Sidney (Neve Campbell) looks for clues in Scream 2.

The Legacy of Scream Part Two: True Crime and Media Circuses

What's scarier than true crime?

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We’re back with more analysis of the Scream franchise to honor the spookiest month of the year! This time around, we’re talking about Scream 2, the sequel that sees Sidney facing off against a new killer as she tries to move on with her life while in college. Both Gale and Dewey are drawn into the murders as well, bringing the whole gang back together. With a climax that delivers layers upon layers of commentary and early appearances from a lot of big names (Sarah Michelle Gellar! Timothy Olyphant!), the sequel builds on the original to continue the commentary begun in the first one.

** Here’s your obligatory spoiler warning for Scream and Scream 2. **

One of the key plot points of Scream 2 is that our intrepid journalist Gale wrote a book based on the Woodsboro murders. Gale has always understood, perhaps better than anyone, that violence sells. She was planning to profit off Cotton Weary’s trial and the murder of Sidney’s mother, and when she survived Billy and Stu’s murderous rampage, she turned that story into a book, which in turn got turned into a movie. If this film had been made in 2019, we could have even expected a true crime podcast about it all.

This is not to say that true crime is inherently voyeuristic, or wrong. But Gale knows that humanity has a bit of a fascination with the macabre and brutal. She sells her story because people love to hear about crime. It doesn’t matter that people actually died, or that she herself was nearly killed. She makes a buck because it’s what the people want, and she’s unapologetic about doing so and doing it well. The only person she regrets getting hurt along the way is Dewey, but the film allows her to be calculating and also have a soft spot. Gale remains the most subversive of the movie’s, and maybe even the whole franchise’s characters.

The film opens with Maureen and Phil, two college students, being brutally murdered during a preview night for Stab, the film based on Gale’s book. The premiere is attended by masked fans, screaming and waving around plastic knives. Maureen’s screams of pain are seen as stunt to draw attention to the film until she dies in front of the screen. It’s a brutal scene, because Maureen is murdered in front of a huge crowd and no one does anything to stop it. They just assume it’s a publicity stunt.

And yet, the next day in a film class, students discuss the murders in a rather blasé way. They trade quips about sequels and brush off whether films cause violence. Watching the film again mid-Joker discourse is hilarious. After all, we’re still talking about whether or not violence can impact viewers and whether movies make monsters. Horror frequently engages with brutality, but that doesn’t make it responsible for serial killers.

Once again, Craven makes it clear that the movies he’s sending up are not responsible for creating killers. The characters have connections to the Woodsboro killers and are partially inspired by the release of Stab, but Craven’s message much more complex than the tired and reductive “movies make people violent.”

The real mastermind of Scream 2 is Mrs. Loomis, the mother of Billy from the first film. She’s getting revenge for her son’s death, blaming Sidney’s mother for corrupting her son and Sidney for killing him. Her cohort is Sidney’s classmate Mickey (Olyphant, who goes full camp), who doesn’t want to be a famous killer. He wants to have a public trial where he can use the defense that movies made him do it, because he sees the trial itself as a way to fame.

Neither one of these villains is directly inspired by the film within a film. Mickey is instead inspired by the media circus that surrounds serial killers. The trials, the frenzy, the weird people obsessing over the killers and romanticizing them … That kind of fame is what Mickey is chasing. That’s not inspired by the film. That’s inspired by real media and the way it gives fame to mass killers by splashing their picture everywhere and turning their trials into circuses. Gale might profit off that cycle, but she’s not killing anyone, so at least she gets the moral high ground. Mickey is the product of that cycle’s obsession with murder.

Scream 2 wants to talk about how people aren’t motivated by movies, but rather the way the media treats murderers. Mickey wants to be the next Billy, except he wants to go to trial and have the media surround him as he blames the movies for what he did. That’s a far more damning call out than having him just be inspired because he watched too many scary movies.

Next time on this series, we’ll talk Scream 3 and the way Hollywood can actually be blamed for traumatizing women. As a heads up, it’s not just because they make movies about serial killers. Until next time, let us know what your favorite Scream 2 scene is in the comments.

(image: Dimension Films)

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Author
Kate Gardner
Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.