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‘Scream 2’ at 25: Why the Horror Sequel Has Aged So Well

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“Sequels suck! Oh please, please! By definition alone, sequels are inferior films,” Jamie Kennedy’s beloved Randy says in his opening scene of Scream 2. Which is exactly the kind of meta dialogue we’ve come to expect from the Scream franchise and exactly the kind of self-awareness that has kept the franchise consistently great.

Scream 2 is rumored to have gone through many script changes, after a version of the script leaked online. The killers were rumored to be changed last minute as well. It was also released 8 days short of exactly one year after the first film—all ingredients that would normally help sink a movie, especially a horror movie sequel. And yet, the movie is highly regarded as one of the best.

Horror sequels aren’t always known for being great either. Sometimes they abandon their original characters in favor of a completely new set of slasher victims (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), sometimes they kill off their original final girl in the opening (Friday the 13th Part 2), and sometimes they continue the story to mixed results (Halloween II). Scream is a franchise that seemed to know what it was and what it wanted to say right out of the gate. That’s why all the jokes about sequels in this sequel never feel out of place. Randy barks at anyone who will listen about what making a sequel means.

The opening of Scream 2 has Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps as a doomed couple going to an advanced screening of a new horror movie called Stab. Scream fans recognize the name Stab as well as they recognize the names Sidney and Gale. Pinkett Smith’s death happens as a fictionalized Stab version of the first film’s opening kill plays on screen. Maureen is bleeding out, being stabbed to death, while a crowd cheers on as Heather Graham’s version of Casey Becker dies on screen behind her. Pinkett Smith’s Maureen is killed in front of the entire theater, the audience realizing too late that it’s not part of the show.

Her death is both over the top and heartbreaking. We’re revisiting the first film’s opening kill by way of new characters watching a movie of it. For most of that opening, her character is complaining about how stupid folks in horror movies are. She doesn’t even want to see the movie but then becomes a victim of a horror movie while watching a horror movie. Commentary on commentary.

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In a lesser-written series, the Stab of it all would’ve had the franchise collapsing in on itself. But not Scream. Stab’s presence would only become stronger and more meta as the series went on—culminating with Ghostface, instead of quizzing his opening prey about horror movies, quizzing Jenna Ortega’s Tara in 2022’s Scream on the Stab franchise.

In the first Scream, Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott jokes she’d probably be played by Tori Spelling if they ever made a movie of her life. And then who plays Sidney in the Stab movie? None other than Tori Spelling playing herself. It’s another thing that, when writing it out, feels like a sloppy Scary Movie bit. But the film sells it. And sells her and Luke Wilson’s scene together reenacting a scene from the first film as well.

Not only is all the Stab stuff incredibly iconic, but so are the returning characters. We see a more realistic portrayal of trauma survivors. Randy and Sidney are still friends but neither has spoken to Gale Weathers or David Arquette’s Dewey, which only makes Randy’s death feel crueler. This movie implies the trauma did not turn our beloved Gale into a toned-down version of herself—in fact, it’s made her lean into her confidence and ambition. She wrote a book that was turned into a movie, she’s become more famous than ever. Her opening scene is her on the phone discussing why the Stab movie is going to break records now that a killing happened at a screening. She looks great, walks fast, and has iconic red chunky highlights that still look fantastic all these years later. Gale Weathers has never looked better in a Scream movie than she looks in Scream 2.

This movie also gives us not one but two of the best chase scenes of the entire franchise—Gale Weathers zig-zagging her way through a sound booth to avoid getting stabbed and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Cici Cooper being stalked in her sorority house. Casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as a horror movie victim who dies early on in the movie is a subversion of a subversion. When this movie came out, the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was airing—a show where the blonde cheerleader who fit the ‘horror movie victim’ trope was actually the final girl hero of the series. So, casting her in this minor role felt incredibly intentional. It also worked because, as anyone who has watched Buffy knows, Gellar has the range. Her scene is 6 minutes of pure horror movie perfection. She’s alone but she’s not—she’s basically acting against no one and sells the hell out of the entire scene. She puts up a good chase, but, in the end, is stabbed and thrown off the balcony of her sorority house.

