If seen purely as a stand-alone film, "Scream 3" leaves much to be desired; but as the movie keeps telling us over and over again, it's not meant to be seen as just another movie. It's the conclusion to a trilogy. It's "Scream" . . . its third time over. It would be unfair to judge the film without keeping this fact in mind. Already, when "Scream 2" appeared in theaters, many fans and critics felt the haunting effects of the Munch mask diminish. The sequel seemed to develop its story much the same way the original had. The same goes for "Scream 3": the formula that went from "Scream" to "Scream 2" appears again (although in hindsight, "Scream 2" was much more formulaic); the upside? Much of the first two films' tongue-in-cheek humor, in jokes, and genuine slasher fun was retained. I'm glad that this is the last; I'm surprised the writers were able to stretch the original plot so far and give it a completely new twist. They're testing the limits here. Another sequel, and I'm afraid they'll reach the boundaries of our willingness to suspend disbelief.
Once again, the setting is set in a movie inside a movie, much like "Scream 2." Hmmm, I wonder if the set "Sunrise Studios" used for "Stab 3" was reconstructed from the original "Scream" set? Lots of the fun comes from the jokes and in jokes about Hollywood (Jennifer Aniston, anyone?), and much of the intrigue comes from, yep, the unreality within reality. Munch (henceforward my term for the masked and identity as yet unrevealed killer) and Sidney (Neve Campbell) reconstruct the chase from "Scream"; it's reality, but at the same time it isn't -- Sidney opens a door only to find herself in the middle of the air. It's not Woodsboro, but Hollywood Woodsboro. The Scream movies have always been as much about parodying and paying tribute to the industry, especially the horror film genre, as they were about scaring us. Think of "Scream 3" as the biggest laugh of them all. "Scream" threw in a movie geek and self-conscious references to the genre; "Scream 2" put cinema and "reality" side by side; "Scream 3" takes all these elements, juxtaposes, superimposes, and turns things completely around on us. In the end, the killer doesn't have superhuman powers after all as the rules predict; in the Wes Craven tradition he is a member of the family gone awry, a bad seed. Roman (Scott Foley) wanted to direct his life's own movie, but he was unconscious that it was but a mockery of modern horror films, where villains never survive. I must admit, they kept me guessing on this one. Was it Sid who, finally driven to the edge of insanity, went on a killing spree in a fit of schizophrenic madness? Was it Sid's father? Was it Detective Kincaid, with a morbid fascination for Hollywood? Or was it Milton, the man who knew the most about Maureen Prescott's mysterious past? I liked the element of unpredictability in the trilogy's final installment, even if at the end my reaction was equal amazement and incredulity.
I liked how Craven kept doing what he did best in the previous films: keeping things scary while adding a dash of Hollywood make believe here and there. I was amused by the guest appearances: Lance "Frank Black" Henriksen unwisely cast as a sleazy Hollywood producer (come on guys, the man exudes authority and intelligence), Carrie Fisher, chick from "Now and Again" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse," and Jamie Kennedy as our beloved video store film expert Randy. Campbell, Arquette, and, well, Arquette all return as our favorite heroes, while Scott Foley plays a decidedly un-Noel like character with surprising success. The actors who portrayed the actors in "Stab 3" were also smart in playing the characters as caricatures of, well, themselves. I loved the frantic pace of the chases, even though we pretty much know the formula already: dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, Sidney saves the day. Craven's direction kept things interesting. No, the Munch mask isn't as scary anymore, but it was well compensated by atmosphere (empty sets, replicas of murder scenes), direction, and movement. And even though we could tell to a certain degree that some characters were doomed, the when and how kept us in suspense.
As I've said, I think this is the limit the writers can go without making things look ludicrous. They'll be hard-pressed to come up with something that'll explain THIS next time. The killer was a bit TOO superhuman this time. Even with the two of em in "Scream" the killer couldn't get from point A to point B so quickly and effortlessly. I also could have done without the hokey "come to mother" ghost scares. So as much as I love being scared, I say let's keep the case closed on Sidney Prescott.
Rating: B+ (First viewing, 2/5/00)
* What's up with that trailer, "Ready to Rumble"? Rose McGowan as David Arquette's love interest? Sorry, but I still think of them as brother and sister after "Scream." Ew.
* Seems they can't get enough of that ubiquitous Nick Cave song.