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Tucson Weekly Slash Deeper, Please

"Scream 2" makes only a weak stab at plausibility.

By Stacey Richter

DECEMBER 22, 1997:  Slasher movies are a lot like porno films: Painful dialogue and contrived situations are interspersed with periods of "action" which, despite countless variations, all begin to look the same. Despite the fact that Wes Craven is often congratulated for breathing new life into a stale form, he's as tethered to the formula as ever.

Scream 2 is full of stilted dialogue and embarrassing romantic situations (between people who just look wrong together), and every 20 minutes, a character gets separated from the fold and perforated until dead. If the victim is a boy, he dies quickly, off-screen. If a girl is a victim, we're allowed to witness the death in graphic detail.

It's true that Craven is self-conscious about parts of this formula, which leads to some diverting, cocktail-party dialogue. Some of the characters in Scream 2 are film students (highly conversant with Top Gun), who discuss the nuances of sequels even as we're watching one. The body count is bigger, they tell us, the deaths scenes more rococo, and the original is always better. (The only exception anyone can find is Godfather II). Scream 2 also playfully references its own predecessor: The opening scene occurs in a movie theater showing a film called Stab (actually, the original Scream). It might be clever if it wasn't so poorly done.

"All sequels are by nature inferior," quips Randy (Jamie Kennedy), a friend of the heroine, a girl with the annoyingly preppy name Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, played by Tori Spelling in the film-within-a-film version). Screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream 2, Scream, Halloween 7 and I Know What You Did Last Summer numbers one and two, should know all about this. His inferior script is both lumbering and in love with itself. Complex avenues of explanation are traversed again and again: the ways in which Scream 2 fits in with Scream, who the bad guys were the first time, what the surviving characters have been doing in the interim--yielding up gems of bad dialogue like, "How come you have a limp? I thought you were shot in the back."

Maybe this would be less annoying if Scream 2 made some motions toward plausibility. Williamson is reverential towards Scream, and with Trekkie-like devotion, works to make Scream 2 merge with it smoothly. But aside from this, nothing in Scream 2 unfolds with any logic. Even with a mass murderer loose, the local police make zero effort to catch the bad guys (like, is somebody taking fingerprints?); and even law-enforcement good guy Dewey Riley (played with appropriate campiness by David Arquette), who is crippled, doesn't think of carrying a weapon. Through all this Sidney Prescott moves as though she's in a dream, passively awaiting her fate, which is apparently to be slaughtered like a cow, because, like Cassandra (whom she's portraying in a college play) she's cursed.

Actually, she's not as cursed as her friends, who get picked off one by one. See, there's a copy-cat killer lose, a psycho inspired by the film version of the Woodboro murders. Refugees from the original massacre flock to Sidney's small college town, for flimsy reasons. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) turns up as a member of the media--and, as someone points out--if she's not the killer, then she's a potential victim.

Okay, I'll admit that some of the self-referential stuff is kind of fun. But after a while it becomes clear that for a movie to acknowledge it's mired in a rigid tradition, while sticking to the basics of this tradition, is at best only mildly smart-alecky. It's certainly nothing new. Movies have never been coy about being about other movies--to take just one example, 1950's Sunset Blvd. featured a silent screen star playing a washed-up silent screen star, other movies within the movie, a dead narrator, etc., and was a great movie in its own right.

But Scream 2 is only mildly amusing in its references to itself and other horror movies. What's really intriguing about slashers is how they play to our deepest fears of the unknown. In Scream 2, the killer is omnipotent as long as he wears a mask and remains a monster. As soon as he takes the mask off, the movie reverts to a silly and graphic mystery ("rated R for strong, bloody violence" according to the theater's recorded schedule). Only then does the monster become a regular person, vulnerable to violence from others. A better sequel, like Godfather II, would have gone a level deeper, rather than just raking over the same surface themes.

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