20 Years Later, SCREAM 2 Remains An Intelligent Sequel And Poignant Social Commentary
Scream came out in December 1996 to a slow start, premiering the week of Christmas. However, instead of the film dropping in the box office each week it just got bigger and bigger. After nearly 8 months in theaters, Scream went on to make $173 million worldwide.
That success guaranteed that writer Kevin Williamson’s plan to make Scream a franchise would now be a reality.
Scream 2 premiered twenty years ago today, on December 12th 1997. The film sees the return of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as she attends school at Windsor College, leaving behind the tragic events of the first film behind her. When two students are murdered by what appears to be a copycat killer, fellow survivors Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) and Randy (Jamie Kennedy) help Sydney to find out who is behind the new killings.
One of the many things this franchise does right, is its development of its main characters. They feel real, and when they return to screen it is like seeing old friends again. It is so rare to have such a large returning cast in a horror sequel and it makes the stakes that much higher because you care about the characters and their well being as soon as the film begins.
Of course, this new entry also comes with an influx of new characters, littered with a who’s who of television heartthrobs. The list is extensive and includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O’Connell, Timothy Olyphant, Laurie Metcalf, Heather Graham, Portia de Rossi, Rebecca Gayheart and more. Unlike the original, many of these characters we only get a small impression of. Sidney and her friends are now in a bigger world, college instead of highschool. They also happen to be in a sequel of a horror movie, the more characters you introduce the higher the body count.
This large ensemble cast also forms a more challenging whodunit than the original. You are never given quite get enough screen time with any one character to make a verdict but that doesn't really matter. If Billy and Stu being Ghostface in Scream taught the audience anything, it is that the killer could be anyone.
Part of the success of Scream 2 is owed not only the return of writer Kevin Williamson, but also director Wes Craven. It is uncommon for a slasher franchise to retain the same writer or director in its sequels. In fact out of the big slasher franchises ( alist including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Child’s Play) only The Texas Chainsaw Massacre keeps Tobe Hooper as it’s direct sequel director. Perhaps this is why the reputation for horror sequels always being inferior is stemmed from. Once the films have left the hands of their original creator, the new director and/or writers are left with the challenge of taking a successful film that is not their own to try and make it better, or at least on par. Trying to get a film that works as its not only its own film but as a sequel without creating a recycling of the first is easier said than done. When you have the same writer and director combo, it’s their story and world they are expanding on.
It is actually quite remarkable Scream 2 is the polished and intelligent sequel it is. After the original script leaked onto the internet, including the identity of the killers, Williamson was forced to rewrite. Combined with the fact that the film was on such a tight production schedule (set for release just short of a year from the original), Craven was sometimes filming pages that Williamson had finished writing that same day. This is a true testament to these two as professionals, but also to their vision for each other's work. Craven had to create a scene that often was not fully flushed out, and Williamson had to trust him to do his words justice.
Even with the obstacles, they deliver an excellent film. It works as a sequel but even better than that it works as its own. It takes its meta approach and amplifies it, so much that there is a scene where film students are arguing over what sequels are superior to their original. Randy delivers with sequel rules, that this film follows and then joyfully breaks. Instead of giving us Scream again, we get the characters we love to root for in a bloodier original story, one inspired by the idea that life imitates art.
Life imitating art in this film is the concept that if violence is on the news, in movies and in video games, then that violence will manifest itself in real life. The motive of Mickey, one of the sequels new Ghostface, is his obsession with the media frenzy around the Woodsboro Murders and wanting to gain similar infamy himself. He becomes a copycat killer in search for fame. His character argues in his film class that the violence in the media is what caused the opening credit kills of Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) and Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett Smith). If there was not the same publicity over the original murders, these may have not taken place. Of course, part of the cleverness of the film is that the killer is making this argument, the audience just doesn’t know it yet.
Williamson wrote his new killers as deranged, both using each other to make their sick mass murder a reality. One a deranged twenty something seeking fame and the other a mourning mother out for revenge. In Mickey’s climatic confession he talks about how the murders are just the beginning and how his trial for said murders will be the fun part.
Looking back on this dialogue, it is interesting to see how the social and political climate at the time influenced Williamson’s script. Perhaps the character of Mickey was hoping he would gain the same notoriety and innocent sentence as OJ Simpson in the whirlwind media fueled trial that was just finishing up at the time of this films release. Maybe Williamson had a feeling that the media’s influence and involvement in violence in America would only get worse. He would be right, just a few months after Scream 2’s release in theaters, two middle school students in Jonesboro, Arkansas opened fire at their school, killing 5 and injuring 10 more. A year later in April 1999 the Columbine shooting happened, where two high school boys killed 13 people and injured an additional 24. The media’s role in the celebrity of mass killers has only grown since then. Mickey’s character is a true reflection of seeing the fame surrounding mass murders on the news, and being inspired by it.
Looking at this film twenty years later, it’s easy to see the fun slasher with it’s witty dialogue and meta script. But it is even easier to find the horror in it. Horror by definition is “painful and intense fear, dread or dismay” according to Merriam-Webster. It is a reflection of the horrors of its time, and there is truly nothing scarier than that.