Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat, Pizza Roll.
“Let’s redirect the moment, Mr. I’m So Original.” – Randy Meeks, Scream 2
After seeing the original Scream on home video in 1996, I became obsessed with it. I was 10 years old, but the style of the movie and the dialogue really spoke to me. Above all else, it made me want to cultivate the same level of obsessive movie trivia and knowledge that the characters had in the film. It was the first and biggest step I took toward becoming the person who is writing this essay today.
While in the throes of my Scream obsession, I quickly learned there was a sequel being made. This blew my mind. Seeing as my family did not have internet yet, I’d pedal my bike to the library nearly every day just so I could use their internet to scour the Dimension Films website for any scrap of information or any announcement about the production of Scream 2. I would pore over the same message-board posts I had already memorized the week before. I caught a bit of ire from the librarians working when I asked if I could print (in color) the all-black background of the Dimension Films website solely because it had the newly designed Scream 2 logo on it.
When the movie was finally released in theaters in December 1997, my mother took me to see it. I saw it again when it ran in my local second-run theater and I, of course, bought the DVD the next summer and watched it on a near-continuous loop for months. But throughout all of those obsessive viewings of Scream 2, one constant was present.
I was blown away by Randy’s death scene.
Every. Single. Time.
The sheer audacity of Scream 2 to kill a character from the original film shattered my then 11-year-old world. Randy was a survivor. Randy was a guiding light, using his expertise for good. Randy was the self-professed “unrequited love slave of Sidney Prescott.” Most importantly, Randy was the audience surrogate.
We were Randy Meeks. And Randy Meeks was our safety net.
Every viewing, even to this day, this scene would strike such a perfect chord on my inner fear instrument and would crush me all over again. To say it’s a tense sequence would be a massive understatement. And yet for all the times I’ve watched it, I’ve never really thought about why it’s such an effective sequence and why it’s so devastating every time I see it. That is, until now.
When Scream 2 was released, we brought our collective knowledge of the horror genre to the theater and felt like we could outsmart the killer. We could walk through the rules of the genre just like Randy could and come out the other side unscathed. So to see our beloved horror film know-it-all get pulled into a news van and stabbed mercilessly while lame ’90s college kids blast Kottonmouth Kings from a boombox while the van violently rocks to the beat was absolutely devastating. It remains one of only a few movie moments that has stuck with me over the last two-and-a-half decades.
Of course, as an 11-year-old newfound movie buff who idolized the video-store film expert, I was always destined to be devastated by his death. Jamie Kennedy played the character with a near self-awareness that proved to complement the film’s meta-comedy / horror tone perfectly. Kennedy’s performance endeared the audience to Randy, not only because he knew the genre he and his friends were living in, but because he was just as trapped in the conventions of the genre as every other character in the film.
So when he is killed an hour into Scream 2, it creates an intense sense of “all bets are off” in the film that permeates through the second half. In fact, the scene’s placement at the near exact halfway point of the film is itself a stroke of brilliance. It colors the rest of the film with darkness and uncertainty for our remaining triumvirate of Woodsboro heroes. Thus we remain on edge for the last hour.
However, as endearing as Kennedy’s performance was in his Scream and Scream 2 roles, the true brilliance of the character’s demise rests on the genius of the film’s legendary director, Wes Craven. Everything about the sequence sets the stage for a very unique kill sequence. Allow me to walk you through why Randy’s death isn’t only the best single sequence of the entire franchise, but a masterclass in horror filmmaking.
It’s a sunny day at Windsor College as the Woodsboro survivors (save for Sidney) debate the motives and patterns of the killer. As the scene unfolds, Gale’s frustration mounts as repeated cell phone calls interrupt her train of thought again and again. She references the death of Kenny, the cameraman from Scream, which the delightfully fun Joel (Duane Martin) takes as an excuse to vacate the premises until they start talking about something a little bit more “Saved by the Bell-ish.” This isolates the Woodsboro survivors and, in the audience’s mind, puts them in extreme danger as there are no non-legacy characters to succumb to Ghostface in the scene.
