As promised in my list of sequels better than the first, it’s time to talk about what I personally consider to be the greatest sequel of all time. The first Scream basically re-invented the slasher genre with its self-aware references and genuinely frightening opening scene and climax. So how do you make a sequel to a film that satirizes horror films? By satirizing sequels of course.
As always, there are going to be spoilers, both for Scream 2 and the original Scream. If you haven’t seen them, go do that now and come back. You won’t be disappointed. It’s time to break down Scream 2 and find out What Makes It Great.
How Tragedy Affects Us
Scream was an attempt to portray someone creating a horror movie in real life. Continuing with this real world setting, the sequel portrays how these characters’ lives have developed after the tragedy and the publicity that came from it. It’s never outright stated in the film, but it’s implied to be two years later. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) now attends Windsor College, and has become more withdrawn, but is still incredibly driven. She has grown wiser and more caring (as most of us do from high school to college), as the first thing she thinks of when a killer strikes is Randy’s condition.
Randy (Jamie Kennedy), on the other hand, has turned his newfound fame outward. He’s more social and outgoing, but he’s also grown a bit cocky. His first scene is in a film class discussing the murders of two fellow students at the Stab! premiere, and while he displays the same confidence he had in regards to film trivia in the first, he’s way more prideful about it. He says that sequels by definition are inferior, and he basically shoots down every attempt by Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) and other classmates to name one that’s better than the original (He obviously never read my list). When one classmate mentions Aliens and the famous line “Get away from her you bitch,” Randy corrects him, saying the line is “Stay away from her you bitch.” The thing is, the first guy was right and Randy, once the ultimate film geek, actually has the line wrong.
When Sidney first meets up with Randy to check in on him, he puts on this weird British accent and cracks jokes, obviously not wanting to revisit the heartbreak and instead covering it up with whatever he can. Everyone gets a chance to re-invent themselves in college, but maybe Randy hasn’t done it for the best.
As soon as he hears about the murders, Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) drops everything and comes to Windsor to check in on Sidney. Dewey was the brother of Tatum, one of the victims of the first film and Sidney’s best friend, so he’s a big brother figure to her without there ever being a hint of anything romantic. In the first film, Dewey almost died at the hands of the killers, so now he walks with a limp.
So many films would either cover the fact that he almost died with minor scarring or magic surgery, but no, he has the limp through the whole film. He knows he stands almost no chance against a manic killer, but he cares only about looking after Sidney. Personality wise, he’s still exceedingly kind, but he has grown a bit as a cop (as dealing with a murder spree will do to you).
Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has probably changed the least, as she always had a good heart deep down, but it just comes out a bit more here. The movie Stab! was inspired by her books on the Woodsboro murders, and she’s made a celebrity out of Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man wrongfully convicted of the murder of Sidney’s mother, Maureen. Cotton has become a total fame whore, taking every interview and article a magazine will publish, however we can’t really blame him.
We sympathize with Sidney for trying to avoid his constant attempts to publicize her life, but he is still trying to clear his name in the media’s eyes. If he wants to pick up a little money and fame for doing it, he deserves it after a year in prison. He absolutely has a heart, as shown in his first meeting with Sidney. He thinks he’s just agreeing to an interview with her, but Gale ambushes Sidney on the spot right after she’s found out about the murders. Cotton feels awful about this, and while he tries to get Sidney to do a dual interview with him throughout the film, he attempts this on his own. Cotton is ultimately a very effective red herring, still a jerk, but one whose motivations we understand.
The Friends We Choose
Scream 2 is about so much more than just the same characters getting targeted by another killer. One of the major themes is the people we surround ourselves with as we grow older and (hopefully) wiser. In the first film, Sidney’s group of friends was pretty terrible. Her best friend was Tatum, who was constantly bringing up Sidney’s mother’s death and asking who she thought was the killer. Sidney was dating Billy Loomis, who was of course one of the psychotic killers, but even without knowing that, he was a really aloof jerk who never sympathized with her trauma. His best friend, fellow killer and Tatum’s boyfriend, was Stu, a completely crazed and immature jerk who turned out to be killing people just for fun. Who doesn’t have lousy friends in high school though? Many of these are people we grew up with from childhood and we don’t want to break with, even if we know deep down they aren’t the best for us. The killing could even represent a literal breaking from these and a destruction of child-like innocence.
By Scream 2, Sidney’s best friend is the lovable Hallie (Elise Neal). She’s funny, smart and outgoing, and if someone gets on her nerves she’ll tell it like it is, but she cares for Sidney deeply. She does not want her out of her sight, skeptical of Sidney’s boyfriend and even the cops who watch her.
Sidney’s new boyfriend is Derek (Jerry O’Connell), a truly nice guy who loves her but doesn’t always know how to help her when she grows suspicious of him. We sympathize with both Sidney in her doubt, knowing her past, and Derek in trying to convince her it’s not him. He’s generic enough that we believe it could be him, but he’s still a great character, and we buy his romance with Sid completely.
One of the criticisms some viewers had with Scream 2 is that the killers who don the Ghostface costumes are out of focus in the story… but that’s the point. The first is Mickey, a film student who’s a bit off, one of those satellite friends we all have. He’s a friend of a friend, but not someone you personally want to get all that close to. He and Sidney don’t share all that much with each other, but he seems to be good friends with Derek.
