How Not to Make a Sequel

Scream 2

When it came out the original Scream felt like a revelation for the Slasher world. Classic series like Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake., HalloweenThe franchise that both set the standard for Slasher horror and, at the same time, defied every convention it created, Halloween has seen multiple time lines and reboots in its history, but one thing has remained: Michael Myers, the Shape that stalks Haddonfield., and Nightmare on Elm StreetThe brain-child of director Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street was his answer to the glut of Slasher films that were populating the multiplex. His movie featured an immortal character, Freedy, with a powerset like none other, reshaping the expectations for Slasher movies to come. has run themselves into the ground, losing the tread of what made the original films interesting, iterating instead on what the studio thought fans wanted before just retreading the same material over and over again until it lost all meaning. But Scream found an edge (a meta one) that allowed it to poke at the conventions of the genre while trying to craft something new and interesting. When it came out, Scream showed us what a Slasher film could be.

And, in a way, Scream 2 did the same thing in that it showed us what to expect from Slasher sequels and films series that go on past a single film: more of the same, but with higher body counts. The original film found a way to add a meta spin to the whole genre, but the sequel simply gave us the same ideas again, with some less than pity commentary from film students slapped on top as if to say, "see, we're still meta!" And, like all the other Slasher sequels that came before, Scream 2 iterates on what it thinks the fans want, not on what the film series actually needed.

Things pick up a year or so after the events of the first film with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) now a theater student at university (I don't think they ever specify which one). Things seem to be going well -- yes, there's a movie based on her life and all those killings titled "Stab", but she is able to let it all roll off because, of course, she survived -- but then the killings begin again. There's a copycat kill going around the campus, not only killing co-ed but specifically targeting Sydney and her friends as if to try and finish the job of the killers from the first film.

Soon, other people from Sydney's past start showing up, not just her surviving friends but Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), TV reporter and new hound, as well as Dewey Riley (David Arquette), one time police officer and brother of Sydney's dead best friend from the first movie. Everyone suspects there's more going on than just a simple copycat attempt, but until the last reel rolls will we know the true extent of the mystery and just who is really behind everything. It's another round of murders and it's up to Sidney to survive and save the day.

I can understand where the problems begin: Scream was a huge success, making a massive amount of money on a small budget. For Slasher fans it instantly became a touchstone for the genre, not only promising it's own world of sequels (because Slashers always get sequels) but ushering in a whole new version of the genre that would spread though other films like the I Know What You Did... series, the Urban Legends films, Valentine, the My Bloody Valentine remake, and so on. Suddenly every film had to try for that same meta-styled, mystery killer story, and it was all thanks to Scream. Fans were clamoring for a sequel, more of what they loved, so how to you meet that demand.

The original film, of course, wasn't intended to have a sequel. While there might have been ideas for one in writer Kevin Williamson's head after the first one was finished, the original film is a self-contained Slasher gem. If a sequel had really been intended, at least one of the original killers (Billy or Randy, take your pick) would have survived. Instead both died so the first thing Scream 2 has to do is find some way to justify new killers going after Sydney and her crew instead of just finding a new story to tell in the same universe. That film had stars, everyone knew Campbell's Sidney so, clearly, the movie has to be about her once again.

But to keep people coming after Sidney and Co. the film has to tie itself into knots. Since Billy (who blamed Sydney's mother for sleeping with his father, causing his mom to leave, and thus he had to kill everyone because mommy boy rage) this film (and spoilers for a 23 year old movie) makes the killer Billy's mom, Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf, doing her damnedest with the role given). I think the film was trying for a meta-twist, referencing the fact that the killer in the first Friday the 13th was Jason's mother, Mrs. Voorhees. I can see what the producers wanted, but this is a twist that really doesn't feel justified when it plays out on screen and, really, just feels tired before we even get to it. Do we really need to re-litigate the action of the first movie already?

Worse, because of the way the film is setup, with Sydney as not just the clear Final Girl but also the protagonist of the film, she walks through the whole movie with Plot Armor. Other people can die around her (and do, as this film has a decently high body count), Sidney gets saved for the end so that she can come face to face with the killer, to learn what it's all about, to know why. If she dies at any point before this final twist, none of it works. Our main characters (not just Sydney but also Gail and Dewey) get to be protected, reducing the scare potential because it's so obvious just how safe they are (a problem the later movies would only exacerbate).

The biggest problem, though, is just that this film feels so unnecessary. Nothing that happens in this film changes our understanding of Sydney, her friends, or anything else about the movie. Her family is screwed up, Billy's family is screwed up, and the only thing the series has to say about that is, "Sydney, don't make friends because some random cousin is going to come out of the woodwork and try to kill them all." There's no growth, no real change, just a samey iteration on the story from the first movie. It's slickly directed and produced, yes, and well acted for what it is, but none of it feels essential in any way.

And that's the problem with sequels, especially in the Slasher genre which has had dozens of entries reinventing themselves over and over again. If a new movie comes out that's huge, that says something, any further iteration on the material is going to feel less essential by comparison. What more can you say on the subject that hasn't already been said? It's just another batch of fodder characters we barely get to know dying one at a time before the Final Girl (or, in this case, Final Trio) reach the end and defeat the villain(s). We sense that, and for all the attempts Scream 2 makes to dress itself up differently, there's no story here, just the same old shtick.

I can't help but think that a sequel to Scream would have been more interesting if it wasn't just set in the same world with the same idea as the original (a la the TV series that came much later) but managed to retain the gore, the violence, and found a new hook to tell. At the very least an entire new bunch of characters could have forced Wes Craven and his team to find the story of each of these teens, to let us into their world so once they started getting bumped off we actually cared. It's hard to care about anything in Scream 2, especially as the film rushes through the introductions so we can get back to Sydney and her tale. We've seen this before, and it was already much better the first time. Sorry, Scream 2, but you're as tired as all the sequels you tried to mock.

The Killing Floor:

First Sin:

No real sin, except for taking your girlfriend to a scary movie instead of the Sandra Bullock film she wanted to see. As much as this film hasn't aged as well as it could (no cellphones, little use of the Internet), the fact that Sandra Bullock is still a huge draw does help to keep this film a little more timeless.

First Kill:

As with the first film we're actually treated to a pretty solid two-fer. Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) and Phil (Omar Epps) head to a free screening of Stab, the movie-with-the-movie, and the killer is in the audience, waiting. Phil is taken down first, in the bathroom, but it's Maureen's death that's the big show-stopper. After killing her boyfriend, Ghostface sits down in the theater next to Maureen. Once she realizes what's happened, he stabs her, then chases her down the aisle, stabbing her repeatedly. The audience eats it up thinking it's a performance piece. Maureen gets a fantastic death, powered by Smith, while the audience slowly realizes they just watched a real murder and cheered for it. This sequence, honestly, gave me chills. So well done.

Final Body Count:

Ten. Maureen and Phil, our fated lovers, plus a sorority girl, two cops, three of Sidney's friends, and the two killers.