Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Scream 2’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Twenty-five years ago, the horror genre was on life support. In turn, the slasher subgenre was as dead as a doornail. But, that all changed with Scream (1996) — a movie that brought together fresh new talents & a master of horror to deconstruct the genre in a darkly comedic fashion. Of course, one Scream always leads to another. As such, I’ll trace how the best horror movie of the 1990s became a franchise, which will soon be finding new life next year with a legacy sequel/reboot under the same title. This time around, we’ll learn the rules of a sequel with Scream 2 (1997)!

The horror genre is notorious for ringing a dollar out of a hit as quickly and often as it can. In this genre, if you don’t strike while the iron is hot, you might not be able to strike again. As a horror audience and community member, I can tell you that we can either be entirely devoted to a franchise or very, very fickle. The latter reaction is especially true if a flick seems to have been a one-hit-wonder. Well, Dimension Films and the filmmakers behind Scream (1996) didn’t even want to give fans the time to hear the echoes of its success. See, there was less than a year between the original film and the movie in review’s release theaters. And who could blame them as Scream had revitalized horror? That first film also brought the slasher sub-genre back into vogue and was being ripped off from all sides; one of which is I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), which Scream creator Kevin Williamson (Tell Me a Story) himself adapted for the silver screen.

Then again, it wasn’t exactly challenging to fast-track a follow-up to Scream. Williamson included five-page treatments for not only one, but two sequels in his initial pitch. As such, he quickly expanded the treatment for ‘Scream: The Sequel’ into a fleshed-out screenplay before pulling shifts as a screenwriter on Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) and as the creator/showrunner on the teen drama, Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003). Typically, a writer leaving to work on other projects would not be a problem. 

Unfortunately for ‘Scream: The Sequel,’ the shooting script was one of the earliest victims of an Internet leak. Following this leak, Williamson and returning director Wes Craven (The Serpent and the Rainbow) scrambled to rewrite the screenplay. But with most of the cast already in place, the bulk of the rewrites were done by Craven on the set. Along with all these on-the-fly revisions, the film’s title was also changed to Scream 2 at the behest of the studio.

The film picks up two years after its predecessor and finds Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) away from their small town and attending college together. Nevertheless, our heroine’s past and the first film’s events continue to haunt her. Now that Gale Weathers’s (Courteney Cox) book, The Woodsboro Murders, has been adapted to the big screen as a slasher flick entitled Stab, the public can’t seem to get enough of Sidney’s sensationalized trauma. On top of this, Cotton Weary (played once again by Liev Schreiber, who we merely caught a glimpse of in the original) has been recently released from jail and cleared of murdering Sidney’s late mother, Maureen. As such, he’s trying to cash in and gain fame. As if all this isn’t bad enough, a new string of apparent copycat killings begin. Sidney, Randy, Dewey Riley (David Arquette), and everyone else in their circle are targets of someone taking up the Ghostface mantle!

Based on its expedient and troubled production, it’s frankly impressive that Scream 2 works as well as it does. However, upon rewatching the flick for this column, one thing was evident: it was also undeniably a rush-job. Now, that’s not to say Scream 2 is bad. On the contrary, this follow-up looks better, from a visual standpoint, thanks to the film’s new cinematographer, Peter Deming (Twin Peaks: The Return, The New Mutants). This time around, the moving image pops a bit instead of looking and feeling somewhat flat. 

The problem clearly started on the page, though, instead of the screen. In listening to the movie’s dialogue again, you can tell Williamson wrote it not only at the height of his powers, but also as fast as he could. Thus, it’s also easy to tell where the rewrites mentioned above by Craven came into play; especially the nonsensical subplot involving Sidney’s majoring in theater and acting. As a result, the murder mystery, the culprit, and the motivation behind it all are just a little loose and sloppy the second time around. Because of this, any character(s) responsible for the murders are pronounced in their performances, albeit very entertaining.

Scream 2, despite these flaws, is still very entertaining when it comes down to it, though. Why? Because it isn’t commenting on horror anymore. As far as the meta-commentary on sequels, Scream 2 provides that in a very innovative way (other than that terrible film class scene — Ed). Craven, the excellent cast, and the movie as a whole seem self-aware. Hence, the entire ensemble looks like a pack of sexy movie stars instead of little-known actors playing regular folks. As such, Scream 2 is not only commenting on how violence and trauma affect people, but also on the cultural impact of the original picture. It’s this new angle on its satirical commentary that gives Scream 2 its edge, making it a Franchise Expansion!

Alas, the sequel taking such an approach makes it skew in a more darkly comedic direction as opposed to a more horror-focused one. As a result, the kills here are incredibly lacking except for the extremely disturbing cold open. But again, horror does not seem to be the key ingredient in the genre-mashup this time around. Thus, if you’re looking for horror and kills, you may be a little disappointed in that regard. Even still, audiences as a whole were not as the film grossed $172.3 million on a $24 million production budget. The movie made $39 million domestically on its opening weekend alone. And though another success, everyone would get a bit of a break before the proposed third picture would hit screens.

 Scream 2  is available on all home video formats.

Next time, we’ll learn the rules of a trilogy with Scream 3 (2000)!

Scream (2021) will hit theaters on January 14th!

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