Defending Scream 3

As Scream 5 opens in theaters, so many of us horror fans are rewatching the franchise in it’s entirety in anticipation and preparation for this newest installment. Inevitably, this leads to conversations about the other sequels and where they land in quality in comparison to one another. It is an undeniable truth that Scream resuscitated the slasher genre in 1996 and also introduced meta horror to the mainstream. Even mildly successful horror movies manage to produce infinite sequels, so it’s no surprise that Scream is now a franchise with five films and a television series. While we all agree that Scream has absolutely earned it’s place in the horror hall of fame, what we don’t agree on is the ranking of the sequels. Recently, there has been a steady voice of support for Scream 2: in fact, some argue that it’s better than the original, essentially, making it a part of the conversation that takes place in film class in that very movie. “Name a sequel that’s better than the original.” Some people would argue that Scream 2 is the answer to that question.

Looking to appeal to a new, younger crowd while maintaining the original fanbase, Scream 4 featured some young actors of the moment and a very meta cold open. Though it has mixed reviews, it is still seen as a better sequel than the third film. It would appear that Scream 3 is the sequel that is universally derided by everyone. Everyone but me, that is, and I am here to plead my case.

First, let’s have a bit of background information.

Released in 2000, Scream 3 had a bit of a tumultuous time making it to the screen. Kevin Williamson, the writer of the first two films, had shopped the original Scream screenplay with outlines for the second and third sequel: he was trying to entice studios with a trilogy. By the time Scream 3 was ready to be a reality, Williamson was in high demand with multiple projects and unavailable to write the script, so Ehren Kruger was hired to write the screenplay. Kruger had only an outline for the story, had no previous experience or interaction with the main cast and then another curve ball was thrown his way.

On April 20, 1999,  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School and the landscape of movies, television, gaming and music came under extreme scrutiny when it was suggested that Harris and Klebold were influenced by these forms of entertainment. Many facets of entertainment were affected by this tragedy as people searched for a reason and wanted someone, anyone, to be held accountable.

Kruger now found himself tasked with writing an installment for a franchise that has a fervent fanbase, a cast that is in high demand (which creates scheduling conflicts) and a studio telling him to focus on the comedic aspect of Scream and less on the violence. The intention of using less violence and more comedy was a pathetic attempt at trying to distance the movie from any conversation in conjunction with the Columbine Massacre. At one point, it was even suggested that there should be no onscreen violence or blood of any kind. (Wes Craven had to step in at this point and put a stop to that.) With all of these things going on behind the scenes, are we at all surprised by the final product?

Now that we know some things, let’s take a look at the most hated film in the franchise.

All Scream movies require a killer opening scene and this film used the opportunity to get rid of Cotton Weary early on. Look, I love Liev Schreiber, but Cotton Weary is such an obnoxious character and dude had to go. As with life, when you cut the head off of one terrible thing, another one will grow in it’s place…

When Gale Weathers gets wind of Cotton Weary’s death, she immediately shows up with the most atrocious baby bangs. Courtney Cox has explained that she likes to come up with a different look for Gale for each film and these baby bangs are the fruit of that labor. She has since agreed that it was not a good choice and explained that she only had one set of these clip in bangs for the entirety of filming: it’s just bad all the way around. I think we can all agree that Gale Weathers’ baby bangs are the worst thing that has ever happened within the Scream franchise.

As we meet the cast members of Stab 3, the third film in the movie franchise that exists within the Scream universe, it’s quite an eclectic bunch. Jenny McCarthy as Sarah Darling is riding her late 90’s wave of fame and goodwill before she ultimately becomes the first famous anti-vaxxer. Emily Mortimer, a true English treasure, is basically slumming it in an American horror film and it shows. She’s simply too good to be playing Angelina, a young ingenue with a bad haircut. And then there is Parker Posey: the It girl of indie cinema, playing Jennifer Jolie, sporting some truly awful hair and stealing almost every scene she’s in.

