“What’s your favorite scary movie?” For many, it is Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). The slasher film ranks among the greatest fright fests of all time, according to Empire. Lightning struck twice for Craven’s own Scream 2 (1997) as it carved a cinematic universe out of its parent film by mythologizing its cast of characters as well as borrowing only from the best of what sequels have to offer.
Craven’s Scream 3 (2000), on the other hand, regurgitated all the worst parts of horror franchises.
Third Time’s Not Always the Charm
February marks the twentieth anniversary for the release of Scream 3. At thirty-nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it is certified rotten. Not only is it the lowest-rated out of all four Scream flicks, but it is also the worst-performing entry in the original trilogy (the worst overall being Craven’s Scream 4 (2011)).
Following the events of Scream 2, Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) returns to demand the whereabouts of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) from Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) after Sidney, having survived two murder sprees, goes into hiding under an assumed name. Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) enlists investigative journalist and Ghostface survivor Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) to come to Hollywood — where Cotton is now a television talk show host — and help him catch the new masked killer. Gale reunites with fellow Ghostface veteran Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who is working as an adviser on the set of Stab 3 (the film within a film series based off the Woodsboro and Windsor College murders), and together they face off against another knife-wielding psychopath.
Unmasking the Slasher
To prove how Scream 3 effectively ended the genre to which it was meant to be a love letter, we will first wind the clocks back to Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Odyssey writes that the Master of Suspense’s psychological horror picture popularized the slasher subgenre across the mainstream through its “artistic” approach to what would have otherwise been pulp fiction — indeed, So the Theory Goes concurs that Hitchcock was a “serious” auteur. Plus, Syfy adds that Hitch’s showmanship played right into the hands of the B-movie marketing strategies defining horror at that time, as the burgeoning TV industry forced the studios to use gimmickry to compete for audiences.
John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) — starring the daughter of Psycho “scream queen” Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, no less — catalyzed a slasher “golden age” of exploitative scares, unbridled sexuality, and gratuitous violence. Craven himself dipped his feet into this zeitgeist with his A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Other such classics include Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), in addition to Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980).
But, as the cycle franchised itself to death with sequel after reboot after remake, its tropes became cliched, and its set pieces, predictable. As part of the cinematic postmodernism that came in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1995), Craven’s answer to the slasher slump arrived in the form of Scream. With self-referential, pop-cultural references to its genre serving as the currency behind its breath of fresh air, Scream is a horror movie by horror fans, for horror fans.
Then, the same year as Scream 3, Keenen Ivory Wayans released his Scary Movie (2000). It parodies the slasher where Scream satirizes it. No longer is Scream in on the joke — it has become the butt of the joke.
That being said, one can’t help but wonder whether Scream 3 is…
…The Final Nail in the Coffin
In the aftermath of 1999’s Columbine High School massacre, the relationship between media and real-world violence was greater scrutinized — even Marilyn Manson published an editorial about it for Rolling Stone. What’s more, CBS News and The Independent cite two separate crimes inspired by Scream. Since show business is risk-averse, the production team replaced Scream and Scream 2 scriptwriter Kevin Williamson with Ehren Kruger.
The writing is what sets movies like Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 4 (which Williamson penned, too) apart from movies like… well… Scream 3. Entertainment Tonight outlines how drastically Kruger’s vision for Scream 3 differs from Williamson’s (which aligns more closely with the far superior Scream 4). To tone down the violence, Kruger’s versions of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale cross the line from “clever tongue-in-cheek” to “cringe-worthy slapstick.”
Additionally, the viewer feels as though Scream 3 was rewritten so many times to stay one step ahead of Internet hackers, it loses its coherence. Hollywood.com and Dread Central reveal all the last-minute changes to which the crew of Scream 2 were subjected once the screenplay was leaked online. The filmmaker finds himself unable to develop his actors beyond shorthand caricatures of their former selves.
Not to mention, January and February are known for their lazily slapped-together horror releases. YouTube critic Chris Stuckmann elaborates upon how these slower box office months are the time for entertainment companies to churn out low-budget horror films all but guaranteed to turn a profit with cynical, assembly-line efficiency. Scream 3 is one such example, a mediocre cash grab riding on the coattails of better movies.
Back From the Dead
Ultimately, Scream 3 is still a cut above its contemporaries, with more than its fair share of laugh-out-loud lines, its self-contained themes on violent obsession, and its razor-sharp nod to the Hitchcockian doppelgänger. However, even though it is an above-average horror film, it is still the worst Scream film. Here’s hoping Scream 4 and its meta-commentary on reboots and remakes will mean a future comeback for Ghostface on the big screen — God knows, with the state of horror today, he’s not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need right now.
But that’s for another autopsy of the genre.
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