After two films of in-jokes and slasher-flick commentary, "Scream 3" drags the self-aware franchise directly into the Hollywood limelight.
Horror producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen) is making the third "Stab" movie - the final part of a trilogy based upon the murders that we've seen in "Scream" and "Scream 2". After one of the actors is murdered, it seems that someone is intent on killing the cast in the order they die in the film's script.
This heady premise provides a wealth of comic potential, as "Scream" regulars Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) get to interact with (and be parodied by) their "Stab" counterparts' deal-making, bitching, and liaisons.
It also provides some of the series' most witty and suspenseful set-pieces. When Sidney stumbles upon an on-set recreation of her family home, she is attacked by the ghost-face serial-killer in a subversive retread of a scene from the first film.
"Scream 3" still has its failings. With the exception of Parker Posey's Jennifer Jolie (who satirises Gale Weathers), the 'alternate' stars are fresh-faced, characterless nobodies who serve only as knife-fodder. And the decision to keep Neve Campbell - the star and centre of the franchise - in a home in the wilderness for a full five corpses seems frankly bizarre.
But while "Scream 3" is only an above-average film in its own right, as the conclusion to the trilogy it works more effectively than anyone had a right to expect. Fresh blood, fresh twists, and energetic performances make it as much fun to watch as it must have been to make.