Throwback Thursday: Without Williamson, ‘Scream 3’ (2000) mostly forgets it’s a ‘Scream’ film (Movie review)

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or Spooky Month here at Cold Bananas, we’re looking at the four movies of the “Scream” saga over four Thursdays. Next up is “Scream 3” (2000):

Overall thoughts

“Scream 3” is the most maligned of the four “Scream” films, but — unlike Season 3 of the TV series — it’s not outright bad. The third time might not be the charm in this case, but I find myself an apologist for it compared to those who believe it’s a dumpster fire. It has darker cinematography and fun jabs at the shallow Hollywood moviemaking process, and it makes Sidney (Neve Campbell) into a likeable person for the first time.

The problem is that it isn’t a “Scream” film at heart. Writer Ehren Kruger, taking over for Kevin Williamson, is uninterested in digging into the “rules of trilogies.”

The problem is that it isn’t a “Scream” film at heart, even with Wes Craven in the director’s chair. Writer Ehren Kruger, taking over for Kevin Williamson, is so uninterested in digging into the “rules of trilogies” that I’d guess Williamson wrote Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) video scene just so there’s thematic continuity — except that this monologue is inexplicably weak.

Randy says horror trilogies are rare, but they can be counted on to reveal information that changes what you thought was true. But he cites no actual horror trilogies, because there aren’t any horror trilogies (in the sense of being pre-planned trilogies, which is this franchise’s definition of the word). The best Randy can do is go outside the genre to cite “Return of the Jedi,” but even that doesn’t totally click, because Luke learns about his family tree at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back” (although, granted, he learns about his sibling in “Jedi”). (In the “Halloween” series, which Randy doesn’t bring up, Laurie learns Michael is her brother in part two.)

It’s clear there’s not enough fodder for horror trilogies. So “Scream 3” should’ve been about the “rules of horror franchises.” I think it needed Randy’s sister, Martha (Heather Matarazzo), to be a main character, regularly outlining rules of franchises such as the surprise sibling (something she herself is).

At least the Hollywood satire angle allows for plenty of meta moments, although it might’ve been fun if Kruger leaned into the idea of a new screenwriter for “Stab 3.” We meet the producer and director, but not the screenwriter, even though screenplay rewrites are a major part of the plot.

I like the new cast members, even if no one progresses beyond broad stereotypes. Parker Posey is particularly fun to watch as “Stab’s” version of Gale (Courteney Cox Arquette), and I also like Emily Mortimer as the fictional Sidney and a pre-McDreamy Patrick Dempsey as homicide detective Kincaid, who bonds with Sid because both of their lives are filled with death.

But the three returning players are the heart of “Scream 3,” with Sidney having a strong arc where she emerges from hiding in her remote cabin to take on the latest Ghostface(s) in Hollywood. Gale remains the steadfast reporter, and David Arquette gives an interesting turn as Dewey. The actor goes broader to adjust for the franchise moving into “anything goes” territory, notably the inexplicable addition of a science fiction element (see “Most surprising on this rewatch,” below).

Most meta sequence

Detective Kincaid notices actors are being bumped off in the same order as their characters in “Stab 3.” But there are multiple versions of the script floating around, and he doesn’t know which one the killer possesses. The “Stab 3” team has leaked various false scripts in order to combat spoilers on the internet — the strategy deployed on “Scream 2.”

Funniest bit

Jennifer (Posey) decides she’ll be safer if she stays close to Gale, using this logic, wonderfully delivered by Posey: “I’ve got no house, no bodyguard, no movie and I’m being stalked. Because someone wants to kill me? No, because someone wants to kill you. So, starting now, I go where you go. So that if someone wants to kill me, I’ll be with you and since they really wanna kill you, they won’t kill me, they’ll kill you.”

Best kill

Jennifer can see her allies through a two-way bedroom mirror (a nice example of the creepy installations in the big-time producer’s home), but can’t get through; Gale and Dewey see the mirrors shaking. The killer gets to Jennifer before Dewey can shoot out the mirrors to save her. There’s an extra freak-out factor for Gale because Jennifer was playing her in “Stab 3.”

Most deserved to die (other than the killers)

John Milton (Lance Henriksen) used to (and probably still does) host parties wherein aspiring actresses make connections with powerful men in Hollywood in order to launch their careers. Suffice it to say the actresses exchange more than business cards with their contacts. “Scream 3” pulls a lot of punches, but perhaps the biggest pulled punch is the question of whether Milton himself raped Maureen Prescott and is Roman’s (Scott Foley) biological father. Regardless, he’s not a good guy.

Least deserved to die

Tyson (Deon Richmond), who plays the Randy-type character in “Stab 3,” is keeping his head down and trying to make it in Hollywood, whereas everyone else is smarmy or cynical. But Tyson gets one of the most vicious deaths, being thrown out a window to splatter on the bricks.

Most surprising on this rewatch

I had forgotten how much the killer’s electronic gadget, which can mimic anyone’s voice, is central to his scheme. This is a pure science fiction element (real-world tech isn’t anywhere close to producing such a gadget, even now), and it should’ve been underlined by a Randy-style commentator (I suggest Martha) discussing the random addition of SF and supernatural elements as franchises go forward.

“Scream 3” includes Sidney’s dreams of her deceased mother and the surreal nature of Hollywood sets (wherein rooms don’t connect in logical fashion). The “Buffy” episode “Restless” would more effectively blend dreams with soundstage geography a few months later, but it’s neat that “Scream 3” flirts with this idea. A doorway opening above Sidney’s bedroom is particularly cool.

I had remembered Jay and Silent Bob are in “Scream 3,” but had forgotten about Carrie Fisher’s role. Fisher is great as an archivist who looks like Carrie Fisher but is not. She almost got cast as Princess Leia, she explains, but Fisher got the part by sleeping with George Lucas.

I had remembered that “Scream 3’s” ending is disappointing, because it doesn’t reveal the second killer’s identity. (When Roman is in the coffin in the basement, having faked his own death — and somehow stopped his pulse? — the second Ghostface is out and about.) But on this rewatch, Detective Kincaid — who hits it off with Sidney — seemed less suspicious to me, and I now think the second killer is one of the “Stab” cast members whom Roman kills. The web tells me Angelina (Mortimer) is revealed as the second killer in an earlier script; I’m also suspicious of Jennifer, especially since her last words are that she’s the killer in “Stab 3.” One feeling remains from my 2000 viewing: It’s frustrating that we aren’t told the second killer’s identity.

A Creed poster is on Sid’s bedroom wall on the “Stab 3” set, and a Creed song kicks off the closing credits. Surprisingly, Creed hadn’t yet jumped the shark in 2000, I guess — unless this is a meta joke about a horror franchise’s soundtracks getting worse along with the films.

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