Classic Film: Scream 2
Sequels are not particularly well equipped to surpass their predecessors. Films are constantly forced to balance their narratives and characters within the confines of a feature-length runtime. Sequels have to do all of that, on top of introducing new characters and a narrative that appeals to fans of the original while also not feeling too derivative or too long in the process.
The existence of Scream 2 was a foregone conclusion, a natural progression for the slasher genre that loves nothing more than sequels. The biggest challenge for director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson is a simple fact that Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) puts so eloquently within the film itself. Sequels suck.
The original Scream took care to lay down the framework for a sequel effort, particularly with regard to Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), who Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) appeared to have wrongly implicated in her mother’s death. With Sidney, Randy, Cotton, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) returning, Scream 2 stood apart from practically all its slasher contemporaries as one of the few sequels to actually try and build off its predecessor’s story rather than simply cash in on its fame.
Craven almost surpasses the original Scream, a top-notch narrative that’s just a bit too overstuffed for its runtime. Scream 2 does a fabulous job building on Sidney, Dewey, and Gale, a return effort that never feels obligatory. The writing and acting are just as good as the first.
The confines of the slasher genre itself may have held back Scream 2 from being able to surpass Scream. Successful sequels such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, and Aliens all strongly deviated from the story structure of their predecessors. Aliens switched genres entirely, substituting out Ridley Scott’s suspense horror for Cameron’s action-heavy sequences. Scream 2 still fully belongs to the slasher genre, blunting its ability to top that which had already been done before.
While sequels are often derided as cash-grabs, Campbell, Cox, and Arquette each bring their A-game, approaching their characters with obvious love. The narrative does an excellent job showcasing the ramifications of the events of the first film, aside from some mild erasure of Dewey’s sister Tatum (Rose McGowan). Perpetually confronted by circumstances beyond her control, Sidney remains an awe-inspiring badass reluctant to cede agency over her life.
There is, maybe inevitably, a bit too much going on. Newcomers Derek Feldman (Jerry O’Connell) and Mickey Altieri (Timothy Olyphant) never really get a chance to make their mark. The narrative naturally can’t recreate the group dynamic of the first film, but even a rather long 120 minute runtime leaves too many strands of plot feeling unexplored.
Reported to have near-daily script rewrites, the whodunit is practically impossible to deduce. Repeat viewings only reveal morsels of clues, a stark departure from the first’s well-crafted mystery. The identity of the Ghostface is less important the second time around, the character growth of the core group serving as a much meatier core.
As Randy notes in one scene, sequels come with a higher body count, ostensibly doubling down on what the people want. Scream 2 features more deaths than its predecessor, but Craven isn’t simply playing for shock value. Ghostface’s spree is hardwired into the film’s pacing, a narrative that rarely lets up on its audience. Few horror films have managed to hit the two-hour mark without a single lull, a quite impressive feat given the production troubles and internet leaks.
Scream 2 is not as good as Scream, but easily stands above any other direct sequel in the horror genre. The death of a certain beloved character serves as the film’s biggest mistake, a poorly executed sequence designed clearly for shock value that’s beneath the quality of the talent involved. It’s easy to see how Scream 2 could’ve been a complete mess, but the cast and crew come together for another first-rate effort that almost succeeds in its most gargantuan task.