SCREAM 3 turns 21

 The following piece describes a point of view on the film which is not the average take on the 21-year-old film.

by Ryan C. Schowers

February 4 is the anniversary of the release of Scream 3. It has been 21 years since Dimension Films released the then-final chapter of the horror franchise that set the late 1990s on fire. You will find a lot of crushing critiques of this film, but I am one of the most outspoken, passionate supporters of this entry in the franchise. My omnipotent love for Scream 3 only grows as time goes on. Every time I rewatch the film, I am reminded of its brilliance. In fact, it is my contention that the second half of Scream 3 is a series high. Once Sidney comes out of hiding, there is little about the film that I would change. There is just a surefire strong scene, after strong scene, until it culminates in the complete-picture-forming climax.

The writing in Scream 3 feels both grand in scope and contains a strong sense of finality. The screenplay is exceptional in its merging of the mystery storyline of Maureen Prescott’s past with a cultural critique on Hollywood. On top of the dense plot, there is stunning character development of the three protagonists, especially the complex character arc of Sidney Prescott. Sidney journeys from pain to closure over the course the film.

The screenplay is actually rather sophisticated in the way it effortlessly connects so many story threads into a cohesive narrative which brings the original trilogy to a satisfying end. For instance, beginning the film featuring Cotton Weary’s death is such an astute way to begin a probe into Maureen’s backstory. This is a smart choice because Maureen’s murder is inextricably tied to Cotton’s role in the overarching story. But also, this as an insidious way to send Sidney a message, mess with her head, and propel the goals of the film into action. This is attribute to Roman’s strengths as a killer. In my mind, Roman is written as the ultimate Ghost Face in terms of intelligence, his cunning sense of preparedness, and targeting people in sick and distinctive ways.

However, the screenplay is the source of the most controversial elements of Scream 3. There are aspects about the film which are plainly “love it or hate it,” demonstrated by the following topics:

  • the “unrealistic” voice-changer – I find to be a clever, even brilliant way to keep the material from going stale.
  • the setting of Hollywood – It feels as though this is the only true way to complete the social messaging of the trilogy story arc. Hollywood is the gradual next step in the series’ genius cultural conversation about horror films, violence, and societal responsibility.
  • the bullet proof vests – This is simply a clever way to play with expectations of both the hero and the villain, while keeping the twist grounded in reality.
  • the sibling twist – It completely works for me, especially as an homage to Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, considering Scream’s close ties to Halloween.
  • Sidney’s nightmare about her mother – For me, this is most terrifying scene any of the four films and a character-specific way to keep the plot fresh.
  • The lack of blood, gore, and graphic death scenes – This is a source of criticism, but for my money, these movies were never good because of those aspects. I love Scream for the characters, the suspense, and cleverness, all of which Scream 3 delivers.
  • Jenny McCarthy as Sarah Darling – This is a performance and character generally held in contempt by fans. Again, I do not follow the pack on this one. McCarthy brings a genuine sense of spunk and personality to her role. Sarah’s phone call and build-up to her death scene is very worthy

The central storyline of Maureen Prescott’s past is also controversial. Besides the Who-Done-It of the original Scream, I would argue there is no stronger mystery storyline in the series. It is richly written, well-paced, and eerily feminist. An indisputable fact of Scream 3’s legacy is the fact that it told the story of #MeToo and Hollywood’s skeleton closet of sexual abuse 17 years before the floodgates ruptured. In this regard, Scream 3 is more relevant in today’s world than any of the four films. Scream 3 tackles sexual politics of capitalism, the filmmaking industry in particular, from multiple vantage points, as well as an investigation of issues like family, blame, and sexual violence.

The paramount reason this film means the world to me is the handling of Sidney Prescott. Scream 3 fulfills Sidney’s trilogy-long character arc, allowing the consequences of her traumatic past to finally come to the forefront of her storyline emotionally and psychologically. Scream 3 allows Sidney to overcome her trauma, come to peace with the secrets about her mother’s life, and stay three steps ahead of a killer who is two steps ahead of everyone else. In Scream 3, Sidney materializes as the ultimate, badass final girl. This type of grief-based plot, full of pathos, is one we rarely see in horror films told in such a grounded manner. Sidney does not have a single bad scene in Scream 3 – every time she is on screen, the character work can be mined for ripe analysis. Strengthening this case, Scream 3 is Neve Campbell’s career best performance. She portrays Sidney’s personal growth with stellar emotion and grace.

