Scream 2

Scream 2 ★★★★

Rules for a Horror Sequel

"Scream 2" is an exception to Jamie Kennedy's Randy's quip that "sequels suck." Later, this film-theory student explains the rules of sequels. Although he specifies that they're the rules for horror films, and we may assume specifically slasher ones, there's really only one rule, and it applies to sequels regardless of genre. Neither, as Randy says, are they by definition inferior. These follow-ups are by definition more--more of, or from, the original. It could be higher body counts, more elaborate death scenes, new locations and characters, more of anything and many things. As here, it could mean even more meta-ness. The first "Scream" (1996) relied on acknowledging itself as a movie and thereby relishing in or subverting genre expectations by way of referencing other slasher flicks. I think "Psycho" (1960) and "Halloween" (1978) were particularly important in this regard. Indeed, we get more such references here, but Kevin Williamson, Wes Craven and company seem to have realized that wouldn't quite work again as the principle root of the reflexivity. Instead, the focal point becomes the first "Scream." More of it.

Indeed, there are two such films now, the real "Scream" and the film-within-the-film, "Stab." The latter even stars the very actress that Neve Campbell's Sidney remarked in the first film that she feared would play her in a movie, Tori Spelling. Amusingly, other recognizable real actors star in "Stab," Heather Graham in the Drew Barrymore part and Luke Wilson as the killer boyfriend. There's considerable young talent in the outer film, as well, especially from TV shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets a Drew Barrymore-like scene, the likes of Dawson's friend Pacey may be spotted attending the film theory class, Roseanne's sister is a reporter, and Sidney is dating that "Sliders" guy this time around. The franchise seems to have been quite adept at using this pool of boob-tube talent, as of course Campbell came from "Party of Five," Courtney Cox from "Friends" (there's a good Jennifer Aniston joke in the movie, too, by the way), and whatever else whomever else was in.

The opening scene sets the entire tone again, as Barrymore's phone conversation about liking scary movies did the first go around. There's also a concerted effort to appeal to a broader audience with a more diverse cast that includes some African Americans. Thus, Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps attending the premiere of "Stab" and mocking the whiteness of it--meaning that of the first "Scream." The first kills also address the very real controversy over such titles as "Scream" inspiring real-life copycats. This is how the following film class discussion begins, too. I'm not quite sure if this is gutsy, clever self-awareness, a rebuke of the controversy, or a mere thumbing of the nose--probably all four. I do know this was before the Columbine massacre and that after that the same studio, Miramax, locked up at least one violent teen flick that I saw recently, "O" (2001).

Aside from the randomness of a sorority girl murder, I also like how this opening sets the tone of the killer--or, is it killers again, or is the whodunnit aspect just a silly plot device not worth much consideration (methinks it the latter)--targeting the characters who attempt to decipher the movie. Besides Epps and Pinkett's characters, this is basically just the foursome returning from the first film, but there's a reason they were the survivors. In essence, they answered the slasher trivia game correctly that Barrymore's victim failed.

That's the heroine subverting the genre expectations of the virginal goody-two-shoes, Sidney. The film buff Randy explaining the genre. Cox's Gale Weathers, TV tabloid journalist and author of the book that's turned into the movie "Stab." She's the in-film author of the first "Scream," in addition to directing its cameraman and even taking the camera into her own hands. And, the Barney Fife deputy (David Arquette) there for the perfunctory whodunnit angle. Sidney had already inherited her centrality in this conflict from her mother, whereas the other three were mere bystanders who got caught up in the last plot. Their newfound sharing of this becoming central characters instead of just sideline interpreters of the plot is especially apt as Ghostface comes to represent cinema, the monster-as-movie. That wasn't the case last time; there, if anything, he was a movie being made, but now the monster is the movie.

Much of the rest of the reflexivity is derived from this notion. Sidney isn't just the star and the source of the star in the inner film, she's also a drama major starring in the play-within-the-play, which reflects the outer narrative of her as the prophesizing Cassandra of Troy and of a repeat of the Woodsboro murders. Gale isn't just narrating the story or a part of it, but also a surrogate spectator--going to the tapes and watching Ghostface through the window of the sound-recording booth. The killings, or attempted ones, take place at a movie theatre, a TV van, a projection room, the sound and editing rooms, through windows and on the stage. Masked madmen don't get more theatrical than that, or their victims more cinematically literate, for that matter.

Aside from pushing postmodernism to its limits, I still don't think the characters compelling beyond that. The romance between Gale and the deputy Dewey is built up more, but otherwise, and for a picture that's nominally so much about grief and trauma, I don't recall Dewey's late sister, gruesomely slain last time, being mentioned once here. Just goes to show, however, that movies aren't really about life; they're about themselves--movies about movies.

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