In Defense of Scream 3 (and Gale’s Bangs)

Can we just agree to disagree that Scream 3 was done dirty, critically speaking?

“Welcome to the final act” was one tagline for the second sequel to screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven’s knowing 1996 revitalization of the slasher horror genre, Scream. Of course, this was before Scream 4 would come along in 2011 and then, scheduled for release come January of 2022, a fifth installment that will just be titled Scream.

Sure, Scream 3 is indefensible, given what came before, and certainly the weakest film in the heretofore quadrilogy, but we are all entitled to our soft spots. Retroactively though—back in 2000—this much-anticipated sequel felt like a perfectly satisfying capper in terms of commentary on how trilogies work and the arcs of the three core characters. It would lose writer Williamson, but any excuse to revisit Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley, and Gale Weathers—and just anything Scream—was bound to satisfy. With time to sit on it and remove this fan’s rose-colored glasses, the film’s flaws have become more glaring, and yet there is still plenty to like about this unfairly maligned “final act.” Even though it is looked down upon as the Superman III of the series, what makes Scream 3 worth defending? Let us count the ways (in no particular order), and yes, spoilers abound for a 21-year-old movie.

Sidney gets a call

In the most entertaining way possible, Scream 3 is almost like the “Fan Fiction” version of a Scream sequel: what if we took Sidney and her pals to Hollywood?! It was inevitable that a self-referential movie existing in a “real” movie world where characters have actually seen other movies would make it to La La Land. The Hollywood backdrop becomes a fun playground for Wes Craven to work within.

Despite Kevin Williamson being committed to other projects and having to hand over writing duties, screenwriter Ehren Kruger was a more than serviceable substitute. Even as Kruger takes over, Williamson’s snappy sense of humor still exists in the original three characters. Kruger remains true to Sidney, Dewey, and Gale, never making them feel like shadows of their former selves but allowing them to evolve ever so slightly. It also helps that Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox smoothly slide back into their roles as if no time has gone by.

What initially seems like a wonky swing is a welcome series of creepy dream sequences involving Maureen Prescott. Understandably, Sidney has endured enough trauma for two movies already. Now that she is living privately and working from home as a hotline counselor under a false name, it’s even more understandable that Sidney would be plagued by nightmares of her murdered mama. The first time we see Sidney dreaming of her mother—Maureen is seen walking outside the yard in a white nightgown and calling out to her daughter at her window—might be overly literal to convey Sidney’s tortured headspace, but it’s something the first two films never tried. There’s also a show-stopping sequence that has Sidney stumbling upon the “Stab 3” soundstage, with meticulous replicas of her teenage bedroom and Stu Mocker’s party house (right down to the stainless window and Tatum’s bloody doggy-door deathtrap) in Woodsboro. The déjà vu is uncanny, particularly when Sidney accidentally recreates the same chase she had in the first film and then believes she’s seeing her mother in a bloodied body bag.

Maureen Prescott clawing at a window during a booming storm

Say what you will about your personal feelings toward Courtney Cox’s bangs in this sequel, but even a hairstyle can reveal subtle layers to a character. Okay, so maybe subtle isn’t the right word. Still, in ways that feel germane to the character of Gale Weathers, this self-involved but well-meaning tabloid reporter-cum-author always seems to be reinventing herself, even if her ways don’t seem to be working in her favor. As for Dewey Riley, he clearly hasn’t gotten over her, now working as an on-set “technical advisor” and giving insight to the actress who’s playing Gale. Gale and Dewey inevitably pick up where they left off, relationship-wise, and their unfinished business is resolved by the sweet and hopeful conclusion with an engagement ring inside her own book.

For better or for worse—but in this case, better—Scream 3 is the most “inside baseball” of the franchise, too, with the movie-within-a-movie approach. It was fresh enough when Scream introduced movie characters actually being in the know about movies. Even after “Stab” in Scream 2, actors finally get to play the characters from Scream, so we get actor counterparts of the genuine articles. Best of all in this category is Parker Posey playing Gale Weathers’ twin, aka actress Jennifer Jolie who’s playing Gale Weathers in “Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro.” Always an appealingly offbeat performer who never makes an uninteresting choice, Posey stands as one of the film’s most memorable highlights. Stress-smoking when Jennifer realizes she could be next to die, to jumping into the arms of her burly bodyguard (Patrick Warburton) for comfort, to the way she frantically tries to handle her cell phone and runs to read the incoming fax from the killer, Posey’s comic timing and delivery are never not pitch-perfect.

