Thursday, April 14, 2011

A look back at the Scream franchise part III. Scream 3: Scared of Columbine's shadow, a horror film series cuts its own throat.

It remains to be seen whether or Scream 4 can become the first breakout mega-smash of 2011, drawing in nostalgic 20-somethings and 30-somethings while bringing along the next generation who grew up watching the first three films on DVD over the last decade. I was invited to Tuesday night's press screening but had to decline due to not being allowed to bring guests (IE - my wife). But in the meantime, let us take a moment to both reflect on the original trilogy as well as discuss how well these films have held up over the years. Needless to say, if you have not seen the first three Scream films, there will be complete and total spoilage. Consider yourself warned...

Scream 3 (2000): After the monster opening weekend of the second picture ($33 million, a near-record for an R-rated film at the time), a theoretical Scream 3 seemed like a sure thing. But then, on April 20th, 1999, a year-long mini-wave of school shootings climaxed in the Columbine attacks, leaving twelve people dead and an entire youth-oriented culture under the microscope. Wes Craven had openly discussed the whole 'do movies make kids into killer?' shtick in the first two films, with Stu and Mickey copping to taking inspiration while in turn acknowledging their own responsibility in a skewed way (Mickey even pledged to blame the movies at his theoretical trial). So while Scream 3 did eventually become a reality, it was not under the pen of Kevin Williamson (his return-to-Woodsburo idea was scrapped, but apparently formed the basis for Scream 4), and it was in the shadow of Columbine.

Taken on its own, Scream 3 is a perfectly mediocre slasher film. It's relatively well acted (especially by Campbell), the chemistry between Courtney Cox and Parker Posey (as the actress playing Gale Weathers in Stab 3), and it has a few amusing moments with Lance Henriksen and Patrick Warburton. But, even taken as a stand-alone picture, it has serious problems. Right from the start, the concept of the killer having a device that makes his voice resemble anyone is a narrative cheat, and implausible to boot (such an invention would be a revolutionary breakthrough, and an absolute nightmare for the legal system as we know it). The first film had the frightening plausibility of a masked killer stalking suburbia, and the sequel had an equally plausible concept of a serial killer stalking a college campus. Scream 3 gives us the far-less relatable idea of a murderer stalking the self-absorbed actors playing characters from the previous films on a movie set that is built to resemble the previous films. So right off the bat, we as viewers are expected to invest in a glorified game of inside baseball. While the first Scream was partially a commentary on horror films while Scream 2 dealt with sequels in general, Scream 3's biggest target seems to be... the Scream series itself. Without the courage to confront the most-Columbine hysteria head-on, the third picture denies itself a reason for existing, and that uselessness hurts it almost as much as its absurd finale (but more on that below).

Adding to the problem is the absolute lack of any actual suspense. It's no secret that Wes Craven felt the fan blowback after Randy's death in Scream 2, and you can feel that fear in every frame of the film, the fear of truly putting our last remaining heroes (Sydney, Gale, and Dewey) in any real peril. The cast of colorful Hollywood types are completely disposable, with only Emily Mortimer's terrified would-be movie star registering any compassion on the part of the audience. There is just one moment where you feel any danger, and that's the mid-film confrontation between Sydney and the killer, which takes place on a stage replica of her childhood home. Since reports had leaked out about Nev Campbell's reluctance to return, and then her insistence on limited involvement, the scene had an undercurrent of 'we're gonna whack Sydney right at the halfway mark!'. But that epic death scene never comes, and the film limps to its haunted-house finale and its jaw-droppingly terrible final twist.

Oh right, the twist... Remember when I said that Scream 3 taken on its own was an okay slasher film? Well, as a would-be series finale (prior to this week) to the Scream franchise, it is an abject tragedy, with a last-reel reveal that retroactively neuters the grounded realism that the series had tried to establish. A young man killing the woman who slept with his father and caused his mother to leave him, and then going on a killing spree a year later out of deluded spite? That's frightening and plausible. The bereaved mother of that young man seeking revenge on the young woman who killed her son? Still makes sense. But the long-lost 'illegitimate' half-brother, who was born during a rape that took place twenty-odd years ago while said mother was secretly attempting to become a Hollywood starlet, secretly being the mastermind behind the two previous murder sprees and then seeking his personal revenge on his sister? Um... that's just bad screenwriting. And it takes the entire Scream franchise from a horror series rooted in something as simple as infidelity and divorce and makes it into, well, a bad slasher origin story, which is what it is.

