Scream 3 – Movie Review

David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Patrick Dempsey star in Scream 3

Hello horror fans and slasher stans, it’s Slick Dungeon here! I’m gearing up to go see the sixth installment of the Scream franchise soon but before I do that, I wanted to review all of the previous movies here. For these reviews I plan on going in-depth so if you have not seen the movies, I advise you not to read this review yet. Scream is a great slasher franchise but the best parts of it are surprising events and reveals so definitely have a watch first because reviewing without spoilers is never easy with these movies.

When I do review Scream VI, I will have a first reaction spoiler free review followed by a spoiler heavy review. For the rest of these, watch first or risk the fun of the movies being taken away by reading. I’m going to be talking about individual scenes, characters, and themes so it’s all fair game in these reviews. I will only spoil things from the first three movies in this review so you don’t need to have seen all the Scream films to keep yourself spoiler free, just the first three. If you want to read my review of the first Scream you can do so right here. And if you missed my review of the sequel, Scream 2, you can check it out here.

Scream 3 in Historical Context

Scream movies are kind of unique in the slasher genre because these are reflections of their time more than a lot of other films. The first Scream revived slasher films, the second was able to develop a franchise during the early age of the internet with spoilers flying around everywhere. And the third? Well, there was a lot happening.

First off, Kevin Williamson who had written the first two scripts wasn’t available for the third movie so instead writing duties fell to Ehren Kruger who had an outline from Williamson but didn’t use much of it.

Secondly, perhaps more importantly, but definitely more tragically, there was a huge increase in scrutiny over violence in the media after the awful shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. This was, at the time, the largest mass shooting at an American school in history. After this tragedy, people wanted to find out a reason why something like this could have happened. Attention was turned towards violent movies, explicit music, and video games. There’s certainly a debate to be had over how much any of this may or may not have contributed to the real world events but either way, releasing a violent slasher film in this kind of heightened scrutiny was not an easy thing to do. This may be the reason why this film plays way more into the comedic aspects of the franchise than the first two did. The filmmakers were a bit reluctant to take too many risks or show too much violence here.

After the first two films were decent sellers, this movie didn’t have as much riding on it as Scream 2 did. It could perform poorly and still make enough of a profit for the studio to be happy. It did end up making $162 million with a $40 million budget, so financially speaking, it was a success. On the critical level, this one is probably the least well loved of all the Scream films. However, this one is still worth a rewatch because in larger context this may not be quite as bad as people remember.

The film brought back old stars including Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, and Liev Schreiber. It also inserts new cast members including Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley and Lance Hennriksen. Plus there are a few notable cameos but we’ll get into some of those further on in the review.

So, let’s take a look and see what went down with Scream 3. Does it deserve the derision it gets as a terrible film, or is there something here we should reconsider?

Spoilers follow below!

The Cold Open

Up to this point, both Scream films started with the deaths of characters barely connected to Sidney Prescott in a setting we don’t see again after the start of the film. The third film throws us in a different direction from the very beginning.

We see helicopter spotlights highlighting the famous Hollywood sign and we see on the road Cotton Weary is driving and talking on the phone. (This was before doing that was illegal) He’s speaking with his agent about a movie part he wants to get. It’s also established there is a Stab (the film within the film) sequel coming. Apparently Cotton has had some success since the last movie. He’s got a talk show and has a girlfriend. We find out he has a girlfriend because while Cotton is on the phone he gets a call from a woman who starts flirting with him. Cotton flirts back until the caller’s voice switches to the one we know as the voice of the Ghostface killers from before. The voice on the phone wants to know where Sidney Prescott is.

Cotton slams on the accelerator and rushes toward his apartment, hoping to save his girlfriend Christine. If you’re a horror fan and you hear the name Christine, you’ll probably think of the Stephen King book and movie of the same name. And the fact that Cotton starts out driving just reinforces that image.

