In Defense Of 'Scream 3,' A Misunderstood Comedy Horror Classic
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Rated by a majority of fans and critics as the worst entry in the Scream franchise (so far), the third installment of Wes Craven's meta slasher movies about an agile killer-of-the-week in a Munch mask deserves a revisit and, quite frankly, a better Rotten Tomatoes score. Hear us out, because as a modern comedy horror from a franchise that had been unapologetically satirizing the advent of slasher films and their often inherent whodunnit motifs, Scream 3 is, well, a total scream. It's a bold trilogy end that hardly pulls a punch and goes after everyone.
From Hollywood sleazeballs and ignorant "American dream" types to true crime-loving audiences, the actors starring in films based on real crimes, and the media making them -- no one in and outside of entertainment gets spared in the third Ghostface movie. It's the one with the hilarious Carrie Fisher cameo (and some guys named Jay and Silent Bob). It's the one where Cotton Weary and also all the misogynists get sliced and diced. It's the one starring Parker Posey, the comedic tour de force who makes everything she's in just infinitely better.
Craven's third installment had a lot more comedy elements than its two predecessors — a fact that seemed to have irked many — but Scream 3 had its reasons for dialing up the funny. Following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and the inevitable moral panic, there was a lot of public concern over violence in media. The world at large was traumatized by the event, and no one really seemed much in the mood for a serious slasher. Not yet, anyway, so it made sense for the production to downplay the franchise's generous use of blood and gore and, instead, turn up the comedy in an attempt to find a more palatable balance.
The film even addresses the issue after the first death occurs and cheekily comments on the connections people seem to make between real-life violence and violence on screen, because that is what a meta-movie does:
The other reason Scream 3 is funnier in an obvious way has to do with, well, trilogies. Randy wasn't wrong when he posthumously advised the leftover crew about trilogies being way more over-the-top in general. All bets are, indeed, off, and just like so many trilogies that came before, the protagonist will learn something new about their backstory that changes or at least greatly affects their arc. And that's exactly what happens as we learn that the killer is Sidney's psycho half-brother who plotted the entire saga from the very beginning, bringing the Woodsboro murders full circle. It's a classic spoofing of trilogies: In Return of the Jedi, Leia told Han that Luke was her brother, and both The Godfather Part III and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade revolved around family drama. Scream 3 so obviously went with this trope and, instead of making it serious and scary, chose a more "fun house experience" with magical movie-making effects like two-way mirrors and secret doorways, and a final fight that's less gore and more siblings unleashing their pent-up frustrations by literally fighting each other to the death.
Ah, your classic sibling brawl.
However, having the killer be Sidney's long-lost abandoned brother all along seemed to rub people the wrong way for various reasons. Roger Ebert thought the killer to be completely arbitrary because all the new characters were so thinly designed, but that just feels both unfair and also kind of the point of this satirical whodunit slasher. These new characters were pretty much there to make fun of the movie-within-a-movie trope and show the absurdity and often cringing part of actors portraying real-life crime victims for a paycheck and/or a foot in Hollywood's door. Emily Mortimer's character, Angelina, won the role of Sidney Prescott during a nationwide casting call for Stab 3, a schlocky adaptation of serial murders that, in the world of the movie, actually happened. That's the official line, at first, because we later learn that she had to sleep with the exec to "win" the part, as did many other women in the film.
On top of that, it'd be odd making a big fuss over new characters in what may well be the final film of the franchise when said franchise has forever revolved around OG survivors Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, as well as Sidney's family screwing over other families. Not every character can have an elaborate backstory or even a cute little side game, especially not in a film trying to make meta-jokes about characters in trilogies.
And, of course, one could also argue that some of the new faces are really just there for the body count.
Listen, we're not saying that Scream 3 is without its faults. It gets off to a somewhat slow start, Jenny McCarthy's Sarah elicits one too many groans, and Sidney's dead mom dream thing feels like Craven was maybe missing his Freddy Krueger movies too much. There were a myriad of troubles with the production, from contract issues to script rewrites, but the film's scathing commentary about the fictionalization of true crime as well as Hollywood's treatment of women makes it a worthy and important addition to the franchise, even if reviewers didn't think so at the time. And the ending deserves less hate because the big joke of Scream 3 and the point of the franchise is that it's always been a family affair. The call has always been coming from inside the house. Come on, that's the most cliched slasher horror trope you can spoof that's not "runs upstairs."
And while many might say that Scream 3 was too campy or wacky or whatever other word ends in a 'y,' we'd just like to remind those people of the Winner of the Scream OTT award: The opening sequence of Scream 2.
Top Image: Dimension Films