31 Days of Dreadtober(2017): Revisiting the Scream Franchise (Part 2)
In Hollywood, when something is even moderately successful, a sequel follows. Consequently, when you have something become as huge a hit as Scream, there is bound to be not only sequels, but a whole franchise. Scream revived the slasher sub-genre with its post-modernist sensibility and meta humor. And although this slant was fresh and new at the time, it has a way of getting old really fast, and in the hands of a less capable writer than Kevin Williamson and less capable director than Wes Craven, it could have deteriorated into slapstick schlock.
The last thing you want when you’re watching a scary movie is to be reminded that you’re watching a scary movie. As it is, there are times that the fine line the movie walks between satire and parody is cut and it lands in the Scary Movie realm. In fact, when we watched it recently as a family, my oldest (EGC-Jordan) during several moments said “That’s too Scary Movie,” (talking about the parody franchise started in 2000) and my nephew (the Super Saiyan Sexxx God) said that he didn’t find it scary at all, although they both acknowledged that there were several beats that resonated horror well. If you haven’t watched the movie, fair-warning SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING PROBABLY CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Liev Schreiber, Sarah Michelle Geller, Timothy Olyphant, Laurie Metcalf, Elise Neal, Jerry O’Connell
Someone has taken their love of sequels one step too far
Two years after the first series of murders in Woodsboro, a new psychopath dons the Ghostface costume and a new string of killings begins.
Scream 2 opens at a premiere event at a movie theater in Ohio, where the feature “Stab” is opening. Stab is based on the Woodsboro murders from the book written by Gale Weathers who reported the murders from the first movie. At this opening, a black couple played by Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps are standing outside of the theater and remarking about how people of color don’t last very long in these movies. Just as Drew Barrymore was the initial kill in the first movie, this young couple has foreshadowed their own deaths in a very meta way: super-meta when one considers that they both die during the opening scene of Stab which is reflecting the iconic initial scene from Scream. (This is not just a movie within a movie, but a scene within a scene. And you can see how this might cause you to have a headache at parsing what is implicit from its significance.)
The deaths are grisly. One receives a blade to the ear in a bathroom where two Ghostface killers are standing at urinals, and the other dies in an elaborate and melodramatic sequence that crescendos with Maureen (Jada) holding her stomach, bleeding from several stab wounds, standing in front of a movie screen, screaming in front of an entire movie theater filled with kids in Ghostface costumes. It’s all hyper self-aware, rife with symbolism and metaphor.
The very next scene is Sidney Prescott, our stalwart heroine from the first movie, receiving a crank call by someone imitating the Ghostface killer’s voice. She knows it’s a crank call because she uses her caller ID to determine the name of the person on the other end of the line. This was a criticism about the first movie, about the failure to acknowledge technological advancement, that is echoed by Jada in the first scene, “Hang up the phone bitch, and star sixty-nine his ass!” This shows the audience that in true meta fashion, Scream is willing to address issues and adapt technology for the benefit of its audience.
There are some wonderful beats that resonate from the first film. Just as Randy gives the rules for how to survive a horror movie, he gives the rules for a successful sequel, all the while winking at us when he says, “Sequels suck! By definition, they’re inferior films.” Higher body count! Much more elaborate kills with more blood and gore! The last rule is never disclosed. He says, “The last rule is never, ever …..” and the thought is cut off. Even so, the rules are communicated in a film seminar classroom with a group of students and their teacher discussing that several of their classmates have died. Just from the initial scene, we have both Jada and Omar’s deaths and even the kill from the Stab movie. They testify to the fact that there will be more kills and more elaborate death scenes.
Over a series of quick scenes we learn that Sidney is in college now, far from Woodsboro at Windsor College in Ohio and are treated to meeting several different characters that will play red herrings and the murder victims. There are the film students, Sidney’s new boyfriend, Cotton Weary who Gale Weathers brings to confront Sidney in front of the cameras, some reporters, and the usual characters we’re already familiar with. These characters are all possible suspects, except for Randy, who dies in the middle of the movie.
Randy is a lovable character who dies to further the perspective that any one of the main characters can die at any moment, and even though it hurts for us to lose such a sage voice in the story, you understand why one of the main characters must die, and he in particular. Dewey consults Randy before the death scene in order to educate himself on the cast of characters and the possible motives that they might have for resurrecting the Ghostface killer. It makes sense that the killer would want him to die.
Dewey is also on the killer’s hit list. Dewey has proven that he is tenacious at wanting to protect Sidney, his dead sister’s best friend. In fact, he and Sidney have forged there own sibling-type bond. During one of the scenes in the movie, Dewey is in a soundproof studio, while Gale is on the other side of the glass. The setting echoes the tableau from the first Scream movie when we are watching the video from the party where Randy is just about to get stabbed by Ghostface. You want to shout a word of warning, but the victim can’t hear you. Gale on the other side of the glass yells to tell Dewey that Ghost face is behind him. He can’t hear her or even the killer behind him. He’s distracted by getting pizza stuck to his shoe, and then he gets stabbed in the back with such force that his face is momentarily plastered to the glass. The look on Gale’s face is horrific, memorable, heart-wrenching.
There is a sequence that is probably one of the scariest in the franchise. Sidney is under protective custody. She and her roommate are being transported to a safe location when Ghostface manages to kill her protectors and crash the vehicle that they are in. Ghostface is unconscious in the driver’s seat and the car is wedged in such a way as the only egress is to crawl over Ghostface and exit the open window beside him. It’s terrifying to imagine that you have to get so close to the killer in order to get far away from him. Sidney has to crawl out first and as she straddles the killer, she’s tempted to remove the mask, but it can possibly awaken him and her roommate is still trapped in the car. She leaves the car. Then the roommate crawls over Ghostface to get out of the car. At any one of those moments, the viewer is expecting Ghostface to grab an ankle or stab the roommate. It is very suspenseful and climaxes in an unexpected way.
I feel the final reveal is a little anti-climactic, not completely unexpected in the case of one killer, and out of left field for the other; however, it is played out with the same sense of self-reflection and awareness characteristic of the franchise. It takes place on a stage where Sidney is supposed to play Cassandra, daughter of Priam and Hecuba who has the gift of prophecy, but is doomed to cry out and have no one believe her prophecies.
The story ends with the melodramatic twists of a Greek tragedy, but provides enough exposition to explain the motives which in a horror movie is not necessarily the most important thing to have. Sometimes it’s scarier not knowing the motivation of the killer, and don’t forget rule # 3 from the first movie: Never, ever, under any circumstances believe that the killer is dead. There’s a sequel, and it doesn’t suck either.