Anyway, the camera cuts to Cotton’s apartment where Christine hears some odd noises and thinks its Cotton. We hear Cotton’s voice answer her but we know it can’t be Cotton because he’s driving. Sure enough someone wearing a Ghostface mask wielding a knife pops up to try to stab Christine. Christine gets away for a moment but whoever is in the mask says in Cotton’s voice he was just playing a game.

The real Cotton comes into the apartment but at this point whoever was in the mask seems to have gone somewhere else. Christine attacks Cotton in a panic, thinking he was trying to kill her. Cotton is on the floor when he sees the Ghostface killer behind Christine. Despite trying to warn her, she dies. Cotton gets the drop on the killer for a moment by dropping an entire bookcase on him but, the killer gets up and that’s the end of Cotton Weary. We then cut to the title card of Scream 3.

This cold open is definitely not one of the scarier ones of the Scream franchise but it does raise the stakes by immediately killing off a legacy character. Cotton Weary has already survived two of these films and while he’s not in the closest inner circle of Sidney’s he’s only one degree separated here. This means the killer means business and really has it out for Sidney.

This is also one of the shortest cold opens in the Scream films and doesn’t really ratchet up the terror at all before we see the consequences. Really, the only surprising part here is who dies, not how they die. It does, however, give the movie a bit of a different feel from the first two.

Catching up with the Gang

As with all of the Scream films so far, after the cold open deaths we cut to Sidney Prescott. She’s walking her dog in an isolated place where she lives alone. She has alarms and door locks and she gets on the phone for her job as a crisis call center operator with a fake name. The previous two films have had Sidney with a boyfriend but it’s pretty clear this time she’s all alone.

Next we see Gale Weathers giving a talk to a crowded classroom of upcoming journalists. After the speech Gale is told someone from the police wants to talk to her. The audience is pretty much expecting this to be Dewey but it turns out to be Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey). He delivers the news about Cotton Weary. And he gives Gale a clue to who the murderer is but swears her to secrecy. It’s a picture of a young Maureen Prescott, Sidney’s mother.

Sidney finds out about Cotton on the news and is understandably upset.

We then cut to Sunrise Studios where Stab 3 is in production. The movie is in danger of being shut down because of the likely return of a deranged killer. In the studio there is a debate over whether shutting down a scary movie would have any effect on reducing the amount of “psychos” in the world. They use that word intentionally, I think, because the first two Scream films truly do depend on a bunch of tricks the movie Psycho pulled off. It’s a sort of spiritual ancestor to the Scream movies. But, it’s trying to make the same point the first two movies did. Depicting violence doesn’t necessarily cause real world violence. One of the filmmakers asks the detectives passing by if there was any reason to think the murders were linked to the movie. The detective says, “He was making a movie called Stab. He was stabbed.” This sort of throws out the argument the filmmakers of Stab were trying to make.

We then see the cast of actors who are making the movie. They are all obvious stand ins for the cast we know from the first Scream movies, including a person dressed as a deputy, one who looks an awful lot like Sidney and a character named Ricky who works at the video store. These actors all start debating who the killer could be and hypothesize it might be Sidney because no one has seen her in the public eye for quite some time. Some are more callous than others about whether or not they should be concerned for their own safety.

Gale Weathers walks into the set and she is met by Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey) who is portraying Gale Weathers in the Stab films. One of the definite bright spots of this film is the back and forth between Posey and Courtney Cox. Jennifer Jolie says to Gale, “…after two films I feel like I am in your mind.” Gales quips back, “Well that would explain my constant headaches.”

We finally catch up with Dewey who is on set as a creative consultant. Gale and Dewey have an on again off again relationship and this time they start the movie in the off stage. As Gale goes through the set it’s pretty clear no one there is happy to see her either because they see her as a rival, had bad news about them reported by her, or in the case of Dewey, broke up with her. It’s definitely not friendly territory for our intrepid journalist.

After a bit of back and forth, Gale is told she has to leave the set and on the way out she passes some famous faces.

