Warning: Contains spoilers for Scream (1996)
How well do you trust your new college friends? When it turns out that one of them is a killer in disguise, who will you most suspect — your boyfriend, your best friend or your friend from back home?
The answer might depend on your past. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), the main target of Scream’s 1996 Woodsboro Murders, returns in Scream 2 with the intent to forget her violent history. The sequel, directed again by slasher legend Wes Craven, re-released in theaters last October in early celebration of its 25th anniversary. Sidney may have hoped that starting college away from home would help her move on from her brutal ordeal with Ghostface in ‘96, but Scream 2 proves that it just isn’t that easy to escape your trauma.
Like its predecessor, Scream 2 prides itself on self-awareness. It knows that, like all other horror sequels, it falls short of expectations. That’s because a sequel is repetitive by nature — the audience expects it to accomplish what it did before while also achieving something even greater. Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) lays out the rules of a horror sequel: The body count is bigger, the death scenes are more elaborate and if it should lead to a successful franchise, it will never, ever…
Randy gets interrupted before he can finish that last rule. That’s a clever way to say that if there is a surefire way to make a successful horror franchise out of a sequel, Craven and writer Kevin Williamson don’t believe themselves to know it. This unsteady, insecure approach actually redeems Scream 2 — it strikes a careful balance between repeating the genius of the original and wittingly dismissing it.
Craven and Williamson lean into this troubling repetition for the film’s benefit. In fact, this idea thematically dominates the script. Scream 2 recognizes that just as a horror sequel will repeat the tropes of its predecessor, the college experience will repeat the anxieties of high school. Scream saw Sidney deal with mean girls, cruel rumors about her mother and a boyfriend with a lot of issues. Scream 2 sees her deal with sorority sisters, clamor around her encounter with Ghostface and a boyfriend she won’t trust. It’s a grim lesson: You might hope to reforge your identity by leaving the troubles of home behind, but the image of your past will closely follow.
It is clear from the start that this college massacre will not be so different from the one Sidney suffered in high school. The Ghostface killer has an immediate pattern of targeting people that share a name with the victims of the Woodsboro incident. This is where a notorious franchise trope begins — that Ghostface is really a Scream fan like us and only desires to replicate it with violent enthusiasm. You’ll also notice that many set pieces correspond to those of the original. The kitchen of the Delta Lambda Zeta house will remind you of Sidney’s kitchen in her Woodsboro home. Police cars and news vans sit in broad daylight at the scene of Ghostface’s crimes, in a similar fashion to Scream.
Sidney put it best as Cassandra in her theater troupe’s performance of Agamemnon: “Fate’s vengeful eye is fixed on me.” Sidney Prescott is the eternal “final girl,” destined to face off against Ghostface time and time again. This sense of being trapped, unable to escape her identity as a harbinger of death, haunts Sidney. It makes her paranoid. She monitors her calls now with caller ID. She’s constantly suspicious of her new boyfriend because of how far south her last relationship went. She sticks around to help her best friend escape from Ghostface because she wasn’t there to protect Tatum in Scream. Sidney may have left Woodsboro, but the horrors she witnessed there have not left her.
It isn’t hard to observe horror in the day-to-day college experience. We face the mortifying task of trying to distinguish ourselves from the children we were at home. Sidney Prescott stands in for us, in this respect. Sometimes our past will catch up to us as it did to her, and so we can never truly expect to start over. We will always undergo some new variation of the troubles we’ve encountered before. But, when we feel that deja vu, it might be best to take Sidney’s approach to remember who or what got us through those difficult times. Then maybe we’ll survive to do it all again in Scream 3.
Eric Han is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]