The opening sequences of Scream remain one of the most frightening elements of the movie throughout the trilogy. It’s not just about seeing someone murdered, but how those murders are executed that key into an almost universal fear. In the first movie, Ghostface’s victim’s family can hear her final breaths on the phone, knowing she is dying nearby. In the second film, the victims remain helpless, despite dying in the middle of a crowded theater. Here, Ghostface torments Cotton Weary over the phone with the soon-to-be slaughter of Cotton’s girlfriend. Of course, any fan of the previous movies knows nobody makes it out of the opening alive, and by putting Cotton in the opening, the third film in the Scream franchise knows the stakes have been raised, as a survivor of the first movies meets his doom.
Scream 3 brings back the meta-element of the first movie by placing the making of a movie at the center of Scream 3’s story. As we saw in the second film, the Woodsboro murders of the first film inspired a series of movies, titled Stab, and the third Scream movie centers around the making of the third Stab film, as a real Ghostface killer appears, trying to lure out Sidney Prescott while running rampant on the film’s set, stalking Dewey Riley, Gale Weathers, and whatever blonde bombshell he can find (a role suitably filled here by Jenny McCarthy).
Not only does Scream 3 return to pointing out the formulas and flaws of horror trilogies, but the movie also has some fun at Scream and Scream 2’s expense, showing how the actors portraying the “fictional” versions of the leading characters treat those characters. Emily Mortimer, the new “Stab Sidney” reveals that Tori Spelling and David Schwimmer chose not to return to a tired third chapter, while Parker Posey, the “Stab Gale” gets to team up with the “real” Gale to try and figure things out.
The other benefit of the movie within the movie is that it allows Scream 3 to return to the Woodsboro setting while keeping things fresh in Hollywood. The Stab 3 set that Ghostface chases Sidney through are a recreation of her house and street from the original story. This adds a sense of comfort and familiarity, right down to Sidney blocking the killer from entering the room by jamming the door with the closet door – a trick she relied on in the original picture.
In Scream 2, Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey compares Sidney to Linda Hamilton, the protagonist of The Terminator movies. It’s an apt comparison. Not because Sidney kicks ass like Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, although she does, but more because the character of Sidney is a fantastic example of natural character progression. She went through a traumatic event and it molded her into someone more cautious. A second traumatic event has shaped her into a recluse. Sidney’s progression through the three movies feels right, as does Dewey and Gale, although their relationship only forming on camera and always falling apart in between chapters does get a little tedious. Still, watching the characters change over the course of the three movies is interesting in and of itself.
Although Sidney, Dewey, and Gail return, as does (briefly) Liev Schrieber’s Cotton Weary, but Scream 3 makes it clear that this story was never about those characters. Instead, Maureen Prescott, Sidney’s mother who was murdered a year before the events of the first movie, is the central figure of the trilogy. Billy Loomis’s murderous spree as the original Ghostface was motivated by Maureen splitting up his mother and father. Mrs. Loomis picked up where Billy left off, motivated by both the actions of Sidney’s mother and Sidney herself. Scream 3 fills in the holes, as Randy himself – brought back from the dead to give us the rules of a trilogy ender – warns us the closing chapter will, and Maureen Prescott is revealed to be the primary figure. Sidney is just paying for the sins of her mother.
Perhaps learning from Scream 2’s shortcomings, the third chapter focuses less on making the audience wonder who the killer is. Sure, some suspicious hints are dropped, but with the second chapter relying on a last minute piece of information to fit the puzzle pieces together, and the third chapter doing something similar, the story doesn’t work as hard to make this a “who-dun-it” and just relishes in the thrill of Ghostface’s sudden appearances, stalking nature, and the inevitable bloodbath that follows.
While Scream 2 followed the rules of a good sequel, it wasn’t a great chapter in the Scream trilogy. Scream 3 makes up for it by exploiting the best parts of both movies for a solid conclusion to the trilogy. Of course, nobody knew ten years ago that the story wouldn’t end here, but if Scream 4 had never come along, the saga would have closed with a very satisfying chapter.