In 1996, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven created
"Scream," a low-budget slasher film that revitalized the horror genre, due to
its innovative approach of having the characters be "in-the-know" about the
conventions of movies concerning killers hacking away at nubile victims, so
when a psycho really does begin to dispatch of the teenage residents in the
town, they know how they should handle it. But even more than that, "Scream"
was the very first horror movie in a long time that was actually smart,
scary, and genuinely suspenseful, a twist on the "stalk-and-slash" films from
the late-'70s/early-'80s. The $14-million picture ultimately went on to gross
$103-million, a whopping number that is virtually unheard of for this type of
But lightning struck twice, as "Scream 2," with most of the same cast and
crew, was released exactly one year later, in 1997, and set new box-office
records on opening weekend. The $25-million sequel ended its cume at
$101-million, but while making virtually the same amount as its predecessor,
the film left audiences divided, with some saying it was actually superior,
while leaving others a little disappointed. My opinion fits somewhere in the
middle--while "Scream 2" didn't even come close to the level of ingenuity
that the first one had set, and was more than a little sloppy, looking as if
it had hurriedly been thrown together (with 11 months, 3 weeks separating
their releases, it was), it still had enough of its token wit and intensity
to be a satisfying venture.
Over two more years have passed, but the (supposed) final film in the
financially and creatively successful trilogy, "Scream 3," has arrived, and
to say it was well worth the wait would be an understatement. Despite the
disappearance of Williamson in the screenplay credit (Ehren Kruger was handed
the writing reins), Craven has remained faithful as the top-notch filmmaker
of the series, as have ongoing stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette,
David Arquette, and Liev Schreiber. And, in its own way, "Scream 3" is a
groundbreaking motion picture itself--a second sequel that has somehow
accomplished the daunting task of being every bit as fresh and thoroughly
gratifying as the now-classic film that started it all. The hanging story
threads from the previous ones are brought to the forefront, as the natural
evolution of the characters, as well as the series itself, skillfully comes
around full circle.
It has been several years since the bloodbath that occurred at Windsor
College, and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) now lives in a secluded, rural,
Californian home, working from her house as a crisis hotline counselor under
a false name. Unable to lead a regular life anymore, and plagued with
nightmares of her deceased mother, Maureen, Sidney is distraught to find that
one of the people from her past has been murdered (seen in the token opening
death scene) in Hollywood, where "Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro" is well
underway in its production on a studio backlot. Determined cutthroat news
reporter Gale Weathers, who now hosts a television show called "Total
Entertainment" after her brief gig on "60 Minutes II" fell through, is
contacted by Detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) to join him in his
investigation of the multiple murders. Illegally getting onto the set of the
film, Gale has a surprise run-in with Dewey Riley (David Arquette), recently
retired from the police force due to his handicap, and currently an advisor
for the movie. Although they briefly had a relationship with each other after
the goings-on in Part 2, their varied personalities have since broken them
up, but it is obvious the spark between them is still very much alive.
One of the elements that is so ingenious in "Scream 3," however, is in its
movie-within-a-movie approach (there is a stunning, showstopping sequence in
which Sidney finds her way to the sets from the production, which are the
spitting image of real places in her hometown of Woodsboro), and in the way
the mystery killer--once again dressed in that spooky Ghostface
costume--kills off the characters, which is by the order in which they are
whacked in "Stab 3." Adding confusion to the mix, (1) three different
versions of the screenplay were created, in order to throw off Internet fans,
but it is unclear which one the killer has gotten ahold of; and (2) with the
real Gale, Sidney, and Dewey, as well as their three actor counterparts, in
Hollywood together, will the killer want to get rid of the real people, the
performers portraying them, or both?
Whereas any old second sequel to a slasher franchise would be more than
showing its age by now, "Scream 3" is that rare case in which it is not
merely here to cash in on the big bucks, but was all along planned as a
trilogy. One could possibly question if this is actually true, or just an
excuse by the filmmakers once the original struck paydirt, but "Scream 3"
does a fabulous job of wrapping things up and filling in the missing pieces,
all the while delivering what fans have grown accustomed to--scares, snappy
dialogue, believable characters, and some sort of unique spin on the
otherwise cliched formula. While "Scream 2" was the most straightforward of
the series, in terms of its violence and occasionally messy plot
developments, "Scream 3," like its 1996 precursor, is a multi-layered
funhouse of chills that does a more-than-sufficient job of keeping the
surprising twists coming, and the final unveiling of the killer is not only
unanticipated, but the details for his/her motive come off as more plausible
than they have any right to be.
