Thursday, January 16, 2014

Redial

Year: 1997
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Run Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R

Alright, let's do this thing. I've been sitting on this post since I watched Scream 2 with Sergio and my family in late 2013. Considering that the film is a great sequel to one of my favorite horror movies, it shouldn't have been too hard to knock out of the park, but guess what? I had to look for jobs. And then I got one, which is not any more conducive to blog writing.

But here we are now and I've settled into a routine and found some time to really get down to business. With the beginning of the semester looming on the horizon, I decided I really should clear my slate once and for all and write up the two reviews I have been lagging behind on. So get ready for some extreme review action with power grip!

Sidebar: I would buy a Neve Campbell action figure.

So Scream happened. Upon its release in 1996, horror culture lit up like a lightning rod. Wes Craven was back in the game, as was the by then defunct slasher format, this time with a postmodern twist. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson catapulted to stardom (he would return flailing to Earth with a dull thud a few short years later, but that's a story for another time) and Hollywood was reeling in the profits.

Hot on the heels of their massive success, Dimension Films quickly commissioned a sequel, to be released a mere 51 weeks later. That might seem unimpressive to people who aren't in the film business, but let me tell you that's like demanding a mother to give birth to a fully grown child in three months. The fact that the film turned out as well as it did is largely due to what must have been some impressive contractual wrangling.

Through some unholy pact with the devil, they managed to get Craven and Williamson to sign on again, as well as stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and Jamie Kennedy. And composer Marco Beltrami, whose tremendous influence on the films is rarely appreciated.

While there was little to no buzz during the production of the original film (And why would there be? Nobody had any idea of the massive asteroidal impact it would have on pop culture), Scream 2 had the fan mags flying off the shelves like they were in a Ghostbusters movie and eventually the shooting script was leaked onto the Internet (which was barely even a thing at this point, but people were already learning how to use it to explore new frontiers of douchebaggery). 

Frantic rewrites and constant shifts in the killer's identity during production to avoid another leaked ending left the crew staggering. So when people complain about the final reveal of who is behind the Ghostface mask this time around (which I'll talk about more later in a spoiler-marked zone), just let them know that society didn't earn the original ending. We ruined it for ourselves. Like petulant children. So there.

At this point, I'm surprised it didn't turn out to be Fat Albert under there.

Thanks to Drew Berrymore's career-reviving turn as Casey Becker, every hot young thing in town was clambering to be the next opening victim, but the honor this time around was bestowed on a pre-Will Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps as Maureen and Phil, two college students attending the premiere of the movie Stab, which is a parody of Scream, but in this universe is based on "The Woodsboro Murders," the book Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) wrote about her experiences in the previous film.

This meta addition to the franchise is one of many, as Scream 2 more thoroughly explores the concepts of not only characters that are aware that they're in a movie, but are aware that somebody is trying to make a sequel and possibly turn it into a franchise. Just as clever and intelligent as the first, this all makes a lot more sense if you're actually watching it, I promise. 

This element is perhaps even better than in the original Scream (although I do have one small complaint about the "copycat sequel" conceit being dropped in the second half, largely - I suspect - due to last minute rewrites), which had fun playing with genre conventions, but didn't quite utilize them to their full capacity, opting instead for more of a whodunit mystery angle. 

Anyway, Maureen and Phil bite it in a scene that is too similar to the opening of He Knows You're Alone to be unaware of its pedigree but different enough that it manages to be a completely unique (and classic) entity. Although it's somewhat disappointing that Ghostface doesn't use a phone to torment his victims in this scene, his puckish glee at dispatching them in the middle of a theater filled with people dressed in masks (to celebrate the opening of the movie) is a worthy substitute.

Is Will Smith a trade-up or a trade-down from Omar Epps? Discuss.

Moving on to the real people - Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is now a theatre major at Windsor College and she's just trying to move on from her tragedy. She's still friends with Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who happens to go to the same college because of course. Remember this is written by the guy who did Dawson's Creek.

She has a new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), a pre-med student who's nice enough but much too bland, and a new best friend/roommate in Hallie (Elise Neal), who is notable for being a black character with a prominent role in the proceedings who survives for a massive chunk of the running time and has actual character traits. Yay! Diversity!

Upon the release of Stab, Sidney has been getting prank phone calls from Ghostface imitators, but she doesn't let it phase her. Things get worse when she learns about the deaths of Maureen and Phil, and she begins to fear the same things might be happening again after the death of a sorority girl named Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is introduced watching Nosferatu on TV and accompanied by a girlish squeal from Yours Truly).

Once the killings start up in earnest, Gale Weathers is back on the scene, sniffing up her scoop like a bloodhound. Also reappearing is Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), who just wants to make sure Sid is OK. But he mostly just scowls at Gale, who gave him a less than manly characterization in her tell-all book. But it's a thin line between love and hate and the two rekindle things as they work together to solve the mystery of the new serial murders.

However, it's also a thin line between mass murderer and boyfriend material so Sidney shuts herself off from the world, suspecting the killer to be somebody she knows. Everybody is a suspect! And the fact that Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man she wrongfully accused of murder is back and threatening her in order to get an interview and fifteen minutes of fame does little to comfort her.

