There must be something about film school that inspires the
liveliest and most articulate class discussion. In one scene of
"Scream 2," Wes Craven, who gained his 15+ minutes of
fame by having directed the series "Nightmare on Elm Street,"
has us observing a class of collegians at Windsor College
somewhere in the Midwest involved in a heated discussion
about the nature of sequels. It seems clear that these young
people are caught up in the enthusiasm, not simply trying to
influence the professor, who looks on benignly as his students
debate whether sequels are always worse than the originals.
While the class is divided down the middle, all agree that
"Godfather 2" was better than its predecessor and, in the best
tradition of one-upmanship, the suggestion that the second
part of "The Empire Strikes Back" was better than the original
is met by the correct rebuttal that "The Empire Strikes Back"
is a trilogy and therefore never had a sequel.
The point of the discussion is also the point of this film:
satire. By suggesting that it is almost impossible to one-up
forerunners, Wes Craven deliberately disparages himself--and
it's not the first time. "Scream 2," targeted to an prime
audience of people from ages 18 to 28, is meant primarily as
satire, or, Craven's laughing at himself for what he and his
colleagues have contributed to slasher movies. Not that
"Scream 2" is campy like "The Rocky Horror Show," which is
an off-the-wall, perpetual midnight offering featuring an
audience themselves dressed in horrific outfits and wildly
cheering the mayhem on the screen. "Scream 2" is, rather a
film meant to be taken seriously almost as much as it is
meant to be a spoof.
The problem with seeing this as satire is that there are
genuinely scary moments in this sequel which, following the
formula suggested by one of the college students in the class
discussion, must have a higher body count, more blood, and
yet still feature serial killers who are white, preferably male.
In fact, since the body count is so high and since some of the
murders are enacted before our eyes in all their horror, the
terror is greater than the travesty. "Scream 2" works primarily
as a genuine film of fright and panic and only intermittently as
burlesque, which is good enough.
Featuring some of the same actors from the original,
principally David Arquette, Courtney Cox and Liev Schreiber,
the movie opens on a crowd lining up to see a sneak preview
of the movie "Stab" which has, essentially, a plot quite similar
to that of Craven's "Scream." Many of the kids in the
audience don skeletal masks reminiscent of Edvard Munch's
painting "Scream" (housed permanently in the Oslo Museum
in Norway), which clues us in that one of them will, of course,
commit at least one murder during the course of the sneak
preview. The jokiest moments of this two-hour work come at
the beginning particularly with the jive dialogue engaged in by
Phil (Omar Epps) and his date Maureen (Jada Pinkett), the
latter wondering why she's even going to the type of film that
features almost all lily-white performers. When Phil goes to
the john, he runs into something far scarier than anything he
might have seen had he stayed the course while Maureen
should have stayed home to study as she insisted she would
have preferred to do.
While the campus is horrified by the murders of these two
fellow students, few seem to feel that they might be next.
They continue to party, to engage in fraternity hell weeks,
even to stay home alone when others are out having fun at
mixers. From the information we are given we realize that
quite a few people could have been the perp or perps,
particularly Cotton Weary (Liv Schreiber) who had spent a
year in jail on the testimony of Sidney Prescott (Neve
Campbell) before being cleared of murder and may be
seeking revenge against his accuser. The hard-boiled Gale
Weathers (Courteney Cox) had written a novel based on the
murders a year back and has returned to the scene to report
on a new spate of killing which--scripter Kevin Williamson
hints--she may be committing herself to pave the way for her
next book. A guy named Mickey seems obsessively intent
on proving that horror movies may themselves influence real-
life behavior, which provides him with a motive, and a local
reporter, Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), hides a possible
vengeance motif as well.
The movie's scariest scene involve a situation in which
several people are wearing masks, particularly one involving a
rehearsal for a Greek tragedy featuring the character of
Cassandra, played by Sidney, as she is surrounded by a
dozen performers whose faces are complete hidden by masks
of tragic figures.
Some of the film's comic relief comes from Joel (Duane
Martin), who has been accompanying the novelist to film her
interview but wants out when he is called on to snap shots of
some bloody murder scenes.
When "Scream 2" is not downright hair-raising, it succeeds
admirably in one Pirandellian scene, namely, when college
students debate the way actors perform in sequels while they
are themselves actors in a sequel. If the movie poses a
question to ponder for more than twenty minutes after you
leave the theater it is the age-old query: do violent movies
encourage violence in real life, or do they provide an outlet for
feelings of frustration and thereby actually defuse murderous
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten