Director Wes Craven rewrote the rules of the horror movie with his 1996 film Scream. The slasher feature had a healthy dose of meta-critiques against the genre that gave it life and inspired a horror movie sequel a year later that dives even deeper into audiences’ love of death and crime. 1997’s Scream 2 was the first to tackle the rampant consumption of violent cinema, as well as the burgeoning love for true crime narratives that continues to this day. With its movie-within-the-movie, known as Stab, Scream 2 looks at the nature of authenticity in crime narratives, and how Hollywood uses the idea of the genuine to perpetuate stereotypes.
Scream 2 opens with the presentation of the film Stab, a fictional “based on a true story” feature focused on the events laid out in the first Scream involving the Woodsboro murders and “final girl” Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). With only a year in-between movie releases, and home video making replay inevitable, Scream 2 demands familiarity with the original for the lampooning to work.
Stab 2’s opening scene, played out in Scream 2’s intro, acts as homage to the opening of the original film. Audiences in the film’s theater are introduced to Casey Becker (here played by Heather Graham). Because the audience in the film’s movie has never met the “real” Casey, played in Scream by Drew Barrymore, the Stab filmmakers are allowed to truss her up as a stereotypical horror movie victim. Where Barrymore’s Becker was dressed in blue jeans and a sweater, covering every discernible inch of skin, Graham’s Becker is in a bathrobe getting ready to take a shower. Scream’s presumably accurate depiction of Becker’s death is presented through the lens of urban legend – the young woman home alone receiving calls from inside her house; her mother plaintively hearing her daughter’s strangled breaths on the telephone. With the tacit awareness that the audience paying to see Scream 2 are aware of this, the film plays up Stab’s interpretation as what a typical horror movie would do: rewrite the character to do nothing more than strip naked for the audience’s enjoyment.
Becker’s death in Stab is reliant on voyeurism, both of the audience watching the film within the movie’s, as well as the audience in reality. Casey’s house in Stab has a wide, open floor plan with full-length windows for the audience to feast upon the victim walking from A to B. There’s a window right next to the shower itself for the killer known as Ghostface to pop up after Casey turns her back. There are even windows on the roof. The intent is to make the audience – both within the film and who paid to see Scream 2 – as hungry for blood as Ghostface. The mad whooping and hollering in the film takes on all the frenzy of a ritualistic bloodlust.
But what Craven does with the Becker character in Stab is utilize her to pointedly illustrate the sexism that runs rampant against women in horror. Where Casey Becker in Scream was a tragic victim who, in just a few scenes endears herself to the audience, Stab’s Becker is a sex object and nothing more. When the phone rings for Casey in Scream it’s a moment of suspense and dread. For Stab 2 the audience in the fictional theater groans because they are denied a glimpse of the actress naked. When Ghostface calls Stab’s Becker, it’s to focus on her “attainability” and thus make her an object of lust for the male audience. When she says she doesn’t have a boyfriend Ghostface asks, “Would you like one?” This is in contrast to Scream’s version of the conversation where Casey tries to mindlessly flirt with the unknown man on the phone, only for her to use her boyfriend as a means of getting him to leave her alone when the conversation turns frightening. The slight divergence in Stab sets up Casey as a lust object for men; Casey in Scream does it, like so many women do, to ward off unwanted male attention.
This puts Stab Casey in the role of the stupid bimbo. She does little more than repeat “Who is this” to Ghostface, and makes no attempt at conversation or personalization. For all the Stab watchers know, Ghostface has called this woman at random – or walked by and saw her taking a shower – as opposed to the premeditated attack that it is. Stab Casey’s harshest dig is “I don’t even know you, but I dislike you already.” The lack of cursing implies a softening of Stab’s rating, ironic considering Scream 2 itself is rated R. Though Stab Casey does get the opportunity to punch Ghostface, more fight than Scream Casey, she is quickly run down and stabbed, the audience clearly watching her be disemboweled on a tree; this hyper-violent ending returns to the nature of audience bloodlust. Where the reveal of Scream-Casey’s body hanging from a tree was shocking – the audience views it through the eyes of her parents – the audience in Stab gets a God’s eye view to revel in every gory detail.
Another Stab scene is presented in Scream 2, this time a conversation between Stab’s Sidney Prescott (here played by Tori Spelling) and her boyfriend Billy (played in Stab by Luke Wilson). Unlike the Casey Becker scene which is significantly changed from Scream, this Stab sequence is allowed to remain “authentic” from the original film. Stab Sidney and Billy wear the same clothes as in the original film, and the dialogue remains the same between both versions. Why is this scene allowed to remain the same in both iterations, yet Casey’s death is so different? It’s because Casey conforms to the horror movie aesthetic Stab is going for, but the dialogue exchange between Stab Sidney and Billy plays towards Stab’s “based on a true story” mentality.
For the Stab creators, it’s unimportant that they show their hand by presenting a conversation reporter Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), author of the book Stab is presumably based on, would have no knowledge of unless Sidney shared it with her. The scene itself serves to show how stupid the original Scream is. Stab Billy is buffoonish and dense, speaking in dumb platitudes like “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” Because the scene is presented without context Billy is illustrated as a moron, not at all the criminal mastermind who could murder anyone as his real-life counterpart in Scream does. He tells Stab Sidney to get over her mother because “mom’s leave,” a flagrant disregard for Scream’s facts which is the knowledge that Billy knows Sidney’s mother was murdered, and in fact murdered her himself. The audience watching Scream 2 is required to know how the events in Scream play out, and the dumbing down of Billy only serves to create a new incarnation of the character who could, conceivably, have lucked into killing people.
The Billy/Sidney sequence with its obvious Lifetime vibe reminds the audience of why true crime narratives are so popular. The audience craves a horror movie, but one with the added air of authenticity. Audiences want to be scared, but it’s even scarier to know these events truly played out. But Scream 2 reiterates that audiences only want accuracy to go so far. They want the Sidney Prescott, BIlly Loomis and Casey Becker names, but they also want the nudity, gore, and pathos of a film. The Stab series is Scream’s way of giving the audience their cake and letting them eat it, too. The nature of adaptation requires changes but in using the Stab movie, the script asks the audience watching Scream 2 to question why certain changes are made. How much of an adaptation is for narrative condensing and how much is for audience convenience?