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Scream 2

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Scream 2

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox
Director: Wes Craven
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Liev Schreiber, Rebecca Gayheart, David Arquette, Lewis Arquette, David Benton, Portia De Rossi, Karolin Effington, Omar Epps, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

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 impulses?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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