Craven’s brilliance is on full display as he takes command of a setting unlike any of the killer’s phone-call scenes that came before it in the franchise. Broad daylight in an open setting is not inherently conducive to a slasher-kill scene, but Craven uses this to its full effect. Wide shots of the quad with a scant amount of extras going about their day bring about a false sense of security for Randy and the others. We’d previously only had deaths in this film in a darkened movie theater and in an empty and eerie sorority house. And both were after nightfall. To kill someone in broad daylight would surely break the rules.
But Craven was a master of his craft who built out the tension of the scene by intercutting between Randy’s conversation and Dewey and Gale’s search for anyone and everyone using a cell phone. He cleverly shows the news van of doom in a couple of select shots from Randy’s POV to establish its presence and then wisely conceals it from view until the moment of Randy’s demise. The overhead shot of Randy in the street as he taunts the killer is a masterclass in shocking slasher filmmaking. As Randy stands in the exact spot he is moments away from being murdered in, the news van is purposely obscured from view by the angle of the shot.
Craven’s sharp eye for creating a memorable onscreen kill isn’t the only thing that makes Randy’s exit from the film a slam dunk. Kevin Williamson’s script gives Randy his due and showcases the wit and fun the Scream franchise is all about, even in its darkest moments. From the outset of the call, Randy handles the ominous voice of Roger Jackson with his signature humor steeped in unease. His answer to the quintessential Ghostface question (“What’s your favorite scary movie?”) is a defiant “Showgirls. Absolutely frightening,” though Kennedy’s harried performance in this scene betrays any playfulness in the dialogue for Randy.
The writing in the scene echoes the use of the popcorn in the first film’s iconic opening sequence. Throughout Drew Barrymore’s scene in Scream (1996), the popcorn she’s cooking pops and pops before eventually smoking, burning and setting off the smoke alarm. In Scream 2, Randy’s phone call begins with the fun rundown of college-set horror movie titles before moving into the killer taunting our beloved movie geek. By poking and prodding at his insecurities and his love of Sidney, the killer gains the upper hand in the conversation and lowers Randy’s defenses, thereby luring him ever so closer to the news van of doom.
The final stage of the phone call involves Randy finally losing his cool and volleying insults back to the killer. Giving Randy this heightened moment of anger seems tailored to the audience’s increasing unease with the dwindling safety of our favorite character. Though he makes the deadly mistake of ridiculing the killers from the previous film, he was destined to fall under the knife from the moment he grabbed the phone. The open area, rising tension of the dialogue and the choices made by Craven’s eye ensured that it was not only the franchise’s most memorable sequence but its most brilliant.
To put a cap on the comparison between the popcorn tension of 1996’s Scream and the dialogue escalation in Scream 2, the discovery of Randy’s bloody corpse is reminiscent of Casey Becker’s mother’s heartwrenching scream that closes out the first film’s gruesome prologue. This time, it’s Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers belting out the scream of horror as the camera flashes over Randy’s mutilated corpse, thus closing out the franchise’s most intense and most personal kill.
As painful as it was to bid adieu to Randy, his legacy lives on in the franchise. In the endlessly misguided Scream 3, Kennedy returns for a brief legacy cameo in the form of an ill-fitting pre-death video recording. The scene doesn’t quite work and feels shoehorned into the movie as our characters almost literally bump into Randy’s sister on a Hollywood backlot. But the alternative would have been to have a different character espouse upon the rules of a trilogy. This would have most certainly felt like a betrayal. Randy leaving his legacy on film fits the character and helps our characters deal with the horror on the Stab 3 set.
As I grew older and my taste in movies evolved, I always held the Scream franchise in high regard. The original remains as the single movie that changed the entire trajectory of my life. I truly do not know what kind of person I would have become if I hadn’t seen it at that specific time in my life. I am eternally grateful for Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven and the role their and others’ work played in my formative years … even though they made the cruel choice to rip my heart out of my chest in the next installment. Such is the risk we run as we consume media and allow the art to consume us in kind. And I honestly wouldn’t dare have it any other way.