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Scream 2: Pound for Pound the Best Pure Horror Sequel

October 5, 2015

There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.

Before you tell me I am crazy and 100% wrong I want you to hear me out. I understand that Dawn of the Dead, Aliens, Silence of the Lambs (if you consider it to be a sequel) and Evil Dead 2 are absolute classics. They avoided cliches, revolutionized the game and are completely original in their own right. However, the films had years of preparation and none were expected to be fully formed films a year after the original. Also, as great as they are they were able to focus on much different subject matter. Evil Dead was able to remake itself and Silence of the Lambs recast Hannibal and beefed up its budget. They all had the luxury of hindsight and time.

Scream 2 is so good it defies all sequel logic.  Scream hit the theaters in 1996 and exploded into a cultural phenomenon. A sequel was ordered and it was to be released in 357 days. Thus, in one year a script needed to be written, actors had to be cast, locations had to be scouted, filming had to commence, editing was required and marketing needed to do its thing. In the world of sequels a one year turn around is tantamount to disaster. No other sequel that has been released a year after the original has been as critically beloved and audience appreciated. It was a perfect blend of craftsmanship, talent and synergy.

Scream 2 Jamie Kennedy

In case you were wondering here is how the horror films released a year after the original fared with Rotten Tomatoes critics/audiences and IMDb users.

Scream 2 – 80.4

Hellraiser 2 – 58

Paranormal Activity 2 – 54.8

Saw 2 –  53.8

Friday the 13th Part 2 – 47

Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge – 43

Kevin Williamson did have a head start on the sequel (he had an outline for a trilogy)  but his hard work was foiled when the script was leaked online. Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven had to write while filming and occasionally the cast had to add their own lines. That is huge because the film had a one year turn around and two months were lost because of the leak. Here is what Craven had to say about the leak:

We weren’t very far along in the process, but it was the very first pages Kevin sent us, the first 40 pages of the first draft of his script. They were terrific and we were celebrating, and then someone called up later that day and said, “They’re on the Internet.”  It totally ruined that version of the script, frankly. We had to go back and change everything, and it set us back about two months. Kind of a pain in the neck, and thereafter, we had scripts with a big purple stripe down the middle that covered the dialogue so you could barely read it and if you Xeroxed it, it would turn out black.

Scream 2 had a lot going against it yet still managed to stick to sequel rules while subverting them. Wes Craven was a master of horror and Kevin Williamson loved the characters so the insanely short turn around actually worked. With their talents combined  you actually liked the people getting killed. The cast and crew turned a cash grab into pure gold and notorious horror hater Roger Ebert appreciated its self-awareness. 

Like all sequels, this one is a transparent attempt to cash in on the original–but, of course, it knows it is, and contains its own learned discussion of sequels. The verdict is that only a few sequels have been as good as the originals; the characters especially like “Aliens” and “The Godfather, Part II.” As for “Scream 2,” it’s … well, it’s about as good as the original.

It all starts with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps going to watch the movie within a movie Stab. Jada knowingly calls out horror tropes and the theater is raucous as they watch the masked killer hunt blond bait. Being that this a sequel the initial body count jumps from one to two and  things go horribly wrong for the couple. It is weird to watch now with all the theater killings but it is an effective and self aware start that allows the original cast to reunite.

Jada Pinkett Scream 2

I love the look on Jada’s face.

Watching this movie when I was 15 proved to be very influential. It broke down the rules for sequels and it made me self-aware while watching them. The sequel talk in the classroom opened cinematic doors for me  and I immediately went and watched The Godfather  films.

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Aside from Aliens, Piranha 3D and Final Destination 2,3,5 it is the only horror sequel to have a higher Rotten Tomatoes critic score than its predecessor (81, 78). Scream 2 was meant as a cash grab but turned out to be a horror work of art (that made a ton of money). It is the fifth highest grossing horror sequel of all time behind Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Jaws 2 and Aliens.  Also, It is one of the rare horror sequels to nearly match the original’s box office. In a world of massive box office drops from film to film Scream 2 held on to its predecessors momentum and rode the wave to cash town with a domestic inflated tally of $183,747,00.

Scream 2 movie

Yeah. We’re good.

The reason I love Scream 2 so much is that you care about the characters. The moment when Jamie Kennedy suddenly gets killed shook me up and I couldn’t believe he got wiped out. It was an audacious move to kill off a likable character in such an inglorious manner. It showed that knowing about horror movies doesn’t always mean you will survive a horror film. Also, when Dewey got stabbed my heart sank because he is such a likable character and Arquette has never been better

Wes Craven admitted he had total confidence in his cast and I love how Williamson allowed the characters to grow in the sequel.  Every character has room to mature and become three-dimensional which is nice in a movie about sadistic press hungry killers. I appreciate that the acting love was spread around and anytime a character sings “I think I love you” to his love interest in a crowded cafeteria  it has to be admired.  Also, I love that Gale’s cameraman is fully self-aware and he actually quits the job because he knows what is potentially next. This dialogue exchange is pure gold.

Joel: Look, granted, I should’ve read your book before I took this job, but I’m reading it now and, whoa! I just read what happened to your last camera man. The guy got gutted. Now I’m gonna do what any rational human being would do and that is to get the f**k outta here.

Gale: First of all, he wasn’t gutted; I made that part up… his throat was slashed.

Joel: Gale, gutted, slashed, the guy ain’t in the union no more.

Scream 2 is loaded with memorable moments, thrills and jump scares. It is the rare self-aware film that doesn’t crush itself under its own smugness. Craven was a firm believer of not recycling horror tropes so he and Williamson devised clever ways to scare the crap out of people.  Do you remember being in a packed theater during the cop car scene? People went insane as Neve crawled over ghostface. I still don’t know why she didn’t crush his face with something but I’ve never had to crawl over a serial killer so I can’t talk. If you get a chance check out this Scenic Routes article from AV Club that talks about the devilishly devised scene.

Scream 2 shouldn’t have worked. It looked the horror sequel tropes right in the eye and conquered everything we know about bad sequels. It has its faults but with the rushed production and script changes it is understandable.  There are better films out there but I don’t think many of them would have held up on the immerse pressure Scream 2 felt. Reactive sequels rarely work and Scream 2 is a beautiful example of a film hitting on all cylinders.

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