Rule one of sequels," says one of the knowing college students in "Scream 2": "Sequels suck." Not so with Wes Craven's thunderously paced, boisterously funny direction of Kevin Williamson's continuation of last Christmas' $100 million hit, a self-reflexive comedy that takes itself apart even as it puts the audience on. After the bloodbath of "Scream," the relentlessly spunky Sidney (Neve Campbell) has moved on to a small-town Ohio college. Jamie Kennedy, the movie-mad Randy, studies film there, still infatuated with Sidney and spouting movie lore left and right. But Courtney Cox's brittle, testy Gale Weathers wrote a trashy insta-book that spawned the movie-within-a-movie that opens "Scream 2." As a sample of the many jokey layers, "Stab," as it's called, runs with Sidney's snide aside in "Scream," and stars Tori Spelling as the silver-screen lead. A copycat killer (or killers) slash their way into a dark and knowing dissection of whether on-screen violence can find its way into an audience's lap. Smelling a story, Weathers, as well as David Arquette's now-confident Deputy Dewey, descend on the school. The jam-packed two hours that follow are like a blithely witty rendition of Agatha Christie for the nineties, with suspicion generously apportioned among a large cast.
In order to meet its Christmas release date, only a year after the original, "Scream 2" began shooting without a completed script. Williamson had plotted out a pair of sequels after turning in "Scream," but there was much of what he describes as "the community aspect" in plotting out the sequel. Scripts were released in small chunks, and the cast was not given the final twenty pages until late in shooting. Williamson says the process was different, but that "Scream" "has been a blessed experience for me from beginning to end."
"The first one was written in the desert in a one-bedroom shack with no TV and phone, all by myself," the Carolinas-born Williamson drawls. "For better, for worse, there were more people involved this time. I also got to work as a producer, which is certainly more involved than most writers usually get. They get bumped off right away."
But Craven and Williamson's bond has been close from their first meeting. "Wes and I met after I sold 'Scream' and he didn't want any part of it. No more horror. But his company said we should meet. We had lunch, a great day for me. He gave me wonderful advice from that moment on, as a mentor and a friend. Most directors seem intimidated by writers, but there's none of that with Wes. I'm there to learn with a master."
Since then, Williamson has written the hit "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and for the WB network, a teen-oriented drama called "Dawson's Creek," which suggests he knows something about today's teenagers. "I don't know how in tune with kids I am. There's a certain period of my life, my whole twenties maybe, that's a fog, maybe from the drinking."
That was a problem? "I bent the elbow too much. It became destructive to my life, so I stopped. That's when I started to write," he says. "But I'm 32 now, and when I look back on my memories, the most painful time of my life was when I was a teenager. Yet it also holds my best memories. That alone is a contradiction, and that's what defines teenagers. They're just one big contradiction. Particularly now, more than ever, they have this self-aware, pop-culture brain where they all talk like they've been in therapy for ten years, but their behavior is still that of a 15-year-old. Kids will always be underestimated and they're always smart. I just like to talk to them [with my writing]. If you look at my work, the adults don't fare nearly as well as the kids, and in the TV show, the adults learn from the kids."
But he protests that doesn't mean he hangs around high schools looking for material. "No, no, no! I have very colorful friends and I'm from the South," he explains. "I've tried to lose the accent but I love the flavor of Southern dialogue. It's how I think. A lot of that comes out when I write. It's my little cheat. I don't say they're Southern characters, yet they speak in a way, that with accents, would immediately be Southern dialogue. But no, I don't hang out with kids. I don't hang out in arcades or high schools. I do research when I need to, but it's just me, mostly. I sort of put the words of adults in kids' mouths. I write how my friends and I associate with each other."
So what was the big advice that Craven gave you at that first lunch? "All right, you've written 'Scream,' you've sold it, it's going to get made. Don't do another horror movie. Ever. Ever!" He pauses. "So then I did 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'! I did that for money, actually, after 'Scream' sold. I needed money, I was desperate. I had sold my first script, 'Killing Mrs. Tingle,' which wasn't getting made. I didn't know what would happen with 'Scream,' so I jumped at the chance to adapt this book. They just wanted a horror movie. Then Wes said again, 'Don't do any more horror.' I told him it wouldn't be a problem, because I didn't have any more to tell. 'Killing Mrs. Tingle,' which I'm going to direct, is not a horror movie, it's a malicious comedy, a revenge fantasy like 'Heathers,' which I loved. It's about a young girl who will stop at nothing to be the valedictorian of her class. It's very dark and very wicked, but it's got a great part for a kid, and a great part for an older woman. I'll write 'Scream 3,' make fun of the franchise and entertain, then it's on to a romantic comedy and an action film. Beyond that it's done."