Scream 2 (1997)
Absolutely no time is wasted in getting to the point of *Scream 2*: the first two actors to appear on screen are Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps. They're waiting in line for the sneak preview of *Stab*, the movie based on the book based on the Woodsboro murders (which were the subject of *Scream*), while Pinkett's Maureen complains that slasher films historically exclude African Americans, in addition to being sexploitative and too violent. Maureen, needless to say, is not long for this movie, but her death will be memorably twisted and chilling, and one of the sharpest, most ingenious bits of mayhem ever committed to celluloid.
But there's more. Before her untimely death, Maureen was a coed at the very college where *Scream* survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) matriculate their days away. And thus, *Scream 2* exploits two stinky cheese trends in slasher movie history: college girls and sequels (e.g. *Sorority House Massacre* and *SHM 2: Nighty Nightmare*). "Sequels," Randy reminds his film studies class, "suck. The horror genre was destroyed by sequels." He's right, of course, except that *Scream 2* doesn't suck.
In the same way that *Scream* both skewered and profited by the rules and conventions of the horror genre, *Scream 2* successfully manipulates the trademarks of the subgenre of horror sequels: the body count will be higher, the death scenes bloodier and more elaborate, and someone will survive to make another sequel. And, as in *Scream*, ignorance of horror conventions inevitably leads to death while a firm grasp of the rules (never, never, never run up the stairs!) offers only scant protection to the potential victims of the psycho du jour.
Having proved with *Scream* that the combo of movie smarts, humor and horror could work in a big way, writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven are free to take the whole concept even further with the sequel, and they run like mad with it. *Scream 2* is even funnier and more self-aware than the original, hacking away at both the conventions of the genre and the motifs (like ubiquitous cell phones and media obsessed youth) of its progenitor.
A serial killer isn't the only one stalking fair Sidney this time: Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), chilly, hard-as-nails reporter who wrote the exploitative book that inspired the movie that inspired the copycat killer that killed the coed, etc. is also on hand, sniffing for a new story. She's being stalked herself by an idol-worshipping wannabe reporter (Laurie Metcalf). Deputy Dewey (David Arquette), now sporting a John Waynesque limp courtesy of the original killers, arrives on campus to protect Sidney, while Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), once falsely accused by Sidney, now politely pesters her in a desperate bid for his 15 minutes of fame. They're all possible killers, naturally, in addition to Sid's roommate Hallie (Elise Neal), a sorority pledge (which in itself makes her suspect), new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell) (the boyfriend did it last time) and film freak Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) (never trust the film buff). *Scream 2* belongs as much to the murder mystery genre as to the slasher-horror because it so adroitly juggles all of these characters, setting them up as suspects so effectively that only by being murdered can they eliminate themselves from the list of possible killers, which is a poor bargain given the lucrative potential of *Scream 3*.
The cast, fortified with a few ringers (*Buffy the Vampire Slayer* star Sarah Michelle Gellar is a doomed sorority sister), is whittled away by a knife-wielding maniac in most clever and imaginative ways as *Scream 2* hacks through idyllic Windsor College's list of future alumni donors. To reveal more would spoil the frightful surprises, but suffice it to say that *Scream 2* will, if nothing else, condition a Pavlovian response to the familiar electronic ring of the telephone through the most negative reinforcement imaginable.
As the climactic final scene is played out on the very college theatre stage where Sidney plays Cassandra, *Scream 2* achieves an elaborately over the top frenzy of meticulously plotted violence, self-referentiality, intentional staginess and hugely hammy acting (psycho killers always being the talkative type given to theatrical histrionics). Were it not for its acute pop culture hipness and the awareness on the part of the players that this is one of those weird life imitates art moments that only happens when art imitates life imitating art ("Life is life. It doesn't imitate anything," Randy boldly and foolishly declares), the scene might crumble under the weight of its own cleverness. Instead, it's a deliciously cheeky and smart denouement that dares to wink and nail the audience to their seats at the same time. In other words, it doesn't suck.