What’s your favorite scary movie? Better yet, what’s your favorite Scream movie? Odds are it’s not the third one. At least, that’s the reputation of Scream 3, the blockbuster second sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking slasher franchise. When the film first hit theaters in 2000 with a curious February release, the reviews were mixed and the fan reaction was polarizing at best. There were questions — namely, who in God’s name did Courtney Cox’s hair — but there was mostly this lingering sense of disappointment. Now, two decades later, we’re left to wonder, Was Scream 3 really all that bad? Below, we’ve rounded up an esteemed panel of Hollywood C-listers to provide an answer.
Michael Roffman: After all these years, perhaps the most meta element of Scream 3 is how the sequel about a bastard child ultimately became the bastard entry of the franchise. Ask any fan, be it of Scream, of horror, or film in general, and they all will likely point to this one as a blemish in Wes Craven’s blockbuster franchise. They’re also not wrong. Blame it on Columbine, the lack of Kevin Williamson, or Creed’s one-note soundtrack, but there’s always been this general malaise to the film. It’s just not sexy in ways both 1996’s Scream and 1997’s far superior Scream 2 are; it’s tacky, campy, and exceedingly self-indulgent, mostly because it’s a 40 million-dollar Hollywood backlot party. And yet, for all its aggravating qualities (and we’ll certainly get to them shortly), Scream 3 is still fun to watch. It’s pop horror in the grandest sense, and while it’s a major stumble from the epic highs of its predecessors, there are still some gems to be found when you’re not being distracted by, say, Carrie Fisher or Jay and Silent Bob. Anyone agree?
Joe Lipsett: First off, I will accept zero slander at Carrie Fisher’s expense, particularly when she’s so game for a self-aware cameo that very cheekily addresses the film’s thesis about sexual assault and power hierarchies in Hollywood. Jay and Silent Bob, on the other hand…
In all honesty, though, Michael, your categorization of Scream 3 as a “backlot party” is entirely accurate. There are too many times when the film’s screenplay, written for the first time in franchise history by Williamson wannabe Ehren Kruger, simply goes for the low-hanging fruit by making tired jokes about Hollywood. Sometimes these work (I would 100% watch 100% Cotton), but too often Scream 3 feels lazy and uninspired, as though setting the film in Tinseltown is itself both the joke and somehow simultaneously the draw? I’m still uncertain about the thought process behind a lot of these creative decisions.
But really, do we even care about any of this when Parker Posey’s utterly divine Jennifer Jolie is still waiting to be discussed? Or the sheer queerity of Gale’s new (much maligned) bangs, whose impact audiences (and internet memes) have yet to recover from?
Jenn Adams: One might argue that Courtney Cox’s bangs are the second killer.
Trace Thurman: Jenn, haven’t Cox’s bangs been through enough? The poor woman (but yes, they are atrocious)!
Michael, I’m assuming you asked Joe and I to join in on this particular discussion because you know that we are unabashed fans of this franchise, even the much-maligned third entry (and yes, Scream 2 is the best Scream). Truth be told, it’s not great, but damn if it isn’t at least entertaining. I confess that I cut it more slack now knowing that we have the impeccable fourth entry now, but I can only imagine how upset people were in the time between the releases of Scream 3 and Scream 4. But hey, at least it’s better than any season of Scream: The Series, right?
Scream 3 is noticeably less violent than the other entries in the franchise, but I don’t think the lack of gore is that detrimental to the film. Scream 2 is surprisingly tame as well, but it has a mean streak that is sorely lacking from Scream 3 and that’s what kills the film for me. It has oft been compared to an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and while that comparison would normally excite me (big Scooby stan over here), it just doesn’t work when the first two installments didn’t have that tone. On this, we can absolutely blame the aftermath of Columbine. We were a nation in mourning after that tragedy, and Scream 3 began production just three months after it happened. We didn’t want to see horror, because we had just seen real-life horror happen in the news. It’s a sad fact, but I understand why Scream 3 is the way it is, even if I don’t think it fully works (and don’t even get me started on the state of horror post-9/11).
I’ll echo Joe’s lamentations about Kruger. It feels like he’s trying to copy Williamson, but part of the blame here has to go to the Weinsteins, right? Famous behind-the-scenes tinkerers that they are, I’m sure that losing Wiliamson, only having their lead actress (Neve Campbell) available for 20 days of filming (Campbell was a busy girl in 1999), and the aforementioned Columbine massacre really set off their need to tinker. They are bad enough under normal circumstances, so add in those three factors and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. And yet, Scream 3 isn’t as bad as it could have been (it’s better than Cursed, another Craven/Williamson film with a notoriously troubled Weinstein production, after all), but it just doesn’t feel like Scream, does it?
Jenn: It feels like a Scream knock-off, hitting the beats of the first two films — Home Alone 2 style — with a mish-mash of Nightmare on Elm Street imagery, My Girl 2 plot points, car chases, and explosions. I disagree that Scream 2 is better than Scream (and I will die on this hill), but what they both get right is cleverly referencing the genre and itself without losing control of the story. Scream 3 tries to walk that line, but quickly becomes a parody of itself. And Trace, you’re right, the mean streak is gone. We have an entire cast of Scooby Doppelgängers to kill off, leaving our core three — Gale, Sidney, and Dewey — safe for a happy ending. How many times can we reasonably expect them to survive? There’s a good movie here, but the execution is clunky and feels like it’s taking the script of a Scary Movie sequel and dressing it up for company.