There are even some teases that he and Derek are the new Stu and Billy, but alas they’re only half true. The other killer is Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf), Billy’s mother, going undercover as Debbie Salt, a news reporter and wannabe Gale Weathers. What’s brilliant about her character is something that smacks us over the head at the reveal—Sidney has not met this character once over the course of the film. Of course these characters are out of focus, because Sidney has grown from the tragedy and learned to pick friends that aren’t psychopathic killers. She’s smarter, and that’s what makes her an incredibly likable lead.
The first Scream definitely played with horror tropes and was self-aware, but was it all that funny? There were moments where I couldn’t tell if they were going for melodrama or parody or some weird mix of both. How many movies can you think of that effectively and equally pull off comedy and horror? Comedy and horror are kind of similar, because in both genres, we’re on the edge of our seat waiting for the movie to reward us, either by scaring us or making us laugh. In Scream 2, Kevin Williamson’s script manages to do both, making us completely unsure if we’re about to laugh or jump out of our seats and not in a predictable “Oh it’s just a cat” jump scare way. How about that scene near the end when Derek and Sidney are talking, and Sidney leaves Derek alone? Someone starts talking to him from afar, but then it’s just revealed to be his frat brothers jokingly punishing him for giving his letters to Sidney.
Then there’s the increasing fear that fills Gale’s cameraman Joel (Duane Martin), both in that 1) Gale’s cameraman died last time and 2) He’s the black guy in a horror movie. How does that end? He calls a cab and leaves the movie!
It’s absolutely hilarious and just one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. He even comes back at the end alive and well. This is just one of those little scenes that makes this movie the masterpiece that it is.
There’s quite a colorful and funny supporting cast as well. Sarah Michelle Gellar is the smart and sassy Cici, who we grow to like in just two scenes until she bites it, and Portia de Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart are the air-headed sorority sisters. The Great One himself, David Warner, even cameos as Sidney’s dry-witted and caring drama teacher! These are the characters (idiots and horror-star cameos) that we expect to be bumped off, but they never are.
Probably the most famous scene in Scream 2, and easily the most controversial to fans, is the death of Randy Meeks. “But Randy would never walk in front of a van with the door closed! It goes against his character,” many have said. Well, they’re half-right. Randy in the first Scream never would have done that, but as I’ve said, he’s a different person now. Instead of survivor’s guilt, he now has a kind of survivor’s pride and openly taunts the killer on the phone. He’s thinking more about coming up with a witty retort than where he’s stepping, which of course leads him right to the killer.
It is a frightening scene, mainly in the way that no one notices what’s going on. Randy is on the phone with the killer as Dewey and Gale go around and try to stop everyone who’s on a cell phone. Randy gets drawn into the van right as a person with a loud boombox walks by, which obviously the killer timed. So many horror films scare us with creepy atmospheric night, but this one does it in broad daylight with people all around.
A Sequel About Sequels
Obviously Scream is a meta-series, so horror sequels are openly discussed by the characters, from the professor in the film class to Randy’s sequel rules. However, even the killers’ motivations reflect the way a sequel is created.
Mickey is a completely crazed killer who is recreating the Woodsboro murders for the fame. He even admits to Sidney that he wants to get caught and have Johnnie Cochran or Alan Dershowitz defend him. He has no emotional connection to what’s happened before—He only wants to do it again.
Mrs. Loomis, for obvious reasons, wants to avenge her son Billy’s death (never mind the fact that he was one of the killers). She teams up with Mickey and his “recreate Woodsboro” plan, but all she really cares about is taking down Dewey, Gale, Randy, and most of all Sidney.
Early on in the film, Gale brings up the fact that the first three victims are named Phil Stevens, Maureen Evans, and Casey “Cici” Cooper as in the first three victims of Woodsboro: Sidney’s mother Maureen, and Casey and her boyfriend Steve. This leads them to believe that someone is trying to recreate Woodsboro, but then more unrelated victims pile up. The next victim of Woodsboro was Principal Arthur Himbry, while the next victim of Windsor is Randy. This lead is never brought up again, so it must have been a red herring right? Just something created so the trailers could say “Is someone trying to recreate Woodsboro?” Again, I don’t think so.
There are two killers here representing two very different visions, just like a sequel would have (at least) two visions during production. The producer is there to make money and get butts in seats. Most of all, the producer will be the one pushing for basically the same movie all over again, just like Mickey is pushing for Woodsboro 2 (probably not Electric Boogaloo). However, Mrs. Loomis represents the artist, the director and/or screenwriter who is pushing for a new story, one with more emotional punch. Ultimately and thankfully, in the case of both the murders and Scream 2 itself, it is the artist who ultimately wins out.
I can watch this movie over and over, and have watched it countless times more than the original Scream. More than anything, I just love this cast of characters. If there was 13-episode TV show with this cast playing these characters where the killings didn’t start until episode 10, I would eat it up. I like them that much that I would just watch their college stories until the murder mystery starts. They are all just so likable and fleshed out, even the ones like Cici who only get a few scenes in the film. It develops characters better than any sequel, taking them all to a believable point and setting them up for an even better round of killings.