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Entries in Scream 3 [2000] (1)

Tuesday
Apr122011

Scream 3 (2000) Home Video Review

Not with a Scream, But a Whimper

Before this morning, I hadn't seen Scream 3 since it came out in 2000; unlike its predecessors, I only watched it once.  At the time, I remember being underwhelmed by the film, whose formula had been perfected in the first outing and run into the ground by a dozen copycats in the intervening four years. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson revitalized the horror genre with a hip, scary slasher movie that gave birth to a slew of shadowy-stalker teen thrillers whose posters looked more like TV Guide ads for the WB's Fall lineup than chilling promises of unimaginable frights.

Williamson didn't return to the franchise after part two, ceding the writerly reins to Ehren Kruger.  I don't know if Williamson simply felt he'd done as much as he could with the characters, or if his hit TV show Dawson's Creek kept him too busy to revisit the Ghostface Killer--but his absence left a huge pit in the center of Scream 3, which Kruger was ill-equipped to fill.

At the beginning of the film, series heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is living a life of seclusion in the woods. Her house is protected by a state-of-the-art security system, and she spends her days as an anonymous phone counselor of abused women.  Meanwhile, in Hollywood, production is under way for Stab 3, the second sequel in a highly successful horror franchise based on Sidney's encounters with the brutal killer of the first two movies.  Someone has begun murdering the actors in the order that they die in the script, and leaving black-and-white photos of Sydney's dead mother at the crime scenes.

This draws the attention of bumbling-cop-turned-technical-advisor Dewey (David Arquette), and his ex-girlfriend, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), a former tabloid journalist now doing the lecture circuit.  They team up with Detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) of the LAPD to figure out why the killer is trying to lure Sidney out into the open.  With the road map unfolded, Kruger sends his characters on yet another Scooby-Doo adventure that yields few surprises for anyone paying attention.

Which brings me to my Three Big Problems with Scream 3:

1.  Old Meets Not-Quite-as-Old.  While it's nice to see Campbell, Cox, and Arquette back together again (as well as a touching cameo by Jamie Kennedy as deceased classmate/film nerd Randy), Scream 3 wrestles with the same problem as any teen-centric television drama after the high-school graduation episode: The characters are adults now, and the best slashers are about kids.  Scream 2 sent the gang to college, which is a passable substitute, but in the third film, there's only one cast member who looks to be under 25.  Most of the rest, aside from the principals, are older actors playing kids--which makes for a fine meta-joke about youth-oriented entertainment, but is a drag to sit through.

Sidney, Dewey, and Gale wear a tired look of resignation through most of the movie, as they realize their bloody pasts will never die.  Sadly, that translates to the audience's experience of watching them jump through windows and run screaming for what seems like the fiftieth time.  The screenplay also toys with us, teasing that because this is the third movie in a trilogy, main cast members are in real danger of dying.  No such luck.  The end of Scream 3 is the same as the end of Scream and Scream 2, with the same people wiping the same caked blood from their faces and staggering off into the proverbial sunset--the only difference is that some of the stab wounds may now, in fact, be crow's feet.

2.  Bumbling Killer Syndrome.  The original Ghostface Killer(s) was a clumsy murderer, which helped set the first Scream apart from lesser genre films.  He was just as likely to take a boot in the face or trip over a bookshelf than to jump out at a victim with perfect timing.  To have this same m.o. show up two movies later is a sign that the filmmakers would rather maintain consistent branding than have the thrust of their picture make sense.

In each movie, the killers are completely different people who wear identical reaper-type costumes and wield the same knives.  While it's true that the killer in part three helped the perpetrators of the original devise their whole wicked scheme, I seriously doubt he encouraged them to be as sloppy and uncoordinated as possible in chasing prey (I also don't recall the Ghostface Killer from either of the first two movies sounding like Maury Povich on Red Bull; but that's a minor quibble).

3.  Parker Posey.  What better example of the failure of this film's "comedic" tone than the acting decisions of Parker Posey?  There are a ton of cameos and has-been/will-be star appearances in Scream 3, and Posey is emblematic of the collective cheese that renders the movie less like a classic Wes Craven horror film and more like a milder version of Scary Movie.  She plays Jennifer, the actress who plays Gale in Stab 3; and when I say "plays", I mean she over-acts the fuck out of every line and nearly throws out her back with constantly jutting limbs and sass-neck.

We're supposed to take her seriously towards the middle of the film, and there's just no chance of it. She's a cartoon character, as are Patrick Warburton, Jenny McCarthy, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, and Jason Mewes (in 2001, Smith included a Scream parody in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back that said more about the franchise and the business of running one into the ground than Scream 3).  I did more head-scratching than nail-biting during this movie, so focused was I on marvelling at the next celebrity appearance than the next ho-hum, knife-to-the-gut death scene.

Even more puzzling is the fact that Kruger wrote the script for the smash-hit remake of The Ring, which debuted a couple years later.  Regardless of what you think of it now (it, too, was responsible for a crop of decent-to-shitty PG-13 updates of Japanese horror films), there were genuinely creepy story elements that trump anything in Scream 3.  So I don't know if I should blame Kruger, Craven, or Dimension Films. All I can say is that the third movie is a polished, pop-savvy, and utterly boring nail in the late-90s-slasher-glut coffin.  I suppose there's poetry in the fact that Scream opened the door and shut it just as definitively--except that poetry tends to be enjoyable.