The wittiest gag from the whole Scream franchise remains the poster for Scream 2, dominated by the faces of Neve Campbell and Tori Spelling – the joke being that, while Campbell was the star of the movie and constantly on screen, Spelling was only briefly glimpsed during a clip from Stab, the movie within the movie, playing an actress playing a character based on the character Campbell was playing in the original Scream film. Or something like that.
Such confusing levels of “reality” are the key to Wes Craven’s trilogy, and they help lift Scream 3 a notch or two above the average level of stalk and slash fare. This is not, however, a stand-alone movie, and much of it will be completely incomprehensible if you haven’t seen Scream and Scream 2. Even then, you’ll be missing out if you don’t know who Roger Corman is – the legendary producer has a cameo here as a nervy studio bigwig – or that Heather Matarazzo, Parker Posey, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are key figures in the US indie movie scene, or that Courtney Cox Arquette and David Arquette got married for real just before filming started on this film, in which their characters get engaged, and so on.
So, if you know all of these things and who all of these people are, and if you’ve seen the previous two films and have gotten to know all of the characters, and if you’re willing to overlook some fairly hefty flaws, then I think it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy Scream 3. But if you tick yes to all those ifs, you’ll also no doubt have previously seen last year’s Halloween H20, which served as the conclusion of a trilogy as it (wisely) pretended Halloweens 3 to 7 had never existed. H20 rattled along at a ferocious clip and clocked in at a lean 85 minutes. Scream 3, however, seems positively flabby as it sprawls towards the two-hour mark.
The various plot strands end up spiralling all over the place, with the result that the few original and interesting ideas become rapidly buried under a welter of backstory and exposition. And scriptwriter Ehren Kruger, who stepped in when Kevin Williamson dilly-dallied between projects, can’t get away with it by having one of his smartass characters saying that the final movies in trilogies are always buried under a welter of backstory and exposition.
To briefly summarise, Scream 3 is about the making of Stab 3, a cheap Hollywood sequel to the original Stab and Stab 2, which, like Scream and Scream 2, told the story of how the friends of Sidney Prescott (Campbell) were carved up by various masked killers, while ambitious reporter Gale Weathers (Cox Arquette) alternately milked the tale for all it was worth and flirted with dopey cop Dewey (Arquette). This time around Gale has the distraction of having to deal with the method-acting antics of starlet Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), who is playing the “Gale” character, while Sidney is drawn out of hiding when yet another masked killer starts picking off Stab 3 cast members in the order in which they die in the script.
This post-modern self-referencing was given a full scale dress rehearsal back in 1994 in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, an audacious extension of the Nightmare on Elm St franchise in which director Craven, plus stars Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp appeared as themselves. Scream was a variation of this approach, and it was fresh, invigorating and extremely successful at the box office. Scream 2 was more predictable and as a result less satisfying – and 3 falls somewhere between the two.
The final unveiling of the killer – and there’s only one this time – is a disastrous let-down, although to be fair perhaps only the revelation of either Craven or John Carpenter, to whom all three Scream films are basically tributes, would have made anything approaching total sense. But Kruger and Craven show a distinct lack of imagination by having so many scenes rely on the use of mobile phones and voice distortion equipment, especially during the interminable climax. And can we please have a Hollywood soundtrack moratorium on Nick Cave’s song ‘Red Right Hand’?
On the positive side, Parker Posey works such wonders with her character that she’s worth the price of admission alone – the scenes in which she sticks limpet-close to the “real” Gale Weathers, picking up mannerisms and incorporating them into Jennifer Jolie’s “performance,” are a delight. And there is a considerable cumulative effect of seeing the three-part series finally coming to a close. But, if we include the New Nightmare, Craven has now told the same joke four times over. As Dewey said at the end of the trailer for Scream 2: “Let’s move on.”