The return of a familiar villain. A loaded history dying to be revealed. Higher stakes, higher tensions. A slew of new potential killers… and victims. We, my friends, are dealing with the concluding chapter of a trilogy. Well, sort of. When it comes to Wes Craven‘s (A Nightmare on Elm Street) solidly meta-horror Scream franchise, a fourth film does close out the series. However, the third of the original trilogy, Scream 3, is one I often find to be overlooked and overly criticized despite the film’s significant importance to the story of final girl Sidney Prescott and to the service of all viewers and fans alike. With a script and screenplay outlined by writer Kevin Williamson (The Faculty), later detailed and finished by Ehren Kruger (The Ring), Scream 3 follows the rules set by our favorite trusted horror geek, Randy, and even uses those rules to expand on a novel slasher story that set a confident bar to the highest level of the horror genre for decades to come.
While Scream 3 engages in setting the precedents of a horror trilogy using inspiration from the success of those before it, it seems to catch some heavy disapproval that neglects it’s progressive concept and strong attempt at closing out an idolized, influential series. Though there are so many little details I can personally think of when it comes to this film, I think it’s important to put the basics in the spotlight. The only sensible way to do that is to invoke the rules of Randy and lay them out for those who remain apprehensive or cynical of Scream 3’s position as a truly valuable trilogy worthy of Craven’s superior slasher.
Trilogy Rule #1: “You’ve got a killer who’s gonna be superhuman. Stabbing him won’t work, shooting him won’t work. Basically in the third one, you gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up.”
This first trilogy rule at first glance seems to be a little far-fetched or inapplicable to the realism of the screen franchise. However, what most people don’t see throughout the film is that it holds such a deeper meaning to the ultimate plot. We’re surprised to learn in the end that the Stab director, Roman, is Sidney‘s biological brother and was really the one who orchestrated Billy and Stu’s rampage from behind the scenes the whole time. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but he really is the director behind it all.
In the end he is a little harder to kill and even fakes his death as Roman, following Randy’s rule appropriately. His role as Scream 3’s unstoppable killer follows the rule’s act of truly obliterating the one conducting the killings to end the reign of terror, whether he was the one in the limelight holding the knife or the one calling the shots from behind the camera.
What I find to be very interesting is the haunting presence of Maureen Prescott’s ghost. Obviously, she’s not a villain or in any shape way or form real, but she is a menace to Sidney. Maureen is the one who is the superhuman killer of Scream 3. She really is responsible for all of the bloodshed throughout the entire Scream franchise and is the entity possessing a higher power over the protagonists, something that cannot be taken care of by means as simple as stabbing or shooting. It’s just an observation but one I truly appreciate as I look into the bits and pieces of this trilogy. It’s a sharp reminder to Sidney and to the audience that there can be more than a mask and cape when it comes to the killer of a slasher flick.
Trilogy Rule #2: “Anyone, including the main character, can die. This means you, Sid.”
The Scream franchise is on a higher level of genre royalty when it comes to a character list full of potential killers and Scream 3 packs a load of red herrings into its plot following Mrs. Loomis’ cause in the sequel. It’s a trilogy that not only introduces fun, new characters, but also brings back the original trifecta of Neve Cambell’s (The Craft) Sidney, David Arquette’s (Eight Legged Freaks) Dewey, and Courtney Cox’s (Friends) Gale. By the time horror films hit their third installment, sometimes even by their second, the initial cast moves on and either supporting characters take the lead or new ones are brought on for a fresh take. However, being part of the franchise that it is, Scream 3 keeps us grounded in our beloved trio and expands on their worlds and acquaintances. Thus, it furthers the franchise in a higher body count and more tense state of suspicion.
Being that Randy’s second trilogy rule is that anyone can die, even our ultimate final girl Sidney, the third film hints at all bets being totally off. It echoes the praised storyline of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Like Dream Warriors, Scream 3 introduces a list of enjoyable characters including Stab actors, production crew members, Hollywood bigwigs, investigators, and all secondary characters waiting in the wings to possibly be revealed as having a murderous motive. Gale Weathers meets her strongarming match and subsequent partner in prying with the self-absorbed actress Jennifer Jolie played by Parker Posey (Dazed and Confused) (one of my favorite horror movie characters), which promoted an early representation of strong female roles and relationships early in the millennium.
While it naturally offers more characters to pick off, it does miss the mark on gore as a result of the tragic Columbine High School shooting. Following the real-life murders, horror films, in general, toned down their violence as the studio forced a more conservative nature of gore upon Scream 3. What it lacks in blood, it makes up for in a perfect amount of campy succession and feeling. Plus, it breaks this one rule and maintains Sidney Prescott’s ability to live through the worst (as well as Dewey and Gale’s), an obviously smart and pleasing choice.
Trilogy Rule #3: “The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest! Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.”
While I normally believe an origins story detracts from a villain’s mystique, Scream 3 happens to be one of the films that digs up the past with a contemporary shovel, serving equity to its franchise. It takes the story back to where it started, but in a different, more modern setting. Hollywood serves as a backdrop (again, to escape the small town realism of Columbine), ever so appropriately, and wraps the plot around a very dark, sadly relevant problem. The sexual abuse scandals of the entertainment industry, many of which have recently ushered in a new era of female empowerment and justice. I mean, Lance Henriksen’s (Aliens) John Milton practically, and grossly ironically, screams Harvey Weinstein.
These sins of Maureen Prescott’s acting past give the franchise a revelatory rhyme and reason and still remain apropos of the industry’s issues today, putting Scream 3 ahead of its time. Unraveling her mother’s history along with trauma of her own puts Sidney in a unique state of PTSD, but one that she strives to overcome. She is the ultimate survivor of Hollywood, both literally in the films and in the more complex meta-application of cinema elements that the Scream franchise is built upon.
Aside from boosting a pure love for film and the industry that surrounds and granting some well-deserved peace for the final girl, Scream 3 does what so many trilogies fail to do. It brings back the past and introduces terror in a creative way all while coming full circle without the flaws of typical conjecture. It’s made with respect and appreciation for the original legacy of Scream and its fans, but adds the right kind of new, modern flair to continue Sidney’s story.
Sure, there might be a little more of that campy humor (that the Scream franchise is known for, by the way), but there’s also a lot of meaning behind the obligatory lens. It is a shame that so many deem Scream 3 the worst of the series when there is so much more to unpack and enjoy beneath the typical flaws a third installment suffers regardless of quality and content, especially one following a perfectly crafted classic slasher like Scream. Maybe they just can’t get past the surface of things…