Throwback Thursday: ‘Scream 2’ (1997) makes a respectable attempt to be a sequel that’s better than the original (Movie review)


or Spooky Month here at Cold Bananas, we’re looking at the four movies of the “Scream” saga over four Thursdays. Next up is “Scream 2” (1997):

Overall thoughts

“Scream 2” is an impressive feat. Coming out only a year after “Scream” became a surprise hit, it doesn’t feel as cranked-out as one would assume. Writer Kevin Williamson – returning along with director Wes Craven – finds something new to say, not only giving us the obligatory commentary about how to survive sequels but also giving the killer a very 1990s motive: He wants to get caught so he can try out his “the movies made me do it” defense at trial.

This is arguably a richer text than the original, going from the broad “horror fans caught in a horror movie” premise to an examination of copycat behavior, both in the “movies made me do it” sense and in regard to how lazy sequels fall back on formula.

Despite the short turnaround, “Scream 2” crams in every young It actor, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose Cici is watching “Nosferatu” in the sorority house in a pop-culture reference that’s refreshingly indirect compared to the blunt “sequels better than the original” film-class discussion. There’s also Heather Graham, Joshua Jackson, Rebecca Gayheart, Luke Wilson … the “Scream” franchise is YM magazine come to life. Oh, and Tori Spelling does play Sidney (Neve Campbell) in “Stab,” confirming Sidney’s fears.

There are competing schools of thought on “Scream 2.” One is that it doesn’t reflect reality (note the over-the-top opening movie theater sequence, fueled by the popularity of a mediocre true-crime book) and therefore can’t be scary anymore; half of its reason for being has been wiped out. The other argument is that this is a richer text than the original, going from the broad “horror fans caught in a horror movie” premise to an examination of copycat behavior, both in the “movies made me do it” sense and in regard to how lazy sequels fall back on formula.

For me, it’s a close call, but I give the edge to the original, which is more tightly edited, has more consistent momentum, and is scarier. “Scream 2” also loses points for Mickey’s (Timothy Olyphant) comment that Ewoks blow, a position probably held by Williamson, but not one that college freshmen in 1997 (the younger ebb of the “Star Wars” generation) would likely hold. Still, “Scream 2” is a strong sequel that says something fresh while also grabbing the cash.

Most meta sequence

In the opening sequence, everyone is going nuts at a screening of “Stab,” which has drawn people because of the popularity of Gale Weathers’ (Courteney Cox) book. This mirrors the real-life audience getting excited to watch “Scream 2” because we loved “Scream.” “Stab” opens in much the same way as “Scream,” with Heather Graham playing poor Casey, although she shows more skin because “Stab” is a slasher film, not a sober documentary. Additionally, Omar Epps’ and Jada Pinkett’s characters comment on the shortage of black actors in horror movies even as they themselves were cast to make up for the dearth of diversity in the first movie. Whew.

Funniest bit

As Gale’s cameraman Joel, Duane Martin nails it in a scene where he explains to Gale that he’s quitting. He should’ve read her book first, he admits, but now that he has (and has learned that her previous cameraman was murdered), he’s doing the smart thing and getting the heck out of there.

Best kill

Maureen (Pinkett) being stabbed for real at the “Stab” screening while Ghostface-masked moviegoers gleefully run around with plastic knives is creepy, while also setting the stage for the film’s central question of whether life imitating art is a legitimate societal fear.

Most deserved to die (other than the killers)

Sidney. This might be a controversial choice, but bear with me. In the hospital waiting room, Mickey lets it slip that he knows Derek (Jerry O’Connell) went back into the house, something only Ghostface would know. We see from Sidney’s reaction that she knows he has given himself away, but she does not go to the cops. Then when she’s stuck in the cop car that her now- deceased bodyguards were driving her around in, she has an easy chance to unmask the unconscious Ghostface, and she doesn’t do it. Finally, she hesitates to untie Derek because Mickey says Derek is his partner in crime; Mickey then shoots Derek. Sidney also could’ve taken a moment to notice that Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) is not an employee of the local newspaper, and also that she looks a little bit like Mrs. Loomis. (Granted, that oversight is on everyone, especially the cops and Gale.) Sidney’s lack of observation and action throughout this movie gets several people killed. Yet she survives.

Least deserved to die

Randy (Jamie Kennedy). He never gets to finish his rules of sequels when speaking to Dewey (David Arquette). I think he was gonna say that franchises need the heroine to return in order to be successful. Or perhaps that they need the comic relief character to return. We’ll never know. Beyond that, he also becomes cool in this movie, even though he doesn’t get the girl. His “F*** you!” on the phone to the killer is one of the best “F*** you” deliveries in film history.

Most surprising on this rewatch

“Scream 2” functions as an audience-participation mystery better than the original. Granted, it’s fun to rewatch “Scream” and see the moments when Billy and Stu share knowing glances, but “Scream 2” gives us enough clues to figure out one of the killers on the first go-around. Mickey makes that aforementioned slip to Sidney, and in film class, he supports the notion that movies create copycat killers, thus teasing his motive and legal defense. Also, Randy and Dewey sit down and mull a bunch of suspects, giving us a chance to do the same.

Gellar’s character’s sorority sister’s name is, appropriately, Dawnie (Marisol Nichols). Not so appropriately, Cici lets Dawnie go out alone into the night, although in this case, it turns out to be in Dawnie’s best interests.

I knew Collective Soul were soundtrack kings with “Run” in 1999’s “Varsity Blues,” but I had forgotten about “She Said,” which is only on the “Scream 2” soundtrack, not on any album. In addition to being catchy, the lyrics fit well with Sidney’s psyche in this film.

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