This Scream 2 essay contains spoilers. Wes Craven’s 1997 film stars Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox. Check out VV movie reviews, along with cast/character articles, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings, at the home page.
Even in a world of “elevated horror” and totally deserved Oscar wins for genre movies, there’s still nothing that compares to Scream. What Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson created is a franchise that both subverts and plays into well-established horror tropes — frequently at the same time. And in many ways, Scream 2 — which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022 — solidifies just how clever their initial idea really was. Most horror sequels are pale imitations of what’s come before, but this one somehow manages to be even better, largely because the film is constantly in conversation with itself and its own legacy. Introducing the idea of “Stab,” the movie-within-a-movie about the events of Scream, is a genius idea because it allows for even more meta commentary, from Randy responding to the suggestion of doing “Stab 2” with “Who’d wanna do that?” to the fact the stabbing is slightly less convincing in “Stab.” Meanwhile, the acting is laughably overwrought, even knowingly recalling Williamson’s own Dawson’s Creek.
Scream 2 is a near-perfect horror sequel, wildly better than Halloween 2 or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (typically the benchmarks). It ups the ante considerably without re-treading too much familiar ground but doesn’t feel like a massive departure either. Striking a balance between paying homage to what’s come before and forging ahead is tough, but Craven builds upon the established mythos while believably moving the action and characters on — Randy seemingly followed Sidney to college, for instance, which totally tracks. Equally, Craven and returning screenwriter Williamson aren’t afraid to take big risks either, from the Mrs. Voorhees-style killer reveal (also a throwback to Scream) to how Cotton Weary is treated, and especially Randy’s death, which is still such a huge shock even when you know it’s coming (the fact it happens in broad daylight, with people everywhere, is even sweeter). Scream 2 is one of those movies that is actually more enjoyable upon repeat viewings.
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It’s a terrific whodunnit — the Mrs. Voorhees reference early on should tip viewers off, while Mickey shooting everything the whole time should also be a red flag. However, Scream 2 is so smart and so utterly fascinating that these things pass by during a first watch. Scream is often (unfairly) criticized for being more funny than scary, but the sequel makes sure that won’t be the case right off the bat. The cold open — set at the kind of rowdy movie premiere that looks super fun but would be a total nightmare in real life — is vicious, scary and sharply written. The chat between college couple Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Phil (Omar Epps) about the lack of Black representation in horror is a direct response to one of the biggest criticisms about Scream. And thankfully Scream 2 features several Black characters front and center after viciously dispensing with the opening victims. Moreover, Sidney’s roommate, Hallie (Elise Neal), notably survives until the final act, while Gale’s cameraman, Joel (Duane Martin), smartly flees at the first sign of danger. This isn’t tokenism; it’s a genuine attempt to right a prior wrong.
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Scream 2 also features some of the most deftly choreographed and perfectly paced stalk-and-slash sequences in the entire franchise, which confidently outdo the previous movie’s kills — no small feat considering Scream boasts one of the most iconic and jaw-dropping openings in horror history. Randy’s death, in particular, is brilliantly done. It occurs mostly offscreen, but knowing that one of the most beloved characters wasn’t safe, with Dewey and Gale right there, solidifies how ruthless Craven and Williamson truly are. Elsewhere, the moment when Sidney and Hallie must crawl over a passed-out Ghostface following a car crash is an all-timer, evidenced by it being referenced in 2018’s Halloween. Gale hiding in the college’s film department (of course) is another nail-biting moment, and if the filmmakers had had their way, Dewey would’ve perished then and there too, making Scream 2 the most lethal entry for the franchise’s original characters yet. Even though this is a fun movie, much like its predecessor, there’s something brooding and more mature about Scream 2, a sense of innocence lost.
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Consider how dark it is that when Neve Campbell’s Final Girl first appears, she’s being harassed with menacing phone calls as pranksters strive to replicate Ghostface’s instantly recognizable timber. As Scream 2 progresses, Sidney becomes increasingly more ravaged with guilt and shame, as she tortures herself over how much safer everyone she loves would be without her around. Marco Beltrami’s score is sweeping, operatic and borderline silly, but in moments like this, it strains to emphasize how alone Sidney feels in a world that, up until a short while ago, she believed was relatively safe. Playing Cassandra onstage understandably cuts a little close to the bone for her, not least because the masks worn by the other actors uncomfortably recall Ghostface — another symptom of Sidney’s PTSD. There are tons of little details threaded into Scream 2 that only emerge later, including Rebecca Gayheart being cast as a sweet sorority girl just a year before she’d play the killer in another classic slasher, Urban Legend.
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Strikingly, there are two on-the-nose Friends references in Scream 2 — David Schwimmer playing Dewey in “Stab” and Gale’s head being placed on Jennifer Aniston’s nude body by online pervs — which is funny considering how much of a departure the bloodthirsty reporter was for Courtney Cox. In Scream, the sitcom star fights hard to prove she can play someone besides Friends’ Monica, but in the sequel, Cox lets loose and has an absolute ball, her acid tongue destroying everyone in her path. Viewers receive a greater sense of Gale’s humanity through her burgeoning relationship with Dewey, too, even if Cox reportedly hated Arquette offscreen, as the actor memorably informed Seth Meyers. The beating heart of Scream is the core trio, and Scream 2 is further proof that they have to join forces to defeat Ghostface, even if Dewey sits most of the final act out after being injured — before being spectacularly revealed to have survived, further emphasizing that Gale cares more about him than her career. The grand finale is satisfying but also contained. Craven doesn’t overplay his hand, understanding on a profound level that Scream is a character-driven horror film rather than a cerebral one (the maestro surely would’ve scoffed at the idea of “elevated horror”).
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Key to Scream 2’s success, and indeed the success of the movie as a whole, is Laurie Metcalf’s incredible performance as Billy Loomis’ grieving mother. She’s fully committed to the role of hiding in plain sight, tussling with Gale and memorably pointing out early on that the killer is probably from Woodsboro. Metcalf performs the entire finale bug-eyed and yet she doesn’t ham it up, always staking a claim for herself as an unhinged murderer with an understandable purpose. With the exception of Scream 3, this franchise is well-known for its shocking killer reveals, and Scream 2 is up there with the best of the lot, especially since Mrs. Loomis’ team-up with Mickey after the two met on a chatroom for murder-obsessed loons is way ahead of its time. Scream 2 hints at our future obsession with true crime and the spectacle of pushing victims to relive their trauma over and over (a full two decades before these ideas would become mainstream). As usual, Craven and Williamson were saying much more than they were given credit for at the time, since the movie is still a slasher first and foremost and therefore wrongly considered dispensable.
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With Scream 6 on the horizon — which will essentially be its own version of Scream 2 following the clever reboot released earlier this year — there’s never been a better time to pay respect to Scream 2, the rare sequel that rewards revisits even all these years later. Pacy and exciting, but also intelligent and richly detailed (perhaps most impressively), the movie still feels fresh and urgent despite the ubiquitous landlines — an undeniable emblem of its icon status, no matter what Randy would say.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
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