And so we reach the final Scream within the original trilogy. Was it always meant to be three? I’m not sure. I know that Kevin Williamson submitted the first script with a treatment for at least one sequel. Later, however, I heard him say that he always envisioned this being a trilogy. True or not, that’s what the franchise originally became and, even though Williamson was unable to write the script for the third film, we were lucky enough that Wes Craven returned to direct Scream 3 (thank you, Meryl Streep, and your lovely violins).
First, the two elephants in the room. As already mentioned, Kevin Williamson did not write the script for the third movie. That task went to Ehren Kruger (which is the most perfect last name for a movie directed by Wes Craven, amirite?). At the time, Kruger had written only three things, but he would go on to write a couple genre fiction favorites, IMHO, like the American remake of The Ring and The Skeleton Key. Of course, he’s also been behind those Transformer movies, so take it all with a grain of salt and a large margarita. Williamson would later state that he had a completely different idea for the direction of the third film, which ultimately he kind of did with Scream 4. Honestly, though? His original idea sounds really hokey. I mean, I’m sure that the original idea for the first film might sound hokey as well if reduced to one line, but this? Eh.
Second, there was a lot of push-back in Hollywood at the time that Dimension finally started gearing up to make the third film. Columbine happened the previous year, and of course, in a mad dash to find one simple explanation for something horrifically inexplicable, everyone wanted to blame the movies. Therefore, a lot of people wanted to completely disconnect the third film from its origin story and its two murderous high school students as well as scuttle Williamson’s original idea for the third film. It was Craven, however, who fought the hardest against white-washing Scream‘s history. He ultimately “won” against those who wanted to reduce the importance of the original story, but his price was the blatant increase in slapstick, nonsensical humor throughout this version. It’s the most purposefully silly of all the Scream films, which was both disappointing and distracting (which was the purpose, so well played there, guys).
So there are the two reasons that a lot of people usually bring up to point out why this is the worst of the Scream films and the weakest link in the trilogy. Do I feel this way? No (except about the Jay and Silent Bob cameo, because that was just pointless). To be fair, I did feel as though this was the weakest of the original trilogy when I first saw it. I thought it started out really well, carried a solid pace, but lacked the scares that I was anticipating and at times did play like a live-action version of Scooby Doo (which, honestly, I don’t really mind all that much. Because Scooby). Also, I found the ending to be the most anticlimactic of all the trilogy.
However, revisiting the film over the years, especially for this series, I’ve turned a more critical eye to the direction and the focus of this film. I honestly think that, if you look at this from the thematic perspective of Sidney as the keystone, take into consideration Randy’s admonishment to return to the beginning, and recall how beautifully and consistently Craven has interwoven reality and fantasy (particularly of the cinematic variety) throughout the trilogy, then this final entry into the original triumvirate indeed stands alongside the other two as a strong entry and ultimately a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Now I’m finally going to go back to the beginning myself and talk about one of those points, which I wanted to save until now rather than reiterating in each review. Williamson’s original script was, at its heart, a love letter to the horror genre, particularly to John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Who wouldn’t want to write a love letter to that film, though, right? In the first film, we’ve got all these self-aware horror-cliched characters roaming about, spouting the knowledge they’ve gleaned from films like Halloween. They’re also using what they’ve learned to perpetrate their own horror films in real life. The line that separates those worlds for most people have blurred into non-existence for these characters, leaving them with the viewpoint that both realms are as real or as fake as they wish them to be. What better way to visually and aurally represent this than in the scene in which Dewey is searching Stu Macher’s house while we can hear the musical cues from Halloween playing in the background?
For a film that had been overlapping and interweaving reality and cinematic fantasy throughout the entirety of its run time, something so small as syncing that scene with the original score from Carpenter’s classic was a tiny slice of brilliance, if you ask me. It perfectly captured that surrealistic blending while using the audience’s knowledge of one element to increase the suspense and tension of the other element. Plus, the fact that nothing actually happens to Dewey while the action is reaching its denouement in the film playing in the background is a nice touch by Craven of, “Ha, you might know what’s going to happen there, but I’m not going to let you see my hand quite that quickly. You’re just going to have to wait.”
Of course, this same blending continued in Scream 2. I did talk about two of those moments: Maureen Evans’s death at the beginning of the film, committed right in front of a crowded theater of people who at first cheer before realizing that what they are witnessing is not part of the promotional pretending; and the dress rehearsal scene in which Sidney thinks the Ghostface Killer is among the masked members of the Greek chorus. Additionally, we get to see “scenes” from the movie-within-the-movie Stab, in which Craven and Williamson take collective swipes at how Hollywood can oftentimes bend the reality of a “true story” in ridiculous and trite ways.