The movie also progresses our beloved final girls—Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers. At this point in the series, they still only tolerate each other. But this time, Sidney slaps Gale instead of punching her during their first encounter. After this movie, they’ll start actually caring about each other. Their link being both their shared trauma and Dewey. It’s what brings them together in the newest Scream as well. The movie also ends with Gale, instead of getting her story, deciding to ride in the ambulance with Dewey to make sure he’s okay. It’s a small but important character beat. Gale’s still a hard, ambitious reporter but she also genuinely cares for Dewey.

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Then there’s the killer reveal. Laurie Metcalf as Mrs. Loomis is truly a site to behold. She’s basically a Scooby Doo villain—her eyes are wide and bulging as every line is delivered with the utmost seriousness. It’s camp but also fits the Scream series. Almost every movie has a Ghostface reveal that comes along with a character giving an unhinged monologue where they’re spitting out every word. And Mrs. Loomis is no different until Emma Roberts’s Jill in Scream 4, she was the most unhinged Ghostface reveal. While the Oscar-worthy performance is all over the place in the best way possible, you also genuinely think Sidney is in danger when Mrs. Loomis is around.

The reason Scream is one of the best horror franchises still to this day is because it has never had to reboot itself. It’s never taken a complete u-turn and tried to make Ghostface supernatural or recast or killed off our final girls. The series puts time into Gale, Sidney, and (sadface) Dewey. This sequel showed us that the series could both take itself seriously while still staying completely over the top.

It’s why Scream 2 remains a superior horror sequel, even in the age of well-made horror sequels and revivals.

Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and has an MFA in non-fiction writing. His favorite things are Buffy, Scream, X-Men, and pugs. His writing has appeared on sites like BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, Junkee, and other random corners of the internet. He currently hosts a queer Buffy and Marvel focused pop culture podcast called Slayerfest 98 and co-hosts a horror podcast called My Bloody Judy.

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Revisiting the Incomprehensible Silent Night, Deadly Night Series: Which Is the Best, Which Is the Worst, and Are Any of Them Actually Good?

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Which means we need to bust out some relevant Christmas horror films to watch here. And it also means there will be many listicles that put Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 at the top of their rankings for Christmas horror films by default. But it got me thinking that maybe we need a bit more of a meditation on this series.

Have we really written them all off so quickly because one of them is the most meme-able? I like the first few films in the series as much as the next guy, but The Ricky Chapman Trilogy that kicks us off doesn’t go beyond the pale the way everything after does. 4 & 5 are Apocrypha to the Ricky Bible, but they introduce many weird, out-there concepts that make them enjoyable bad movies.

So today, I’ve taken the liberty of hitching up the man-eating reindeer to the sleigh to take a retrospective ride through the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise and find out…well, you read the title, you can do the math. Starting with…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

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The one that started it all and got a bunch of people in hot water. It’s funny to think that outrage culture has pretty steadily assaulted our eyes and ears with the dumbest of controversies since time immemorial. Still, it’s even funnier knowing this movie contributed to that outrage. But beyond the controversy, this film is actually…kind of good?

It’s the best shot of all the movies, so big props to Scream Factory for remastering it and restoring it to its fullest. It’s only a little meanspirited, which is good since it doesn’t get too heavy for its absurd concept. On top of that, the kills in the movie are exceptionally creative (antler impalings, Christmas light hangings, and sled decapitations, oh my!). My only problem is that Billy Chapman is no Ricky, he’s more serious and isn’t as much of a goofball.

I would say this ranked high up when I first started my rewatch but may go closer to the bottom of the list. Not for any technical fault of its own—just because it gets much funnier from here in…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PART 2

Do I even have to say the line to know it’s the first thing that went through your head as you read the title? GARBAGE DAY!

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Let anybody who told you Art the Clown is the best slasher villain to use a gun see this and watch them change their tune. Watching this is only enriched by not having seen the first movie, which makes it one of those sequels that is better than the first in the worst way possible. If you were unfortunate enough to watch both the first and second films in one sitting, like myself, you’d know that roughly half of the movie is flashbacks to Billy’s rampage. But that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining as all hell.

