Slasher sequel a scream, too

December 12, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Scream 2" is not going to win any converts, but it's sure going to keep the faithful happy.

Like its predecessor, 1996's genre-invigorating and mega-successful "Scream," the film is so self-conscious that it's as much pop-culture quiz as slasher movie. The "Scream" films not only follow horror conventions, they make sure you know they're following those conventions; they're slasher movies starring people who act like they know they're in a slasher movie and not in anything resembling the real world.

"Scream 2" knows it's a sequel and thus avoids one of the major pitfalls such films face: pretending the audience is stupid enough to believe this is fresh, and not simply a rehash. It doesn't simply extend the action of the first film ("Halloween 2") or simply replaywhat came before with different actors ("Nightmare on Elm Street 2"). Instead, it brings back some of the same players and asks: What if life really imitated the movies, and bad things really did happen again and again?

Set two years after the knife-happy killer decimated the teen population of Woodsboro, Calif., the mayhem begins at a movie theater where "Stab," a film based on the killings, is having a sneak preview. Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps show up, ready to be scared out of their wits, and screenwriter Kevin Williamson wastes no time getting into the self-awareness biz, with a riff on how African-Americans hardly ever show up in slasher films.

Wanna put any money on their future?

The scene then shifts to nearby Windsor College, where the heroine of Woodsboro, Sidney (Neve Campbell), is enrolled -- and is none too happy about history repeating herself. Also back from "Scream" are full-of-herself reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who wrote the book that became "Stab"; Dewey Riley (David Arquette), the dim-witted deputy who wants to protect Sidney and has a hankering for Gale; and Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), who was wrongly convicted of the earlier murders and later released.

"Scream 2" newcomers include Elise Neal as Sidney's roommate, Jerry O'Connell as her boyfriend and Laurie Metcalf ("Roseanne") as a sycophantic reporter trailing after Gale's table scraps.

If "Scream 2" has a flaw, it's one true of the entire slasher genre: It's more shocking than scary, more horrible than horrifying. The best horror films rely more on what is suggested than what is shown. With slasher films, you know the bodies will pile up; the only question is how many and when. But director Wes Craven, a certified master of the genre, realizes this, and his basic argument to the audience is: Get over it.

Do that, and "Scream 2" will surely not disappoint.

'Scream 2'

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette

Directed by Wes Craven

Released by Dimension Films

Rated R (language, violence, gore)

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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