Aside from the aforementioned scene where Sidney stumbles upon the movie sets
and, subsequently, is chased by the killer as she relives her past, there is
a clearly innovative and exciting sequence coming every ten to fifteen
minutes. The 35-minute climax, set in an eerie mansion, complete with secret
passageways and dark corridors, is literally non-stop in its intensity, and
in the perverse fun Craven, Kruger, and the gang are obviously having.
Moreover, the in-jokes about moviemaking and Hollywood are occasionally
satirical and often biting, with a few people turning up in enjoyable cameos.
Neve Campbell, fresh-faced and well-cast in "Scream," has done nothing but
develop into an even more talented actress with clear star qualities within
the last three-and-a-half years. Wisely choosing to downplay the sullen
Sidney from the middle chapter, her character is now a young woman stuck in a
rut in her life, filled with understandable paranoia that she can never be
safe until she has completely disappeared from the rest of the world. The
progression Sidney goes through is both touching and truthful, and Campbell
is able to surpass her performances in both of the other pictures.
Courteney Cox Arquette, now married to co-star David Arquette, are both up to
par with their consistently entertaining turns as Gale and Dewey. Of the
three central characters in the series, it is Gale who has gone through the
most changes. Starting off as a fairly heartless wench in "Scream," Gale was
still very much ruthless in "Scream 2," but her sweet relationship with Dewey
humanized her character into a slightly warmer individual. In the latest
addition, Gale has finally learned there is more to life than just getting a
juicy story, and helping out the police in the investigation of the
increasing death toll, and rekindling her romance with Dewey, are now the two
things most important to her.
A wide array of new faces are introduced, as usual, and the actors all have
great fun. The highlight is easily Parker Posey, as Jennifer Jolie, a vapid,
relatively ditzy actress who has been cast in the Gale Weathers role, and
takes pride in portraying the character even better than Gale herself. Posey
is a comic delight, as usual, and she single-handedly steals almost all of
the scenes she is in. Relatedly, there is a very funny rapport that develops
between Jennifer and Gale, who are stuck together like glue through the
second half. When it is Gale who is to die next in the script, Jennifer
figures that if they are always side-by-side, the killer will just attack
Gale and leave her alone.
Also in a memorable appearance is Jenny McCarthy, as Sarah Darling, an aging
35-year-old starlet tired of always being cast as teenagers and especially
angered that her character in "Stab 3" only appears in two scenes and then is
killed off (Guess which real actress appears in only two scenes in "Scream 3"
and is killed off?). Rounding out the cast is Patrick Dempsey, nice to see
after a sizable absence from the spotlight, as Detective Kincaid; Scott
Foley, big-headed and appropriately pretentious, as "Stab 3" director Roman
Bridger; Emily Mortimer as Angelina Tyler (Sidney in "Stab 3"); the
always-beguiling Matt Keeslar as Tom Prinze (Dewey in "Stab 3"); and Lance
Henriksen as Sunrise Studios producer John Milton (who may or may not have
known Maureen Prescott years before). Also showing up is Liev Schreiber, the
fourth returnee from the other "Scream" movies, as Cotton Weary.
In the director's chair, Wes Craven has somehow been able to keep the energy
level as high as possible in "Scream 3," as if it was the first movie he has
directed in the series. This being his third go-round, in retrospect, may
actually be nothing but a positive thing, as Craven has treaded similar
horror territory so many times in the past that he could do it in his sleep.
What cannot be denied is that Craven is a master at setting up absorbing
horror set-pieces, and no matter what, is constantly adding a stylish flare
to the proceedings.
With the wholeheartedly satisfying conclusion of "Scream 3," perhaps the most
widely popular horror movie series of all time has come to a close. The way
each of the surviving characters' lives receive closure is an excellent
touch, and the final few shots are filled with subtle, yet remarkable power.
Who would have guessed that the ending of a film called "Scream 3" could be
so poignant? Certainly not I, but it is. Now how's that for an unexpected
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman