Monday, August 3, 2020

Scream 2

Earlier this year, I did a write-up on the original Scream film, analyzing how a movie designed to spoof the horror genre actually revived it back into the main stream after the tired cliches of the previous generation. Ironically, as much as Scream flipped the script with the Ghost Face killer, it followed at least a portion of the slasher playbook with an almost immediate sequel, which is what I'm going to discuss here during the week dedicated to the 90s and 2000s of horror.

The 1997 version of Scream made its debut in theaters less than a year after the original, requiring a quick production time throughout the middle of the year, but as he showed with his work later for the WB's Dawson's Creek, writer Kevin Williamson was forward-thinking after he finished the script for the original. Prior to Scream's release or the massive success it had, Williamson already developed the concept for a sequel that would take main character, Sydney Prescott to college. The work put into the next phase of the franchise paid off, as the Ghost Face was the highest-grossing horror film of its time and the turn around time allowed Dimension Films to strike while the iron was hot and a rejuvenated audience anticipated the next chapter of the Woodsboro cast. With legendary director Wes Craven signed on again, and the pieces of the puzzle nearly assembled because Williamson's work set up for continuity, the stars of the original cast were back to see who would survive this time. But, would the Ghost face stumble in his sequel the way so many of his slasher peers had before him?

The challenge of a sequel based on a franchise that wants to mock or spoof the major players of the industry is to not became a caricature of itself. If the Ghost face exploited the success of the original without substance or quality then its legacy among slashers would be short-lived. Another nod to and a way to poke fun at at the horror industry, the opening scene finds the fictional movie "Stab" set to premiere to tell the story of the Woodboro murders that played out in the original Scream production. Not surprisingly, the audience at the theater is bloody thirsty, as dozens  of movie goers are dressed as the Ghost face, seemingly with less interest in the narrative and more focused on the gore, perhaps a subtle statement about the expectations of society?

We find Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps, who starred in 1994's Juice alongside Tupac before he began an eight-year run on the Fox series, House throughout the mid-2000s, on a movie date. Epps' jokes about Stab aren't received well and Jada opts to go to the concession stand while he takes a bathroom break. With several "Ghost faces" lined up in the rest room, there's a sense that you don't know who is who, a form of foreshadowing to set up the suspense for the film. Omar never made it through his restroom trip, as he was stabbed in the ear, and the killer takes his jacket to return to the theater next to Jada, who unknowingly finds herself in danger with a masked figure sitting next to her that she doesn't realize isn't her boyfriend that left a few minutes earlier. Again, the unknown danger is a theme of the film. Seconds later, Jada gets stabbed and staggers onto the platform of the movie screen before she dramatically collapses as her death is the conclusion of the opening sequence.

Next, Sydney, in her college dorm room, is woken by a phone call with the mysterious voice on the other end of the line. Immediately, Syd shuts it down as a prank call with the use of her trusty caller ID and writes it off as hype around the release of Stab. Her roommate, Hallie, played by Elise Neal, who went onto to numerous roles in film and television, including The Hughleys series and the Hustle and Flow film, attempts to invite her to a sorority party that night. Just as Syd deflects the chance to attend the pretentious gathering, a fellow student tells the roommates to check the news, where they see the broadcast about the previous night's murders at the Stab premiere. Sydney instinctively ask where her pal Randy is, the film buff that correctly proclaimed the rules of horror during Ghost Face's original spree and survived because of it. With reporters buzzing around campus, it was no shock to find Randy in film class, as the group of students discussed violence in movies, an aspect that was listed as a motive for one of the original Ghost face killers. Still staying true to the original formula to poke fun at the horror genre, the conversation shifts to the thought that sequels are subpar films in an actual sequel. More than just the irony of the debate, this scene introduces the audience to some of the new cast with the addition of Mickey, CiCi Cooper, and a cameo by Josh Jackson, the kid that was Charlie in the Mighty Ducks before this and would go on to take a role in Williamson's Dawson's Creek after it.

