SCREAM 2: Hello, Sidney. Remember Me?

Scream 2 (1997) – Directed by Wes Craven – Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Jada Pinkett, Liev Schreiber, Omar Epps, Elise Neal, Timothy Olyphant, Duane Martin, Portia De Rossi, Rebecca Gayheart, Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, Heather Graham, Laurie Metcalf, and David Warner.

SCREAM 2 is both a really fun film and a mildly disappointing sequel. If you like the characters of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), Gale (Courteney Cox), and Randy (Jamie Kennedy), SCREAM 2 provides plenty of thrills and chills for the main stars, but if you’re looking for a story as solid as the original SCREAM, you’re likely to become increasingly disappointed as the movie progresses, as much of the cinematic energy is locked into the film’s opening half.

SCREAM 2 sees Sidney and Randy relocated to Windsor College. Sidney’s got a perky roommate/best friend named Hallie (Elise Neal), a perfect new boyfriend named Derek (Jerry O’Connell) and the same old unrequited lapdog in Randy. Everything is progressing spectacularly for Sid (including a sweet-*ss dorm room that they definitely did not have at Syracuse), whose biggest concern seems to be Hallie attempting to use her to get into a sorority. The lead sorority sisters (Portia De Rossi and Rebecca Gayheart) want Sidney in their sorority because notoriety is, like, wicked awesome or something.

The problems start for Sidney with the release of Stab, a horror movie based on the events of SCREAM. There’s a good bit of fun seeing the “real” transformed into the “fictional,” complete with Heather Graham as Casey Becker/Drew Barrymore, Luke Wilson as Billy Loomis/Skeet Ulrich, and Tori Spelling as Sidney/Campbell. The Spelling bit is an in-joke since Sidney complained in SCREAM that if her life was turned into a movie, they’d likely get Tori Spelling to play her. Just as writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven engineered in SCREAM, SCREAM 2 starts with a murder that’s personally disconnected from Sidney. Here, we have Phil and Maureen (Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett) getting offed at the premiere of Stab.

It’s a pretty good opening, with the same kind of “horror knowledge” interplay between audience and characters as we have in SCREAM. Phil and Maureen are black, and black people, as they’re both aware, don’t have a very high survival rate in horror movies. Unfortunately, where Williamson was willing to tweak conventions in SCREAM, here he mostly embraces them, as both Maureen and Phil are murdered during the showing of the movie. Later, Sidney’s friend Hallie (also black) similarly gets killed, even though it’s Sidney who’s being the dumb/brave one when she goes back to the scene of an accident to try and ascertain Ghostface’s identity. She goes back to the car and Ghostface isn’t there because he’s gone around the back to kill Hallie.

It’s an important killing that gets completely overlooked when it happens; it’s not that Sidney isn’t affected by the death, but it’s impact is lessened by its placement, coming in between Ghostface kidnapping them by hijacking the cop car they were riding in and Sidney’s mad dash to the theater house where the final violent act occurs. It’s the only death in the movie that’s really personal; Ghostface is revealed here to be Derek’s best friend Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), who keeps getting rebuffed during the movie by Hallie in several small scenes. It’s telling, too, that he makes certain to kill Randy, too, while failing to finish off Dewey, given that Randy is Mickey’s rival in film class. He’s also successful in killing fellow film class student Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and his best friend Derek, suggesting that it’s the deaths that he’s most personally involved in that he sees through to the end. It’s the attempts on Sidney, Dewey, and Gale that come up short, and these are the deaths that his sponsor, Billy Loomis’ mother (Laurie Metcalf) has the most interest in seeing completed.

The revelation that Mickey is the killer is a bit lame because Mickey is gone for a huge section of the movie. Also, the swerve that local news reporter Debbie Salt is actually Mrs. Loomis comes up completely flat because for it to work two things have to be believed: that Sidney, Dewey, and Randy never see her in the pack of reporters (since Sidney recognizes her instantly) and that Gale doesn’t recognize her despite having multiple confrontations with her throughout the movie. Her insistence that, “I’ve seen Billy’s mom but she doesn’t look like that,” comes up short.

The worst part of this final act, however, is that Williamson and Craven decide to have Mrs. Loomis and Mickey act all bug-eyed crazy. It’s stupid. We did that last movie, and having stone cold killers would have been a nice change.

If you want to give Williamson and Craven some leeway, it certainly exists. The original script had Mrs. Loomis working with Hallie, Derek, and Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) instead of Mickey, but when the entire script was leaked online, they were forced to re-write the film on the fly.

Either because the scenes were leftover from the original script, or because Craven and the actors had a real feel for how these characters would react in these situations, it’s the scenes between the returning cast members that work best. The growing relationship between Dewey and Gale is wonderfully played by Arquette and Cox; he’s miffed at her for writing less-than-flattering things about him in her best-selling book, The Westboro Murders, and she’s still drawn to him, increasingly seeing him as a real person instead of a source. As annoying as Randy is, his death sequence is very well done. Ghostface calls the three of them as they’re standing on campus and Randy is given the task of talking to him while Dewey and Gale go looking for him. When Randy gets close to Gale’s news van, the killer opens the sliding door, pulls Randy inside, and gruesomely knifes him to death.

Randy’s death is the only part of the film that feels like SCREAM 2 is its own film, rather than a cog in a franchise that demands as many of the popular characters, as possible, survive in order to guarantee the bankability of the third film. That’s not to say SCREAM 2 is a bad movie; it’s mostly an enjoyable film that balances a strong use of returning characters in an interesting enough story. Like The Empire Strikes Back, SCREAM 2 is also the film where the lead shifts from it’s first star (Luke/Sidney) to its more interesting character (Han/Dewey and Gale), and that’s why the film is ultimately worth watching, despite its limp, bug-eyed finish.

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