MAY 14, 2010
While I had no desire to revisit Scream 3, readers have requested that I do so quite a few times since I did the first two back in October of 2007, and I figured with S4 now finally happening, I’d eventually need a refresher, assuming the new film addresses this one at all. See, my main issue with the film is and always has been that the new screenwriter (Ehren Kruger) brought a completely different tone from the others, plus some rather revisionist plot developments, and thus I wouldn’t be surprised - nor would I mind - if Kevin Williamson (who is writing 4 as we speak) just ignored it entirely.
Before I explain away why this one doesn’t work for me, I will point out what I DO like. For starters, it’s perfectly good on a technical level. Peter Deming is one of the hands down best DPs in the business, and while the reported 40 million budget isn’t on the screen (I’m guessing a big chunk of that went to paying the principals to return), it still looks far and away better than any other horror movie of the era (and yes, the eye candy doesn’t hurt - Jenny McCarthy in particular has never looked better). Likewise, Patrick Lussier’s editing is as good as ever - the scare scenes are tight, and even with a few viewings, still manage a few thrills. The chase in the set for Sidney’s old house is a wonderful sequence - not only does it actually work as intended (since Neve was clearly not in the film as much as usual, it was actually feasible that she WOULD indeed be killed off halfway through, especially since it comes after Randy warns she’s just as in danger as anyone), but it’s just a terrifically constructed chase scene, with a great, unexpected punchline that pays off the whole “Hollywood is fake” thing, and then another beat that continues the series’ charming tendency to make Ghostface a really clumsy, oft-knocked to the ground killer.
And I like that no one has been replaced or curiously left out. Few part 2s in slasher series ever have returning cast and crew, let alone part 3. But with the exception of Williamson, everyone that matters is back - Craven, Neve, the Arquettes, Liev Schrieber, the producers, composer Marco Beltrami (though his attempts to copy the Zimmer/Broken Arrow themes for Dewey are terrible - why didn’t they just license the score again?)... even Sid’s dad shows up again. There are no characters of note who simply got written out or ignored entirely - if they were in Scream, and not dead, they’re here. Hell, they even bring back Billy’s dad for a single shot! It gives the film a consistency that few horror franchises ever have.
Unfortunately, that just makes the script’s failings all the more apparent. Everyone comes back and gives it their all, but they’re stuck with a script that rewrites the history of their previous adventures. It’s the type of ret-conning thing I never care for, ESPECIALLY when it’s another writer. If Williamson wants to say that Billy and Stu were hired by some douchebag, one who then spent another 4 years not bothering to do much to find Sid (she wasn’t in hiding in part 2, Mr. Bridger!), then he can. Ehren Kruger, as far as I’m concerned, hasn’t earned the right to do that. Especially for such a weak and plot-hole ridden revelation as this one - how is it that Gale, in all of her book writing and research, never came across anything about Sid’s mom being an actress? It’s just dumb.
The humor is even worse. Instead of referencing horror movies, Kruger has a bunch of shitty meta-humor that wouldn’t feel out of place on Family Guy. By the time Carrie Fisher (not as herself) is bitching about losing the part of Princess Leia because she didn’t sleep with George Lucas, I wanted to give up entirely. Plus: Jay and Silent Bob cameos? Roger Corman bemoaning violence in the movies? Come on, this is Mad Magazine shit, not clever satire. And again, it doesn’t seem like Kruger has any real love for the genre, which makes even the somewhat appropriate meta-jokes (actors complaining about their scripts being rewritten, an actual problem with both Scream 2 and 3) feel forced and sort of mean-spirited. Worse, since they aren’t referencing legitimate horror movies, the film has completely lost the “real world” appeal that the first two had. We cared about people like Randy not just because he was a good character, but because he, like us, watched things like Prom Night and Dorm That Dripped Blood in his spare time. It gave the first two films a sense of realism that most horror films lack, and the fact that everything in this movie is about fake movies just makes it doubly problematic.
It also feels like Kruger’s script tries too hard to copy the first film’s structure, right down to having the entire final third set at a party in a giant house (and the less said about this movie’s version of the voice scrambler, the better). Again, this makes its flaws all the more apparent (i.e. the finale is a complete bore), but it also keeps the film from feeling surprising at any turn. Supposedly, this being the end of a trilogy (HAH!), “all bets are off”, but the film plays it remarkably safe. The new characters are all unmemorable, so you can forget about being upset when any of them die, as you might have been for Randy, or Tatum, or even Derek from 2. The only new character who managed to strike a chord with me is Patrick Dempsey’s cop (and his partner, who is sadly absent from the 3rd act for some reason). Not only is he the only viable red herring in the entire movie (another giant step down from the first film, which excelled in this department), but once it became clear that he was NOT the villain, he was the only one whose fate I wasn’t sure about. We know Dewey’s indestructible, and if they were going to kill Sid they would have done it halfway through when they had a chance (and used Neve Campbell’s limited screen time in a more creative way - instead of having her disappear for large chunks of the film, they could have gone the Psycho route, putting her front and center for a while and then BAM!). And they curiously leave Gale out of the action for the finale once Sid shows up, though not in a red herring type way because we already know it’s not her. So can someone explain why I’m watching a Scream movie and the only person I care about is Patrick Dempsey*? I should also mention the bummer opening, which sees the death of Cotton Weary (way to put me in a bad mood right from the start), who was an interesting character, not to mention played by one of the series’ best actors (Liev Schrieber, who I’ve been a fan of since his expanded role in Scream 2, and continue to find him one of the more interesting actors in his age group).