Sarah hides from Ghostface

Another hoot: Jenny McCarthy getting to play blonde actress Sarah Darling who complains that her blonde teenage character, Candy, dies after only two scenes. Well, guess who dies after only two scenes? Her stalk-and-kill sequence is also sturdily staged, making amusing use of “Stab” props and an entire rack of Ghostface masks and robes. Movie fans are also bound to get a kick out of several cameos. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob are seen on the Sunrise Studios lot as part of a group tour. Heather Matarazzo makes an appearance as Randy’s sister Martha—because why wouldn’t she be on the lot and bump into Sidney and the gang to drop a little exposition with a videotape as Randy’s in-case-he-died goodbye? Finally, the late, great Carrie Fisher gets one sharp-tongued scene playing a chain-smoking aspiring actress-turned-archive room manager who bitterly admits to being “this close” to nabbing the role of Princess Leia.

Ghostface attacks in Scream 3

Next to the unforgettable opening of the original Scream where Hollywood’s child-star sweetheart, presumably safe, gets it—and rather brutally—and the crowded movie-theater double murder cold open in Scream 2, the opening sequence in Scream 3 may pale by comparison. And yet, Wes Craven does not disappoint fans of the Scream series, threefold. For one, the Los Angeles-set sequence completes the story of Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man exonerated for the murder of final girl Sidney’s mother Maureen Prescott. For two, Craven still skillfully weaves together a suspense-ridden set-piece, even if this one doesn’t really utilize its own awareness of slasher movies. And, finally, the token death scene with both Cotton and his girlfriend Christine (Kelly Rutherford) capitalizes on rock band Creed (yours truly bought the CD album Human Clay because of this movie).

Craven also takes the “bigger” route with Kruger’s script. There’s the big fiery explosion at Jennifer’s Hollywood Hills home. It almost doesn’t feel like a Scream movie to have characters forced to jump off the pool deck and roll down the hill, but why not? Once Scream 3 culminates with the big showdown in the mansion of “Stab” producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen), it has adopted more of a Scooby-Doo vibe, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As characters are brought to Milton’s estate under pretenses, the labyrinthine home sets the stage for more carnage. Prickly upon meeting each other, Gale and Jennifer have now become two peas in a pod, sticking together when the killer begins taking out the guests. Like a funhouse, there are secret passageways and staircases, a two-way mirror, a creepy basement, and a secret screening room, all effectively utilized.

Gale and Jennifer sticking together

Obeying the rules of a trilogy, Scream 3 must reveal some new truths, or at least some retconned truths. The big-headed director of “Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro,” Roman Bridger (played by Scott Foley), unveils himself to be the single Ghostface killer this time—and the half-brother Sidney never knew she had. In fact, his presence lurked over the first two films without us knowing. What’s more, Roman has managed throughout his killing spree to make calls to other characters with a voice-changer that now everyone’s voice stored. It’s not so much about whodunit in Scream 3, but how this new information affects Sidney and further triggers her fiery side that has always been there.

Aside from Scream 4 being released 11 years later, Scream 3 was the perfect closure for the characters of Woodsboro, particularly Sid. After discovering new information about the mother she thought she knew, Sid is now able to let her guard down, literally leaving her gate open. When her patio door flies open, she lets it go. This simple image not only literally leaves the door open for a sequel, but simultaneously, it’s not a sequel setup or the lead-up to a “the killer is still alive!” jolt. It’s just a sympathetic and fully formed character feeling safe and free for once in her life.

Now that 2022’s Scream is on the way, let’s hope Sidney gets the final arc she deserves. Radio Silence, we’re pulling for you.

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Written by Jeremy Kibler

Jeremy is a film graduate from Penn State University, an Online Film Critics Society member, and altogether a film obsessive. He lives to watch the latest horror releases and write about them.

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