It's arrived. At last. Here, we're assured, is where Kevin Williamson's much-hyped, genre-redefining franchise finally ends (unless, God forbid, the series veers off into straight-to-vid hell). And, enticingly, that means there's no need to keep characters alive for further instalments, so no one's safe; as Patrick Dempsey's film-buff detective says: "All I know about movie trilogies is, in the third one, all bets are off."
So does Sidney finally go under the knife? Will Dewey's stab-surviving luck run out? Will Gale Weathers go just that little bit too far in her hunt for another hot news story? And which member of the pretty cast could possibly be filling Ghostface's cloak this time round? You won't, of course, find the answers anywhere in this magazine, so that alone counts as one huge reason why any self-respecting Scream-ager will be fighting for a place in the queue on opening night. And quite right, too. If you loved the previous two movies, you should at least care about how they're going to conclude the story. But, by the same token, if you loved the previous two movies, you'll also feel a little let down - or should that be punctured?
It saddens us to say this, but Scream 3 is, quite simply, a workmanlike slasher movie, which lacks the fist-chewing intensity of its elder siblings. Perhaps it's because the overworked Williamson didn't actually write the script, instead passing his story outline to Arlington Road-scribbler Ehren Kruger. Yet, with Wes Craven back at the helm, you'd have thought it would still, at least, contain some of those carefully paced, slow-burn-scaremongering set-pieces which made both Scream and the follow-up so memorable.
There's nothing here which measures up to, say, the Drew-skewering prologue to the first flick, or the car-crash fall-out of the second. The nearest Scream 3 comes to either of these is a pulse-raising opening sequence which involves an LA-based race against time and one of the previous film's main characters. But that's about as exciting as it gets. Every subsequent stalk `n' slash is over in mere minutes and any tension is almost immediately dispersed. Even the final act showdown is underwhelming, and once the killer is unmasked you're more likely to shrug and say: "Oh, is that it?" than you are to gape in disbelief.
Perhaps Craven was beyond caring: it's almost as if he was content to do a rush-job and be done with the franchise. The shooting schedule was very tight (the cast had other projects on the go), but surely this should be no excuse for a director of such calibre. The same could be said of Campbell, Arquette and a scarily skeletal Cox Arquette, who all look like they're less than thrilled to be back as Sidney, Dewey and Gale, respectively. In contrast, the supporting cast, including the pneumatic but bland Jenny McCarthy, overact to the point of irritation, with Parker Posey's turn as the actress who plays Gale in the Stab movies standing out as the worst of the bunch. Yes, she's supposed to be prissy, hissy, shallow and feisty, but her one-note performance is so in-yer-face that you can't help but anticipate her possible transformation into mincemeat.
Of course, Scream 3 is hardly a disaster, and the fact that it's kept its tongue poking painfully into its cheek is its one saving grace. While you won't be as scared as you were watching parts one and two, you'll probably laugh as much at the numerous in-jokes (a reference, for example, to "keeping the ending off the Internet") and its sense of sly, self-referential irony. There's even a welcome (if ludicrously contrived) scene in which we are given the "rules of the concluding chapter" speech, in keeping with the spirit of the trilogy's "rules" monologues.
But it's impossible not to compare the final outing with its predecessors, and the fact remains that it doesn't stand up well by comparison. It's a fairly enjoyable slasher, with a few good laughs thrown in, yet we've justifiably come to expect so much more from Craven, Williamson and co. It's still a Scream, but, sadly, it's the least bloodcurdling yet.