Speaking of the lack of red herrings, I think the idea to only have one killer this time around was a mistake. Sure, the audience was probably expecting it, but was it worth the trade off, to have so few suspects, and have characters occasionally act suspicious for no reason whatsoever to make up for it? I think not.
They also bring back the “going in sequence” concept from Scream 2, and again, pretty much drop it as soon as they bring it up. This time the killer is killing everyone off in order of when their characters die in the Stab 3 script, but as soon as it’s mentioned, we discover that there are multiple scripts for the movie, and thus the next victim could be any of three people. So we have an instantly worthless plot contrivance. And many of the victims in the movie aren’t actors from Stab (the Patrick Warburton character, Lance Henriksen, Cotton’s girlfriend...), so why even bring it up? Just to get to a meta-joke about how Scream sequels tend to have various drafts?
And I HATE the completely misguided nightmare scenes (gee, I wonder how Mr. Kruger came up with those), which don’t fit at all and waste Neve’s restricted screentime. Again, this is where the fact that everyone else has returned betrays the film’s design. If it was a new director, and an entirely new cast (save for maybe one minor character), then the huge shifts in tone and style would sort of be expected, or at least easier to swallow. But for a part 3, why are the same people going about it all differently? Even Dewey and Gale’s love-hate relationship feels forced. I’m not saying the movie has to be the same thing over and over (that would actually be worse), but large sections of the film simply don’t feel like Scream to me.
Oh and the Randy scene? Ridiculous. Since none of his rules are followed anyway (for example, he says “some of you will die”, but he’s addressing the only 4 people in the movie that DO live), and some of them don’t even make sense. What the hell part 3 had a suddenly supernatural killer? Jason didn’t turn into a zombie until part 6, Freddy and Pinhead were always supernatural, Michael wasn’t even IN his part 3... hell, even Randy’s beloved Prom Night actually went the supernatural route with the 2nd film. I just don’t have the slightest idea why they thought this scene would be a good idea. Sure, it was nice to see our favorite character again, but was it worth it at the expense of suspending our belief more than ever (he actually refers to the rules as his “life’s work”, as if it was the only aspect to his character)? Christ, if Randy was so worried that he was going to die that he would actually make a tape for his friends to watch in case a 3rd killer came along, why was he egging on the killer in 2? Again, the things we learn in this movie ruin things about the first (and superior) two films.
And why use a cover of “Red Right Hand” instead of the Nick Cave original? Come on, work with me here!
At least the DVD meets expectations. Alternate cuts of the opening and ending, a few other deleted scenes, outtakes, TV spots (including one that makes Deon Richmond look like a main character and plays rap music over the tail end of it - OK?), bios, trailers, a Creed music video (Creed is all over this movie, in fact, and yet it’s the least of its problems)... the whole nine yards. There’s also a commentary with Craven, producer Marianne Maddalena, and Lussier, where they talk a lot about the cast and technical details, and, perhaps tellingly, almost nothing about the script, though they do mention that it originally had a lot of scenes of Ghostface talking on camera (as opposed to over the phone), which again confirms my belief that Kruger had no idea what he was doing. They also reveal that they never had a test screening, which is a shame. I mean, there are problems with the film’s very core, and a few edits or reshoots probably wouldn’t help much, but a 95 minute disappointment is better than a 117 minute one. Wes also makes a hilarious “Macarthur Park” reference, which is incidentally the best laugh on the disc (though I do like Dewey and Dempsey’s “Was that a threat?” face off).
In a way, it’s sort of like the Die Hard 4 of the series; in that it’s a passable entry in its genre, but it’s a lousy one with respect to its franchise. Like the former film, it seems written by someone who failed to understand what made the earlier films so special, and ultimately delivered something that didn’t elevate the standards of its sub-genre, but simply catered to them. I’m pretty forgiving for slasher films in general, but I expect more from my Scream films.
What say you?
P.S. When looking at the IMDb page for the film for research, I noticed people on the board claiming this one was their favorite of the series. If any of those folks are reading, I IMPLORE you to explain your reasoning in the comments. I can see liking the film more than me, but if it's your favorite of the series, I have to assume you simply just didn't like the first two.
*I also actually kind of liked the Matt Keeslar character. He's not in it much, but he's got a great little bit with Gale and manages to come across as likable even though he's written as sort of a douche. Go figure.