It was as if screenwriter Ehren Kruger, scared of hitting too close to home in the wake of Columbine, set out to create the least-realistic horror scenario possible without actually straying into the supernatural (although the ghostly visions of Maureen Prescott are never explained). Adding to that fear is the stunning lack of blood and gore. Scream 3 frankly plays like the edited-for-TV version of itself, and the unimaginative death scenes and the lack of old-fashioned bloodshed does hurt a film that has little else going for it. Scream 3, with its unfunny Hollywood jokes ('oh, it's Carrie Fisher as someone who looks like Carrie Fisher!'), pointless cameos (Jay and Silent Bob, who take you out of the picture for a good 20 minutes), straight-out-of-Scooby Doo central mystery (what's the big secret of Sydney's mom?), and lack of any actual scares or gore-highlights, feels like a movie desperately afraid of its own shadow. Even Sydney's final declaration to her half-brother that he should man up and take responsibility feels less directed at Scott Foley and more at those who were so quick to blame pop culture for the premeditated murders committed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

The moments of poignancy are few: Sydney's wordless entrance into the police station, the brief appearance of Randy's sister (Heather Matarazzo, in that brief moment when she was pop-culture cool), the climactic moment when Sydney holds the hand of her brother as he lays dying, although that moment is ruined by one last 'the killer is still alive!' gag. In place of the quirky humor of Scream and the fear-drenched pathos of Scream 2 is a silly and inconsequential murder mystery, complete with an arbitrary killer (even Courtney Cox expresses disbelief when Foley unmasks), grand-scale cheating (the only time anyone ever checks a pulse in a Scream film, and it's a fraud), and attempts at relevance that make no sense (Patrick Dempsey babbling about how his favorite scary movie is 'my life').

Randy does show up briefly on a prerecorded video to warn Sydney about the 'rules of trilogies', and that moment sums up much of what doesn't work about Scream 3. Back in 2000, trilogies were an exceedingly rare thing in the film world (we were a year away from Lord of the Rings). We had Star Wars, The Godfather, Back to the Future, and maybe the Indiana Jones series. Other than those, the few film series made it to part III (Rambo, Die Hard, any given slasher series) were basically just the third film in a series of ever-continuing adventures, which had no real 'full circle' or 'new secrets revealed' shtick to speak of. The entire 'rules of trilogies' was basically a glorified straw-man argument, creating an arbitrary list of rules and then setting out to 'cleverly' follow them. But Scream didn't need a third entry to complete its narrative. And the desperation that oozes out of so much of Scream 3 stems I think from the creators' realization of that, the fact that there didn't need to be a third film, especially one completely unwilling to deal with the issues of the day.

As a standalone film, it barely passes mediocre muster. As a series cap, it's a counter-intuitive botch. As a relevant piece of social discourse, it fails outright to matter. If Scream 4 indeed restores some of the luster (as early reviews seem to indicate it does), it will be one of the more unlikely comeback stories in franchise history. As someone who refuses to give up on Wes Craven now matter how much the likes of My Soul to Take or My Deadly Friend outnumber the likes of New Nightmare, that would be a glorious thing indeed. Because Scream 3 is no way to end a series.

Scott Mendelson


ScottyP said...

Scream 3 also features Courtney Cox's worst-ever hairstyle: really, really long w/ really, really short bangs. Hideous. And it should earn one tiny, little prop for being the kickoff to McDreamy's career resurgence.

ScottyP said...

Scream 3 also features Courtney Cox's worst-ever hairstyle: really, really long w/ really, really short bangs. Hideous. And it should earn one tiny, little prop for being the kickoff to McDreamy's career resurgence.


Related Posts with Thumbnails