Are there any good horror movie trilogies? That’s a genuine question that’s been crossing my mind since rewatching Scream 3. It’s hard to make a case for many because they tend to become series that expand beyond the scope of three movies. Anyways, I’ll leave you to ponder that question. Have you seen Scream 3? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you like my ramblings on horror, then you can find more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. In my second piece on Final Girls, I examine Sally Hardesty from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
Compared to my memory of the previous two Scream movies, I had no prior strong sentiments about my first viewing of Scream 3. However, out of the three so far, it may have been the most fascinating to revisit. While it does riff on the horror genre, Scream 3 engages more as a black comedy about the exploitation of the Hollywood machine.
After the murder of LA-bound talk show host Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), his girlfriend, Christine (Kelly Rutherford) and actress Sarah Darling (Jenna McCarthy), things become tense around the set of Stab 3 (the film within a film that’s based on the events of the Scream movies). As members of the movie are killed, Sidney (Neve Campbell) reluctantly finds herself drawn back into the fray when she begins experiencing quite vivid visions of her deceased mother, Maureen Prescott (Lynn McRee).
On the surface, Scream 3 has a lightness by going to Hollywood. Various scenes have cute cameos, whether it’s Jay and Silent Bob or Carrie Fisher. And there are also a handful of moments where the production of Stab is mirroring the murders in a comically absurd version of life imitating art. However, a lot of other threads feel like takedowns of Hollywood. Part of this, comes from the unravelling of Maureen’s past when she was in Tinseltown. The fact that her past as an abused Hollywood actress was covered up by producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen) to ensure that the Stab movies remain lucrative perpetuates a cycle of abuse that carries on with Sidney.
In the film’s most moving moment, Sidney stumbles upon the set of her old house, where she experienced the terrifying events of the first movie. In a sense, her traumatic experiences have now become a cheap commodity to be thrown around for the titillation of many people, just like Maureen was when she was an actress.
In moments such as this, I was reminded by the sobering power of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare insofar as carrying the indelible sense of a horror director earnestly reflecting on a genre that he had defined for an entire generation. There are also threads about how Scream 3 works as a post-Me Too commentary that I discuss in an upcoming piece for Filmhounds Magazine. I’ll link to it in an upcoming preamble.
Additionally there’s something darkly comic about the identity of the Ghostface killer who, on the one hand (in his civilian identity), bemoans his film career being cursed but is directly responsible for its downfall due to his murderous actions. The plot point and ironies feel like a satirical knife, which aims for the extremes that Hollywood deals in. Despite being saddled with a lot of exposition, I found the motivation for this Ghostface to be quite inspiring, particularly in their relationship with one of the killers in the first movie.
Scream 3 represents a series first insofar as Kevin Williamson is not responsible for the story or screenplay. The result is a mixed bag. While Scream 3 thematically feels the strongest and closest to what I loved about Craven’s New Nightmare, it falls as a meaningful showcase for Sidney.
Part of this comes from Neve Campbell only having 20 shooting days due to other commitments. Consequently, it often feels that Sidney is passive rather than active. It’s a credit to Campbell that in her limited screentime, she still illustrates the indelible fiery spirit and coy wit that partly makes Sidney a great character.
This aspect is compounded by quite inane and paper-thin supporting characters who often feel like they’re indulging in one of the cynical cliches of the slasher genre, namely rooting for the killer to dispatch the cast because they’re so unlikeable. Even some of the main players feel oddly placed in with the Hollywood antics, most notably Dewey (David Arquette), who feels too sweet and upstanding to keep the company he does in the movie. The sole character who escapes this is newly introduced, Detective Mark Kincade (Patrick Dempsey), who is a good match for Sidney in more ways than one. Dempsey effortlessly walks a razor edge between charming, haunted and suspicious.
Finally, Ghostface’s voice imitator device proves to be a double edge sword. On the one hand, it’s goofy and contrived beyond all measure. And on the other hand, its use does lead to some of the movie’s effective sequences. In particular, an early sequence involving the ghost of Sidney’s Mum is effective as a Gothic-inspired sequence that would feel at home in a surreal Mario Bava movie (via its framing and use of colour).