Released in 1996 and 1997 (respectively), Scream and Scream 2 were notable for their satirisation of horror/slasher clichés and the realm of Hollywood sequels. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson injected newfound brilliance into the ailing slasher genre, showing that it still had plenty of life (death?) left in it. They say “third time’s a charm”, but in the case of the Scream movies this cliché proves false – the wily cleverness and witty self-awareness of prior Scream flicks is all but forgotten for this goofy second sequel. What started as a franchise which poked fun at horror films has simply become another unremarkable genre flick. For crying out loud, Scream 3 represents the type of movie that the original Scream poked fun at. Without the writing brilliance of Kevin Williamson – who was replaced by Ehren Kruger – Scream 3 does have its moments, but comes up short in the way of laughs, scares and nail-biting tension.
Several years have elapsed since the bloodbath that occurred in Scream 2, and Sidney Prescott (Campbell) has now moved to a secluded house in the woods in rural California, working from her home as a crisis hotline counsellor under a false name. Not long into the story, Sidney learns that people from her past have been murdered in Hollywood, where Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro is in production on a studio backlot. The Ghostface killer has returned; this time targeting the cast of Stab 3 and leaving behind old pictures of Sidney’s mother (who was murdered a year before the first Scream took place) at every crime scene. Feeling she’s not safe, Sidney is soon forced out of seclusion, and reunites with the goofy-but-lovable Dewey (Arquette) and reporter Gale Weathers (Cox).
Scream 3 is the undoubtedly the weakest Scream instalment to date, and the justification for this is simple: Kevin Williamson was not attached to the project, and Wes Craven’s heart was clearly not in it because he only agreed to direct as a way to get the go ahead on another project. Williamson was sort of involved since he provided notes regarding the storyline, but his absence in the actual writing process is obvious nonetheless. Williamson’s scripts had great, thrilling set-pieces, the right mix of drama and humour, and, above all, a satiric tone. Scream 3 comes up short in all of these areas. The ironic dialogue and cute references to other films are threadbare. Laughs are present from time to time, but they are of the “goofy” variety rather than the “witty self-aware fun” variety. Furthermore, the kill sequences are predictable more often than not, the reveal of the killer lacks impact, the finale is way too drawn out, and the film feels sillier than its predecessors. Most importantly, the revelations feel forced rather than earth-shattering.
For the most part, this third Scream picture trots out slasher clichés for no particular satiric purpose. For instance, the killer must be indestructible, invincible, fast, strong, and highly skilled with any known weapon… Until, that is, the killer confronts the heroine at the climax, at which time they must become utterly useless; unable to punch, run, or aim a knife in the right direction. Additionally, if the characters wind up in an old house, it must contain secret passages and hidden rooms in which people become trapped. And if a bunch of characters are being stalked by the killer, they must split up and go in separate directions. If there was some satiric edge to this stuff, it would serve its purpose. But the clichés are used in a bland fashion, making Scream 3 as flavourless as the motion pictures its forerunners ridiculed. There are also a number of logical errors. For instance, a house explodes with the fury of a hydrogen bomb; a blast so huge that it could only have occurred if the entire building was filled with gas…but nobody noticed the smell?
Scream 3 has a few moments of brilliance, but they are not enough to save the movie. One great scene is a beyond-the-grave video lecture by film geek Randy (killed in Scream 2), who informs the characters about the “rules of the trilogy”. For instance, he explains that the final part of a trilogy goes back to the beginning. What he fails to mention but proves true in this case, however, is that the third instalment in a trilogy is often the worst… The fact that Randy’s video lecture constitutes the best, wittiest, and most energetic scene in the movie is further evidence that killing off Randy was a dreadful mistake (there was severe fan backlash about this, which is slyly referenced at one stage). Admittedly, Scream 3 remains watchable and at times enjoyable throughout thanks to technical competency, but it’s nowhere near as solid as its predecessors.
Work commitments limited Neve Campbell’s involvement in the filming of Scream 3, and it shows. As a result, Sidney feels like more of an afterthought who’s present out of obligation to the franchise. Literally, she does not do anything – Dewey and Gale have become the protagonists, while Sidney adopts a peripheral role. Sure, she has bearing on the story and on the motivation of the killer, but she feels too much like a useless supporting character. At least Campbell’s performance is strong, though. Fortunately, Courtney Cox and David Arquette also carried out their duties well enough. The highlight of the cast, though, is Parker Posey as a vapid, ditzy actress who plays the role of Gale Weathers in Stab 3 and takes pride in playing the character even better than Gale herself. The banter between Cox and Posey is often hilarious.
In final analysis, Scream 3 remains the weak link of the Scream franchise. Even Wes Craven himself has admitted that this third film is more towards Scooby-Doo than Scream. At the very least, Scream 3 is a fun guilty pleasure, but it falls short of generating any sense of fear, and is without the wit and subversion that made Scream a modern classic.