Now is the point where we have to talk about the Jay & Silent Bob cameo. Some people absolutely hate this cameo and I can understand why. It’s not at all relevant to the story, it’s not a horror cameo or easter egg, and it’s pretty silly. But, I can also see why some people love it. In the 1990’s Jay and Silent Bob were huge icons for independent film and Kevin Smith was a highly respected director with several good films under his belt. Jay says some pretty silly stuff, thinking Gale Weathers is Connie Chung, a famous news anchor of the time. Personally, I’m in the love it camp because no one ever said Scream movies weren’t supposed to be fun. Sure it’s a bit out of place and silly, but the movie within a movie, having characters from another movie who are also real world famous talking about a journalist who is not real being compared to a real world journalist is just so random I can’t help but enjoy it.

The Dream Sequence

Back at Sidney’s home she talks with her dad about how her mom had so many secrets and none of this would have started if she didn’t have those. I’d say that’s highly debatable considering Maureen was a victim all around, other than cheating on Sidney’s father. Sidney’s dad tries to get her to come home and be with him because she only talks to people who don’t even know her real name. To me, this is a really oddly timed thing to ask. Seems like this would be the best time for Sidney to be isolated considering there is someone looking for her and willing to kill. And it just feels wrong here for Sidney to basically be victim blaming her mother. I would think Sidney would be the last person to blame anyone but the killers for killing people.

Sidney goes to sleep and in one of the most ridiculous parts of the movie she has a dream involving her mother. It’s meant to show Sidney’s trauma and all of that but it also sort of implies a supernatural connection between Sidney and Maureen Prescott. It has a pretty standard jump scare with someone as the Ghostface killer jumping through her window. Sidney then wakes up startled.

Out of all of the things in this movie I would get rid of if I could, this is right at the top of the list. It doesn’t really help the film and it takes us out of the reality we’ve been used to in Scream movies. And for that matter, considering how much has happened to all of these characters, this dream would be just as valid for Dewey or Gale to have as well. If this was meant as a sort of nod to the Nightmare on Elm Street films I can respect that but it just doesn’t really work.

The Body Count Increases

Back on the set we see Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy) walking around where she is startled by a fellow actor in a makeup test. It’s late and there are not a lot of people around. The actor with the makeup test and the makeup artist leave and the phone rings. Sarah speaks with Roman, the director of Stab 3. The name Roman here is no doubt inspired by Roman Polanski who directed Rosemary’s Baby. It should also be noted that Roman Polanski has a very checkered past personal life (to put it mildly) and it makes the audience think, at least briefly, maybe Scream 3 is trying to make a statement about that here.

Sarah tells Roman how unhappy she is because her character is in only two scenes and she gets killed in the second scene. She also mentions she’s 35 playing a 21 year old. Again, these are real world issues Hollywood tends to have, and horror is no exception. This is an interesting aspect of the film because it rings really true and we can feel for Sarah but we also know Sarah is about to die, just like it seems to say in the script for Stab 3.

Roman has Sarah run her lines and we start to get some of the dialogue from the original Scream but it’s cut off when Sarah starts complaining about the scene taking place in the shower. Yet another nod to Psycho. And hilariously Sarah says it’s been done before in Vertigo, misattributing one of the most famous scenes in film history to the wrong Alfred Hitchcock movie.

However, Roman then calls Sarah by her real name in the script read and tells her it’s not a new script but a new movie. Then the voice changes to the one we know as the voice of the Ghostface killer. Sarah goes to hide and ends up in a rack of Ghostface costumes. She tries to call for help but the killer pops out and she is attacked and dies.

Dewey and Gale catch up and we see why they broke up. Gale couldn’t take the slow pace of Woodsboro and Dewey couldn’t keep up with Gale’s lifestyle. Dewey also tells Gale that months ago someone broke into the Woodsboro police department trying to steal Sidney’s file which Dewey had already removed. So, while we know Dewey is here for the film, it does seem he’s trying to get to the bottom of the case.

Dewey and Gale then catch up with Jennifer Jolie who is quite frightened because she dies next in the script. It also sets up a bit of a love triangle for the three of them.