Ricky Chapman is an all-time great slasher villain and delivers some kills almost as good as the original. Eric Freeman may just be the best-worst actor of all time, which makes this movie one of the best-worst films of all time by proxy. Which makes the following film feel like a fall from grace, given its…

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!

A.K.A. “The one with Bill Moseley in it,” because that’s the most remarkable thing about it. He’s not even a killer Santa in this one, but I guess mixing the motifs of “killer with exposed brain pan” and “Santa Claus with murder tools” might muddy the aesthetic waters. The final entry for our boy Ricky is kind of a sad whimper to go out on because this movie’s pacing is painfully slow.

It squanders a very fun concept (psychic girl is hunted by an evil Santa Claus she keeps having visions of) in favor of watching a lobotomized Ricky taking a road trip to his murder victim and killing people off-camera on the way. Worse, it squanders Bill Moseley, who doesn’t get to act outside of lumbering with a slack jaw. It’s the cinematic equivalent of dragging your sled up the hill again: tedious, no momentum, and no fun as you wait for the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise.

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SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION

And the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise is here! Why should this even qualify when it looks and feels like Springtime in Los Angeles, and people had just forgotten to take down their Christmas decorations for months? Well, three reasons:

  1. Spontaneous combustions caused by witches.
  2. Monstrously massive bugs everywhere, designed by Screaming Mad George.
  3. Clint Howard as the resident crazy homeless guy who walks in and out of the movie.

While Ricky may be gone and its status as a Christmas movie is dubious, it’s a trip of a film with one particularly hellish sequence involving a lot of slime-covered giant insects. Some complain about its ham-fisted thematic notes of gender inequality, sex, and exploitation…but are you actually going into Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 expecting strong themes? Just enjoy this one for what it is, which is a lot of classic ick-inducing Brian Yuzna filmmaking. If you liked the weird, psychosexual nightmare that was Society, you’ll like this.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER

I was going to do another A.K.A. joke here, but I realized that the twist of this movie is so weird that it outclasses even The Initiation and needs to be seen to be believed. Rewatching this, I had forgotten exactly what the deal was with our mystery killer in the film and was mouth agape when the movie jogged my memory.

The Toymaker gives some very gruesome deaths and puts the Yuletide feeling of the film at center stage with a plot about murderous toys (not Demonic Toys, we swear, please don’t sue us Charles Band!). In fact, I would argue that since the effects in this movie and the violent kills don’t feel like a rehash of Society, it’s actually a major improvement on what 4 had going on. While four is slower-paced as it tells a (somewhat) more tempered story, five is aware of how goofy the plot is, with faster and funnier editing and some truly hilariously bad performances.

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SILENT NIGHT (2012)

The final entry in the series is as plain jane of a slasher as they come but does manage to get the holiday aesthetics down pat, so even though it isn’t as wacky as the others, I’m including it in the ranking.

This film isn’t the one that reinvents the wheel or brings any fire to mankind (outside of the literal flamethrower murders depicted in it), but it is a very solid slasher. It has a cast of fun character actors, particularly Donal Logue and Malcolm McDowell, with our lead Jaime King as a no-nonsense detective hunting down our slasher. I just wish it was as madcap and off the walls as some of its predecessors were.

FINAL RANKINGS

Which is the best, which is the worst, and are there any good films in this series?

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I would argue that all of them (except for 3) are great horror flicks in their own rights, since not a single one of them (except for 3) is boring (3 is getting the worst spot, sorry if I’m being redundant, but it sucks).

If I had to choose a best one, it would probably be our 5th spot on the list as The Toymaker is a diamond in the horror rough that, while lacking the bad acting of Part 2, has a genuinely insane script and all the best special effects of the series. So, from best to worst:

  1. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
  2. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
  3. Silent Night, Deadly Night
  4. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation
  5. Silent Night (2012)
  6. Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!

When you’ve got those cookies baking in the oven, the house smelling of pine tree, and the lights twinkling, let this list from nice to naughty help you make the right decisions on which campy horror movies to watch this holiday season.

From all of us here at Horror Press, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year everyone!