Sydney is there to meet Randy after class, but he dismisses the connect between the new murders and those from Woodsboro before Jerry O'Connell swoops in to meet with the two friends. The Vern of 1986's Stand By Me is grown up as Sydney's boyfriend, Derek and the two head off to lunch. After the introduction of new faces, we are greeted by some familiar characters as Courtney Cox's Gale Weathers is never far behind the trail of blood to get the scoop on the story. As Gale is ready to get the inside information, she was pestered by rookie reporter Debbie Salt, and she gives the "cut throat" reporter a taste of her own medicine as she was faced with unwanted questions about the murders as the tables were turned when she was asked for a quote for a story. As Syd and her friends finish lunch, another familiar face pops up as she rushes to hug Deputy Dewey, who now walks with a slumped posture and without full use of his right arm thanks to the injuries he sustained in Woodsboro.

After Dewey tells Syd he asked the local sheriff if he could hang around temporarily to make sure she's  safe, the reunions continue as Gale greets her with the camera rolling and reveals Cotton Weary, Lev Schreiber's character, is there to be interviewed with her for the first time since his name was cleared in her mother's death. In true tabloid style, Gale surprised Sydney with this meeting, something that Weary was unaware of, and Syd decks the reporter with a right hand for the second movie in a row. More than emphasizing Gale is still out for the story despite the near-death scenarios in Woodsboro, these sequences bring the old gang together, while new characters are involved, and following the premise, all of them are potential victims.

With Sydney and Hallie at the sorority party mentioned earlier, Sarah Michelle Gellar's CiCi Cooper is back at the sorority house as a designated driver, leaving her alone in the house. She's greeted by the typical Ghost face phone call and the usual chase ensues before she was stabbed and tossed from the balcony, crashing to the pavement below. There's nothing ground breaking about the action of the scene, but it's pivotal to the narrative because it lets the Woodsboro crew know that the Stab murders weren't just random acts of violence at the theater. At the scene of the crime, Debbie Salt was there to record the gory details when Gale arrives, still brushing off the amateur. The sorority sisters ooze insincerity toward Syd before news of the incident at the house sends the party flocking to the bloody spectacle down the street. This was another indirect example of the public's fascination of violence.

When Derek was waiting on the porch, Syd goes back into the empty party to get her coat and the phone rings. She attempts to walk away but is drawn back to answer it, greeted by the same mysterious voice that tormented her in Woodsboro. After a short, but tense verbal exchange, Derek is locked outside while the killer pursues Syd inside the house. Finally, Derek gets through a side door and charges inside to confront the knife-wielding manic, while Dewey runs to check on Sydney. Despite the limited use of his arm, Dewey goes to look for Derek, who he finds slashed on the arm. At the hospital, with her friends there for support, Sydney waits for Derek to get bandaged up, and Mickey asked why he went back into the house, prompting her to wonder if another killer boyfriend is stalking her.

While Dewey and Randy munch on ice cream, they review possible suspects, which gives Randy a chance to run down the rules of the horror sequel, something that adds another layer to the narrative because it gives the audience elements to consider as the movie progresses as to who might be the killer now. At the same time, Syd is at theater practice and becomes hysterical when she thinks she saw the Ghost face on stage. Moments later, Derek pops up again to meet her after practice, but she finds it too suspicious and asked him for some distance. He agrees and leaves dejected. Post-ice cream, Dewey and Randy met up with Gale in the park when she gets a call from the distorted voice. As the trio patrol the park to find someone with a cell phone, Randy is put on the phone with the killer to distract him while Dewey and Gale begin grabbing the clunky 90s phones from those sitting in the park. Randy backs up toward Gale's news van, another example of the unknown danger that is near him. The killer snatches him inside the van and bludgeons him.

