Second Chances: Amanda Rebholz Celebrates the Much Maligned SCREAM 3
Second Chances is a column where our writers reflect on a movie that maybe they didn’t love the first time around…or even the second…but grew to love in the end.
If you are a horror fan who grew up of a certain age, Scream was likely a very vital part of your adolescence. I can remember being ten years old when it debuted; I still recall Neve Campbell on The Rosie O'Donnell Show showing the clip of herself walking out on the front porch pretending to pick her nose while on the phone with the killer. At a sleepover, my friends deferred to me to make the movie selection when their mom drove us to Blockbuster Video; I would make a beeline for the horror section and usually settle for one of the tried-and-true oldies with Jason or Freddy. Even at that tender pre-teen age I knew those movies by heart. But I had never seen that particular film, and so we convinced our host's mom to let us rent the new release. My mom watched 'Party of Five', so I knew Neve, and of course I knew Matthew Lillard, but the rest of the cast were new faces to me. I was going in totally blind, as was every horror fan in 1996.
While Scream made tons of money, was one of the first meta horror films, and was one of the most hip, relevant movies in the genre, its sequel was quick on its heels. Scream 2 may not have been the best film, but it was a very solid sequel, following our heroine Sidney Prescott to her college, where a new gang of friends and love interests as well as franchise staples Dewey and Gale are terrorized by the masked killer(s). It also has an amazing opening sequence that has been parodied and referenced many times since, but you can't deny the effectiveness of Jada Pinkett Smith taking a knife to the gut as she wails for help in a crowded theater of Ghostface cosplayers. Classic.
With the success of any horror film, it's guaranteed that sequels will be quick to follow. Studios learned in the 80s with the wildfire success of their big franchises that you can't sit on a property for long because audiences get bored; if you want to make your series a household name you have to barrage the audience with a regular stream of releases. Scream is unique in that all of their installments were theatrical; we didn't get any of the straight-to-video rush jobs that some of the other pinnacles of horror like Hellraiser, Candyman, Leprechaun or Phantasm did. And Sidney Prescott is, to my knowledge, the only final girl to go up against not only different variations of her nemesis in every film, but to survive every installment of the franchise.
The release of Scream 4 was regarded with trepidation by many fans despite Wes Craven returning at the helm, simply because it felt a little forced, a little 'millennial-jokey', and we were worried. A young cast boasting talent like Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin was interesting, and it definitely brought the movie into the 2010s with success. Fans seemed almost surprised that they enjoyed themselves during it. And that was for one simple reason for many of us--- Scream 3.
Scream 3 is certainly the weak link in the series, with plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, and I remember my first viewing left me going 'huh? what?'. I have watched the franchise many times since, including special screenings of the original with Neve Campbell in attendance and movie party quote-a-longs at the local Alamo Drafthouse, but I have avoided Part 3 for the most part. However, last weekend my fiancé Freddy and I decided to revisit the films in order and see how they held up. I agreed to part 3; even if it was just for nostalgia’s sake, I wanted to see if I still felt it was the worst film. And while yes, it is an inferior film to the two before it, it’s not as bad as I originally remembered. It is, however, a hell of a lot weirder than I remembered.
After a surprisingly clever opening sequence (I imagine it was hard to top the theater scene of Part 2, but this one does a solid with franchise vet Liev Schrieber) the film shows us our young survivor girl, who has presumably graduated or left college where we last saw her pursuing a theater major. She now lives in a beautiful isolated home in the mountains of California working as a remote operator for a women’s crisis hotline. Sidney has shut out her friends and family completely, choosing to be alone and help others from a distance. While the logistics of it raise some questions (how does Sid finance her beautiful country home, for example?), it’s a great career choice for her, and drives home what franchise fans already know; of all the final girls, Sid has the best character development from film to film and the most natural arc. She goes from innocent teenage girl to college student to young woman and in the final film, a successful self-help author who has guided millions of readers to find inner strength and purpose. We see her acting consistent with what we know of her character, as with each film she becomes both wiser, more guarded, and more likely to kick your ass. It’s clear Sid has invested in some self-defense classes between installments.
The film-within-a-film universe of the Stab series, based on the book Gale Weathers wrote about the original film’s happenings, is continued here as the film moves into production in Los Angeles. Dewey is working as an advisor on the film to make sure they get the details right, while Gale is as cut-throat as ever as a tabloid journalist. The two team back up after Cotton Weary’s prologue death, and when the actors on set begin to be murdered in the order they die in the script, with mysterious photos of Sid’s mother at every crime scene, a young hotshot detective (played by Patrick Dempsey) enlists Gale to help. If the first two films were meta, the third one is ham-fisted and heavy with the tropes; the fourth wall feels almost like an afterthought entirely, and you can imagine writer Ehren Kruger wink-wink-nudge-nudging himself with pride over the ‘clever’ references. The killer is clearly trying to draw Sidney out of hiding, and the kills become more and more vicious as their frustration grows.
