Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: SCREAM 2 (1997)

SCREAM 2 is one of those movies that has gained a lot of slack over the years, and I don't really understand why... It is an incredibly entertaining, clever, and superbly suspenseful sequel that ranks with some of the best slasher sequels available - HALLOWEEN II (1981 version, of course), FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS, just to name some of the more obvious ones. In fact, I know that I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but I would argue that Scream 2 is a serious contender for the best slasher film sequel of all time.

Much of the hate for Scream 2 undoubtedly comes from its comparisons to the films that followed in its wake - the overly goofy SCREAM 3 and the completely off-balance SCREAM 4. While the original SCREAM set the bar for late 90's horror flicks and single-handedly re-invented the slasher genre, Scream 2 follows in its footsteps with proud respect and enough brains to make it a damn good movie in its own right.

From the film's opening, you know that screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven have put some serious thought into how to make their sequel a film in its own right without being a carbon copy of the first Scream. The mystery behind the killings ties together nicely in the end, and subtle hints are dropped throughout the movie that make you say, "Oh! I should have known it was them!" And while the movie lacks the twist that made the first film such a craze, it still is a nice curvy mystery thriller in its own right.

The performances are fun and the actors realize that they are making a movie that is not about terrifying people to death - they are making a movie for the masses. Scream and its sequels are slasher films for everyone to enjoy. They are suspenseful thrillers that won't give hardcore nightmares and won't disturb people, but will allow them to reach a certain catharsis that catapults Scream, Scream 2, and the others in the series to being the ultimate Hollywood horror byproduct.

Neve Campbell, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schrieber, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox all return to their roles with glory - and it is in Scream 2 that their characters truly find themselves. They each deal with the events of the first film in different ways - a sign of good storytelling for a sequel. Campbell's Sidney Prescott is just trying to live a normal college life, amidst her celebrity status as the heroine from the first film. Kennedy's Randy Meeks is less scrawny and more buff, but still just as geeky and fun (and slightly less annoying this time around). Arquette's Deputy Dewey walks with physical scars from the traumatic first episode, and Cox's Gale Weathers has actually made a huge profit off her traumatic ordeal. And Schrieber's Cotton Weary, who was wrongly accused of killing Sidney's mother in the first film, is out to clear his name by getting his 15-minutes of fame.

What I have come to appreciate the most about Scream 2 is that it takes the events of Scream and turns those events into a movie-within a-movie. You see, Gale Weathers wrote this book called The Woodsboro Murders, and that book was turned into a slasher film called Stab, which stars some of Hollywood's most noticeable starlets (including Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, and the ever-dreadful Tori Spelling). The release of Stab in the theaters is what ignites a new series of murders, and it is the perfect bridge from the first film into the second film.

One thing that occurred to me about Scream 2 is that it is built on set-pieces; literally from the opening scene on, every single murder is the climax to some kind of set-piece. Whether that scene takes place in a movie theater, a sorority house, a crashed car, or out in broad daylight, both Williamson and Craven know how to work their story and they know what the audience is going to expect... and what the audience is not going to expect.

Take for instance the opening scene, where the characters are obviously going to get it. Unlike the now iconic scene from the first film, where Drew Barrymore's character is terrorized by Ghostface at her isolated house, the opening to Scream 2 takes place in a sold-out movie theater, packed with movie-maniacs who want to see a slasher film. While watching the scene unfold, you know that Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps, the two moviegoers we focus on, are going to bite the dust. But the question isn't so much if they will die, but rather how and when.

Much like how Scream was not only a spoof on modern horror movies but also a critique on media violence (asking the question, "Do movies create psychos or do psychos create movies?"), Scream 2 continues that theme. There is literally a classroom debate among the characters over the killings, and if they are inspired by on-screen violence. This is not only cleverly stapled into the story's structure, but also interestingly supports both sides of the argument (as you will be able to tell by the killer's motive).

Speaking of the violence, those who say that the success of Scream and Scream 2 "softened" the horror genre are incredibly wrong and, quite frankly, stupid. Just because Ghostface isn't some perverse rapist who gets a stiff one looking at dead bodies, it does not make the Scream series any less wonderful. People are stabbed numerous times all over their bodies and heads, their heads are crushed, they are thrown from buildings, shot, maimed, butchered... Scream 2 continues the gore, only it actually has the decency to toss on some suspense too (unlike, say, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES which sacrifices suspense for complete ludicrous gore).

Would I say that Scream 2 is a better movie than Scream? No, it is not. But I would say that it is about as good a follow-up as anyone could have hoped for. Sure, it has some plot problems, but overall its a very tight structure. And let's face it, folks. Every sequel has its problems.

So if you're feeling nostalgic and want to take a step back to the 1990s - and you want some suspense, laughs, and clever dialogue - than you should definitely start with the first two Scream movies. Even if you skip the other sequels, know that Scream 2, like its predecessor, is a classic.

Halloween H20 (1998)
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Urban Legend (1998)

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