In 1999, the Columbine killings caused the policymakers in Washington DC to re-examine mediated content, and to reevaluate each with a stricter vision toward protecting the American populace from the inherent violence in various forms of entertainment. Stephen King’s Rage and other books were directly linked to the happenings at Columbine. Video games, music, television programs and especially movies were all blamed for glorifying violence and desensitizing America’s youth to the very real consequences of murder. Hollywood, no stranger to the scrutiny that it undergoes when incidents of violence occur, has always struggled with its responsibility to the citizenry to provide entertainment that is compelling, and challenging, while also communicating societal mores that are normative in an open, liberal, and enlightened community, so of course, Miramax executives were worried about continuing the Scream franchise.
It is into this cultural maelstrom that Scream 3 was released. After having fought with the studio, and winning, Wes Craven was allowed to release the movie he wanted to release. In true Scream fashion, the fight between the studio and the director is capably parodied in the film. The problem which seemingly handicaps this endeavor is that parodies in horror have a tendency to hurt the scares, which is the major flaw of the franchise and in some respects, its genius. In Scream 3, there are several times that the silliness overshadows what could have been some really profound terror. Still there are moments of brilliance here, too, and because of that I would say that this is my second favorite in the franchise. If you haven’t watched the movie, fair-warning SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING PROBABLY CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
The final Scream is going to be the loudest
While Sidney and her friends visit the Hollywood set of Stab 3, the third film based on the Woodsboro murders, a new Ghostface begins to terrorize them once again.
Just as the previous movies have impactful beginning scenes, Scream 3 is no different. There’s a helicopter flying above the Hollywood sign, making it clear that this story is starting somewhere different from Woodsboro, and Windsor College in Ohio. There’s Cotton, the hero from Scream 2, on a billboard as the helicopter does a flyover. Then we see Cotton stuck in traffic as he gets a phone call in his car. A phone call, you might say. I think I know where this is going.
Cotton is flirting with the girl on the line, when the voice of Ghostface tells him that he’s staring at Cotton’s girlfriend in the shower. Cotton drops the phone, uses his car as a battering ram to make himself a lane, and proceeds at breakneck speed to drive to his home. In his home, his girlfriend has exited the shower. She has the television on, and Cotton is on TV railing against road rage. Wink-wink, here comes the post-modern, self-referential stuff that caused Scream to revive the horror genre in general and the slasher sub-genre in particular. Cotton arrives in time to find his girlfriend swinging a bat at him because Ghostface has used Cotton’s voice to threaten her. Ghostface dispatches both, Cotton and his girlfriend, in the hope of flushing Sidney out of hiding.
Sidney is living alone, isolated with her guard dog, alarms, and multiple door locks. She’s a crisis counselor who works from home. She is haunted by dreams of Ghostface and the flaws of a mother that people all believe to be a whore. Seeing Sidney so isolated gives us a sense of her victim-hood and concerned me as a fan of the franchise. I was worried that Sidney had been broken, but there is also a dichotomous empowerment involving her work as a counselor, albeit mostly anonymous and mediated via phone. Here, we have Sidney empowering abused women with the tool (a phone) that was used to terrorize her. There’s brilliance in that.
Gale Weathers is brought into the story as she is giving a lecture on cutthroat journalism. A Hollywood police detective, played by Patrick Dempsey, our first potential killer (or red herring) is a specialist on Hollywood crime, and he questions Gale after communicating that Cotton was killed. He wants her assistance in solving the crime. They’re going to the set of Stab 3 because the killer left a picture of Maureen Prescott at the scene of the murders.
On the set, you have producers trying to halt production on Stab 3 as they argue with the Director about the violent content, and how it might be related to Cotton’s death. Again, we have the self-referential, meta beats that are unique to Scream. Wes Craven seems to be flashing a middle finger to Miramax executives, while conceding that Cotton’s death IS related to the Woodsboro killings. There on the set, we see Dewey who has been hired as a consultant, reunited with Gale and later, with Sidney. We are also introduced to a cast of characters playing Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. Parker Posey, in particular, has a standout performance as Gale, which has its over-the-top humor sometimes attenuated by her interactions with the “real” Gale Weathers.
One such brilliant story beat occurs halfway through the movie when Gale and “Gale” go to the studio offices and find Carrie Fisher behind the desk working as a file clerk. She says she’s NOT her, but she could’ve been her if she’d have slept with George Lucas. (I’m not sure if she’s telling us that SHE slept with George Lucas.) The clerk who is “Not-Carrie” is helping Gale and “Gale” look for a picture of a former actress named Rina Reynolds who is Maureen Prescott. I loved that scene! It’s layered brilliantly.
There are several repetitive beats that echo through the three Scream movies that are similar, but don’t always end the same. Gale gets punched in the face in every installment, but in this one, Gale punches “Gale.” Sidney has a bathroom encounter with Ghostface, but in this one it’s not Ghostface, it’s the actress who plays Sidney in Stab 3 who drops the Ghostface mask while cowering in a bathroom stall. Sidney while in the police station gets a call from Ghostface. This time he has Gale and Dewey as hostages to a final showdown.
Another fascinating bit is Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) return, sort of. Randy’s sister brings our three intrepid protagonists a video where he has laid out the rules for a trilogy: an unexpected backstory going back to the beginning to cap the finale, with a super-human killer, and any of the main characters can die including Sidney. It spans 3 minutes of screen time, and stretches the realm of believable contrivances, but it’s still great to see the character for this “last” installment of the franchise.
There are some parts that fall flat for me. They are few in comparison to Scream 2, but I will only mention one. During one scene, when all the Stab 3 actors are lamenting the fact that production has stopped on their movie, they are having a party at “Gale’s” house. They find out that the killer is in the house because he’s killed “Gale’s” bodyguard. They run out of the house The fax machine buzzes and they all run inside to see if they’ve received new script pages. When they figure out that this is the killer sending script pages, they run back outside, but when the fax machine buzzes again, one of the moronic actors runs back into the house to die. It seems insipid to think that even an actor would act contrary to self-preservation.
Some final remarks: The acting is good, except for Jenny McCarthy. The directing and cinematography is really good, on par with the franchise. The reveal makes sense, even with the going back to the first movie, providing motivation for Billy Loomis. Also, Maureen Prescott becomes a more rounded character. Even Sidney’s story arc is completed with her having guests in her isolated home. The story ends with her leaving the gate open to her property, and the door open to her home. Sidney has won.