And once again, Maureen Prescott’s photo is left with the body. Detective Kincaid tells Gale and Dewey there are three different versions of the script and says, “Something about trying to keep the ending off the internet.” This gets fairly meta since that’s exactly what happened with the script of Scream 2 and it seems we are blurring the lines of fiction and reality here.

Detective Kincaid and his partner confront Roman and mention Sarah had been scheduled for a meeting with him before she died.

Sidney is at home answering crisis calls when someone with Maureen Prescott’s voice calls her and says Sidney should turn on the news. She sees the reports of the killing at the movie studio and the voice on the phone changes to the voice of the Ghostface killer.

The actors are in what should be a safe location in a large house with a security guard and Dewey is there as well. Gale drops in and tells Dewey that Roman was released because the phone call did not come from him. It was a cloned cell phone which is untraceable. She also tells Dewey that Maureen Prescott didn’t always live in Woodsboro. Two years before she met Sidney’s father she left Woodsboro but no one has any information about where she was or why. But from some photo evidence they realize Maureen was at the backlot at Sunrise Studios.

The security guard gets a call seemingly from Dewey but it’s not Dewey, it’s the killer. In his last moments he gets to the door where everyone else is and drops dead. The group runs outside but the fax machine in the house gets a fax. It prints out script pages describing what is happening, including the death of the security guard. The script says the killer will give mercy to… and then most of them run outside but the actor playing Dewey runs back to read it. And he lights a lighter to read the killer will give mercy to whoever smells the gas. Then the house just straight up explodes.

It’s kind of a weird scene in a Scream movie because it feels way more action oriented than horror based. It’s not fear inducing at all.

The group gets split up but when Dewey sees the killer in the costume, Dewey shoots him several times. Dewey saves Gale once again. Jennifer is not at all pleased Dewey went to Gale instead of her. The killer gets away and Dewey finds another photo of Maureen Prescott. This one says “I killed her.” So someone is claiming to have killed Maureen Prescott, even though it was established long ago Billy Loomis and Stu Macher were the killers.

Detective Kincaid thinks Sidney knows something and wants to talk to her but Dewey won’t give up her information. But, Sidney shows up.

Sidney Comes Back and We Get the Rules

Sidney figures if the killer can call her at home she’s not safe so she comes over to help. She asks to see the places in the pictures of her mother. Sort of randomly we meet Martha Meeks (Heather Matarazzo), Randy’s sister. She’s come to give the group a videotape Randy left for all of them.

On the tape Randy (Jamie Kennedy) tells us he made the tape in case he didn’t survive the killings at Windsor College. He says he’s there to help them so his death won’t be in vain. He first asks if this is simply another sequel, in which case, the rules from Scream 2 apply. But then he says if you find yourself dealing with a lot of unexpected backstory and a preponderance of exposition then sequel rules do not apply because you are not dealing with a sequel. Instead it’s the concluding chapter of a trilogy.

Here are the rules Randy lays out.

  1. You’ve got a killer who is going to be superhuman.
  2. Anyone, including the main character can die.
  3. The past will come back to bite you in the ass.

I really like this part of the movie because we get one last glimpse of Randy we weren’t expecting and just as was the case in the other films, we’re already following and breaking some of these rules. While we don’t know the killer is superhuman, they did take a bunch of shots from Dewey and somehow survived. We’ve seen Cotton Weary die but this is not a main character so rule two could be true but we don’t know yet. And, while we don’t know exactly how, it’s pretty clear rule three is true. Randy pointed out in the best trilogies at the end we learn something wasn’t true that we thought was. In this case, it must have something to do with Maureen, it’s just not clear what.

More Cameos

Gale and Jennifer go to the studio archives to find out anything they can about Maureen’s past. Here we get another cameo where the person in charge of the archives is Carrie Fisher. Gale and Jennifer comment how much she looks like Carrie Fisher but she says she tried out for Star Wars but didn’t get the part because the actress who slept with George Lucas did. It’s kind of a weird cameo and feels a bit out of place but I still like it because I am a huge Star Wars fan and I like it any time Carrie Fisher shows up in anything.

