Scream rolled into the horror genre as a form of commentary on all that had come before it. The tropes, trappings, and clichés that had turned modern audiences away from the horror genre, and the slasher subgenre more specifically, were turned on their head in the slyly written script by Kevin Williamson. The next step for the Scream world was to comment on what makes the horror sequel successful or utterly useless. Enter 1997's Scream 2 with Williamson back as writer and Wes Craven as the director. While the film does maintain levels of the intelligence and creativity that fueled the first Scream film, this iteration unfortunately doesn't prove its own argument that sequels can sometimes be better than the original.
It's been two years since Billy and Stu terrorized Woodsboro in the attempt to murder Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Sidney is now a college student attending Windsor College along with previous survivor Randy (Jamie Kennedy). When two young Windsor students are murdered at the premiere of the "Stab" film (which was based on the events of the first Scream), Sidney goes on high alert that the Ghostface killings are back in the limelight. Opportunistic reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) visits Windsor to get the full story on the copycat killings and find the connection between them and Sidney. Lovable Dewey Riley (David Arquette) also visits Windsor to check on Sidney and offer all the protection he can. As more students begin to die at the hands of the new Ghostface, its up to the surviving cast and the new compatriots of Sidney to narrow down the suspects. Could it be Sid's new boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), her new BFF Hallie (Elise Neal), film geek Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), or a member of the original Woodsboro team?
What does work in Scream 2 are the performances from the old and new. Campbell delivers her strong yet fragile performance that she gave in Scream but with a little added maturity and understanding of her predicament. Cox has the same edge from before but with a tad bit more authority and relatability which showed that she had grown some over the two years. Olyphant is the standout new performer as he takes on Randy's film knowledge with his quirky yet enjoyable deliveries. Williamson also weaved together the events of the original into the sequel fairly well which kept the world the characters live in realistic. The new references to older horror films is just as fun with quips like Hallie being referred to as "Candyman's daughter". The overall mystery of who the killer or killers are still feels fresh and fun, and when the truth is revealed, it has nice nods to Friday the 13th and Peeping Tom.
The trap that Scream 2 inconveniently puts itself in is to worry about outdoing one film and one film only: Scream. The formula from the first film of a strong opening death scene, major meta-commentary on the horror genre, and murder mystery theme are all present within Scream 2 but they unfortunately aren't as strong as before. The death of Barrymore in the original was a groundbreaking and iconic moment not only for the film, but horror in general. Williamson attempted to recreate that scene on a grander scale by setting it within a movie theater surrounded by avid fans of the fake "Stab" movie, but the scene doesn't have the same impact of suspense. It's unexpected and even adds some winking fun, but it never feels tense. In fact, the "Stab" movie was a brilliant choice to show how far the events of the first movie had effected the world, but that concept should have been expanded much further throughout Scream 2. The film overall has that same problem as the first scene; too much commentary on what happened last time instead of trying to make something new. Scream 2 is still strong in several ways, but the all-to-frequent callbacks to beat its predecessor kept it from becoming arguably the strongest horror sequel of all time.