Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Scream 3’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Twenty-five years ago, the horror genre was on life support. In turn, the slasher subgenre was as dead as a doornail. But, that all changed with Scream (1996) — a movie that brought together fresh new talents & a master of horror to deconstruct the genre in a darkly comedic fashion. Of course, one Scream always leads to another. As such, I’ll trace how the best horror movie of the 1990s became a franchise, which is finding new life thanks to a legacy sequel/reboot under the same title. In this installment, we’ll learn the rules of (what was to be) a trilogy in Scream 3 (2000)!

The original Scream (1996) revitalized horror after a half-decade in which mainstream audiences virtually shunned the genre. But, by the new millennium, audiences’ appetites were beginning to change much faster (albeit not as quickly as today). As a result, the subgenre of found-footage horror had gained newfound popularity thanks to The Blair Witch Project (1999). That film introduced mainstream audiences to the concept of faux fond footage, but it’s worth noting that Faces of Death (1978) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) did it first back in the day. However, those flicks are very hardcore, whereas Blair Witch was easily accessible. Despite the emerging trend, though, Dimension Films and the cast and crew behind the previous Scream movies felt there was still enough air in the tank to bring Kevin Williamson‘s proposed trilogy to a close. Furthermore, there was a sense of urgency to do a third entry as it was becoming more difficult to reassemble the main cast, many of whom were in demand.

Thus, director Wes Craven returned to the helm once again, but only after finishing Music of the Heart (1999), the film that had convinced him to take on the original movie in the first place. Of course, the original plan was to get Williamson to expand his original brief outline for this trilogy-capper into a full screenplay. Unfortunately, he was almost entirely committed to other projects at the time. Not only was Williamson the showrunner on Dawson’s Creek (1998–2003), he was also making his feature film debut as a writer-director with the teen horror-comedy Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999). Due to these scheduling conflicts, Williamson ultimately delivered a mere outline for Scream 3

According to Williamson, his version of Scream 3 would have been very different than the finished product. Williamson’s story involved bringing our beloved main characters back to Woodsboro while the fictional Stab 3 was in production. But the film would have primarily focused on a set of teen-aged superfans of the original Woodsboro Murders and the Stab series. Unsurprisingly, their fandom would have gone a little too far as these teens would have been revealed as the killers in Williamson’s take. In an even more exciting twist: the ending revelation was that this fan club entirely stagged the murders and every supposed victim was alive and well!

There was also another take on Scream 3, but I’m uncertain if it was connected directly to Williamson’s version or not; though, it sounds like it would have been. In the documentary, Still Screaming: The Ultimate Scary Movie Retrospective (2011), Matthew Lillard stated that he had been contracted to appear in this third picture; although, it was unclear if he would be returning as Stu (which is pretty unlikely) or perhaps playing his Scream character’s twin. While Lillard himself didn’t delve into it, the story goes that he would (most likely) be returning as an imprisoned Stu who was orchestrating a series of murders committed by the high school fan club. To me, this approach sounds like it would have been unique and, frankly, disturbing.

However, following the tragedy at The Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, this premise was given the kibosh. In the wake of this heinous act of violence, the media did what you might expect: they claimed the school shooting was influenced by violence in movies, video games, and even music. An argument that they still use today any time when an all-too frequent tragedy occurs to this day. But in the case of Columbine, movie studios became hesitant to release violent films in the wake of the tragedy. As a result, Dimension Films stipulated that Scream 3 needed to be virtually bloodless and lean more into its comedic aspect.

Around this same time, Dimension’s head honcho, Bob Weinstein, brought in screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who had made a name for himself with the excellent, albeit vastly underseen thriller Arlington Road (1999). Craven’s only suggestion to Kruger was to transplant Williamson’s proposed storyline to Hollywood as he felt being in Woodsboro again would be too repetitive. Alas, the fresh-faced screenwriter tossed out Williamson’s treatment in favor of doing something different; a decision the studio was all for as it would be less violent. Despite this new narrative direction, Craven and company pressed on.

Scream 3 takes place in Hollywood during the production of the fictional film, Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro. Following a new string of killings, the production is put on high alert as it seems these recent murders are not only connected to the film, but Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who has been in hiding for the past couple of years. Fortunately, though, the threequel’s cast and crew can find some comfort in that Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is working as their on-set consultant. Unsurprisingly, Dewey’s on-again/off-again love interest, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox as Courteney Cox Arquette), makes her way to Tinseltown to investigate the slayings. Soon enough, the former Westboro residents must all reunite as their past has come back to haunt them!

Among the fanbase, Scream 3 is undoubtedly the red-headed step-child in the bunch. But is that bad? I’m not going so far as to say “bad,” but this flick is pretty damn uneven. The film itself seems very fragmented, thanks to yet another troubled production. Pages were constantly rewritten, and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (Birds of Prey, Shutter Island, Altered Carbon) was brought in to do additional uncredited punch-up. All this scrambling on the script seems very evident as there are virtually no horror elements present, there is only one good kill, and most of the humor falls flat. It feels like Scream 3 is more obsessed with commenting on Hollywood and the corruption of the film industry than in making a satisfying sequel.

The cast is also off their game this time around. It’s evident that Campbell doesn’t really want to be reprising her role as the series heroine — or, at least, not this quickly. I’m not sure I could blame her based on her schedule at the time. Due to being doubly committed to starring in Party of Five (1994-2000) and Drowning Mona (2000), the actress could only commit to twenty-one days of shooting on Scream 3; hence, why the entire ensemble is largely separate this time. Worse yet, it hurts Sidney’s storyline, which could have been a more potent thematic force otherwise. 

On the other hand, Arquette and Cox were pleased to be working together as a married couple. Unfortunately, both of their performances are weakened by the romantic dynamic between Dewey and Gale; itself an old-hat being pulled thrice off the rack. But, thanks to Cox, we get the scariest thing in the film. According to an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Arquette took credit for suggesting Cox’s hairstyle as he felt it made her look like the infamous model Bettie Page (1923-2008). Sadly, this hairdo is one of the most horrific aspects of Scream 3. Then, of course, we have the new characters, all of whom are barely written, except for Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), who is undoubtedly the best thing about this movie.

Now, despite all my criticism, Scream 3 is not a total waste. Craven brings his A-game once again as helms what is the best looking film in the series — its slightly darker tones shot once again by cinematographer Peter Demming (Drag Me to Hell). More importantly, though, the thematic elements regarding the corruption of Tinseltown work very well, particularly when re-watching them in the #MeToo age. Alas, they don’t go far enough with this idea, which is ultimately tarnished by the “big reveal” of the trilogy; a twist dependent on a ridiculous retcon. In the end, though, Scream 3 is a Franchise Implosion due to a lack of narrative focus and the fact that it plays more like “Scooby-Doo & The Case of The Scumbag Hollywood Producer!” Even still, the movie in review grossed over $161 million worldwide on an estimated $40 million production budget. Hence, the trilogy would not be the end after all.

Scream 3  is available on all home video formats.

Next time, we’ll learn the rules of a reboot with Scream 4 (2011)!

Scream (2021) is now playing exclusively in theaters!

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