Scream 3 (2000)
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Wes Craven
The success of the first two Scream movies made it inevitable that a third would be coming down the pipeline, and sure enough, it dropped with the new millennium. With his original script, writer Kevin Williamson provided treatments for two potential sequels. By the time production on the third film rolled around, Williamson had garnered a full plate of work and was unavailable to pen the script. He was writing & directing the short-lived tv series Wasteland and his feature film debut, Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Miramax decided to move on without Williamson. Then Columbine happened, and suddenly Hollywood executives started wondering if they should make films that were playful with murder & violence. The result was a mandate that Scream 3 lean more into the satirical elements than the murderous parts resulting in a tonally strange entry into the series.
No one knows where Sidney Prescott disappeared after the events of Scream 2. Meanwhile, a Ghostface killer has surfaced, contacting people that knew her and demanding they give over her whereabouts. A murder in Los Angeles leads Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) to contact Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox). Gale travels to Hollywood, where Stab 3 is in production, and finds Dewey Riley (David Arquette) working as a technical advisor on the picture. Murders begin occurring amongst the movie’s cast, and Sidney’s hiding spot in a rural area of the country is spoiled. She, too, comes to Hollywood to help uncover who this Ghostface is and hopefully bring an end to the murders.
The tagline for this picture was “Welcome to the final act,” implying that this would be the last piece in an overarching narrative that started with the first Scream. In the early 2000s, trilogies were becoming popular in the mainstream. The Star Wars Special Editions created a spark carried by the Prequel series. The Matrix was in production on its two sequels at the time, and fans were eager for another Lord of the Rings movie. While in the 1980s, a horror franchise would have been sold as an endless machine to print money until people stopped caring, Miramax was clearly holding up Scream as a “prestige” version of those retro films, a slick & clever meta-movie that also had a well-defined story structure.
Scream 3 is where the series dropped the ball and has struggled to recover since. It’s the weakest movie in the series because it becomes so caught up in winking at the audience. The horror here is pared down in favor of tongue-in-cheek commentary about making movies. Craven is usually pretty good at this; see his incredible final Freddy movie A New Nightmare. I point the finger squarely at Ehren Kruger, a screenwriter whose misses far outshine his successes in his career. He’s not a lousy screenwriter, but one who obviously works with narrative formulas. I remember being in college and a couple friends coming back from the theater after seeing this one and being very disappointed. What took the wind out of their sails was a film franchise trying to stretch a thin premise to the breaking point.
The decision to have Sidney living in seclusion, under an alias, as a domestic violence helpline operator is a very clever choice. Based on what we know about the character, having her take this path in life makes a lot of sense. Sidney has always been a tough character with a lot of kindness. Using her trauma to help others is right in line. I think the dream sequences are a little much, and I personally hate dream sequences in horror because they often don’t add to the narrative; they are jumpscare distractions. Gale & Dewey’s situations are also in keeping with these characters, especially not letting them have a happy ending which continues into the newest entry. These are a perpetual tragic pair, destined to never end up together and always yearning.
The best new addition is Parker Posey as Jennifer Jolie, the actress playing Gale in Stab 3. Posey was a fantastic comedic presence in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Because Scream 3 leans into satire, the actress is a perfect fit, trailing an annoyed Gale intent on one-upping her and solving the case. There should have been more of these two on screen because they make this movie a tolerable experience. Famed anti-vaxxer loon Jenny McCarthy is another actress on the set. Emily Mortimer is the Sidney analog and has some fun bits. There are a host of cameos, including Jay and Silent Bob on a studio tour and Carrie Fisher as an archivist who laments almost getting the part of Leia in Star Wars.
Despite the good, there is a reason why we did not get another Scream film for eleven more years. The tone was off due to pressure from Miramax to be more comedic. On top of that, the killer’s reveal stretches so much credulity and seems to be turning into fan fiction with barely a mention in the next two movies. Spoilers if you don’t want to know it.
Of course, we are thrown lots of red herrings, as Scream films are wont to do. Eventually, we have our third act and the reveal, which provides two twists. First, the killer is Stab 3 director Roman Bridger (Scot Foley). It’s one killer this time rather than a pair, the only instance in the franchise where this happens, not a terrible twist. The problem arises when the motive is revealed. Roman is Sidney’s estranged half-brother abandoned by her mother when she was pursuing an acting career in 1970s Hollywood. Additionally, Roman retcons the previous two movies by revealing that he was the one who informed Billy Loomis about why his parents’ marriage fell apart. Then behind the scenes, Roman prodded Mrs. Loomis to seek revenge. Roman becomes the main villain of the series, the Big Bad working behind the scenes to ruin Sidney’s life.
Sidney’s presence in the movie is also limited. It takes 50 minutes before she’s reunited with Gale & Dewey. A 20-minute police interrogation sequence intercut with other events keeps Sidney away from the other characters for too long. Her interactions with Ghostface are limited, and all these other characters have the fun of the horror film. Roman technically ties everything together, but his entire existence stretches credulity in a way that feels off for these movies. It’s such an out-of-left-field reveal that feels more like the soap opera Passions than a credible entry in the Scream franchise.
There aren’t the clever set pieces of the first two movies, though Craven certainly tries. The chases, the kills, the twists. They all feel forced rather than natural outcomes of an organic story. The film teeters on the edge of parody which shows why Scary Movie resulted from this movie. A parody of something that has become like a parody fits. Craven would have one last go with Scream, but it would take over a decade before that would happen.