Before you get out the pitchforks, chainsaws and machetes, I want you to know that I absolutely love Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Aliens and Silence of the Lambs (if you consider it a sequel). They are fantastic films that helped take horror to a respectable level via winning Academy Awards and telling fantastic stories revolving around cannibalism and fava beans.
The point I am trying to make is that, pound for pound, Scream 2 is the best pure horror sequel. I define a "pure horror sequel" as a film that features the majority of the same cast and it furthers the stories of the those people. If you look at the above mentioned films, they represent quasi-remakes and tell very different stories. The casts are mostly different and they all had time to prepare and fine tune what made the originals so good. While they are technically sequels, they weren't hamstrung by following the horror sequel guidelines (bigger, louder, dumber).
Scream 2 shouldn’t have worked. It looked the horror sequel tropes right in the eye and conquered everything we know about bad sequels. It has its faults, but with the rushed production and script changes, it is understandable. I don’t think many films would have held up under the immense pressure Scream 2 felt. Reactive sequels rarely work and Scream 2 is a beautiful example of a film firing on all cylinders.
Without further ado here at the five reasons why Scream 2 is the best pure horror sequel.
1. It only had one year to go from script to screen
Scream 2 is so good it defies all sequel logic. Scream hit the theaters in 1996 and exploded into a cultural phenomenon. A sequel was ordered and it was to be released in 357 days. Thus, in one year a script needed to be written, actors had to be cast, locations had to be scouted, filming had to commence, editing was required, and marketing needed to do its thing. In the world of sequels, a one year turn around is tantamount to disaster. No other sequel that has been released a year after the original has been as critically beloved and audience appreciated.
Take a look at the other horror sequels that had a year turn around. Their critical/audience scores are nowhere near as good.
Scream 2 – 80.4
Hellraiser 2 – 58
Saw 2 – 53.8
Friday the 13th Part 2 – 47
Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge – 43
2. It is one of the rare sequels to have a better critical rating than the original
Aside from Aliens, Piranha 3D and Final Destination 2,3,5, it is the only horror sequel to have a higher Rotten Tomatoes critic score than its predecessor (81% for Scream 2, 78% for Scream). Scream 2 was meant as a cash grab but turned out to be a horror work of art (that made a ton of money). It is the fifth highest grossing horror sequel of all time behind Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Jaws 2 and Aliens. Also, it is one of the rare horror sequels to nearly match the original’s box office. In a world of massive box office drops from film to film, Scream 2 held on to its predecessor's momentum and rode the wave to cash town with a domestically inflated tally of $183,747,00.
3. It knows it is a sequel and embraces the bigger and badder tropes
You gotta love these self-ware scenes:
4. You like the characters and they are given room to grow
Wes Craven admitted he had total confidence in his cast and I love how writer Kevin Williamson allowed the characters to grow in the sequel. Every character has room to mature and become three-dimensional which is nice in a movie about sadistic press-hungry killers. I appreciate that the acting love was spread around and anytime a character sings “I think I love you” to his love interest in a crowded cafeteria it has to be admired. Also, I love that Gale’s cameraman, Joel, is fully self-aware and he actually quits the job because he knows what is potentially next. This dialogue exchange is pure gold.
Joel: "Look, granted, I should’ve read your book before I took this job, but I’m reading it now and, whoa! I just read what happened to your last camera man. The guy got gutted. Now I’m gonna do what any rational human being would do and that is to get the f**k outta here."
Gale: "First of all, he wasn’t gutted; I made that part up… his throat was slashed."
Joel: "Gale, gutted, slashed, the guy ain’t in the union no more."
5. The cop car scene
Scream 2 is loaded with memorable moments, thrills and jump scares. It is the rare self-aware film that doesn’t crush itself under its own smugness. Craven was a firm believer of not recycling horror tropes, so he and Williamson devised clever ways to scare the crap out of people. Do you remember being in a packed theater during the cop car scene? People went insane as Sidney and Hallie crawled over Ghostface. It is a masterclass in suspense because you never thought both characters would leave the cop car alive. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson played with expectations and in the process created a beautiful fan favorite moment.
Scream 2 defied sequel expectations and lived up to its predecessor's hype. It is one of my favorite horror films because it featured likable characters, fun chaos and a horror director working at the top of his game.