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Scream 2 is guaranteed to get your pulse pounding. It's not a particularly profound work of cinema. No one is going to mistake Scream 2 for another Psycho. The psychological explanations for the murders carry no resonance--no greater urgency--as in Norman Bates' mixed-up Oedipal yearnings. No, Scream 2 is a much less ambitious film than Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho or Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but it does exactly what it sets out to do--deliver a non-stop stream of pulse-pounding suspense. It's a decidedly shallow brand of suspense, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. In fact, Craven shows himself to be an absolute master of the slasher genre.
Comparisons with I Know What You Did Last Summer are apt for both movies were written by Kevin Williamson, but while I Know What You Did was a disappointing variation on the old campfire story of a hook-handed killer, Scream 2 places the horror right in our own homes, just a phone call away. While I Know What You Did succumbed to the slasher genre conventions (becoming exactly what Scream parodied), Scream 2 plays with the slasher movie conventions in order to keep us off balance. Wes Craven knows this genre and he showcases that knowledge throughout Scream 2, as in the movie's classroom discussion of movie sequels: "Sequels are always inferior"--"But what about Aliens?"
Craven slyly acknowledges that Scream 2 is indeed a sequel and that the odds are against him delivering the goods twice in a row. But unlike Scream, where the in-joke references were just icing on the cake, in Scream 2, Craven even stages scenes to emphasize sequel-ness. In the opening sequence, for example, Craven takes us into a movie theater, where a new movie, Stab, is debuting. Stab is based on The Woodsboro Murders--the book written by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and based upon the killings in Scream. The theater exhibitors give out costumes (with the Edvard Munch-inspired distorted mask), just like the one worn by the killer in Scream, filling the theater with killer wanna-bes who run up and down the aisles slashing with their plastic knives. In such an environment, who would know if a real killer appeared?
Much of the cast from Scream returns in Scream 2, including Courteney Cox (as Gale Weathers), Neve Campbell (as Sidney Prescott), Liev Schreiber (as Cotton Weary), David Arquette (as Dewey Riley), and Jamie Kennedy (as Randy Meeks). In addition, a few new actors are on hand, including Jada Pinkett (of The Nutty Professor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Heather Graham (as the Drew Barrymore character in the movie within the movie, Stab), and Jerry O'Connell (of TV's Sliders). Wanna guess how many of the new characters end up dead?
The plot reunites the Scream cast at Windsor College, a small Midwestern university, two years after the first movie ended. Sidney is still plagued by phone calls, but now they're just prank callers getting their jollies. Gale Weathers' book based on the Woodsboro killings has been turned into a movie, and when the movie debuts the killings start all over again, and a variety of college students start turning up dead.
The most disappointing aspect of Scream 2 is the final scene, when the killer is revealed. Until then, Scream 2 is actually an improvement on Scream. I felt Scream didn't rise very far above what it was parodying. However, Scream 2 is much more elaborate (as the movie acknowledges is typical for sequels), but the more elaborate stagings worked for me. Whereas Scream was somewhat limited by its story--which typically placed the screaming teenagers in houses--Scream 2 gives us elaborately staged scenes in a movie theater, in a university lecture hall, in a sound studio, in a sorority, and in the middle of a college campus (in the middle of day). No one will mistake Scream 2 for a profound work of cinema, but it certainly delivers the chills.
[rating: 3 of 4 stars]