The Scream franchise has been up and down over the years. The lastest characters who were in the fifth installment released earlier this year weren’t even born yet during the events of the first one. The first Scream was a surprise hit mostly for the way it didn’t take itself too seriously. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from the horror craze of the 1980s, most movies like Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs and Copycat all called themselves “pscyhological thrillers.”
But they were made from the same cut of meat. If Silence of the Lamb is getting a cheeseburger at a five-star restaurant, then something like Sleepaway Camp or Splatter University is a burger off the value menu at McDonalds or Burger King. Scream managed to surpass the more anticipated Beavis and Butt-head Do America at the box office earning $173 million worldwide becoming the highest-grossing slasher at the time.
The original movie loosely inspired by the Gainseville Ripper case was what I love movies to be – a pleasant surprise. It’s one thing going into a movie you think is going to be great and then realize you saw all the good stuff in the trailer (side-eye to The Mask). But when you think a movie is going to be basic and generic and then find yourself thrilled and amazed by, you feel like you want to see it again almost immediately.
Drew Barrymore was trying to rebuild her career in the 1990s as her character was killed off in the beginning of Scream. So, in seeing Scream 2 with a young couple Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) and Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) standing in line outside a movie theater, you can bet the lot on that they are the first victims in this movie. Just to let anyone know even though this movie has been around for 25 years, there will be a lot spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it or others in the franchise, so read no further. Pinkett was used in the advertising but like Barrymore, it’s just a way for them to say that anything is game in this movie.
Phil and Maureen have free tickets to a movie called Stab that is based on a book written by Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) about the events in the first movie. Maureen is obviously not interested and tells Phil and anyone else that she doesn’t care for the movie nor the Ghostface costumes being given out by the studio. Kevin Williamson, who wrote and produced, apparently makes Maureen so unlikeable that we rooting for the real Ghostface Killer when he arrives. (And public opinion on Pinket and her husband, Will Smith, has changed a lot this past year.)
In the theater, young people, mostly college kids run around in costumes like an elementary class when the teacher leaves the room. The theater staff are using William Castle style stunts like a Ghostface dummy that flies through the air on a wire and releasing the movie in Stab-o-vision which causes the masks and fake knives to glow in the dark. I went to free movie screenings when I was in college that were more like Mystery Science Theater 300. People talked back to the screen but no one was this rowdy.
Phil is killed by the real killer when he goes to use the restroom, but not after seeing two people dressed in costumes. The set-up is that anyone can be the killer since most in attendance are wearing masks. Maureen won’t even notice when the killer comes to sit back down next to her as she thinks it’s Phil in a mask. And even as she is stabbed and runs through the theater, people think it’s a prank or a gag screaming “Kill her!” Director Wes Craven’s previous movie New Nightmare was a study at the effects of movie violence on young people. The scene also reminds me of the urban myth surrounding the murder of Kitty Genovese where people in a New York City neighborhood watched a woman be killed but no one did anything.
There have also issues coming out since Do the Right Thing that movies with certain elements of violence will encourage violence at the theaters. This is also a discussion that is spoken later in the movie among a group of college students as the movie swifts mostly to the fictional Windsor College set around the Cincinnati area according to the 513 area code shown at one point. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) and other students, Mickey Altieri (Timothy Olyphant) and Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar), are discussing whether the murders were a result of the movie. Mickey believes they were while both Cici and Mickey doubt it.
This discussion also brings up the idea of how we exploit real-life crimes for entertainment. Randy mentions he survived it and another person in the class said she had another class with Maureen. At the theater, two women don’t want to watch the movie because it was based on real events. With the backlash over Netflix and Ryan Murphy over the Jeffrey Dahmer series starring Evan Peters, true-crime is becoming more popular as podcasts and multiple movies and series focus on one case.
With the murder of two students, Windsor becomes a hotbed of media attention as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) finds herself thrust back in the spotlight. The events take place about two years after the events of the first movie. Sidney is trying to rebuild her life as she’s involved with a pre-med student, Derek (Jerry O’Connell), and has the obligatory supportive friend, Hallie (Elise Neal), who is pledging Delta Lambda Zeta and wants Sidney to join.
Also at Windsor is Gale, who seems more bloodthirsty than she was in the previous movies about her career. She has also brought along Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) who was having an affair with Sidney’s mother and then wrongfully convicted of her murder. Now, a free man, Cotton is trying to capitalize also on his innocene. He mentions he has a 900 number to bring in money and wants Sidney to do an intervew with him with Diane Sawyer for a low five-figure salary.
Dwight “Dewey” Riley (David Arquette) has also arrived to check in on Sidney and Randy. Dewey has a limp from a severed nerve when he was stabbed in the back in the first movie. Tensions arise between Dewey and Gale as he is upset over how she protrayed him in her book, even though it’s mentioned David Schwimmer is playing him in the movie. Sidney is also angry at Gale when she tries to pigeonhole Sidney into an impromptu interview with Cotton, who still seems uneasy around him.
Craven and Williamson present a lot of characters, most of which we know won’t be the killer, but they present a college-life where people think they’re invincible so when the students start getting killed off one after the other, it’s more a time for celebration. Cici is killed but the students on Greek Row run after the police cars with beers in their hands. Sorority sisters Lois (Rebecca Gayheart) and Murphy (Portia de Rossi) even commit that they left their drinks behind as they rush out of the sorority house.