Scream 3 isn’t without its flaws. As much as I loved seeing Jamie Kennedy’s face as horror buff Randy Meeks pop up again, this felt like a cheap exposition throw-away and an easy way to pander to fans. Randy’s death in Part 2 left more than a few of us verklempt, and to bring him back in such a clumsy way (having his sister, played by Heather Matarazzo, bring a videotape she found, which conveniently details Randy explaining the rules of a trilogy) feels almost insulting. The introduction of the movie-buff detective would’ve been a better way to get the same information and kept the story moving forward without the obvious attempt to manhandle a series favorite back into the cameo rotation. There’s also the matter of Sidney’s sanity; sure, we can expect her to crack a little after what she’s been through. But in most movies like this, we’d see the survivor girl visiting a therapist or taking medication to help keep her symptoms under control. Sid works at a crisis call center, yet she’s clearly in the middle of a mental breakdown herself. She suffers violent, frequent hallucinations involving the ghost of her murdered mother (looking comically cheesy in makeup more befitting a Six Flags haunted house apparition) and the Ghostface killer, and her meltdowns happen frequently enough that I question if she should be counseling others who are in dubious mental health themselves.
This next part is spoilery, although to be fair the movie came out nineteen years ago, so if you haven’t seen it yet, SPOILER ALERT. This was the first film to only feature one killer, which is alluded to several times as people throughout the movie say things like “In a trilogy, all bets are off”. We are treated to a strange and surprising backstory, and the legend of Maureen Prescott grows. The first film, we thought she was just an unhappy housewife who had an affair with Billy Loomis’s father. In the second film we’re told she not only had an affair with Loomis and Cotton Weary, but several other men in town and on a very frequent basis. And in this film, we’re told that for about two years she ran away to Los Angeles to be a background actress in a few Roger Corman-esque horror films (produced by a smarmy studio head played by Lance Henriksen). During her time there, she was involved in a ‘casting couch’ party so to speak; this film came out long before the #MeToo movement began, but the casualness with which the studio head recounts Maureen’s ordeal is cringy at best. She was taken advantage of by multiple men, and it’s then implied that this led to her promiscuity later in life. During this time, Maureen became pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption, moved back to Westboro and met Sidney’s father. The rest, as they say, is history. Except that adopted baby grew up to be movie director Roman Bridger, who is now seeking revenge on Sidney for having the ‘perfect life’ with her family that he was denied.
The plot may seem convoluted, and it is; the third-act reveal leaves many viewers arching their brows, but it’s actually surprisingly well done and the way it unfolds leads to the conclusion without any insane jumps or backbends of logic (looking at you, Saw franchise). We care about Dewey and Gale’s reconnection, and Sidney’s development; we are rooting for these characters to win. The kills in this film are great, though they’re more typical stabby-stab and none of the inventiveness we saw in the first two (no garage doors or bathroom stalls involved here); however, the lack of creativity also helps ground this in reality since Roman is not a delusional man living out a fantasy the way Stu and Billy, or Mickey, were in the other films; he is hell-bent on revenge and his weapons are a knife and a gun. Simple, efficient and easy to come by. He is more savage and ruthless killer, and he almost bests Sid, but in the eleventh hour she of course triumphs. All said, despite his strange insertion into the franchise as the half-brother we never knew about, Roman Bridger isn’t a bad killer and he’s certainly a more memorable and understandable candidate than Mickey from the second film, who seemed like an afterthought seat-filler character until the finale.
In conclusion, while you’d likely be hard-pressed to find anyone who declares the third installment of the series as their favorite, Scream 3 isn’t nearly as bad as I remember. For every corny or awkward scene a better one comes in to make amends; I’ll attribute some of the clumsiness to the replacement of Kevin Williamson as the scriptwriter and just be thankful that they got him back for the fourth to set things right. The film does an adequate job of balancing humor and horror, and the characters are fun to watch whether they’re screaming or sharing heartfelt moments. However, with Wes Craven’s tragic departure, one wonders if his dreams of a ‘new trilogy’ will see the light of day under a different director, or if Sidney Prescott’s final story has finally come to a close once and for all.