This was always my favourite of the Scream trilogy when I was a kid. Probably due to the fact that all the “buzz” elements are really brought into the foreground and dialled up to eleven. The self-referentiality is heightened to such a degree that Scream 3 actually takes place in Hollywood, on studio sets that replicate environments from the first film no less. Most of the supporting characters are actors playing fictionlised versions of Sid, Dewey and Gale in Stab 3 and the kills are more elaborate but less ugly. Ghostface even blows up a fucking house and has a nifty electronic voice-changer. Add to that an extended finale unfolding in a huge labyrinthine mansion adjourned with horror movie props and you’ve got quite the funhouse to reckon with. Spectacle and cleverness seem to the the driving forces behind Scream 3 and to my younger, less developed eyes, the more subtle and grounded previous instalments were no match for all this “coolness” and entertaining grandeur.
Watching it again today, however, directly after Scream and Scream 2 it’s clearly the weakest of the first three. Kevin Williamson’s voice is sorely missed and replacement Ehren Kruger doesn’t have his genre-savvy smarts and understanding of the material. It feels like an imitation. Plus, the reference points are wonkier being that very few horror series culminated in a trilogy and even less were conceived as such from the outset (the Scream series included, as it would turn out). The returning cast members go a long way to bridge the gap but even they feel like stock characters at this point. Dewey and Gale’s relationship is a rehash of their dynamic from Scream 2 and Sidney, due to scheduling issues with Neve Campbell, is relegated to the sidelines for much of the running time. The key addition of Parker Posey makes for some fun sequences and she’s definitely Scream 3‘s USP. Out of all the new characters, her death is the only one that actually has some weight.
However, the series is tipped more into comedy territory by this point and feels more like Scooby Doo than Scream. The setting is a big problem. By relocating the carnage to a more sprawling, extreme backdrop you lose the relatability which was so key to offsetting the madness in the last two films. The jump from suburbia and college campus to Hollywood is too far removed to feel natural. Scream and Scream 2 always had one foot on the ground, here they both go over the cliff. Look at the dream sequence in this movie and try and picture it appearing in any of the previous films. Sticks out like a sore thumb doesn’t it?
Still, as a novelty act Scream 3 comes with its own pleasures. As always it’s great to spend time with these characters even if they aren’t given as much depth. Randy’s return, while a stretch logcially, is nice. I think the extended blood bath/chase sequence in the mansion is a lot of fun and the Hollywood setting, while detrimental to the film’s overall impact, does lead to a lot of enjoyable visuals and inventive call-backs. It’s a novelty act but it is entertaining.
Campbell’s performance, as limited as it is, is very strong too, especially in her showdown with the killer at the end. Roman is probably my least favourite Ghostface but I like that they simplified it down to one killer for this (supposedly) last act. That being said I’ll never forgive them for the fake-out of killing Roman off earlier so we wouldn’t suspect him later. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very definition of not playing fair. The Roman backstory is dopey as hell too and making him Sid’s long lost brother is so groan-worthy you can’t help but enjoy it but again, Campbell really sells it. You totally believe this woman has just fucking had it with these killers by this point and resents her Mother for constantly fucking her life up from beyond the grave as much as she resents the actual murderers. I like that that is a through-line running throughout the first three and, I suspect, is a holdover from Williamson’s original treatment.
I’m happy to admit that eleven year old me was wrong. This isn’t the best Screammovie, not by a long shot, but at least it’s a fun rendition of the universe. The returning actors are clearly still invested with nobody on auto-pilot. Wes Craven works hard to keep everything zipping along too and instills some genuine suspense into many of the set-pieces. Plus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds even recorded a new version of “Red Right Hand” for this movie and the Creed song on the soundtrack got its own video featuring Ghostface slaughtering each member of the band. If only. The film’s final image is pretty great as well. The gang get together to watch a film (though fuck off Patrick Dempsey) and Sid, feeling safe, leaves the front door wide open. It’s a clean, simple image and the perfect capper for her arc. Bless. If Sid only knew, the end is yet to come….