The fact that she's learned from her experiences in the previous movie are but one of the many reasons that Scream 2 is a great sequel. Taking characters and situations from the original and either deepening them or turning them on their heads, the film is a perfect sequel - expanding greatly on the original story but also maintaining its own unique presence as a great standalone horror comedy.

And I never ever regret any second of any film where David Arquette is onscreen.

Gale's role in the original Woodsboro killings has made her a prime target for the buzzing reporters as they try to dig into the story. A great reversal from the first film, Gale finds herself shadowed by her own annoying reporter, Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf), a local woman who never fails to get a rise out of her (and elicit some of the best one-liners from a character with a veritable encyclopedia of bitchy putdowns).

While the comedy and the horror are mostly separate from one another (the former apparent largely in the interactions between Randy, Dewey, and Gale and the latter in the stalking scenes with Sidney), both have their moments in the spotlight with several sidesplitting scenes in the second act and two back-to-back sharply choreographed tension-filled scares in the third. 

And although the middle of the film tends toward the draggy side, the film is bookended with a series of scenes of such caliber that it's an easy fault to ignore.

And the middle does include the tremendously trippy and great "Cassandra" sequence, a holdover from Craven's days as an English professor.

Here's where we enter spoilers territory. If you are of a mind to watch this movie on your own, skip to the picture of Portia de Rossi and her terrible eyebrows. (Yes! Lindsay Bluth is in this movie!)

So. The killers. We had to come to that eventually. Originally, they were scripted to be Hallie and Derek, which would have been tremendously interesting, had the dicks on the Internet not ruined everything for the righteous and pure of heart horror fans that would never have leaked any information about a beloved franchise.

Not that I'm mad or anything.

What we do get is an overwhelmingly confusing reveal. The first killer (of course there's two) turns out to be Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), a character so inconsequential that I didn't even include him in my plot rundown. In fact, my sister didn't even remember him and thought he was Derek for about five minutes of the final scene.

And the other killer is... local reporter Debbie Salt. But she's really Billy Loomis's (the killer from the original) mother, see? In disguise! Get it? I... what? The fact that both of the killers are onscreen for about as long as the crew member who accidentally stuck his butt into one shot in Cici's scene was infuriating to many. I mean, what's the point of a mystery if the perpetrators aren't even guessable characters?

So their identities do kind of suck, but! But! The finale is still sharp and witty, making great use of Sidney's relationship with Billy and ending with some truly fantastic onstage action and zippy one-liners. It all explodes in a geyser of camp and blood and hilarity, much like the original film and loses none of Scream's integrity and engaging power.

So even though the killer's might as well have been two oven mitts, the scene they get is one for the Gods and I personally think that's an even tradeoff. After spending so much time with 80's slashers, I'm just glad that 1) I can see everything that's happening and 2) the reveal is comprehensible if you're not a schizophrenic.

Welcome back, spoilers avoiders! Now you can read on, safe in the knowledge that you won't find out that Portia's eyebrows are the killer until you watch the movie.

This review ended up much longer than I anticipated, so I'm gonna wrap up here before the last of you falls asleep at your keyboards. 

The humor is top notch, the meta is even better (the Stab scenes featuring Heather Graham and Tori Spelling are hysterically terrible), and although none of it is quite as scary as the original film and the middle can be a slog, two showstopping scenes (the girls get in a car crash with Ghostface and Gale is chased through a sound studio) and the bombastic finale make it all worth every penny.

Scream 2 is a worthy sequel despite its production woes and maintains the consistent gold standard quality of Wes Craven's 90's postmodern period. Although the legions of terrible Scream imitations were already saturating the market, this film stood above the current to prove that it could still be done well under a skillful guiding hand.

In conclusion, Portia de Rossi has terrible eyebrows.

Killer: Ghostface (voiced by Roger Jackson)
Final Girl: Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)
Best Kill: Omar Epps is stabbed in the ear through a bathroom stall.
Sign of the Times: BROWN LIPSTICK; CiCi has one of those see-through phones.
Scariest Moment: Sidney and Hallie have to climb over an unconscious Ghostface in the front seat of a cop car.
Weirdest Moment: Ghostface threatens Sidney via instant messaging.
Champion Dialogue: "Everybody thinks sororities are just about blowjobs, but it's not true."
Body Count: 10
  1. Phil is stabbed in the temple through a bathroom stall.
  2. Maureen is stabbed to death in a crowded movie theater. 
  3. Cici is stabbed and thrown off a balcony.
  4. [Randy is stabbed to death and has his throat slit.
  5. Officer Andrews has his throat slashed with a knife.
  6. Officer Richards gets his head impaled by a pipe during a car accident.
  7. Hallie is stabbed to death.
  8. Derek is shot in the chest.
  9. [Mickey is shot 16 times in the chest.]
  10. [Mrs. Loomis is shot to death.
TL;DR: Scream 2 is a rare sequel that continues the story of the original in a unique and exciting way.
Rating: 9/10
Word Count: 2188
Reviews In This Series
Scream (Craven, 1996)
Scream 2 (Craven, 1997)
Scream 3 (Craven, 2000)
Scream 4 (Craven, 2011)

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