2/4, 2000s, Horror, Review, Wes Craven

Scream 3

#9 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

#3 in my ranking of the Scream franchise.

After the uninspired search to replicate the charms of the first film in the first sequel, Miramax allowed a handful of years for Wes Craven to go off and make Music of the Heart before returning with the second sequel, also written by Kevin Williamson. It does not match the joys of the first film nor does it match the depths of unimaginative machinations of the second. It’s a middle of the road entry in the short franchise that manages to work well enough to partially entertain. At least the attempt to tie everything to Sidney Prescott feels more integrated into the overall story, well, as well as possible. This isn’t exactly good, but it’s okay.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has retreated from the world and lives in an isolated house in the mountains of California where she exists in anonymity and answers crisis help calls for women in trouble. She’s happily skipping out on the publicity around the currently in production Stab 3, the in-universe film series based on her experiences in Woodsboro. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man who she accused of raping and murdering her mother, has become a talk show host in the aftermath of his exoneration with a cameo in the new in-movie movie. He gets a strange phone call from a young, female fan that turns bad when it turns out to be Ghostface who is in his house and preparing to kill his girlfriend. He does not get back in time, and both he and his girlfriend die.

So starts the third Ghostface adventure. With the production of the third in-universe movie, it provides the most apt example of the franchise’s meta aspects, recalling the early parts of New Nightmare in a good way. The first half hour of the film, where Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) meets her movie counterpart, the actress Jennifer (Parker Posey) and discovers that Dewey (David Arquette) is a technical advisor on the film after their second breakup after the previous entry, is entertaining as the actors worry about their fate in the face of a new killer, especially with the explicit mentions of previous actors having bowed out of the franchise for their own safety (why none of these actors play themselves, by the way, I don’t know). Ghostface’s efforts, though, are all about tracking down Sidney.

Why? Well, that’s the mystery. At least it feels like this movie took a bit of time at the script stage to try and balance the needs of an actual story with the desire to completely shield the audience from the identity of the killer. There’s a clue hunt around Sidney’s mother’s past, stemming from a series of production photos of her when she was very young that Ghostface leaves on the bodies of his victims. The motive of the killer is related to Sidney’s mother’s past that is tied to her couple of years in Hollywood. The movie doesn’t take all that much time to really dig into it in the first ninety-minutes, though. Instead it pursues the questions of who will die next and who could the killer be in the most mundane way possible.

When Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy), one of the actresses on the film, gets tricked to go to the production offices by a voice that sounds like Roman (Scott Foley), the film’s director, and she dies horribly, it brings the attention of Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey), a LA detective who follows the clues. When Ghostface somehow manages to get Sidney’s number, though, it draws her into Los Angeles to face it head on with the rest. Investigations go in every direction (perhaps most interestingly with Gale and Dewey confronting the producer of the film, Lance Henriksen’s John Milton and his explanation of the excesses of 70s Hollywood), and we eventually get settle into our strung out finale.

Everyone shows up at Milton’s house to celebrate Roman’s birthday, but people start dying. Sidney gets drawn to the house, there is suspicion everywhere as no one can trust anyone (except Dewey who, outside of a brief moment in the first film, can never be suspected of being anything other than a standup guy), and we get our big reveal. I didn’t see it coming (I largely just check out from the guessing game in these kinds of movies because I see it as a waste of brain power), but I wasn’t as frustrated with it as in the second film. It didn’t seem completely out of nowhere, and I think it did a decent job of both tying the villain to the first film retroactively while finding a decent reason to keep Sidney at the center of another one of these adventures.

There’s still no real core to the film because it’s about hiding information from the audience about the true nature of the killer while putting characters on a search for the killer (it just does a better job of that than the second one). If there’s an attempt at a core, it’s the idea of women in Hollywood being taken advantage of to make it in the industry, but that ends up as half-punchlines of a few jokes for too long for it to be what the movie really cares about. Shoving all of that seriousness into the finale while using the concept as a punchline for the rest of the film isn’t the greatest of combinations.

Still, it’s decent. It’s not good, but it didn’t aggravate me like the second one. It also leaves the meta elements on the table as little more than window dressing (Jamie Alexander coming back as Randy in a video taped message about the rules of trilogies is so unbelievable as to reach the point of parody). I’ve never been that enamored of the meta elements of this series, but this felt like the film, in the beginning, that could most take advantage of it. It doesn’t, though. Meh. It’s decent.

Rating: 2/4

9 thoughts on “Scream 3”

  1. As a horror movie, this still fails (there’s still never a sense of dread or fear about Sidney’s possible fate) but as an inside-baseball bit of Hollywood self-pleasuring, it succeeds. It’s no ‘The Player’ or even ‘Get Shorty’ but Williamson IS a Hollywood screenwriter (and it’s all he knows) so he’s in his wheelhouse.

    The odd thing to me as these movies no longer feel like Wes Craven films. They feel like generic Hollywood product, as did Music of the Heart. (and I mis-spoke yesterday, the animated movie I love is WHISPER of the Heart, my mistake). There’s no dream-like passages, nothing visually bizarre, no traps, barely any horror.

    I still like Dewy in Scream 3 and there’s other actors I like in it, and some good eye candy. I don’t like it but I don’t hate it.

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    1. I think Craven’s voice was lost by the late 80s. The last thing that felt uniquely his (though it’s not even his own script) was The Serpent and the Rainbow. It’s in dreams themselves that he feels most at home, where he has the most to say and explore.

      This is just director for hire, stuff. He’s effectively a television direction at this point. The most he could do was not screw up someone else’s idea. The Scream movies are more Kevin Williamson’s than Craven’s because Craven brought nothing of his own to the production.

      Craven was a filmmaker lost in the industry. He wanted to say something, but no one would give him money to do that. So, he ended up chasing financial success in the hope that he could use that to make the movies he wanted to make. It just didn’t help that he wasn’t a particularly good storyteller.

      I also find it kind of interesting that Scream 3 is regularly regarded as the worst of the Scream sequels by the franchise’s fans. I honestly don’t get it. 2 and 4 are awful. 3 is barely competent.

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      1. I don’t get it either. This one at least ties into Sidney’s slutty mother, stupidly, but it does.

        Scream 3 is probably due for re-appraisal but it may not merit even the initial appraisal.

        I like that Sidney has a healthy regard for firearms 🙂

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  2. Slasher films are like sporting events. One can admire the skill and craftsmanship (and sometimes ingenuity) of both, but there’s no real narrative and no one grows as a character.

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    1. Slashers can have narrative complexity and depth, but it’s not what slasher fans want. They’re the NASCAR fans who just want to see car crashes. My problem with this kind of approach is that there is a lot of racing in between the crashes.

      Just having teens run around stupidly until the occasional fun kill gets really boring to me. How are people entertained in between the kills? And that requires that the kills be fun.

      Meh. It’s largely not a genre for me. That’s fine.

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