Terrifyingly Gnarly: Wes Craven Series, Week 4: “SCREAM 2”

Originally posted on 2010-09-17 20:57:42 by Samuel Zimmerman

Quite recently, a blog went up on FANGORIA taking a handful of legendary horror directors to task for essentially riding the waves of their legacy and failing to continuously and contemporarily put out excellent work. No doubt, it’s an interesting theory worth debating and investigating. However in my eyes, its author made one fatal mistake (and no, it wasn’t that confrontational opening line—although that was slightly devoid of taste). Nick sought to claim that Wes Craven neither is, nor ever was, great. I’m under the belief that no matter how you feel about many of his films, that’s simply a falsehood. So with three weeks until the filmmaker’s latest, MY SOUL TO TAKE, hits theaters, I’ve decided to look at one of his movies a week (excluding the landmarks like LAST HOUSE, NIGHTMARE and SCREAM) to showcase that even during misfires and his lesser praised works, Craven displays talent, chops and incredible imagination (head here for last week’s). Read on for week four—my look at 1997’s sequel to one of his biggest successes, SCREAM 2.

Just prior to revisiting SCREAM 2 (something I haven’t done in quite some time, despite my admiration for and frequent watching of the original), I had read an article on Senses of Cinema titled “‘The film we had imagined,’ or: Anna and Jean-Luc Go To the Movies.” The fact that it was fresh in my mind as I sat down to watch Craven’s sequel was something of a happy accident as the very theatrical opening of the film gave me a lot to think about within the framework author Adrian Danks had laid out in discussing cinema’s depiction of moviegoing. If SCREAM was a self-aware way to deconstruct the slasher and what we expect from it, SCREAM 2 often goes after all of film and the ways in which it can affect our lives, most particularly how we relate our own existence to what we see on the big screen.

In the article, Danks very much focuses on a section of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 film, MY LIFE TO LIVE (VIVRE SA VIE: FILM EN DOUZE TABLEAUX) in which star Anna Karina visits a theater to see Carl Dreyer’s 1928 classic, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (LA PASSION DE JEANNE D’ARC). Danks discusses the first and foremost representation of filmgoing: characters relating physically or thematically to what they see on screen, gaining some catharsis or sense of similarity much in the way we as an audience are often swept up in narratives, relating our lives to those of the protagonists, crying when they cry (as is the case with Karina and Joan of Arc), or understanding their loneliness through our own. Later in the piece, it is also examined how Godard uses this setup to help us understand Karina’s ultimate fate and arc, which will be much the same as Joan’s.

SCREAM 2 opens with a couple, Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) and Maureen Evans (a funny and fiery Jada Pinkett), entering the premiere screening of STAB, the movie-within-a-movie about the events of SCREAM. While Maureen doesn’t stick around long enough to necessarily have an arc, her plight in the theater is very obviously mirrored by what’s going on in STAB, literally experiencing the bloody violence alongside the movie-version of Casey Becker. What’s more, however, is that she’s very much alone in all of this as she’s overwhelmingly surrounded by a theater full of rowdy peers who, like many slasher audiences, are clearly identifying with Ghostface and relishing the carnage he’s causing onscreen. In one of Craven’s best staged setpieces, Maureen stumbles out of her seat and down the aisles begging for help from an audience too caught up in their own violent catharsis. She ultimately dies on stage directly in front of the screen (if she were any closer she’d pull a LAST ACTION HERO, which she kind of does figuratively) in full view, becoming their own real life death for entertainment. It’s only then, when it’s too late, does the audience realize what’s happened and their own roles in the proceedings. It’s an incredible opening and along with its witty dialogue and amusing turns by the two guest-starring actors, is almost Wes Craven channeling Michael Haneke’s recurring critique of our own love of violence as vaudeville, yet through Craven’s own sensibilities, also making it fun.

And that’s just the beginning.

