Scream 2 (1997)
Written by Kevin Williamson
Directed by Wes Craven
Since the 1980s, there haven’t been too many long-lasting horror franchises. Paranormal Activity is probably the most recent series to have legs for a while, but it seemed to have burnt out just before the pandemic hit. Scream is the only other one I can think of, and it represents the end of the 1980s slasher obsession. In my brain, I often associated Scream with grunge as they both were subgenres that deconstructed what had come before. Grunge was a response to 1980s metal and its overproduction, while Scream serves to comment on the movies that inspired it. Kevin Williamson, the screenwriter, decided he wanted to make this a franchise from the start and sold a five-page treatment for Scream 2 with the original film’s script. This is also one of the first films altered by the internet as the screenplay leaked online during production revealing four killers. Rewrites were made, and actors weren’t given the final pages until a few days before the scenes were shot. It was a hit then, but is Scream 2 as good as the original?
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is a student at Windsor College attempting to resume everyday life after the events of Scream. However, someone has followed her and a series of murders on campus cause the students & faculty to become paranoid. A killer surfaces mimicking Billy Loomis & Stu Macher’s Ghostface persona. Stab, a film based on Sidney Prescott’s ordeal, is playing in theaters which authorities believe has inspired this new killer. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) show up on campus to help Sidney though she sees them both as potential killers for a short bit. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) is a film student and still pining for Sidney, but his extensive film knowledge may be the key to cutting the killer off before he strikes at his next victim. Oh yes, and Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) has been exonerated for the murder of Sidney’s mom, but it was her testimony that sent him to prison, so could he be out for revenge? And who is this annoying local reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) that keeps pestering Gale?
While I don’t think Scream 2 is as clever as its predecessor, it is still a very fun meta-commentary on horror films, violence in the media, and the nature of sequels. Scream 2 is more complex than the first film because it serves as a piece of film criticism of the genre and as commentary on its own franchise. The opening sequence features Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps as Windsor seniors attending the opening night of Stab. Smith’s character openly expresses her displeasure at objectifying women and sidelining Black characters in horror media. Ironically, she and her boyfriend are the first killed, underlining how this film isn’t meant to be taken very seriously. This is Craven looking back on the movies that made his career and wanting to say something about it.
Sidney’s journey begins in this movie as we see her trying to resume her normal life after the last film. The events of Scream 2 will lead to her constant desire to escape the cycle of violence, but for now, she’s still under the delusion she can have her life back. Sidney also holds a lot of reasonable guilt about Cotton’s life, knowing she sidetracked his life and is unsure if he wants to even the score. From the outside, it seems like Cotton is trying to pivot his brief fame into something more substantial, and apologizing to Sidney on camera is part of reshaping his image in the public eye. Sidney isn’t an idiot, can clearly see what he is doing, and is visibly uncomfortable.
Gale is also a character who experiences a roller coaster throughout the series. Scream 2 finds her at the peak of fame, writing a best-selling true crime book about the Ghostface murders, which served as the basis for Stab. She’s even more ambitious and hungry for the story here than in the first film, mainly out of fear that she will not carry this momentary recognition into something grander. Her relationship with Dewey develops towards love but starts from a place of contention. He still disapproves of Gale’s methods, but through some trauma, they are drawn together by the end of the filming setting up a happier status quo for the following picture.
New additions to the cast, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O’Connell, and Timothy Olyphant, are fine. In addition, Portia de Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart show up as sorority sisters interested in Sidney joining due to the celeb status it would grant them. Elise Neal, as Hallie, is probably the closest of Sidney’s friends, and she’s one of the only Black characters with an actual character in the film. In my opinion, she and Neve Campbell share the best sequence that has the duo trapped in the back of a police car Ghostface is driving. It’s a fun bit where Craven really manages to build the tension and subvert our expectations.
I think Scream 2 still manages to be fun & playful without losing any of the franchise’s edge. Because we’re playing with tropes, the first film pretty well broke down; it can feel on the nose in certain moments, leaning more into comedy than horror. However, the killer’s motives make sense and are the last instance where the script doesn’t feel like it is stretching credulity to justify how the killer came to be and why we wouldn’t know about them. At this point, Scream was a pair of films that complimented each other and made for a richer story.