Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Director Report Card: Wes Craven (2000)

19. Scream 3

Nobody wanted to make “Scream 3.” Wes Craven’s obligation was strictly contractual as he was upholding his end of the bargain that got “Music of the Heart” financed. Neve Campbell had made her growing disinterest in the series well known. Kevin Williamson, far too busy working on that established classic of American cinema “Teaching Mrs. Tingle,” couldn’t be bothered to come back and finish the series he started. Ehren Kruger, the screenwriter who would later gift the world with the “Transformers” sequels, was brought in to write the film.

To get an idea of how few shits were given, look at the opening. “Scream” 1 and 2 took great effort to create shocking, memorable first moments. The opening to “Scream 3” is immediately forgettable. Shifting the action to Hollywood, a probably inevitable move that still makes me miss Woodsborough, the film opens with Cotton Weary, a former convicted murderer, now as the host of a “Jerry Springer”-style talk show. Without giving you time to swallow that unlikely scenario, Cotton gets a call from a familiar voice. An attempt is made to build stalk-and-slash tension with an extended sequence of Cotton’s girlfriend stepping into the shower, unaware that there is a killer in the house. This doesn’t work because we neither know nor care about this character. No endeavor is made to get to know her before she’s put in peril. Jump-scares are immediately employed, the film thinking Ghostface leaping loudly into frame is enough to create a shock. The bloody stabbing that follows has little meaning. This gets us off to a less then promising start.

“Scream 3” handles it returning cast problematically. Sydney is now living alone and working as a crisis councilor, having little contact with her friends and family. Though in character, this is obviously a move to remove Neve Campbell from most of the film. Not until fifty minutes into a two hour movie does Syd begin interaction with the rest of the cast. While the other protagonists are knee-deep in the last act, Sydney has been sitting on her ass at the police station. There’s a single decent moment involving her, taking place inside of a replica of her original home and ending with a door opening into mid-air. Even that bit is troubled by heavy-handed, literal echoes of the past. Neve’s lack of commitment to the material is most obvious at the end, where she wearily throws out one-liners like “It’s your turn to scream, asshole!” She can’t summon up even enough conviction to tell an incredibly annoying character to shut up.

With Neve dropping out of the majority of the picture, Gale and Dewey becomes the film’s de-facto protagonists. The script sticks a wedge between the natural chemistry Cox and Arquette have by breaking the characters up again. Dewey is dating an annoying new character, forcing her into far too much of the film, and Cox is saddled with an unflattering haircut. The cute, catty back-and-forth the two have has curdled into an unpleasant vitriol. Considering Arquette and Cox would remain married for a decade more, I blame this one the script. Both characters have a drop in brain cells as well. Despite knowing there’s a killer out there with a perfect voice changer, they still take anonymous tips off the phone. The formally strong Gale Weathers is reduced to screaming for help.

The majority of the new characters are involved in the production of a third “Stab” films and introduced sitting on the steps of the studio talking, a moment that blatantly recalls the fountain scene in the original. Each cast member come off as hopelessly artificial and receives little proper development. Matt Keeslar, who would later prove to be very lovable on the short-lived but well remembered “The Middleman,” plays the fake Dewey and comes off as incredibly shrill, little more then a collection of stall asshole actor clichés. Emily Mortimer, as the meta-double-fake-Sydney, is at least adorable and seems nice enough before she’s revealed to be as awful a person as anyone else in the film. The undistinguished black man is just that and receives a death blatantly ripped from the previous entry. Far too much time is spent with a pair of deeply unlikable detectives. When the one cop says his life is his favorite scary movie, that’s about the time the movie disappears up its own ass.

Even they aren’t the worse characters in the film. That dishonor is reserved for Candy, as played by a pre-nutcase Jenny McCarthy in a very tight t-shirt. She is selfish, vapid, and bitchy. She complains about needless nudity in horror films, which is hypocritical considering the lack of nudity in every “Scream” film. In part two, we got quickly introduced to a new character that we immediately liked and are sad to see go. In part three, the quickly introduced new characters are immediately unlikable and you can’t wait to see them go.

