“Scream 3" brings to a blood-drenched, bravura conclusion (hopefully) the hugely successful horror trilogy about a serial killer decimating a small town. From the outset, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson established that the “Scream” movies would also be a running commentary on themselves and the horror genre in general. This has given them a smart, sharp edge and set off reverberations, especially in this complex movie-within-a-movie finale, in which the film being shot--"Stab 3: The Return to Woodsboro"--and the film we’re watching play off and deeply affect each other.
The body count is horrendously high and there’s much that’s grisly, but “Scream 3" is also genuinely scary and also highly amusing. Craven, horror veteran supreme, and writer Ehren Kruger have come up with a razzle-dazzler that delivers the goods for horror fans. Be warned--and not just on account of the violence--that if you’ve not seen the first two films you will likely be confused, and even if you have seen them, be prepared to stay on your toes to keep track of a heavily populated, highly convoluted plot.
The prologue is a jolter, a cinematic tour de force that sets the tone--and the standard--for all that is to come. The camera picks up Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary, once wrongly sent to prison as the elusive killer, ever-hidden by a black shroud and a mask emulating Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” Now the host of a nationally syndicated TV talk show who’s set to do a cameo in “Stab 3,” Cotton is stuck in traffic near the Hollywood Bowl when, via his cell phone, he learns his girlfriend (Kelly Rutherford) is in acute danger in her elegant, vintage apartment not so far away.
Cotton jumps the curb for a hair-raising rush to rescue her, only to wind up in an elaborate trap; the whole point is that he refuses to disclose to a menacing caller the whereabouts of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother’s murder 3 1/2 years earlier set a murderous rampage in motion. Sidney, we learn soon enough, has been living in seclusion in a Northern California wilderness, where, under an alias, she’s a phone-in counselor for a hotline for women in crisis.
Sidney, however, will soon be heading for Hollywood to help the Los Angeles Police Department’s Det. Kincaide (Patrick Dempsey), assigned to catch the unknown killer. With the aid of advanced electronic technology, the murderer mimics voices throwing the cast and crew of “Stab 3,” currently shooting, into a state of total terror and confusion. This is all you need to know of the plot.
As before, Campbell’s Sidney, a lovely, intelligent young woman, must confront evil yet another time--just like Sigourney Weaver and those aliens. Also back are David Arquette as Dewey Riley, hapless Woodsboro cop, and Courteney Cox Arquette as Gale Weathers, the most ruthless TV newscaster of all. Dewey and Gale experienced a bit of opposites attracting each other in the past, and the sparks are likely to fly all over again. Arquette and Cox Arquette met and married during the “Scream” series, and the way in which they play off each other gives the film a much-welcome warm and good-humored resonance.
Dewey has signed on “Stab 3" as a technical advisor, and Gale smells a story in the making. Dewey’s “Stab 3" counterpart is played by the more glamorous Matt Keeslar while Gale is played by Parker Posey as the gauche Jennifer Jolie, determined to be more aggressive than Gale already is (though Jennifer is not nearly as smart as Gale).
Lance Henriksen is cast as “Stab 3" producer John Milton (!), whose lavish 1920s Hollywood Hills estate brings to mind Norma Desmond’s all but identical mansion in “Sunset Blvd.” and serves perfectly as the complicated baroque setting of the film’s climactic sequences. Jenny McCarthy is amusing as a 35-year-old actress still stuck in starletdom, playing 21-year-olds, and rounding out a substantial and effective cast are Tyson Fox, Angelina Tyler and Patrick Warburton (as the Steven Seagal of celebrity security guards).
Ehren Kruger has come with a persuasive back story to explain away what triggered the carnage of all three movies. Marco Beltrami’s high-energy score and Peter Deming’s superior camera work add to “Scream 3’s” vitality and punch. Be on the lookout for cameos by producer Roger Corman and Carrie Fisher.
“Scream 3" securely regains the edge that “Scream 2" to some extent lost, and ends the trilogy on a strong high note. Let’s seriously hope that Dimension Films now quits while it’s ahead--way ahead.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong horror violence and language. Times guidelines: Although there’s no morbid lingering in the murders, they are blunt, frequent and altogether too intense for children.
Neve Campbell: Sidney Prescott
Courteney Cox Arquette: Gale Weathers
David Arquette: Dewey Riley
Parker Posey: Jennifer Jolie
A Dimension Films presentation of a Konrad Pictures production in association with Craven/Maddalena Films. Director Wes Craven. Producers Cathy Konrad, Kevin Williamson, Mariannae Maddalena. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Cary Granat, Andrew Rona. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger; based on characters created by Williamson. Cinematographer Peter Deming. Costumes Abigail Murray. Music Marco Beltrami. Production designer Bruce Alan Miller. Art director Tom Fichter. Set decorator Gene Serdena. Editor Patrick Lussier. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
In general release.