Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on July 3, 2001, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

I will admit that I got some good laughs out of the opening sequence of Scary Movie 2, even though it parodies The Exorcist—a movie that had become old hat as a satiric target well before its successful rerelease last year. What makes this particular sendup work is the presence of James Woods as the exorcist in question. Much as killing off Drew Barrymore in the opening of Scream gave the scene an extra jolt of confounded expectations, seeing Woods take his first and enthusiastic leap into profane slapstick provides an extra spike to the humor. The rest of the movie continues in much the same gross-out vein—but without the spectacle of an incongruous star taking part, a baser, not nearly as effective kind of shock value takes over.

The first Scary Movie won a good deal of its attention by pushing the envelope as far as the R rating would allow (and to some, further than it should have), so there was probably no way the sequel could avoid feeling like more of the same. This time, the plot (if you want to call it that) is structured as a vague takeoff on The Haunting: The survivors of the original (including a few who didn’t actually survive it, but whatever) are roped by professor Tim Curry into spending time at a spirit-plagued mansion. Once they arrive, they are greeted by the weird caretaker (Chris Elliott, whose character wears out his welcome real fast), ghosts start emerging and people begin disappearing—though not always through some supernatural agent, but because of haphazard editing. The film, in fact, has been cut to within an inch of its life—take out the prologue and end credits, and there’s only a little over an hour of movie left—and you could be forgiven for thinking that an entire reel has been lost just before the abrupt, arbitrary climax.

Sure, narrative consistency isn’t the first thing one looks for in a madcap spoof, but without it, or protagonists who are at least defined on a comic level (there’s more character development in SM2’s production notes than on screen), there’s no foundation for the jokes to build on. This is a particular problem here, given the uneven choices director Keenen Ivory Wayans and his brothers/stars/co-scripters (with five others!) Shawn and Marlon have made in their source material. A couple of the setpieces hit the target (I was also most amused by the riff on Poltergeist’s clown-doll attack), but other selections are just plain odd (was Hollow Man’s freezer-room scene really memorable enough to serve as a parodic subject?). Other times, the Wayanses take the self-defeating tack of spoofing scenes that were funny in the first place, like the tattoo bit in Dude, Where’s My Car? When they go for a takeoff on Charlie’s Angels’ big kung-fu brawl (complete with a reprise of “Smack My Bitch Up”), it mostly makes one want to go back and rewatch the more spirited and infinitely better-staged original.

The careless approach to character also leaves some plot strands dangling. Kathleen Robertson is introduced as a character named Theo, and there’s the suggestion that Scary Movie 2 will make explicit the lesbian subtext of both Hauntings, but nothing comes of it. Clearly, rather than presenting women making love, the Wayanses are more interested in continuing the first film’s tiresome and obnoxious misogynistic streak, with plenty of abuse heaped on the female characters. The actors all seem game, but the returnees are given no fresh territory to explore and the newcomers are provided little to do at all.

About the only area in which Scary Movie 2 has outdone its predecessor is in terms of budget. The film reportedly cost $45 million, but sure doesn’t look it; the cinematography by Steven Bernstein, who did sharp work on The Forsaken, appears as pallid as a direct-to-video throwaway. Last time, the ads insisted, “No Sequel”; this time, such a promise will hopefully prove to be superfluous.

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