If Scream mocked slashers and Scream 2 poked fun at sequels then the only way the mess that is Scream 3 can be justified is as a playful dig at how a concept quickly loses its originality and appeal once it becomes a franchise, as Wes Craven’s third entry into the series is by far the weakest and most uninspired. With creator Kevin Williamson too preoccupied with both his television show, Dawsons Creek, and his directorial debut, Killing Mrs. Tingle, the task of adapting his treatment into a tense-yet-witty script fell to Ehren Kruger, whose previous credits included the drama Arlington Road. After two impressive movies, Scream 3’s main flaw is that it seems clear that no one was that passionate about the project, with both Craven and star Neve Campbell clearly fulfilling a contract with Dimension Films. With Campbell barely on set, the focus of the story was forced to shift to bickering double act David Arquette and wife Courtney Cox Arquette, which would unintentionally shift the tone from horror satire to spoof.
After the events of Scream 2, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) now lives as a recluse under a new identity and working for a women’s crisis helpline. Cotton Weary (Live Schreiber) , the man previously incarcerated and then cleared for the murder of her mother, is now a celebrity and host of the hit talk show 100% Cotton, but a new killer surfaces and both Cotton and his girlfriend (Kelly Rutherford) are butchered in their Los Angeles home. Sidney’s old friend Dewey (Arquette) has left Woodsboro and now works as a private security guard for spoilt actress and lover Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), who has landed one of the lead roles in Stab 3, a cheesy slasher franchise based on the original murders. Upon hearing about Cotton’s murder, his former love interest and ruthless reporter Gail Weathers (Cox Arquette) makes her way to Hollywood in the hope of discovering the at the request of Detective Mark Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey).
The killer is desperate to find Sidney and it is soon revealed that there is a personal connection after Kincaid shows Gail a photo that was left at the murder scene of a young woman which she identifies as Maureen Prescott, Sidney’s mother. Eventually, forced to confront her past, Sidney arrives in L.A. and meets up with Dewey and Gail, where they attempt to discover the truth to her mother’s secret life. Meanwhile, the cast members of Stab 3 are picked off one-by-one, starting with blonde bimbo Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy). The suspicion soon falls on movie mogul John Milton (Lance Henriksen) when it is revealed that Maureen had starred in various low budget horror flicks under the alias Rina Reynolds and that she had been exploited by the sleazy producer.
Whilst Gail launches her own investigation along with Dewey and Jennifer, who had been cast as Gail in Stab 3, Sidney realises that she cannot escape and finally decides to face the killer, who is revealed to be the director, Roman Bridger (Scott Foley). He claims that he is in fact her half brother after Maureen was raped at one of Milton’s parties back in the sixties, but when he came to see her many years later she disowned him. Desperate for revenge, he had shown photos of her affair with Billy Loomis’ father, who Sidney had been dating at the time. Billy, along with best friend Stuart, had been the ones responsible for the killing sprere back in Woodsboro and Roman had orchestrated everything that had happened since. Eventually, Dewey shoots Roman in the head and the film closes with Sidney, Dewey, Gail and Kinkaid sitting down to watch a scary movie, their own seemingly laid to rest.
Whereas the previous instalments had referenced the slasher genre, Scream 3 instead attempts to make a statement on the absurdity of the film industry. Once again there are various character names that are based upon either real people or from other horror films. Jennifer Jolie is a spin on Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, both of whom had been involved with film star Brad Pitt, whilst Kinkaid had been the name of one of the protagonists of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors. One of the film’s biggest problems is all of the pointless cameos which Craven felt were necessary, from the likes of Carrie Fisher and Roger Corman to Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes as their foul-mouthed, pot smoking alter-egos Jay and Silent Bob (the latter of which inadvisedly reminds the audience that they ware watching a film). Smith would return the favour the following year by allowing Craven a cameo in his own Hollywood spoof, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, in which Craven appears as himself on the set of Scream 4.
One major flaw with the movie is the casting. Whilst Henriksen is always a welcome addition, Posey proves to be too annoying and her death cannot come soon enough. Whilst Kruger may sport slasher-esque surname, his knowledge of the genre is basic at best and each set piece is uninspired and poorly scripted. The revelation that Roman is the mastermind behind the entire trilogy is redundant as the character was not familiar to fans. Perhaps if the killer had been someone more known, from one of the previous films (such as Sidney’s father, who had discovered Maureen’s affair and her illegitimate son) then the twist would have been more shocking. One scene that stretched the credibility to near breaking point was a posthumous appearance from Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy), who had been killed off in the previous instalment but had returned via a video to warn Sidney about the rules of surviving a trilogy. All in all, Scream 3 feels like the kind of generic slasher that the first two films had made fun of.