Sidney’s treatment in Scream 3 ties in strongly with another underrated aspect: the overall execution of phone calls. The killer using other people’s voices is something that contributes to Sidney’s unwieldy psychological issues; all three phone calls she receives are among the greatest scenes in the film. The scene where Sidney receives a call from the killer while she is in the protected space of the police station is one of the most twisted, harrowing scenes in the series. The entire film, Sidney has gone to great lengths to protect herself. And this is the moment where the rubber meets the road: Sidney has to make a choice between staying safe and confronting the killer to save her friends. This scene is second to none on the basis of Neve Campbell’s work as an actress.

I will concede the Stab 3 cast members are mostly disposable characters, but that is a choice of which I am comfortable due to the fact that this movie is not about them. It is about Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, and by extension, Kincaid, Jennifer, and Roman. This central cast is well-rounded dynamite. Parker Posey’s performance as Jennifer is universally beloved, and it has every right to that fame. Posey’s creativity as an actor has been unchallenged in the Scream series. Additionally, the enigmatic Patrick Dempsey and commanding Scott Foley give underrated performances. Lance Henriksen graces Scream 3 playing a small but pivotal role, and his presence is consequential to the success of the story coming together. With increased focus on Gale and Dewey as leading characters alongside Sidney in this chapter, David Arquette’s work is the best outing as an actor he has in the series. And although Courteney Cox does not outpace her best work in the series, she solidly portrays Gale as the most transformed character over the first three films.

An aspect of Scream 3 which is almost never discussed is the amount of quality scenes that exist where two characters simply talk. These scenes are not plot-driven, nor is there any particular action. Rather, quiet moments like these allow more and more of each character’s personality, feelings, and motivations to be revealed. It is Grade A character development. Examples of this are Sidney talking about her mother’s death with Kincaid in the police station, Gale and Dewey discussing the failure of their relationship at lunch, Sidney and Neil talking about Sidney’s reclusive lifestyle in her cabin, etc. These are adult conversations and scenes which move the series into an earnest, serious place for which it does not receive due credit. My favorite moment from the entire series is Sidney holding Roman’s after she defeats him in the finale. It is one of the deepest, most tragic sequences in the series, and shows the emotional distance Scream 3 possesses. It saddens me people forget the good in this film, even if they cannot blend with the controversial aspects I listed previously above.

The big elephant in the room when it comes of Scream 3 is the aspect of its comedy. Scream 3 does have comedic aspects surrounding the Stab 3 cast members. That is a fact. And not all of it works. For instance, I find the scene taking place at Jennifer’s house to be somewhat ridiculous flawed in logic – I love the house explosion, though. However, the overall impact of the slightly different sense of comedy is blown out of proportion. It feels like more of an evolution of the same tone that was in the first two films, which is just changing with the time. Scream 3 maintains the iconic “Red Right Hand” unifying feeling that feels absorbed the original trilogy. The comedy is on the surface a bit more, but it does not change the fact that Scream 3 has stronger elements of the drama, horror, and thriller genres. The most obvious evidence of this tone is the music; Scream 3 is the finest original score of Marco Beltrami’s efforts in the franchise. Its chilling nature combines both ambitious rapid tracks with drowned out sounds of a female voice, bringing the poignant emotion needed to complete Sidney’s character arc.

Wes Craven’s direction of each of the four films are vastly different, but in “Scream 3” an underrated and underappreciated aspect of how Craven constructs the film is its emphasis on dramatic suspense and riveting momentum. It is an action-packed adrenaline rush in the ways the other three films are not. Examples of this are the daring spectacle scenes, like Ghost Face taking on four people at once in Milton’s house, and killing one right after the other. Jennifer’s death scene with the two-way mirrors is such an exciting moment and the best death the film has to offer.

But then there are scenes with more depth, like the darkly detailed chase scene with Sidney on the Stab 3 set, and the devastatingly brutal fight between Sidney and Roman in the climax. The final 35 minutes are especially electrifying on this level of “momentum” I reference above – Craven achieves this effect by using quick cuts film editing, some creative uses of framing and cinematography, and sustaining an energy in the way. (The use of Milton’s house as the setting for the finale is such a fine choice – first rate set design and a fitting environment to serve as the location for the “final act.”) Additionally, Craven constructs the epilogue in Scream 3 to perfection with a wholistic vision of closure. The final sequence is beautifully filmed, masterfully executed, and serves the happy ending that fulfill these characters to their greatest potential.

Scream 3 is fierce, astute, and epic. I hope as time goes on, more people approach it with an open mind and come to love it for similar reasons as I do. Its existence within this franchise is worthy and there are people out there, like myself, who do love it for legitimate reasons. Divorcing Scream 3 from the culture around it is a liberating way to see Craven’s adeptness in managing to bring this story arc of the original trilogy to a close.

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