Heather Matarazzo makes her convention debut at this October’s Chiller show! Phil can’t stand HOSTEL, and refuses to see her HOSTEL 2, so he chose to review SCREAM 3. (Sadly, her role in it is so small, it didn’t merit mention in his review. But she’s good!) Enjoy.
If ever there was a franchise that should have stopped after one movie, it’s the SCREAM flicks. I saw the first film the week it opened, and I loved it. Here was a fresh take on horror, by a very bright director in Wes Craven, with a novel script by Kevin Williamson. It’s concept was simple, yet revolutionary: we’ve all seen a ton of horror flicks, which conform to rules, so we should all be able to survive one. After a few questionable turns at the wheel, Craven was back to form, and innovating again. The problem was, way too many people liked SCREAM. That’s usually a compliment, but not here. Because it did so well at the box office, along came the obligatory SCREAM 2. A bad sign, because SCREAM 2 was already starting to tread in the conventions of the first. Worse, it made a ton of money. Which in turn made SCREAM 3 obligatory, and so the downward spiral ended in an even lesser film that made a lot of money. Though the scope is much grander than that of its predecessors, it’s more of the same, but much less enjoyable.
From its opening shot, it’s obvious that the SCREAM franchise has gone Hollywood, literally and figuratively. A helicopter glides across a hillside, beaming its light on the HOLLYWOOD sign. There’s been an accident on the L.A. Freeway, preventing Cotton Weary from getting home to his girlfriend. The phone rings, and… well, if you don’t know where this one’s going, you haven’t seen the first 2 SCREAM’s. Ghostface is back yet again, playing phone games, and he’s added a new twist to his calls. Enter Detective Mark Kincaid, who finds pictures of Sidney Prescott’s mom at every crime scene. The evidence leads him to the set of STAB 3 (ha ha!), a troubled production that becomes even more so once the bodies start dropping. Sidney, Officer Dewey and reporter Gale Weathers just can’t escape the trail of death, as the plot drags them inexorably into the path of Ghostface in his latest incarnation.
The plot is actually a lot more involved than that. Not content with just taking on horror tropes, Craven and screenwriter Ehren Kruger decided to lampoon Hollywood’s studio system, by revolving the majority of the action around the movie-within-a-movie set. Their ambitions are grandiose. Way too grandiose, in fact. The plot is sprawling, and involves a huge cast of characters, as they’re dealing not only with the core SCREAM characters, but the actors portraying them in STAB 3, plus studio folks. The running time bloats to almost 2 hours, a necessity because of all that’s going on, but one that does the film no favors. Craven’s crammed so much Hollywood excess into this film (cameos by Miramax golden boy characters Jay and Silent Bob? Come on, seriously), that it becomes more a parody of itself than the things it’s parodying.
Which still could have made for a good SCREAM flick, if this wasn’t so derivative of the first film. I’ve never seen a franchise so stuck in a rut that the original created. Ghostface is a one-trick pony: he calls, plays nice, gets vulgar and then stabs somebody repeatedly to death. Even the twist to his phone calls isn’t innovative. By the time the first scene is out, you’ve either figured it out or you’re an idiot. And once some of the characters become aware of it, and still fall for it, it just proves they’re idiots.
As for the returning characters, they’re run through the same paces for a third time. I sincerely wonder if Neve Campbell got to the point while making this film, where she got bored from running away from Ghostface, evading him, and toughening up for the final confrontation. I genuinely like Neve; she’s a solid actress who showed promise on PARTY OF FIVE, before SCREAM gave her a career boost. Even in the original, she was plucky and likable. But Craven has basically asked her to give the same performance for a third time, and the strain is inevitable. As far as Dewey and Gale go, David Arquette and Courtney Cox are both enjoyable here (although Cox should never wear bangs); but other than his role as advisor on the film and her promotion to big time reporting, they suffer from the same problem. The three actors must have been going through the motions at this point, and I wonder if even they realized just how stale the film was going to be.
The best character, though, is Jennifer Jolie. Parker Posey is wonderful as the actress cast to play the Gale Weathers role, and she’s even more plucky and determined than the real Gale. The two go about investigating the murders together, and it’s hilarious as they try to outdo one another. Posey is inspired, and her offbeat approach fits this role like a glove. The one returning character I was happy to see was Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks. Randy is my favorite character of the four films, and though his screen time is brief, he ups the ante with his geeky love of horror. His role is strictly expository, as he lays out the rules of the “trilogy.”
And here’s Craven’s other topic to poke at. Meeks states that a trilogy pulls out all the stops, both in content and in killer, and Craven is more than happy to comply with this capper to his own trilogy. Of course, had Randy said “The trilogy is more of the same, just with ‘stabs’ at Hollywood and a much larger cast,” he would have saved me a review. I must confess, I don’t quite understand Craven’s mission. He’s making fun of trilogies in the last film of a trilogy, and he’s ripping the studio system in a film that cost $40 million and was produced by, at the time, a major player in that system. Maybe Craven still has that maverick, indy director attitude and the “hate the man” mindset from his days making LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Or maybe he’s just having a laugh at how silly the very concept of SCREAM 3 is. He’s an intelligent man, so there has to be some rationale. I just can’t figure it.
When I recently compared SCREAM 4 to INSIDIOUS, I was probably a little too harsh. Craven went and repeated the formula again, 11 years later. But that is a much better film than this. It’s the closest to the original, and the best of the sequels. SCREAM 3 is by far the weakest, a bloated, sprawling effort that repeats much of the original, without the original’s verve. Proof that SCREAM didn’t really need sequels in the first place.