We do find out Maureen was acting under a stage name in horror films back in John Milton’s heyday. John Milton (Lance Henriksen) is one of the producers on Stab 3 so now he’s more of a suspect.

Things Get Worse

Sidney bumps into the actress playing herself in the restroom in a call back to the first Scream. Sidney kicks in the stall door to find Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer) in the stall with a Ghostface costume and what might be a phone or a voice changer. She’s thrilled to see Sidney and says she was just taking souvenirs from the set.

Then Sidney walks onto the set of Stab 3 which looks just like the houses in Woodsboro did. She sees the set of her own bedroom and starts to think about Billy when she starts hearing noises and gets attacked by the killer. She runs around escaping and shouting for Dewey until she ends up deeper in the set where it looks like the death of her mother has been recreated. Sidney even hears her mother’s voice and someone who is under a sheet stained with blood stands up and seems to speak in Maureen’s voice. Sidney jumps out of the window of the set. All I can say, is I bet Neve Campbell was pretty tired of jumping out of the same window at this point.

Detective Kincaid takes Sidney to a safe house which has never worked before. Meanwhile, Gale and Jennifer let Dewey in on the information about John Milton.

We see a scene where Roman is talking with Milton about how the film is shut down and Milton seems to think it’s no big deal but Roman is really upset. Milton says there are criminals all around Hollywood who still get work. Roman says he was questioned but he’s not a criminal. Milton just replies, “It’s good for your mystique.”

I have to pause her for just a moment to acknowledge something. The Scream franchise was distributed by Miramax at the time, meaning Harvey Weinstein was financially benefitting from these films. While Scream 3 is clearly fiction, it is about life in Hollywood as much as it is about anything else. It was an open secret Weinstein was a pretty awful person at this point so having Milton just shake off Roman’s comments does feel like this movie is trying to say something about that. It’s not clear if it was intentional but the comparison is undoubtedly there. And, while this film could have really gone there with this story line, it doesn’t quite. But, we’ll get a bit more into that later.

Gale, Dewey and Jennifer confront Milton about Maureen but he dismisses her as a bit actress who no one remembers.

The whole scene is a confrontation of Milton who seems to have had, let’s call them troubling, parties where young actresses could try to “make an impression” on men who could get them good parts. It’s a sadly disgusting but accurate summary of how a lot of Hollywood has worked in the past (and probably to some extent currently as well). Milton passes it all off because, “No charges were brought.”

At the police station Sidney kind of grills Kincaid on movie trilogies but he seems fairly creepy in the scene, putting him closer to being a suspect. As Kincaid leaves, Sidney asks him, “What’s your favorite scary movie.” It’s taken all this time to get to that line but it has to be in all the Scream movies. Kincaid just answers, “My life.” Sidney says under her breath, “Mine too.”

Dewey, Gale and Jennifer are driving and get a call from Sidney but we know it’s not Sidney because she says she isn’t at the police station. They believe it is Sidney though and head over to Milton’s house where Roman is having a birthday party. Because, you know, it’s a Scream movie so there’s always a party you would never want to be at.

At the party are the few remaining Stab actors and Roman himself. Sidney, however, is not there.

The Killer is Revealed

Roman and Jennifer pair off and go to look for an old screening room of Milton’s. The actors for Sidney and Randy wander around a different part of the house admiring the movie posters on the walls.

Gale tells Dewey to use his caller id to call whoever called him last. A phone in the house rings and they find a cell phone, a Ghostface costume, and a voice changer with all their voices. Dewey and Gale split up to warn the others.

Dewey finds Tyson (the actor playing fake Randy) and Gale finds Roman’s body in a prop coffin and she and Jennifer run out of the basement. The next to die is Angelina who is trying to escape the house.

Dewey, Gale and Jennifer all meet up and when Jennifer asks if they will be safer together, the killer pops out and punches Dewey out and everyone scatters. There’s a tussle and Dewey and Tyson get stabbed. Tyson tries to get away but doesn’t make it. Jennifer heads down some stairs but is then attacked herself. She ends up behind a mirror where Gale and Dewey are standing. Dewey shoots but it’s too late for Jennifer. Dewey goes to check on Tyson and Gale is attacked.

