Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scream and Scream Again

Entire cycles of self-referential horror movies have risen and crumbled in the years since Scream briefly revived the slasher film as critique of the slasher film. Like it or not (I generally don't, but that's neither her nor there), Scream is a touchstone film, one that must be referenced when one examines whole swaths of the horror genre. Scream's sequels have the additional burden of trying to expand on the first film's big idea. Scream 2 (1997, directed by Wes Craven), finds this burden to be too much. It rehashes the first film, true, and it introduces "rules" for sequels and dutifully follows them even as it comments on them. But when you get right down to it, Scream 2 is a dead end. The only reason I revisited it was because I'm planning to watch the third film later this week (I've never seen it) and I thought the continuity would be nice. I was mistaken. I remember now why I never bothered with the third film.

The second installment finds Sydney Prescott off at college. Gale Weathers has written a book about Sydney's ordeal, and that book has been filmed. In one of the film's many instances of pop eating itself, Scream 2 restages the opening of Scream as a film within a film, replacing Drew Barrymore with Heather Graham. The film's first murders take place at a preview of "Stab." Then the story itself commences, with red herrings aplenty. We get another scene in a film classroom, in which the question is posed about sequels that are better than their predecessors, which seems like they're trying too hard. There's a murder in a sorority house, and soon, everyone is circling around Sydney: cops, press, a killer. Everyone is a suspect. The bodies start piling up, and Sydney scrambles to balance her career as a drama student with her need to figure out who is out to get her. Gale, meanwhile, is plagued by a reluctant cameraman, Officer Dewey, and a local reporter looking to steal her thunder. She, too, is a target, though, and the killer targets her friends as well. Both Sydney and Gale find themselves isolated for the endgame.

I wish I liked Wes Craven's movies better. Most of them, even the really awful ones, sound interesting on paper. So it is with the Scream sequels. They have a terrific premise. Craven has worked in movies long enough that his film's have become polished, slick, commercial product, too, without the anger and rough edges of his early work. So he's certainly competent enough to make interesting movies out of his ideas. Sometimes, he even manages it. But mostly, his movies seem like they're merely adequate. He doesn't have an instinct for the jugular as a mature filmmaker, nor are his films formally daring. "Adequate" is a good word to use for Scream 2. It feels the need to push a little bit beyond the first film, but not too far, because one mustn't alienate that huge audience for the Scream movies. The canned thrills of the slasher movie is completely undercut by the need to critique the slasher movie that Scream 2 largely disarms itself. You don't need to keep reminding yourself that it's only a movie; the movie reminds you all on its own.

Some of my reactions to the film upon revisiting it are different from my original experience of the film back when it was in theaters. The film's most bravura set piece, involving a killer at the wheel of a crashed cop car, impressed me in 1997. Not so much these days, but maybe that's a result of foreknowledge of the scene. Meanwhile, the scene in which Sydney plays Cassandra on stage stands out as the best part of the movie this time. At the very least, it was fun watching Sarah Michelle Gellar stalked and killed without her going all kung-fu action heroine. She's definitely a victim of her later career. Ditto Timothy Olyphant.

I don't remember if I had formulated what I think of as the classic mistake of the slasher movie when Scream 2 first came out--I think I may have devised it for one of Scream's immediate imitators, possibly one by Scream-writer Kevin Williamson--but it's a trap in which Scream 2 becomes hopelessly ensnared. It explains too damned much. The climactic scenes with this film's killer(s) don't function as climax so much as they function as exegesis. Plus, it cheats. It withholds certain information from the audience to be dropped from the sky during a fucking talking killer monologue. Worst of all, it forgets that hoary old cliche of fiction: show, don't tell. This movie is an explainer, which is a common problem with Wes Craven's movies.

Anyway, I don't know if I'm going to bother with Scream 3. I mean, I liked Scream 4 well enough, so I can probably muddle through it. But right now, I'm wondering if there's a point.

Current tally: 17 film

First time viewings: 14

From Around the Web

Dr. AC at Horror 101 takes on Evil and Killer Fish

We're welcoming the voluble woodyfanon to the link dump. She's been watching horror movies all month and writing about them on her blog, She Hang Brightly. Good friggin writing, there, too.

Eric over at Expelled Grey Matter leaves puppets behind and heads on an outward bound trip in The Descent.

Tim over at The Other Side adds himself to the long list of people who were disappointed by Prometheus.

Ashley over at Pussy Goes Grrr wades into more Spooky Specials.

Renee over at Gaming As Women has another weekly recap. She's done with the challenge and soldiering above and beyond at this point.

Finally, Bob over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind has been killing it all month (and I've been forgetting to link to him; I hope he'll forgive me). His latest posts from Toronto After Dark look at Crave and American Mary.

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