Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Scream 2 (1997)
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of sequels when it comes to horror movies, especially when we are talking about slasher films. Mostly because it rarely feels like the narrative from the original film is going anywhere as much as simply being restarted. Sequels are constantly criticized as being little more than cash grabs from studios, trying to continue to profit off a successful property. And I think that horror is one realm where this criticism is more valid. Horror is one genre where sequels often have the feel of rinse and repeat, as it isn’t at all unusual for horror franchises to make it to seven, eight or nine films. For me, proper horror is quick and brutal and once it’s done, the stage is cleared.
And while I generally felt that the Scream franchise went off the rails a bit in the later films, (I have not seen any of the TV series), I actually found Scream 2 an entertaining step away from the first film. It managed to capture a lot of the same atmosphere and vibe while at the same time, striking out and finding new territory of its own.
I think what made the original Scream so great is that while it had all the elements of good horror, it was also able to poke fun at itself as well as many of the tropes in horror that have become maybe a bit overused. Horror-comedy hybrids often forget to include the actual horror in the frenzied search for a punchline so it was refreshing to see a film that manages to bring the horror along with the funny.
In Scream 2, we see Sydney, now in college, with a mostly new group of friends around her as she is in the process of trying to rebuild her life following her traumatic experiences from the first film. And we learn that her healing process has been disrupted by the release of a movie-of-the-week style film being released, titled “Stab”, dramatizing the very events she had to live through. Some of my favorite moments in Scream 2 was seeing the clips of this film, along with the horrific acting depicting actual scenes from the first film. Just as an example, the opening sequence that originally starred Drew Barrymore was redone, seemingly shot-for-shot, but this time with Heather Graham. It created a cool duality of having essentially a parody of the film within itself. It was also a well-honed dig against the celebrity and scandel-centric culture we live in, even in a pre-social media era.
As with the first film, Scream 2 kicks off right away with a brutal double murder, a phenomenal scene that takes place in a movie theater. The killing happens at a screening for Stab. The murders naturally cause the media to descend again on Sydney in an attempt to get her reaction and speculations about the possibility of another killer on the loose. And all throughout the quirky humor of the characters, there remains the firm underpinning of dark terror as victim after victim falls to the rampage of another raving maniac. I respected the fact that the film threw any number of head fakes with fairly high profile names in the cast, only to discard them nearly as quickly as they were introduced.
It’s a well written and acted film, paced nicely and with another great soundtrack. I give the filmmakers credit here for crafting an intense and scary movie that also doesn’t fall for the easy trap of taking itself too seriously.
And I will drop my opinion here that I think the Scream franchise should have been allowed to end here. Scream 3 and 4 weren’t terrible, they both had moments I found myself enjoying but for the most part, neither film felt necessary or like they had been put together with the same level of care and attention. I feel like there is a strong narrative arc that begins in the first film and runs through to a satisfying conclusion in the second. Beyond that, you start to get into the territory of, “Good god, how much shit do you have to put one character through?”
But sadly, this is a lesson that Hollywood will likely never place higher than their homage to the almighty dollar. And as such, the franchise would gasp and heave itself past the finish line and far beyond what was necessary.
On an unrelated note, I wanted to also make sure I made mention of the brilliant performance of Laurie Metcalf, an actor that I think deserves way more credit than she receives. Most people know her from Roseanne , or for the more recent Lady Bird, but for as prolific as her career has been, she actually hasn’t done that many movies. She stepped into her role in Scream 2 and I thought stole most of the scenes she was in. I don’t want to discuss too much about her character because that would lead to certain spoilage, so suffice to say that she was a shining aspect of an already entertaining film.
Scream 1 and 2 make for a really effective two-installment story, on a crucial tipping point as our culture was taking the first virtual steps into the world we now live in today. It’s one of the rare horror sequels that I would place about as high as the original and is worth checking out. Order some pizzas, call your friends and watch both films in one sitting. You won’t regret it.