Dewey then gets a call from Gale saying she is trapped. Dewey hesitates but opens the door to the stairs. He tries to shoot the killer but is out of bullets. The killer then throws a knife at Dewey’s head but it hits with the butt end and Dewey just falls down the stairs.

Sidney, still at the station, finds her mother’s file. She gets a call on her cell phone and its her own voice talking to her. The killer says he has both Gale and Dewey and says he won’t kill them if she shows up. And he can tell her who killed her mother. Sidney, of course, goes, but not before arming herself with a gun she finds in Kincaid’s desk.

At Milton’s house Sidney finds Tyson’s body and a metal detector. She is told to scan her body which she does. In a nice touch from the last movie, Sidney is still wearing Derek’s Greek letters and that makes the detector go off but she makes a big show of not scanning one leg. She is told to scan the other leg and she pulls a gun out of her sock.

Sidney goes inside to find Dewey taped to a chair. The killer attacks her but Sidney pulls out a second gun and blasts the killer full of lead. She starts to free her friends when the killer gets up and walks away. Detective Kincaid shows up with a gun. He tells Sidney to put the gun down and the killer attacks him.

Sidney baits the killer to follow her and she ends up in an old secret passage. Sidney then hears the voice of her mother once again. And she sees the same sheet from the crime scene stage of her mother with the Ghostface killer under it.

Ghostface reveals body armor which is how he survived the bullets. And he reveals himself to be Maureen’s son. So this is Sidney’s half-brother. And it’s Roman, the director. He apparently showed Billy the footage of Maureen with Billy’s mother, kicking everything here into motion.

And, as is standard in these movies, the killer is revealed. Roman has framed it so Milton is the bad guy. He then pulls out Milton and kills him. The plan, apparently is to have Sidney snap but Roman will be the hero. It’s pretty tired and Sidney is over it. As always, Neve Campbell holds her own against this guy even when she takes some pretty hard knocks. Kincaid makes into the room Sidney is in long enough to distract the killer. Then Kincaid is attacked and Sidney picks up the killer’s knife. But Roman gets Kincaid’s gun and shoots Sidney in the gut with it. He shoots her a second time but Gale and Dewey try to make their way into the room.

Suddenly Sidney pops up and stabs Roman. She reveals she’s wearing body armor too. And Sidney stabs Roman. Gale and Dewey make it in and Dewey keeps shooting Roman in the chest until Sidney shouts at him to shoot in the head. And that’s the end of Roman.

We close out the movie with Gale and Dewey at Sidney’s place.

They seem to back in the on phase of their relationship, with a proposal from Dewey for marriage. Even Dewey knows it will probably never work but she agrees anyway. So we end on a happy note with Gale, Dewey, Sidney and Kincaid going to watch a movie.

In Conclusion

Courtney Cox has said the scariest thing about this movie was her bangs she had in it. And I have to say, I agree with her. However, that’s not to say this isn’t a fun watch. Basically it is still enjoyable but it could have been better.

There is just too much victim shaming of Maureen here. The violence is toned down and the comedy is played up so it doesn’t feel so much like a horror film but kind of an oddball comedy or action film with a little bit of horror involved. And the twist of the killer being Sidney’s half brother comes off as fairly lazy writing. Finally, there is some territory here where the film gets frustratingly close to exploring and just kind of ignores. Watching this in the age of the #metoo movement it views differently than when it first came out because we sort of know who the film is trying to call out. But it doesn’t delve deep enough into that to make a real statement. And because the violence is toned down here, it just doesn’t have the same impact the first two films do.

Still, this does end off the trilogy pretty well and leaves us with hope for the characters to lead fairly normal lives in the future. I’d say if you are a Scream fan, you have to watch this one but it’s not the most vital and most of it is fairly skippable. The surprises are mediocre but they are there. You may still be entertained by it just don’t expect it to be as ground breaking as either of the predecessors.

Stab-ily yours,

Slick Dungeon