Friday, October 17, 2008

I Know What You Did Last Decade

For a while there, screenwriter Kevin Williamson could do no wrong. He'd infused fresh blood into the languishing teen slasher genre, and inflicted Dawson's Creek upon the world. He wrote a bunch of movies, directed one, and eventually dwindled to "hey, whatever happened to that guy?" status. Recently, he wrote the screenplay for that Christina Ricci werewolf movie, and has done a few more television series that were cancelled quickly, but have cult followings. A lot of people do worse.

In an anniversary celebration ten years after the 90s horror heyday, hearkening back to our courtship, the Octoberzine family watched a double feature of Scream 2 (1997) and Halloween: 20 Years Later (1998). I don't feel compelled to say much about the plots of either, because, well, they're horror movie sequels. Crazy people in masks are trying to kill our protagonists. Let's move on. 

Scream 2 was, of course, the direct follow-up to 1996's enormously successful Scream, which had inspired a whole slew of slasher knockoffs, full of pretty teenagers and self-referential dialogue. Titles like The Faculty, Disturbing Behavior, and Urban Legend come to mind, but I don't remember much about the movies themselves, except that everyone had very nice hair. Unfortunately, Scream's own sequel pretty much fits that same mold, especially when Neve Campbell turns up with a chic new haircut and a glossier, more fashion-conscious look.

While I warmed to her right away in Scream, I never felt like Campbell really hits her stride in this movie until she starts kicking ass ("You got a Linda Hamilton thing going.") Until then, she's oddly passive, like she and the movie are just marking time until the Final Girl scene. So let's get there, people!

 Jamie Kennedy is the best thing about this movie, especially when mocking the killer for copycatting such losers as the villains of the previous movies ("rat-looking homo-repressed mama's boy"). Of course, one of the film's problems is that he's right. In avoiding the kind of off-hand disrespect with which horror sequels so often treat their source material, the Scream sequels spend way too much time on the relationships between the surviving characters, and continually referring back to the first movie. Scream was a relatively original horror thriller enlivened with witty dialogue, but it's not some kind of slasher epic. The teen characters certainly didn't have enough weight for us to remember all the details of their lives and their killing sprees.

It also doesn't help that Williamson's scripts for Scream 2 and the same year's I Know What You Did Last Summer both feature scenes with their heroines trapped in the back seat of a police car, which made me suspect early on that the wunderkind was already running out ideas.

In comparison, H20 (as we all know it) is compact and efficient (at only 86 minutes, versus a hundred and freakin' twenty), which I greatly appreciate. It takes some time in the beginning setting up the characters and Jamie Lee Curtis' fragile mental state, but once the killer appears on the scene, it's pretty much go-go-go.

On this film, Williamson was credited as a co-producer, and had done a script "treatment" that wasn't directly followed, but supposedly influenced the production a great deal. Also, of course, Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams is onhand, playing Josh Hartnett's girlfriend with real warmth and personality. I've always blamed this movie for inflicting Hartnett on us, in his "introducing" credit, but actually, he's not that bad here. Former child actor Adam Hann-Byrd and Prison Break's Jodi Lyn O'Keefe are also fairly vivid, especially given their roles as sidekicks/victims. Don't even bother comparing them to the teenagers in Halloweens 4-6, just to name a few.

I actually guiltily enjoy the Busta Rhymes Halloween: Resurrection (2002), as a no-frills slasher throwback, but it is disappointing in that H20 far and away provides the most satisfying climax to the franchise. When Curtis' traumatized Laurie Strode finally takes charge of her life by striding over to the fire ax, smashing the glass, and going after the Shape with it, it's the best scene in any of the Halloween sequels.

It is, of course, always great to see Nancy Stephens again (the nurse with the Rabbit in Red matchbook in the first movie, and also the manifesto-reading hijacker in Escape from New York. By the way, that latter role is credited as "Stewardess." I guess that's how she got on the plane, but it still seem incongruous).

Williamson's cache is probably what got H20 off the ground, and since it's the best of the sequels (faint praise, maybe, but true), that's definitely a positive. But while Scream was a worthy addition to the scary movie canon, the sequel immediately showed the signs of taking itself too seriously. Sequels in general are a brutal business...which reminds me, gotta check the status of those Phantasm follow-ups that weren't on DVD last time I looked...

(P.S. Phantasm IV: Oblivion did finally come out on DVD this summer, leaving Phantasm 2 as the lone hold-out, still unavailable in a Region I DVD).

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