What does work for me is something you mentioned, Joe. There’s a strong undercurrent of sexual assault, victim blaming, and the generational cost of repressing trauma. Maureen’s promiscuity has been blamed for the events of the entire franchise and Scream 3 clumsily attempts to reckon with that. By positioning her as a survivor of sexual assault, we can look at her actions with more understanding and compassion. Sidney mentions never knowing who her mother truly is, and with these new revelations, we see two generations of women distance themselves to avoid being hurt again. Is this done well? Not really. The way the inciting rape is described in the final act is horrifyingly harsh. But the seeds of this story are there and in better hands, could have been really powerful.
I also love Sidney’s arc. While still suffering from her own (likely) PTSD, we see her use her pain to help other women. (And let’s not understate the normalizing power of hearing a woman report intimate partner violence to a crisis line.) I’ve always remembered Sidney’s final scene fondly, but I was really moved by it on re-watch. Her choice to leave both her gate and door open thus opening herself up to engaging with the world again reminded me of Jay’s arc in It Follows. Patrick Dempsey’s admittedly cheesy line about having to see what kind of movie they would watch made me feel hopeful that she could begin to move forward with her life.
Michael: Oh, the final shot with the door is perfect. So perfect that it almost makes Scream 4 a harder pill to swallow. There’s so much poetry and grace to seeing that door drift open, and there’s a genuine relief that comes from seeing Sidney at peace with the unknown. But, is it earned? Yes and no. On one hand, this movie really feeds off her frustration, and you see it in that final showdown with Roman. She’s exhausted by this shit, it’s consumed her entire life, and yet so much of that energy admittedly stems from how insane this story has become.
To borrow from the tragically underwritten Robbie Mercer in the fourth entry, it’s meta. (Yes, meta Dewey.) When Roman starts barking at Sidney about how fucked his life is and how he’s the one who set these killings in motion, it’s so ludicrous that we immediately empathize with Sidney as she spits back with venomous apathy. After all, how far is this going to go? How many sins is she going to be served? How many times are we going to buy these new chapters? It’s sequelitis-turned-narrative, and in that respect, it’s easy to relate to Sid.
But it’s also not that interesting. If anything, Roman’s revelations wind up distracting from the more intriguing arc that belongs to Maureen Prescott, as we’ve discussed, which is done even more disservice by the film’s deranged tonal sensibilities. Hell, just break down that final scene! Think about all that’s being unloaded — that one line about Maureen being fucked three ways to Sunday, comes to mind — all while Fred and Daphne are trying to muscle their way through the door and Detective McDreamy is proving looks don’t lead to proper arrests.
These tonal consistencies just inject helium in a subplot that is arguably the most dire of the entire franchise. Because in this setting, and the way it’s executed, Maureen’s fate is nothing more than a MacGuffin, a way to conjure up some element of surprise, and there’s something really gross about that. Perhaps it’s because we’re so attuned to the stories now in the MeToo movement, but that carelessness screams unflattering. The irony that this was produced by the Weinsteins only exacerbates those feelings 20 years later.
Again, though, I love that final shot, but almost as a “Okay, we’re good here.”
Jenn: You’re right, Michael. It does feel really gross, and I wonder how different it would be if made today, or if survivors were involved in the writing.
I think the biggest problem is that the movie is trying for way too much. So many plot lines either lead nowhere (which version of the script did the killer read?) or are handled so poorly that they lose any emotional weight they may have had. While I love the inclusion of Maureen’s story, (and frankly, we need to see more of them) it feels harsh because it’s not fully fleshed out. Roman’s story line could have been complex and moving, but the attempt to present him as a vapid Hollywood stereotype keeps him from ever feeling like a serious threat. Especially since the movie goes out of it’s way to describe the killer as superhuman, only to reveal that his power is a simple bulletproof vest. We’re led to believe that he and Milton are sleeping with their actresses then we’re expected to pity him as an indirect victim of the very power dynamic he’s supporting. He’s not mad that his mother was assaulted, he’s mad that it affected him. The movie tries to have it both ways and fails on both ends.
Roman’s silly death is particularly egregious and kills any chance for a complex narrative for his character. Sidney holding his hand as he dies, humanizing him and putting his life and death into context could have been a powerful commentary on revenge. His final line about getting to make his movie could be read as speaking his truth. But because it’s not a scream movie unless the killer comes back for one last scare, we get the insanity of him screaming and waving his arms like one of those whacky inflatable tube dancers while the entire surviving cast screams at Dewey to shoot him in the head. (What?) And Sidney doesn’t even get the kill shot.
That said, there are moments when the movie feels controlled and really works. While Jenny McCarthy is not my favorite, I do enjoy (and share) her disdain for how female characters in horror movies are written. I love Heather Matarazzo (those glasses!) and wish she were more than a vehicle for a Randy cameo. And while I wish they would take the subject of their investigation more seriously, I do like the Jennifer Jolie (oh god, the names) and Gale Weathers super sleuth tag team. Parker Posey is a delight and when done right, this pairing provides an interesting commentary on Gale’s character.
Click ahead to read more about the great Jennifer Jolie…