As for this film? Well, this one ramps up the blending to a new level, by bringing the central action right onto the set of the latest Stab film and using as the central characters the cast from that movie. In doing this, we not only see the continuation of the blending of reality and fantasy, especially when we get the treat of watching the two “Gale Weatherses” interact, but we also realize that this is truly how we are going to go back to the beginning in two surprising ways. We also hit upon the “Sidney is the keystone” aspect since one of the focuses of the Ghostface Killer in this film is to bring Sidney out of hiding.
[Loba Tangent: I don’t want to go on about the casting much for this film since I have so much else to write, but can I just say Parker Posey is brilliant? Her interactions with Courteney Cox throughout this film are fantastico.]
As I noted in my review of Scream 2, Neve Campbell was only available to film for something like 20 days for this movie. Therefore, Sidney’s role needed to be pared back, which was a decision that admittedly saddened me but also one that I think worked perfectly for this story. I had noted in my review of the preceding film that Sidney’s hold on reality was starting to come under question by those around her. The moment during dress rehearsal in which she panics over believing that she has seen the killer among the other actors on the stage with her was the moment that truly slammed this into our brains.
With this third film, however, we must wonder right away if all that Sidney has survived hasn’t finally shredded her increasingly tenuous hold on reality. She has sequestered herself away from everyone, with only her father and Dewey knowing where she is. She lives behind locked gates and bolted doors and security systems with only a Golden retriever as a constant companion. It’s no surprise, then, that when reports of the latest round of murders starts to reach Sidney that she starts having nightmares, which turn into one of the most satisfying scares from the entire trilogy. The sequence with Maureen Prescott’s ghost calling to Sidney:
Sid… come here… Mother needs to talk to you… Everything you touch, Sid, dies. You’re poison.. you’re just like me… you’re just like me… [she lowers herself to the ground leaving bloody streaks on the window] What have they done to me? They’ll do it to you… they’ll do it to you…
First off, Craven’s setup of this scene plays as perfectly unnerving, not just because of the obvious creep factor but also because this is the first real view we get of Maureen Prescott beyond photos. And, sadly, this how she lives in her daughter’s mind: A haunting, terrifying figure who gives voice to all the fears that Sidney has been carrying within her since her mother’s murder—that she is like her mother, that she is poison, that she will one day die the same way her mother died. The mother/daughter dynamic of this trilogy comes into full play with this third film, and Craven provides us with the key to the series in some of the most beautiful and subtle ways from the entire trilogy.
Let’s go back to the beginning for both Sidney and Maureen, shall we? First, with Sidney, we get the moment when, finally out of hiding, she comes to Hollywood and ends up going with Dewey to the film set where they are filming Stab 3. Sidney, wandering on her own, finds her way onto the set where they have rebuilt all the key set pieces from the first Scream film. The scenes of watching Sidney walk through those sets, seeing those familiar places from the first movie and at first remembering those scenes from the film that have become iconic to fans…but then seeing them through the eyes of this woman who has been so damaged by the events that, to us as the audience, have been entertainment—Craven upends us in our own fandom, forcing us to come to terms with the reality that these events have damaged Sidney in irreparable ways. Craven beautifully blends the real versus fantasy into a scene that epitomizes Randy’s encouragement to “go back to the beginning.” This was where it all began for Sidney, just as Sunrise Studios, where all those sets are located, was where it all began for Maureen. And then the invocation of the first time Sidney was attacked, right there on the set? The past is not at rest.
And then there is the moment we truly reach the beginning of Sidney’s lament:
This is the moment that Sidney walks into the part of the set that was supposed to be her parents’ bedroom, which had been prepped for her mother’s murder scene. We forget with the humor and pop culture chic of these films that the heart of this whole story is the fact that one fateful night, a teenage girl walked into her parents’ room and found the butchered body of her mother. Look at that room, look at how much blood there is. Yes, as we have already seen, the movies ramp everything up, but this is still the truth at the heart of the story. Sidney Prescott’s normal life ended the evening she walked into her parents’ room and found her mother’s mutilated body. It took three films in before we finally see this moment, blended into a series of scenes meant to invoke reminiscence within diehard fans. Craven’s handling of the moment is genuinely sublime in its brevity. He knew that those who have been paying attention would get it. This is Sidney’s moment of undoing, and also the moment that she either will let break her or give her the resolve to see this to its end.
As for Maureen’s beginning, we learn throughout the film that she once tried to be an actress who went by the name Rina Reynolds. Her start? Right there, at Sunrise Studios, appearing in movies done by the man who has been producing all the Stab movies. The end of her attempted career came at the house of said producer, where she was raped at one of his parties, after which she became pregnant with the man who would one day set into motion all of the events of the trilogy. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Roman and Sidney’s final face-off takes place in the same room where Rina Reynolds “died.”
