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Scream 3

Review by Eddie Cockrell
Posted 4 February 2000

Directed by Wes Craven

Starring David Arquette, 
Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox Campbell, 
Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley, 
Lance Henriksen, Matthew Keeslar, 
Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, 
Parker Posey, Deon Richmond, 
Liev Schreiber, Patrick Warburton, 
Jamie Kennedy, Roger Corman, 
Carrie Fisher, Heather Matarazzo, 
Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, 
and Roger L. Jackson as The Voice

Although unlikely to have been envisioned as such, the February 2000 opening of the third chapter in this wildly popular slasher franchise can be seen as a harbinger for that inevitable pop culture tsunami, 1990s nostalgia. From the quaintly dated metal on the soundtrack (Creed, System of a Down, Finger Eleven) to the self-conscious irony of the self-referential story to the mayhem as gleeful as it is inevitable, Scream 3 feels instantly outdated, as if the original was released in 1986 instead of 1996. The novelty’s worn off, the kids in the target audience have moved on (to be replaced, of course, by new kids who may wonder what the fuss is about), and even the series creator, currently overworked scribe Kevin Williamson, moved on and let someone else take over. Yet, like the masked demon that refuses to die and just keeps on getting up (a conceit directly from John Carpenter’s Halloween -- which, of course, swiped it from somewhere else), there’s life in the old boy yet: Scream 3 is a surprisingly fun conclusion to a unique cycle of horror films that were products of their decade.

Inevitably, the story at this point is pretty complicated, but after a slow start, the screenplay by Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road and John Frankenheimer’s upcoming Reindeer Games) presents the material in a relatively natural way. Apparently graduated from the violent university that provided the setting of Scream 2, the understandably reclusive Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has barricaded herself into a spacious mountain retreat above Los Angeles, and works from her home through a phone link-up with the California Women’s Crisis Counseling center. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), unjustly accused of murder in Scream, is now the host of the popular daytime talk show “100% Cotton.” Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro, the third in the trilogy of films about the Woodsboro massacre (the events of the original Scream) is currently in production, and the unkillable but now limping Sheriff’s Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) has been hired as a consultant. Pushy TV newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox Arquette), who wrote the book on which the Stab movies are based, shows up to work with police detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) after the killer abruptly resorts to his old ways. 

New characters include Matthew Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, Parker Posey and Deon Richmond as the cast of Stab 3, hired in many cases for their resemblance to the characters from the original Scream (resulting in a slyly funny initial scene on the set of the porch of Sidney’s original Woodsboro house in which each of the young actors, out of Stab character, brood on the wisdom of this career move). Scott Foley (Cliff on “Dawson’s Creek”) plays the harried young director of Stab 3, and Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld”’s Puddy) is a brusque rent-a-cop to the stars. And in the movie’s most reverential tip of the hat to the schlock horror films without which it couldn’t exist, former genre mainstay Lance Henriksen plays a legendary B-movie producer named John Milton, Carrie Fisher has one good line as an embittered studio archivist, and even the granddaddy of them all, Roger Corman, has a brief scene as some sort of studio honcho. Oh, and Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Now and Again) pops up as the sister of video store geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy), who died in Scream 2 -- but not before making sure the rules of sequels are passed down to the survivors.

Campbell retains the most dignity as the now-reclusive Sidney, and manages to imbue the character with a weary nobility which her inevitable showdown can’t erase. Sensing the built-in appeal of real life events, Kruger has punched up the scenes between the daffy but durable Dewey and the newly-chiseled Gale, giving newlyweds David Arquette and Courtney Cox Arquette plenty of opportunity to share the frame. Indie queen Posey makes the best of an underwritten role that requires her to play a caricature of Cox Arquette’s character (whew), and among the new class Warburton seems to be having the most fun with his fate (certainly more than McCarthy, whose brief turn complaining that she’s been cast as the blonde who gets offed must’ve looked clever on paper but stops the film, uh, dead in its tracks). Amusingly, former teen heartthrob wannabe Dempsey (remember 1989’s Loverboy?) comes off as the graybeard of the bunch, and Kennedy once again steals the film -- this time without even appearing on the set.

Like the makers of the dismal Man on the Moon, the Scream franchise as a whole and Scream 3 in particular have made themselves critic-proof by deriding their own existence upfront. Yet for all the meddling that apparently went on behind the scenes of Scream 3, director Wes Craven has pulled everything together and made a movie that succeeds both as mindless entertainment and a sly meditation on growth, remorse and facing up to your demons. If the eventual revelation of who, exactly, has done all of this killing is anticlimactic (after the buildup, how could it be anything but?), it is also a source of strength to the characters. Unlike Ripley in the Alien franchise, their tormentor is mortal after all.

Where Hollywood fads are concerned, “this too shall pass” is a phrase that provides some comfort (think biblical epics, disco movies and Leonardo DiCaprio). With that in mind, the Scream franchise could’ve ended a lot worse than it has. And before you know it, nostalgia for this erratic but generally satisfying series could provoke a Scream 4.

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