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In Memory of the Video Rental Store

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Cinemas are for those who know where they’re going. But the video store? The video store is for the wanderers who are still looking. Or, were still looking.

From a very young age, I, like many people, was in the clutches of a business nobody even knew was doomed to collapse yet. At least, nobody I knew knew, and certainly, you didn’t know. We were children, and children rarely know much about themselves, let alone the intricacies of a market on the brink of an unknowing death at the hands of an unknowable, unfeeling force. A force that would take all the whimsy and love out of picking a film and replacing it with scrolling and idly zoning out as you watched the screen.

I learned quickly to love the video store. I hadn’t yet grown to love the comic books that would line the boxes in my room, or developed the skills to play with others, but I did have a video store on my block. It was a downright frigid spot in the sweltering heat of the summer, and that was all it needed to be.

The fatal weakness the store preyed on was that my eyes and heart were still perfectly big in proportion to my positively diminutive brain. I was enticed by every expertly crafted cover, every famous face I acquainted myself with. I ended up carrying names and voices belonging to the friends and enemies and loves and heroes I’d never meet.

And the terrors I’d never experience first-hand.

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The eyes in paintings follow you sometimes, but the eyes on movie cases always follow you when you walk along the aisles. It’s the horror film cases that always seem to be watching you from between the shelves. Red eyes peering from the darkness. Monstrous eyes that seem particularly human and human eyes that call on the particularly deranged. The only lit spot on a face leering in shadow with wide eyes, wide maniacal stares and bloody hands and bloody weapons, bloody everything–

So scary that it would leave me rambling. And I’m a habitual rambler, always nervous, so you can only imagine how scared I was, even as a child, when my parents were there to assure me it’d be fine.

I can’t wash out how those images evoked a primal disgust and curiosity in me. I remember that the Saw movie covers did it to me quite a bit with their various severed limbs and torn-out teeth hanging by wires; the Texas Chainsaw remake had me standing in shock when I passed it in the store, the face of Thomas Hewitt staring back with void sunken features. Sepia-toned filth that leeched off the poster’s art and into my brain to leave stains so strong I can remember them as clear as day. Growing recognition that would turn into admiration.

And I kept running into these faces, even when I wasn’t in that video store. A man in the neighborhood who sold movies out of the trunk of his car frequented the same block as my grandmother’s apartment. He lured me over to browse the selection once, and there it was. My father took my hand and led me away, but that first glance at the stitched face would terrorize me for most of my childhood.

Cover after cover through flea markets, electronics retailers, and bargain bins in big box stores. Everywhere, that damned face. Good old Charles Lee Ray, Chucky. Killer dolls, which I only got glimpses of, were infinitely more terrifying than the films themselves. God forbid I saw one of the full-sized replica Chucky dolls in a store and froze up to have an asthma attack.

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When I got older, eventually, I did what every idiot in a horror film does. I took the proverbial steps into the darkened basement to find out what was making that noise. I had to find out what I had been seeing glimpses of from the corner of my eye.

Far and away from the first video store that stole my heart, we had a Blockbuster in the town we moved to next. Twelve-year-old me snuck a copy of “Dawn of the Dead” in with some of the films we had rented, covering that pale, bloodstained half-face with a box of old candy off the shelf near the register, taking advantage of the fact that my parents were still browsing while I made my pick. The young cashier, whose face has melted into memory soup all these years later, still had one distinct feature on their face I could see: a smile. It could have been them being nice as usual, but part of me likes to think that they knew what I was doing and just wanted to give a little push to rebel.

I watched it a few days later in my room, nervously dancing around the fact we’d have to return it soon. And though I had to cover my eyes most of the time, and the volume had to be turned down low so that my parents couldn’t hear the carnage from the next room over, I made it through. And I wanted more now.

Now that I’m grown, I wish we had met earlier, horror; I wish I had gotten to know how fun the fear could be. How silly some of these things were. The joys of camp and goriness. The way you could put the laughter in slaughter and the sense of fun in fear. But that was the trajectory I had to be on, to feel equal parts “I’m scared, I want to go home” and “I’m scared, I need to know more.” I’m just glad that I caught those eyes watching between the shelves when I did.

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