Let me just say here that I can understand those fans who were disappointed with the revelation that Roman Bridger was the one who had been directing the actions of the killers throughout all the films. I said for years that the reveal of Roman as the murderer was one of the most anticlimactic I’d seen in recent horror history. However, if we narrow the focus of these films down to the mother/daughter dynamic, with Sidney being the keystone of the series as I have been pushing, then this trilogy begins to work on an even deeper allegorical level.
Roman seeks revenge first against Maureen Prescott for rejecting him and then against Sidney for being the only child Maureen would claim and for having all that Roman believed he was denied throughout his childhood by Maureen: a loving family, a stable home, etc. However, the deeper level becomes one of a feminist backlash against the continued assumption of male entitlement, and not just with Roman. Billy assumed he was entitled to Sidney’s virginity and then entitled to punish her for sleeping with him. In his mind, her actions proved that she was like her “slut-bag” mother. Mrs. Loomis, though obviously a woman, felt entitled to punish Sidney for her mother’s actions as well rather than place any blame on her ex-husband. It wasn’t his fault for cheating on her. It was Maureen’s fault for seducing him, and it was Sidney’s fault for seducing and then killing her son. This feeds into the all-too-real habit of victim-blaming that women perpetrate upon other women who report crimes of sexual violence. “It couldn’t have just happened to you without you having done something” is the unfortunate litany that too many women sing against victims of sexual assault as a way of distancing themselves from the possibility that it could happen to them.
And now in the third film, Roman continues this barrage of male entitlement upon the Prescott women, feeling entitled to the acceptance and love of a woman who gave him up for clear reasons: He was the end result of the worst moment of her life to that point. He was the representation of something she kept secret from everyone in her life: her husband, her daughter, presumably her friends and other family. Roman Bridger was the physical embodiment of a horror that Maureen Prescott wanted to forget. Yet all Roman could register was the denial of what he felt was rightfully his, regardless of any other circumstances.
[Loba Tangent: True to form with how this series of films constantly knocked familiar horror tropes completely asunder, here we see the “rape revenge” trope completely twisted as only Wes Craven could do.]
Same with Sidney:
You were the only child she claimed Sidney. She shut me out in the cold forever, her own son!
To Roman, Sidney, too, became a villain when he decided to take it upon himself to direct others in the exacting of his punishment against Maureen. Sidney had the audacity to be loved and cherished by the mother who rejected him. To Roman, this was one woman refusing to give him what he felt was rightfully his (in a rather poignant mirroring of how Roman came to be in the first place) and another woman receiving what he felt solely entitled to:
You’re gonna pay for the life you stole from me Sid. For the mother, and for the family, and for the stardom, and for, goddammit, everything you had that should’ve been mine!
God, why don’t you stop your whining and get on with it, I’ve heard this shit before!
You know why you kill people, Roman, do you?
I don’t want to hear it!
Because you choose to, there is no one else to blame!
God fucking dammit!
Why don’t you take some FUCKING RESPONSIBILITY!
FUCK YOU! [He lunges]
The fight that follows is brutal, with Roman nearly besting Sidney. I honestly thought that Sidney Prescott was going to die in this film. Looking back on it now, viewing the Scream trilogy as an allegory of feminist backlash, however, confirms that Sidney could not have died. Her journey of discovery had led her not only to the recreation of the room where it had all begun for her, but also to this room where it had all begun for her mother. It was her rite as the Pilgrim of this allegory to survive, to walk out of that room as the victor rather than as the victim her mother left as all those years ago.
Will everyone see it this way? Of course not. Am I stretching in some places? Maybe. I don’t think so, but that’s just my opinion. All I know is that, after re-watching this trilogy with my nerdy observational hat securely on, I can say this with personal certainty: Whether or not this was how Kevin Williamson had intended for this trilogy to end, I believe that it is precisely how it should have ended, thanks in large part to Craven sitting at the directorial helm for all three films. Through both his precise directing as well as his writing contributions (he helped sculpt the screenplay for this film with Kruger), Craven has provided a series of films with multiple satisfying layers.
Now, with all that out of the way, I just have one more thing to mention about these films: Marco Beltrami. Craven and his long-time editor Patrick Lussier selected Beltrami to score the first film with his “ear-blasting dissonant modernism,” as described by Film Music Magazine. Beltrami’s work for Craven, not just for the Scream trilogy but also for several other collaborations, significantly upped the horror score game and gave fans of the genre another instantly recognizable horror theme with “Sidney’s Lament.” As with so many other things about this franchise, Sidney’s theme, in all its iterations, is one of my favorites from the modern genre.