Scream 3 (2000)

D: Wes Craven
S: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette, David Arquette

Aw... who cares?

Okay, let's do it anyway, though God knows there's little real reason. You know the drill. The first one made money, the second one made money, here comes the third. Despite lofty claims to be the concluding chapter of a trilogy, Wes Craven's third film in the Scream series is lame, pedestrian, and actually fails to make use of the postmodern self-referentiality which was so central to its predecessors except as a backdrop to the action (the making of Stab 3, the third film in the series based on the events in the first film, around which the new murders revolve). Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road) took over from Kevin Williamson at the script stage (though Williamson retains credit as creator and as executive producer), and seems not to have a grasp on the playful intricacies of the is-it-or-isnt-it-a-parody school of horror writing. Instead, Kruger plays it more or less straight, tosses in one or two in-jokes and hopes the the rest will follow. It doesn't. Despite Craven's presence at the directorial helm, this is hardly a sequel to Scream 2 at all, and bears as much resemblance to Scream as it does to Psycho. It is as routine as any film in the Friday the 13th series and more Halloween II than Halloween.

The plot concerns how heroine Neve Campbell is once again menaced by the ghost-face killer, again armed with a mechanical voice box and an amazing ability to make a variety of people armed with pistols aim only at its chest. Regulars Courteney Cox-Arquette and David Arquette make a re-appearence, and have their parts considerably beefed up, almost to the extent that Campbell becomes the support rather than the star. A new cast of would-be victims has been drafted in, but few register. Carrie Fisher has an amusing cameo, as does Roger Corman, and Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith (Dogma, Mallrats, etc) also turn up briefly in their famous characters from Smith's series of films. This kind of rather bargain-basement self-reflexivity abounds. This type of thing is not especially clever, and only funny for an instant. This script does not have a sense of how the structure and tone of horror films can be turned on themselves to produce an unsettling mix of terror and humour. Instead it plays things by rote, and hopes that weak smiles will pass for savviness. The fact that it is not frightening in the slightest then leaves it lost on every level. It lacks the playfulness of Scream and the invention and detail of Scream 2. Though there are many primitive jolts and stingers, there's no suspense or tension, and the film is woefully short on a sense of the absurd. It really is a tired slasher film rather than a postmodern pastiche of the genre, and though this may have been fine twenty years ago for a certain section of the viewing public, that same group of viewers are now long past finding this particularly interesting on its own merits. Therefore, lacking any real reason to exist other than to make money, the film sinks under the weight of its own banality long before its 'shocking' finale (which the audience has been primed to expect now since the first film so much so that it's easiest not to bother guessing at all and just let it get there in the end).

Craven's mind is clearly elsewhere (possibly with Music of the Heart), as the film is absolutely by-the-numbers from a style point of view. There are one or two good moments, such as when Campbell wanders from a ladies toilet onto a soundstage which is made up to look like her home, but there's nothing here to compare with either of its predecessors, or especially with the still underrated Wes Craven's New Nightmare which proceeded Scream and pre-empted and outplayed many of this series' key conceits. The finale in a funhouse-like mansion owned by producer Lance Henriksen goes completely flat, and the attempts at gravity are laughable in a way which was not intended. The same goes for the would-be elegiac finale, which attempts to offer closure for the whole series.

It probably won't stop devotees, but Scream 3 is a dog of a movie which has as its only saving grace the promise that it is the last in its line. If the creators of this film were really sequel conscious, they would probably know that like Superman III, Godfather III, and Die Hard With a Vengeance, sometimes the third time is not a charm and if often is best to leave well enough alone. Completists and obsessives will doubtlessly want to tune in, it may well make money as well, but here's hoping this series does not limp along to yet another sequel (remember Friday the 13th Part IV was subtitled The Final Chapter, but was followed by Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning...). Avoid. Really. Honestly. Avoid.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.