As with the case with most sequels, as Randy tells Dewey, death scenes are more elaborate. We see that with Cici not only being repeatedly stabbed but thrown from a third story balcony. One detective assigned to protect Sidney ends up with a metal bar through his head when Ghostface obtains a police car with Sidney and Hallie in the back and then drives it into a construction zone with the detective on the hood. This provides the movie one of the most tense scenes as Sidney and Hallie have to climb through the grated partition between the front and back seat across the front seat where Ghostface sits passed out. As Hallie mentions, the metal bar went right through the detective’s eye.
In one of the most controversial scenes, Randy is killed off about halfway through. However, he finds himself a victim of a trope of sequels in which a character who survived the previous movie is killed off in the sequel. Adrienne King’s character was killed off in the second Friday the 13th and Heather Lagenkamp’s character was killed off in the third Nightmare on Elm Street. Randy had become a very likable character and his killing really is the only cathartic move and sets up a scene where Dewey is stabbed again in the back but this time more bloodier, implying that he will die as well.
The movie also throws in a subtle hint of the identity when a reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) mentions that if the killer is trying to duplicate the Woodsboro murders since Phil, Maureen and Cici (real name Casey) have names similar to those killed in Woodsboro, the killer might also be from Woodsboro. SPOILER ALERT!! We find out at the end that Debbie, who seems to conveniently pop up from time to time, is actually Nancy Loomis, the mother of Billy Loomis, who was one of the killer in the first one. She’s out for revenge against Sidney.
The other killer is revealed to be Mickey who has become obsessed with the notion that he can use violence in movies as a defense when he gets caught. It’s ludicrous but the revelation of Mickey and Debbie as the ones behind the killings also follows the Law of the Extraneous Characters. Whenever a character or characters have very little to do in a movie like this, the probability they are the killer is very high. Then again, Randy hints of the involvement of Debbie/Nancy earlier when he discusses how Pamela Vorhees was great in the first Friday the 13th. Olyphant was still a younger actor starting out then while Metcalf had been around for years and had also appeared as a regular on the hit series Roseanne.
It’s been reported that Williamson had to rewrite the ending as the original ending had Derek and Hallie working with Cotton and Debbie/Salt. But it’s been speculated this outrageous ending was a red herring to throw people off. The first Scream movie broke the slasher’s rules by having two killers, even though a popular fan theory has emerged that Scott Foley’s character from the third movie was also in the first movie. The Internet was becoming more in use and the studio was concerned about plot points being leaked. It’s reported many script pages were printed on a special paper that couldn’t be photocopied. O’Connell said that he had to read the parts of the script with studio officials in the same room when he was being considered.
In many ways, the movie is a bigger satire of itself than the previous one where the metareferences were more subtle. I was in college myself when this movie was made and came out and I tried to be an extra as it was filmed at Agnes Scott College in the metro Atlanta area. I remember someone saying that he didn’t like it as much but he thought that was why the movie was made more poorly than the original because as Randy even says, “Sequels suck.”
But were Craven and Williamson really trolling us? The buzz around Scream 2 was so much more with cover stories about the casting of Heather Graham as herself as Casey Becker and Tori Spelling also as herself and Sidney Prescott in Stab. (There was a throwaway joke in the first Scream about Spelling playing Sidney.) Probably the best casting is Luke Wilson as Billy Loomis trying to look like Skeet Ulrich but impersonating his own brother, Owen. There’s only so much meta a movie can get before you realize they’re not even trying. Scream 2 wasn’t as subtle as Starship Troopers in making us think it was something it wasn’t.
I liked that Cotton, who briefly appeared in the first movie, is portrayed as an opportunist seeking fame and glory as being wrongfully convicted. This was also in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial as the media in the 1990s was becoming savage for sensational news. We see that in Joel (Duane Martin) who is assigned to be Gale’s cameraman, but walks away when there’s a threat he could be killed. However, at the end, he tries to talk Gale back into covering the news now the killers have been killed themselves. But she is more focused on Dewey who is found alive.
I actually like this sequel just as much as the first one. Most sequels are inferior because they are cash-grabs. But this one actually looks at how people react to a traumatic events. Sidney, Randy and Dewey want quieter lives, even though Randy criticizes the actor who plays him in Stab. I’ve always wondered why an aspiring filmmaker would go to to a college in Ohio rather than NYC or Los Angeles. I guess it was because he was following Sidney as he was crushing on her. It’s implied that Dewey no longer works as a police officer, probably his injury preventing it. However, Gale and Cotton have decided to capitalize on their trauma.
I don’t think the movie is a condemnation of violence in movies as was the case with New Nightmare. There’s been violence in movies since The Great Train Robbery short in 1903. How come no one questions westerns or war movies as too violent? How violent were John Wayne’s movies? If you look at the violence in most slasher horrors of the era, it’s very tame in body count to war and western movies. I think the focus is more on how we’ve turned true-crime into entertainment with A Current Affair and Inside Edition among other shows. Cotton speaks of a hybrid fictional show called Current Edition.
And it’s only gotten worse in the 25 years since. As with the O.J. Simpson case, we forgot that he was on trial for killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman. We speculated they were having an affair, yet Nichole was legally divorced, so it didn’t matter if they were. In the third Scream movie, Cotton is the host of his own talk show. Both movies seem to do what they were intended.
What do you think? Please comment.