Joel (Duane Martin) to information.

Along with Gale also comes Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber), the man originally imprisoned for the murder of Sidney's mother before the killer turned out to be someone else. Now free, Cotton is seeking to capitalize on his prison time and wants Sidney to do a televised interview with him. When Sidney resists doing the interview, Cotton gets rather intense about it.

There are plenty of suspects this time around, and plenty of potential victims, including total fodder characters like Phil, Maureen, Cici, and the two police officers assigned to keep an eye on Sidney. There are maybe too many characters, as the film has trouble balancing all of them. As Randy says, sequels up the body count and feature more blood, more gore, "carnage candy". There are more kills in Scream 2, some not so great, some pretty spectacular. My favorite is when a character who's on the hood of a car when it crashes into another vehicle gets a metal pipe through their head.

The crashed car is a police car with Ghostface at the wheel and Sidney and Hallie stuck in the locked back seat. Ghostface is knocked out in the crash, and Sidney and Hallie have to crawl through the partition that divides the front seat from the back, then crawl over Ghostface, to get out of the car.

I could tell through their reactions that the audience I saw Scream 2 with was very into the film, and that was very obvious during the police car scene. There was a tension in that room as Sidney and Hallie climbed out of the vehicle, a palpable dread that Ghostface was going to regain consciousness and attack them at any second. There was that feeling at other points in the film, but that scene is when it was most intense.

The film gives the viewer reason to be tense, especially when it kills off a beloved character about halfway through. This is the kill that not only shocked me but also annoyed me the first time I watched the movie... and several times after that. It took me a while to get over that one.

The climax and reveal of who's beneath the Ghostface mask is kind of underwhelming this time, but there are great sequences on the way to that climax. The aforementioned police car scene; the build-up to that annoying kill, which is set outside during the day and involves a phone call from Ghostface while characters search for the killer among present students; and a game of cat and mouse set around a soundproof recording booth.

Scream 2 has its problems, and I find more issues with it now than I did in 1997, but it still manages to be a very solid sequel, and in some ways I prefer watching it over watching the first movie - and definitely over the sequels that followed. I like the tone of it, the wider scope and the bigger set pieces. It's not quite as clever as its predecessor, but still a bit smarter than the average college campus slasher.

Ghostface might be slightly more intimidating this time around, but the killer is still a hell of a klutz. I don't know how my audience was able to work up so much tension watching a killer who can trip and flip over a living room chair while chasing an intended victim, but somehow Ghostface's tendency to fall over didn't seem so pathetic twenty years ago.

Rushing Scream 2 might have hindered it a little, but not at the box office. It was made on a slightly higher budget than the first one ($24 million this time), but also made over $170 million at the global box office - 172.3 compared to the first's 173. Not a bad dropoff at all.


  1. I have problems with all of the SCREAM sequels because they were all compromised somewhere along the way during each production. (This film had the original script leak on the then relatively new internet causing a new draft, new ending, and different killers than originally intended. (It was supposed to be Jerry O.) Part 3 was altered because of Columbine and the new script was by Ehren Kruger - so we really have no idea what a KW Scream 3 would have been. Part 4 had a rewrite tacked on by Kruger too for no good reason I know of.) So while I too love sequels and franchises this one is one I'll always think "what if?" about.

    1. I'm mostly satisfied with how both 2 and 4 turned out, but 3 is a major "what if?" situation for me. Kruger didn't seem to get Scream.

      - Cody