Scared Silly

Two years ago Shawn and Marlon Wayans cooked up an idea they just knew their brother Keenen would love. They wanted to do a spoof of teen slasher films like "Scream''--and they wanted him to direct. Keenen, ever the big brother, told them to make sure they did their homework. So Shawn and Marlon watched more than 100 scary movies. They hated the chore, but figured their eldest brother--who'd put the family on the map with the hit TV show "In Living Color"--knew what he was talking about. Good instinct. "Scary Movie'' was a sleeper hit, taking in more than $160 million worldwide and making Keenen Ivory Wayans, 43, the most successful black director in history.

Now comes the really scary part: proving it wasn't a fluke. Dimension Films, which made $480 million with the "Scream" trilogy, smelled another killer franchise in the offing. At last year's premiere of "Scary Movie," Dimension's Bob Weinstein ordered Wayans to come up with a sequel in record time. "We knew we had a huge hit and knew we had to get back in the lab immediately, because this business is about copy-catting," says Weinstein. As late as last week Keenen was frantically editing the film, which opens July 4. "It's been nonstop for the last 10 months, but this is what moviemaking is about,'' he says. "It's what you want as a director, so you have to be careful what you ask for sometimes."

At around $45 million, "Scary Movie 2" cost twice as much as the original, and takes on not only slasher films but every horror movie in sight--as well as "Save the Last Dance" and "Charlie's Angels." "This one is better than the last one," says Marlon, 28. "We got more money, more stars and more special effects. It's the bomb.'' NEWSWEEK was on the set for the last day of filming in May as the Wayanses put the final touches on a sendup of "The Exorcist." Marlon Brando was supposed to have played Father Merrin, but he took ill, and at the last minute Keenen summoned James Woods. Now, Keenen was feverishly trying to get his shots completed while his brother Marlon was holed up in his trailer, rewriting dialogue. The result, however, was vintage Wayans: just as in the 1973 original, the possessed girl walks in on her mother's cocktail party and pees on the floor--only this time she pees far more copiously and the WASPy revelers are singing Mystical's rap song "Shake Ya Ass." Then there's the split-pea-soup scene, which degenerates into a projectile-vomiting contest.

For a decade the name Wayans has been synonymous with a particularly biting form of black comedy that owes much to Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor. But it was really the Jackson family that the Wayanses had their eyes on. "We all remember the first time we saw the Jackson 5 on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' and how we were just cheering and clapping like crazy. You would have thought they were kin to us or something,'' says Keenen. "We knew right then and there, that's what we wanted to be--the Jackson 5 of comedy.'' The eight Wayans kids saw their share of pain growing up in Manhattan's Fulton Houses project, but they kept their wit about them. "All of us sleeping in one bed and wearing hand-me-down clothes--you gotta laugh at that," says Marlon. "Keenen was the leader, so we all wanted to do what he did, and he wanted to be a comedian.''

In the early '80s Keenen hit the New York comedy clubs, where he met Eddie Murphy and Robert Townsend. The Black Pak was born. The crew struggled to find a niche in an industry where blacks had only begun to make headway. "You had Spike Lee and Eddie on 'Saturday Night Live' out there during that period, and that was it for black people," says Keenen. "But we were the first generation to really benefit from the civil-rights movement, so we had hope for black Hollywood that wasn't there before. We saw no closed doors." Keenen's break came when pal Murphy enlisted him and Townsend to co-write and produce the concert film "Eddie Murphy Raw." (Townsend also directed.) From there, Wayans and Townsend went on to make the cult hit "Hollywood Shuffle," financing it with Townsend's credit cards.

After starring in low-budget films of his own, including "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," Wayans approached Fox TV with an idea for a racy comedy show featuring not only him but his brothers and sisters. "In Living Color" helped establish the fledgling network with comedy that major networks wouldn't touch, introducing blistering characters like the antiwhite Homie the Clown and the ghetto girl Wanda. Keenen wound up quitting in 1993 when Fox began airing reruns before he had a chance to sell the show into syndication. "That was a painful learning experience, and it left me jaded for a while,'' he says. "Hollywood can teach you a lot of painful lessons that you can only pray you learn the first time.'' Keenen returned to making his own films, including the hilarious (if underappreciated) "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.'' In 1997 he launched an ill-fated late-night talk show. "That was a huge mistake,'' he says. "The politics of how you get guests and how you get ratings was the craziest thing I'd ever encountered."

The Wayanses have had successes on their own--Damon, 40, is the star of a hit show on ABC--but relish coming together for their "Scary" movies. "Nothing beats working with family,'' says Shawn, 30. "It gets heated from time to time, but it never comes to blows or anything. We talk everything out." When they're not scouring old horror movies for inspiration, that is. "I pretty much hate scary movies at this point and really don't care if I see another one," says Marlon, laughing. Not likely. The younger brothers say they're working with Dimension on some buddy films for next year, and may write another "Scary" movie. As for Keenen, after more than 20 years in the business he's savoring the moment: "It's a good feeling, and myself and Eddie and the other guys have all had the chance to feel it. Sometimes we get together and even fall out about the stuff we're doing--who's got the biggest box office, or the most offers that week. But we always get over it. We've all won.''