Scream (1996) was a key film of the '90s. It marked the popular comeback of its esteemed director, Wes Craven, and inaugurated the career of producer-writer Kevin Williamson. Best of all, it revived the horror genre by injecting a hip self-consciousness into tired formula plots and character types.
Scream 2 (1997), an idle, contrived variation on the original, was an enormous disappointment. The entertainment factor picks up substantially with Scream 3, but the thrill of the first film will clearly never be repeated. This is partly due to the legion of poor imitations that appeared in the wake of Scream, such as the abysmal Australian movie Cut (2000).
At least Craven – working this time with a new writer, Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, 1999) – goes easy on the self-referential gags that were well and truly exhausted by Scream 2. Stab (the film-within-the-film) figures prominently once more, but in general the narrative's central conceit has been greatly simplified.
The wit and wonder of Scream came from the way it appealed to the audience's knowledge of a slasher movie's supposed rules. In Scream 2, this game is extended to the far looser rules governing a sequel. In order to escape from still more baroque involutions third time around, Kruger invents a handy piece of nonsense: in the finale of a trilogy, there are no longer any rules.
What this really means is that Craven is free to turn Scream 3 into a comedy, pure and simple. Since devotees of the series will be spending their entire time scanning the screen for incoming knives, bodies and grotesque masks, Craven indulges a bizarre, modern form of screwball humour: the anti-climaxes are even funnier than the gory bits.
Memories of sweet, old, detective comedies like The Thin Man series of the '30s are evoked by the team of Gale (Courtney Cox Arquette) and Jennifer (Parker Posey) creeping around the haunted set of Stab like a pair of dysfunctional siblings.
When the action starts in earnest, and Sidney (Neve Campbell) has to, as per usual, summon up a warrior's skill and courage, Craven reminds us what a fine filmmaker he can be. But Scream 3 is mainly a by-the-numbers affair, enjoyable enough while it lasts but instantly forgettable.
MORE Kruger: The Mothman Prophecies
© Adrian Martin March 2000