Scream (1996) was a wittily postmodern recasting of slasher films of the early 1980s like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) and their endless horde of imitators. On one level Scream was filled with all the shocks and thrills expected of it. Yet there was another whole level to it which at the same time was consciously crafting a film that was slyly mocking and parodying its own genre and cliches. Characters stopped in the middle of the flight from the slasher to hold discussions about what characters in slasher films did in the situation and which type of character was supposed to survive according to the slasher movie formula. And following Scream's success, what more natural to follow it up with than a Scream 2, which gleefully launches into satirizing the pandemic of sequels that followed most slasher films in the mid-1980s.
The plot follows on from the first; Sidney Prescott and fellow survivor Randy Meeks are attending a film and theatre school, while Gale Weathers is releasing a film based on the events of the first film (which hilariously parodies the first films opening) called Stab. However, at Stab's opening, two people are found dead, after being killed by a man in a Munch mask. Now Sidney is caught up in her very own sequel.
The film has a fabulous opening that perfectly encapsulates the joyful sense of meta-fictional play that screenwriter Kevin Williamson delights in - while watching a film based on the events of the first film (wherein the opening of the first film is replayed but amusingly satirized - one scene rather funnily digs at directors that like to quote the Psycho (1960) shower sequence) a copycat killing takes place in the theatre where the victim's death throes are just taken to be part of the promotional gimmick for the film. Here the constant blurring of the lines between what is happening and `the artificial' is dazzling. And this naturally segues into a typically Williamson-esque debate on whether someone is trying to 'create' a sequel to the events of the first film, whether some sequels are better than their originals - you know it's a real genre fan writing when someone argues the merits of House II: The Second Story (1987) over House (1986) - and whether the media influences violence.
But unfortunately for Scream 2 the film that ends up on screen sadly fails to meet the criteria it itself establishes for worthwhile sequels. Williamson's script is far too burdened down and overweighed by the necessity of trying to turn the survivors from the first film and most of the cast members into potential suspects and as a result the jokey genre interplay that essentially made the first film gets lost. There is the odd moment - the script even parodies its own catchphrase from the first film: `What's your favourite scary movie?' the stalker asks Jamie Kennedy. `Showgirls - now that was a truly scary movie.' And the ending wherein the slasher explains their motivation - that they want to be caught so they can demonstrate the case for movies influencing violence in real life - is positively ingenious. But such an ending is ruined by Williamson placing so many successive twist revelations on top of that that the moment topples over into the farcically absurd.
Indeed, the film contains genuine tension; the vague reconstruction of Casey Becker's demise is very scary, and a scene where Sidney and her friend are trapped in a police car with an unconscious killer is exceptional.
However, Scream 2 tries too hard to be clever and witty, instead of just getting on with it.
Verdict - While Scream 2 is quite scary, and has some hugely inventive sequences, it gets too caught up with parody and clever-clever remarks. ***
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