Following up a successful movie is no small feat, especially if that movie is credited with reviving a genre-gone-stale. But that was the challenge ahead of horror legend Wes Craven and the creators of Scream back in 1997.
Scream is the perfect mix of teen drama with horror movie tropes. It reinvents the type of horror that went supernova in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. With a dose of winking meta-commentary, it became the new blueprint for the self-aware horror movies like Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil that still thrill today.
So there was a lot of pressure for Scream 2. It had to match the quality of Kevin Williamson’s writing from the original, expand the Scream universe, and acknowledge its questionable status as a Hollywood sequel. How did Williamson and Craven pull it off? They sent their heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Cambpell) to college.
On the 23rd anniversary of its release, here are five reasons why Scream 2 isn’t just a great scary movie, but the best sequel of all time (and yes, offense intended, Star Wars fans).
5. Scream 2 understands exactly what it is
No movie before or since Scream 2 has been so cognizant of its own plot and use of horror movie and sequel tropes.
It recognizes the absurdity of retreading similar story beats from the first movie and counteracts it with Randy Meeks’ (Jamie Kennedy) continuous meta-commentary. During a scene in the university’s library, Randy deconstructs the horror tropes, explaining the rules and expectations of the film’s plot as a meta wink to the audience. It’s as though Randy is looking into the camera and saying, “Yes, we know this is a sequel, and this is why it’s a smart one.”
4. Scream 2 has the best romance of any horror movie
No horror movie before or since Scream 2 has been as committed to developing a romantic relationship. The story of Gale and Dewey is romance for romance’s sake.
The Scream series gifted us with the blossoming relationship between tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and bumbling deputy sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette). Scream 2 took the romance a step further with a series of snappy exchanges and quite a bit of bickering that hide true tenderness under the surface. Throughout the franchise, they stuck together, got married, and remain the only characters besides Sidney to survive all of the films so far. Gale and Dewey will be back in the fifth installment of the franchise.
3. Scream 2 reinvents a classic horror trope
Revealing that the killer is already in the car is a classic horror trick, but Scream 2 finds a way to up the thrills yet again. After Ghostface kills three college students, two officers are tasked with escorting Sidney and protecting from the ruthless murderer. Knowing the campus may no longer be safe, they take her and her friend Hallie (Elise Neal) home, but they never get there. When they arrive at a stoplight, Ghostface appears out of nowhere and immediately stabs one cop while another attempts to (unsuccessfully) fight him outside of the car.
This is where things get really bad. Ghostface gets in the driver’s seat and floors the gas pedal, crashing the car and sending the cop (now on the hood of the vehicle) straight into a pipe. It’s gruesome, bloody, and so iconic it’s been replicated in other movies like The Descent and Baby Driver. Usually, the killer is already in the backseat, like in Children of the Corn or Halloween, but Scream 2 subverts expectations by having Ghostface’s arrival occur outside of the car before moving to create suspense from within the vehicle.
2. Scream 2’s theatrical finale
Scream 2 opens in a movie theater, but the climax takes place in the Windsor College theater. “People love a good trial. It’s like theater, they’re dying for it,” the killer says as he holds Sidney at gunpoint on stage, “I’ve worked hard to give them what they want.” A mere two years after the O.J. Simpson trial, this line was all too timely.
Mickey is aware of the performative nature not only of serial killers, but also the concept of slasher movies in general. Who gets killed doesn’t matter as much as how they’re killed. It’s a spectacle, one that the characters in Scream 2 not only acknowledge, but lean into. Other sequels may use their second installment to poke fun at their first, but Scream 2 completely dismantles the entire voyeuristic aspect of making a Scream movie in the first place.
Scream 2 might also be the only scary movie to use a theatrical stage to emphasize its themes, elevating it to the level of La La Land, Birdman, and even Hamlet.
1. Scream 2 has the best opening scene of any horror movie ever
The ultimate example of meta-textual commentary is Scream 2’s opening scene. It’s a movie-within-a-movie, a literal metatext, and a character delivering commentary all at once. Jada Pinkett-Smith (back when she was Jada Pinkett) and Omar Epps attend a sneak preview of a fictional horror movie called Stab. They receive Ghostface costumes upon entering, and sit among a crowd of fans dressed as the killer. As Pinkett’s character roasts the movie, pointing out all the real plot holes in Scream, her boyfriend falls victim to Ghostface in the bathroom. The real killer sits beside her, but she thinks it’s her BF in a promotional costume — until he kills her.
This scene is the perfect microcosm for the rest of the movie, poking holes in the horror genre while also providing a perfect scare. Of course, the opening scene has to be a chiller, but there’s still room for Stab to parody the genre. Many scenes of this movie-within-a-movie were actually directed not by Wes Craven, but by Spy Kids and Alita: Battle Angel director Robert Rodriguez. It’s a minor detail, but the differing style in Stab adds a lot to the realism.
The cold open of any movie is a make-it-or-break-it moment, especially in a sequel. Empire Strikes Back catches the audience up in an opening crawl, Spider-Man 2 flashes back to the first movie before establishing Peter Parker as a lowly pizza delivery boy. Scream 2 doesn’t recap the past of the characters. Instead, it parodies itself while issuing a stark warning: You’re never safe, not even when you’re watching a Scream movie.