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"It was in the '70s. Everything was different."
The Scream franchise leaned hard into meta dialogue throughout, but the concluding part of the original trilogy has inadvertently taken on new meaning in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Broken dreams of becoming an actress, an alleged assault, and a director named Roman — even without the horror movie commentary, Scream 3 recontextualized through a 2020 lens is eerily accurate. Celebrating its 20th anniversary today (February 4), there's no better time than right now to take a look back at how this movie reads in light of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting by Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow, which seemingly only scratched the surface of the movie industry's seedy underbelly.
Even though she is dead for the entire Scream series, all the Ghostface roads lead back to Maureen Prescott (Lynn McRee). Her only appearance is either through videotape footage, photographs, or as a ghost haunting her daughter Sidney's (Neve Campbell) nightmares. She is both slut-shamed and victim-blamed, as each killer shifts accountability onto the original victim. How can one woman hold so much power over this many people?
The rules of horror weave their way through the franchise and even though Randy (Jamie Kennedy) died in the preceding Scream 2, he is back via video to lay out the trilogy tropes to pay attention to: "True trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn't true from the get-go." Scream 3 does exactly that, revealing an entirely new person pulling the strings. Storyline convenience is required, but this is an origin steeped in Hollywood shame. Jokes about the casting couch litter the script and the original attack against Maureen Prescott is depressingly familiar. Tales of rampant abuse at the hands of those in charge are part of the Hollywood fabric, but rewatching Scream 3 after the explosive investigative reporting detailing Harvey Weinstein's alleged abuse only adds to the meta elements, while also pointing to the correlation between sex and who gets killed in horror.
The insidious manipulation of those in power and attempts to cover up an attack while maligning a victim was far from a brand new concept when Scream 3 was released. However, the conversation is more prevalent and focused after the Weinstein story broke in October 2017. It is also worth noting that Weinstein was a producer on the Scream franchise, including this third installment. This isn't to say there is a secret conspiracy or message within the film pointed toward the movie mogul, but it is impossible to see his name flash up in the credits and not compare the action on screen to the case that continues to play out before our very eyes. After all, life imitates art and vice versa.
Scream 3 was not well-received upon release and while it was far from a box office failure, the Rotten Tomatoes score of 39 percent still feels pretty fair after recently rewatching it. Dismantling the notion of the predatory movie industry is a good one, but the self-referential humor and "everyone is a suspect" heavy-handedness gets tired very fast.
There are some notable cameos — including Carrie Fisher as Bianca Burnette, a Sunrise Studios employee who the film notes looks exactly like Fisher herself. Her joke is one of several about creepy Hollywood practices, a joke that Fisher is said to have written: "I was up for Princess Leia. I was this close. So, who gets it? The one who sleeps with George Lucas."
This cameo is one of the Scream 3 highlights, but the sleazy Hollywood machine commentary is less successful toward the climax of the film. Just before starlet Angelina Tyler (Emily Mortimer) is killed, she yells, "I did not f**k that pig Milton to get a leading role just to die here with second rate celebrities like you two!" Leading up to this scene, the film frequently makes implications that her character was awarded the lead role via that route. However, considering how underused and underdeveloped Angelina is, it lacks the bite and it feels like another case of a woman getting punished for having sex.
Scream 3 editor Patrick Lussier told Slate last year that the only major note from either Weinstein (in this case, Bob) was to cut Angelina's storyline as the second killer: "He felt we had done the two-killers thing." The double-murderer conceit was a signature of the first film, not to mention the second, but this would have been far preferable to the lazy narrative Mortimer was subjected to.
Movie-within-the-movie Stab 3 is the production at the heart of the action, but it is Maureen Prescott's brief acting career 28 years prior that fulfills Randy's prediction from beyond the grave: "The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest." Photos of Sidney's mom have been left at each crime scene, publicity shots from when she was going by the name Rina Reynolds. Once upon a time, Maureen had dreamed of becoming an actress, leaving Woodsboro for Tinseltown. In one scene, horror movie producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen) boasts of his influence while showing no contrition for the actions of men who partied at his home:
"Nothing happened to her that she didn't invite in one way or another, no matter what she said afterward. I'm saying that things got out of hand. Maybe they did take advantage of her. Maybe the sad truth is this is not a city for innocents. No charges were brought. And the bottom line is [Maureen] wouldn't play by the rules. You wanna get ahead in Hollywood? You gotta play the game, or go home."
Again, Maureen is getting blamed for her own assault, the implication being that if she had played along then maybe she wouldn't have seen her dream turn into a nightmare and end up ultimately pregnant as the result of rape. Milton is so cavalier in his description of this normalized rape culture that it sounds like echoes of real-life statements we have heard on repeat as a defense. For how ridiculous the set-up and deaths are in Scream 3, there is nothing more chilling than this on-screen declaration.
The killer is, of course, the product of that long-ago sexual assault, who also just so happens to be Stab 3 director Roman Bridger (Scott Foley). Per his own admission, Bridger says that he "directed" Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) into murdering Maureen prior to the events of the first Scream movie by showing him the footage he'd recorded of her now-infamous affair with Billy's father. Roman's murderous rage stems from Maureen rejecting him as her son; the orchestration of her death is considered punishment for the original assault and subsequent promiscuity. As Randy pointed out in the first movie according to the rules of slasher film canon — if you have sex, you have to die. In the case of Maureen Prescott, she could never truly escape that singularly horrific moment in her life, even leading up to her death. It's a muddled message and beneath the meta-humor is what could have been a fascinating look at the crimes of this industry and the relationship horror has with sex. Instead, we got a lackluster sequel that happened to be rather prescient (murder plot aside).
"Hollywood is full of criminals whose careers are flourishing," Milton notes, midway through Scream 3. Two decades after its release, this line is less of a knowing wink and instead sounds like a warning from the past. If only the mask had been pulled off sooner.