After Randy's body is discovered, Syd is in the library when she's confronted by Cotton Weary, who offers her a Dianne Sawyer spot along with $10,000 as payment, but when she declines, Weary is almost obsessive with his insistence on the media attention. Thankfully, her bodyguards intercept him and he was detained at the police station, but released. However, the incident certainly makes it seem possible that Weary might be more dangerous than we first thought. Outside of the station, Gale is bombarded with questions from reporters again, another example of the tables being turned with her as the subject of unwanted inquiries. Her and Dewey find common ground in their pursuit of the killer and decide to check her news camera for any leads on the footage. With the campus on curfew, they find an empty film room to view what clues the candid footage might provide. The tension between them boils over and in a moment of relief from the murder spree, they kiss, but before things can move forward, there's an impromptu screening of footage projected of the previous victims, which meant that someone else was in the auditorium. The Ghost face appears in the projector room, prompting Dewey to hobble up the stairs in pursuit. When Gale heads for cover, she almost accidentally runs into the killer, as a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game plays out with the music for added drama. Dewey finds himself in a sound proof booth still searching for the killer when he gets blindsided and stabbed, collapsing against the blood-stained glass of the booth.

At the same time, Sydney and Hallie are put into a car with the body guards that were assigned to her, presumably to be taken to a safe location, but as you might expect, they experience a detour. The car crashes and the killer is there, stabbing Hallie before Syd escapes. Another escape saw Gale look for a way to get out of the film building when she runs into a bloody Cotton Weary, claiming he found Dewey on the floor. Not buying it, the reporter bolts for the exit, running to the nearest pay phone to call the authorities. Debbie Salt was on the line to call in her next story, but Gale snatches the phone away from her to call her help, naming Cotton Weary as the killer.

We find Sydney sprinting toward the theater building, anywhere familiar that might be a safe haven for her. On stage, she finds Derek tied to a symbol, seemingly helpless. As she frantically tries to untie him, the Ghost face killer appears on stage and suggest that Derek might be in on the plan. The killer unmasks to reveal it was Mickey, the deranged film student that wanted to be the star of his own mystery. Mickey continues to imply that Derek is his accomplice, which Syd begins to believe until he shoots Derek, proving his innocence. Mickey goes on to explain his motive, not to get away with murder, but rather to become infamous with a trial that garners national coverage. Mickey wants to gain notoriety from the typical question, do films cause violence? But, Mickey couldn't have done all this alone so he was his partner in the killing spree?

Reporter Debbie Salt emerges from the stage, but Sydney recognizes her as Mrs. Loomis, the original killer's mother. Mrs. Loomis found Mickey online and funded his tuition at Syd's college and assumed a new name in a plot to get revenge on the girl that killed her son. While Mickey looks forward to the press coverage he will receive, Mrs. Loomis has other plans, shooting him to set up her own plot, pin the murders on Mickey and escape unnoticed. Just as Sydney and the unbalanced newspaper reporter face off, Cotton Weary joins the gathering and must decide if he saves Syd or sides with the reporter that claims she can get him TV appearances. During the tense showdown, Syd finally agrees to Weary's request for a Dianne Sawyer interview and he shoots Debbie Salt, saving Sydney in the process. Injured, Gale shows up and the trio conclude the dramatic sequence. Before the credits roll, we see that Dewey survived and taken for help and Syd tells the crew of reports to talk to Cotton, who finally gets some press coverage.

I always found the conclusion of the movie to be a little flimsy because while they are a few hints at why Mickey suggest who the killer might be, he's not necessarily a major character throughout most of the film so there's not really a shocking revelation for the final scene. In a similar fashion, there's some foreshadowing about Debbie Salt, but she also a relatively minor role in the narrative. It makes sense why Mrs. Loomis would seek revenge, but again, there wasn't a lot known about her even throughout both films. Still, the film built suspense well and was well-received, both by critics and at the box office. The sequel ranked in $172 million, just a little less than a million dollars less than the record-setting revenue of the original film.

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