Perhaps the real horror in Scream 3 is the hair?

As the film gathers all of it’s players, we are treated to a unique cameo from the previously deceased Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Allegedly, there was talk of having Randy survive the second film and he had been hiding out, blah, blah, blah…it was all very daytime soap opera. They instead chose to have him show up via a previously recorded message to his friends. His sister Martha (Heather Matarazzo who will later go on to have an awesome death in Hostel 2) just happens to be in a trailer on the backlot of the film studio where she has been waiting for the exact moment for Dewey and Gale to walk by. You know, like you do. Randy outlines the rules of a trilogy and now we just need to wait for Sidney to leave her secluded mountain cabin.

The cast members of Stab 3 are all being killed off in the order their characters die in the film. This allows for some fun death scenes and we also get to spend a little bit of time with Patrick Warburton who refers to Dewey only as Dew Drop. Lots of red herrings are introduced, but the most fun is to be had watching the two Gales become best frenemies. Cox and Posey play off one another so well and Posey’s innate charm and comedic timing is such a gift to this horror movie that wasn’t allowed to be a proper horror movie.

Upon meeting Bianca Burnette, the amazing Carrie Fisher in the best cameo of them all, Gale and Jennifer learn that Maureen Prescott once tried to make it as an actress under the stage name of Rena Reynolds back when Milton was making all of the horror movies. In hindsight, much can be made of Lance Henriksen’s role in this movie. His character, John Milton, made loads of horror movies, held infamous parties at his mansion where girls like Rena would trade sexual favors in order to be given roles. In fact, Milton still engages in this behavior as we later learn from Angelina. With Scream 3 being made during the heyday of the Weinstein brothers and Harvey Weinstein being accused of rape by many women, including Rose McGowan who starred in the first Scream film, there is a lot to unpack here, but that’s a bit above my pay grade.

The final forty minutes of Scream 3 are an adult episode of Scooby-Doo and I will die on this hill.

Ghostface does what he always does and manages to get all surviving players to one location for the final act. This time, it’s at John Milton’s mansion where there are secret rooms, hidden stairwells, revolving doors, two way mirrors, secret passages and a basement fully equipped with horror set pieces and flickering neon lights. There is discussion about splitting up and how that’s now what you should do in a horror film, but these idiots do it anyway. Dewey and Gale realize that the killer is at the house with them and they try to warn the others, but what transpires is a bunch of goofiness.

Someone dies when Ghostface picks up the rug they are standing on and trips them, one person accidentally tumbles through a revolving door in a secret passageway, Ghostface hurls a knife at someone and it hits them directly in the center of their forehead, rendering them unconscious, two people are tied together, back to back while screaming for help, a red herring shows up out of nowhere and our mysterious killer is finally unmasked so they can tell us all about how they are going to get away with it despite these pesky kids getting in the way. The only thing missing here is an appearance by Don Knotts or the Harlem Globetrotters. The final act of Scream 3 is a delightful comedy and when viewed through that lens, it’s a much more enjoyable viewing experience.

For all of it’s many faults, Scream 3 is a strange, little time capsule of it’s era, especially with that soundtrack, and despite many hurdles, Craven still managed to deliver a horror film to his fans without simultaneously being insensitive to a school shooting. I know that many fans will still disagree about the worthiness of the movie, but for me, it’s my favorite because it captured a fun and lighthearted tone that was sorely needed at the time.

Sidenotes:

-Why is there a Jay and Silent Bob cameo?

-The idea of Ghostface carrying around promotional photos of Maureen is hilarious to me.

-Why does Sidney keep pulling out mace to defend herself from someone wearing a full face

  mask?

-Roger Corman also cameos in the film as a studio executive.

Patrick Dempsey has amazing hair. He is exempt from the horror of hair in the film.

-We don’t talk about Sidney’s amazing right hook enough.

Lisa Fremont

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