Are you sick of Sydney’s mom yet? After part two took it easy on her, “Scream 3” returns to humping Mrs. Prescott’s corpse to high degrees. First mentioned two minutes in, she is a lazy plot device that is leaned on constantly. Sydney has a melodramatic nightmare where her Mom’s ghosts taps on her window, suggesting Wes was tiring of the series’ usual horror theatrics. This scene too accumulates in another Leaping Ghostface Jump-Scare. Ghost Mom also appears repeatedly as a quote-creepy-unqoute whispering voice, on the phone and in Syd’s head. The script gleefully retcons the events of the first film, rooting every incident in the series’ history back to Sydney’s slutty mom and strong-arming a mythology out of thin gruel. Man, it’s a good thing Tumblr didn’t exist back in 2000. They’d be all over this movie for slut-shaming, for making everything indirectly the fault of poor Mrs. Prescott.

The movie struggles with creating decent scares. Lame duck jump scares are employed constantly. A set piece involving reading a script in the dark is contrived, engineered drama. The moment climaxes with a character accidentally causing his own death and a shitty, CGI fireball. “Scream” has always been a bit too clever for its own good. “Scream 3” is, in general, overly elaborate. The killer marks the crime scenes with obviously photoshopped photographs. Jaime Kennedy’s Randy, despite dying in part two, makes a sudden reappearance. The circumstances of that reappearance are seriously contrived, as they feature a previously unmentioned sister and a self-aware character reaching unheard of heights of self-awareness. Randy even lampshades his preponderance of exposition as exactly that. Other far-too-cute moments include cameos from Carrie Fisher, Jay and Silent Bob.

With forty minutes left to go, the script decides to strand its character in one location. The old Hollywood home setting, with its secret passageways and dusty basement, might be a deliberate call-back to 1940s old dark house thrillers. A gag involving a two-way mirror is actually half-way effective. Still, “Scream 3” is self-important “Scream” and that’s no more obvious then during the killer’s reveal. Long-winded rants that explain motive are, by now, a trademark but this one is especially overwrought. Making one person the mastermind behind the entire franchise’s murders is not only implausible, it’s also lazy screenwriting. It doesn’t help that nasally, pretentious Roman is by far the least threatening killer the series has seen. The finale goes on forever. Neve beats Roman, Roman beats Neve, people get shot, on and on. The reveal of a bullet proof vest is overwrought and, of course, we get another obnoxious “killer isn’t dead” moment.

So what do I like about the movie? Roger Corman is the one legitimately amusing cameo. Horror’s relationship with real life violence gets a token mention, something that should have been more focused on. Patrick Warburton’s small role is dryly hilarious, because it’s Patrick Warburton. He gets a decent death too. Lance Henriksen is another present character actor, doing his things, playing a guy that produced Roger Corman style films and threw Roger Evans-worthy parties. Frying pans and prop machetes are well used. Wes’ direction is fairly solid. He tries to pan over LA like he did the small towns in the first two. Maybe the best moment in the film, one heavily featured in the trailers, is the spinning-knife-o-vision. It is short lived.

“Scream 3” ends with Sydney leaving her security system off and front door open. This is lingered on, hammering home that she feels safe now, free of her mother’s poisonous legacy. That shrug of an ending is topped of with a Creed song. The face of horror was changing by 2000, with “The Blair Witch Project” introducing found footage to the masses and “The Sixth Senses” marking the PG-13 ghost story as the predominate trend in the genre for the foreseeable future. The J-horror boom, “Saw” torture porn trend, and remake overdrive were just a few short years away. “Scream 3” was the self-aware, CW-slick slasher’s last hurrah. Though really more of a weary sigh then a hurrah. [Grade: C-]

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