SCREAM 2 picks up two years after the murderous events in Woodsboro and finds Sydney (Neve Campbell) slowly adjusting to life postslaughter at Windsor College alongside best friend/roommate Hallie (Elise Neal), preppy boyfriend Derrick (Jerry O’Connell), returning pal Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and his film theory cohort Mickey (Timothy Olyphant). Pretty much right after the blood starts shedding, Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) also pop up to get the surviving band back together, as does Liev Schreiber, who thankfully gets much more to do here than in SCREAM as the innocent—but still smarmy and oddly unsettling—Cotton Weary.

This follow-up is a rare breed in that it finds both Craven and writer Kevin Williamson at the top of their game, and is absolutely a worthy successor to the first. Like the original, SCREAM 2 acknowledges itself as a horror film and a continuation, constantly spouting references, rules and common perceptions of what sequels often are. It also goes for broke in the sequel tradition of “everything is bigger” where many of the setpieces are fantastic. In addition, the film has aspirations of going from slasher tale to full-blown tragedy as it likens Sydney to her onscreen dramatic role as Cassandra, the constantly persecuted figure in Greek mythology. SCREAM 2 is often discussing (but not necessarily condemning) the over saturation of cinema and violence in pop culture, whereas the direct players in the film often relate their lives to being like a movie, and even acting in melodramatic and often theatrical behavior, while the characters on the sidelines (like the delightfully ditsy sorority sisters played by Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi) view their real life surroundings as film-like entertainment, not understanding the seriousness of it all, just running from crime scene to crime scene as if it’s all a big show for them.

Craven and Williamson were very much a perfect pair. Williamson seems to match the legendary filmmaker’s penchant for humor in the grimmest of situations, and Craven’s talent for staging outstanding and tense scare sequences keeps the writer’s humor tipping too far on that end. Because of such, SCREAM 2 boasts at least three really great chunks. There’s the aforementioned opening in the cinema for one, and then, much later in the last act, two back to back pieces of terror. As Dewey and Gale break into the film school building to review tapes, Ghostface comes after them and eventually chases Gale to a recording studio which witnesses an excellently blocked silent chase and a brutal and emotionally upsetting moment of bloodshed through a soundproof window. Meanwhile, Sydney is being taken somewhere safe by her police escorts when the second stalker manages to attack her, Hallie and the cops in the car. This creates a gruesome death and aftermath for one cop, who winds up with steel pipes through his head (his dying twitches are still unnerving) and a very nerve-racking scene of the girls squeezing their way out of the car over the knocked out body of said assailant.

The film’s finale is a perfect embodiment of what the writer and director were trying to do with these films, namely having their cake and eating it too. With the duel killers, SCREAM 2 uses one to comment on the genre and societal nature around film and the other to be the slightly over-the-top twist sequels often go for. Mickey is revealed to be one of the new incarnations of Ghostface, rehashing Billy and Stew’s motives of blaming the movies, except this time wanting to be caught and taking it to trial, riding the system the whole way. He and his plan are quickly dispatched, however, because it’s simply ludicrous and the only people who would be affected by film in a violent and murderous way are bat-shit to begin with. The second killer is surprisingly the reporter who’s been kissing Gale’s ass the whole film, Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf). Except, she’s not Debbie Salt, but Billy Loomis’ mother (!). It’s no doubt a ridiculous move, but Metcalf hams the character and her vengeful motives way up for a highly entertaining last few minutes of celluloid, complete with Sydney dispatching a “like mother, like son” headshot into Mrs. Loomis’ skull.

SCREAM 2 has many other memorable moments, including Sarah Michelle Gellar’s brief cameo, in which, like Jada Pinkett, is likened to the woman she’s watching (Gellar has NOSFERATU playing on the screen just as the titular ghoul with his white elongated face preys on Ellen Hutter), the ballsy and bummer killing of Randy midway through and Jerry O’Connell’s painful rendition of “I Think I Love You.”

As I wrote earlier, SCREAM 2 is most definitely a worthy successor and very much in keeping with the tone and ideas set forth in the very classic first film. It’s in my opinion, one of the best sequels around. 

You can read the blog that incited my seven week response right here, as well as check out my initial idea and drop me suggestions for what Craven films you’d like to see me tackle here.

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FANGORIA: The First in Fright Since 1979.
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