In “Scream 2,” the follow-up to the highest-grossing horror picture of all time, there’s a brief break in the carnage during which a group of film students argues the merits of sequels. Those in favor cite “Aliens” and “The Godfather, Part II” as shining examples. In future discussions, a certain horror sequel just might join that list.
For while “Scream 2” offers more of the same, given the original’s clever pop-culture callbacks and ability to breathe fresh life into a flagging genre, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven have wisely moved beyond gimmickry this time, serving up a more substantial mix of thrills and suspense with an energetic young cast that ably delivers the goods.
As a result, given high levels of audience awareness and expectation, the sequel should deliver huge opening numbers and a big final tally. The only question remaining is whether Craven and Williamson will be able to make it a hat trick.
Having already exhausted a good chunk of ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s popular culture in its first installment, “Scream 2” has no qualms about cannibalizing itself, with an audacious prologue set during the premiere of “Stab,” the “Hollywood” version of the events portrayed in “Scream.” As frenzied audience members - outfitted with studio-issued masks and rubber knives - cheer the on-screen action with opening-night, horror-movie-crowd precision, somebody decides to initiate a sequel by offing theater patrons Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps.
Correctly fearing that “it’s starting again,” victimized heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) witnesses her circle of friends diminish rapidly as the growing body count in turn reduces the list of suspects.
Could the scream-masked (with apologies to Edvard Munch) killer be Woodsboro Murder survivors Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) or Dewey Riley (David Arquette)? Or maybe Sidney’s seemingly devoted boyfriend Derek (Jerry O’Connell)?
Only Williamson knows for sure. Along the way, he’s included some nifty set pieces - a pursuit in a soundproof recording studio, an escape from a car wreck that involves climbing over the temporarily unconscious killer - that make “Scream 2” a cut above its predecessor. Meanwhile, Craven, veteran horrormeister that he is, manages to strike a tricky balance between a humorous, self-reverential tone and effective, edge-of-the-seat jitters.
Again driving it all home is a firmly grounded Campbell, backed by winning return performances by Cox, Arquette and Kennedy. Adding to the fun are newcomers Schreiber (who was seen briefly in the original), O’Connell, Sarah Michelle Gellar (who last appeared in the Williamson-penned “I Know What You Did Last Summer”) as an ill-fated sorority sister and Laurie Metcalf as a nosy local reporter. Pinkett also turns in a brief but memorable death scene.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Scream 2” Location: East Sprague, North Division, Post Falls Credits: Directed by Wes Craven, starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette Running time: 1:15 Rating: R
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