#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.