Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley, Lance Henriksen, Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, and Patrick Warburton
The original Scream rejuvenated the slasher genre, bringing it to a whole new generation, with bigger stars and a more polished production. It’s full of jokes and nods towards the genre, both working as a genuinely funny parody and an amazing slasher film. It’s also unique for the slasher genre in that the sequels live up to it. Scream 2 is an excellent follow up that expands the story, doing exactly what you’d expect it to, while also commentating on that expectation. Scream 3 then takes this to another level, by having it mostly take place on the set of Stab 3, the in-universe films that adapted the events of the first and second Scream. It owes a lot to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the metareferential entry to the Nightmare on Elm Street series. At the time Scream 3 was the final part of series, finishing the trilogy and doing what a finale should, and at the same time being filled with clever comments on horror, sequels, and the Hollywood system.
Unlike the first two entries to the series, which were written by Kevin Williamson, Scream 3, was penned by Ehren Kruger, who had just written the excellent Arlington Road. Even with the new writer, the same love for horror and referential humour is found in this film. Most of the principal cast return as well, although Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has a reduced role due to scheduling conflicts. Sidney is still a major presence in the story, with the conflicts being hidden by her story mostly being separate from the main cast until the final act, where’s it’s all brought together. Instead Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewy (David Arquette) take centre stage to investigate the new killer. Joining the cast is a very young Patrick Dempsey and Patrick Warburton, as well as Lance Henriksen. There’s even cameos from Kevin Smith and Jason Mews, as Jay and Silent Bob, cementing the film in time at the turn of the century.
The Scream series is so well loved because of the way it plays with the conventions of the slasher film. Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who died in the second film, reappears through a pre-recorded video explaining the rules of the final part of a trilogy in horror, fulfilling the same role he performed in the first two films. It’s one of the best scenes in the film, because almost everything he says comes true. We all know what to expect with slashers, the kills, the twists, and the big reveal of who the killer is and their monologue explaining it.
What makes Scream 3 so great is that it’s really having a conversation about horror films. Stab 3 is about how some horrors are based on true events, and how that exploits real life tragedy. One of the strongest moments of the film is Sidney revisiting her old bedroom through the recreated set, the flashbacks that gives her. It’s haunting. There are also moments where it’s commenting on exploitation women in horror, both in front and behind the camera. A scene where one of the actors on Stab 3 is talking about her role, she questions why she must be in a shower scene, one of the staple moments of the slasher genre. It’s not played off as a joke, it’s a genuine comment on the genre that was way ahead of it’s time. There’s also a main plot point about how a young female actor is exploited behind the camera in exchange for parts in films. The seediness of Hollywood is laid out almost twenty years before the #metoo movement, and this was a film that the Weinstein Brothers were very active in making happen. They were the two people who wanted to make a third Scream film, and that plot thread is a major turning point. The fact that it’s such a major part of the plot is a testament to how untouchable they thought they were. At the same time, it’s another example about how Hollywood and the wider world knew what was going on, and it wasn’t being stopped.
It’s not just the references and subversions of expectations that makes this film so good. The characters are developed in a really meaningful way. They’re haunted from the events in the previous films and their growth from the previous one to this one is subtle, and not exaggerated at all. Sidney is struggling with what happened, but she’s also stronger because of it. It’s not full-on Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, but the impact is felt with how the character is portrayed. It’s a more mature character arc than you’d expect from a slasher film.
Scream 3 is an almost perfect sequel to one of the best slasher films ever made. It hasn’t dated in anyway, in fact the opposite has happened, it feels like it’s more relevant today. It’s a smartly written and all-round excellent slasher.
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