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Believe it or not, I don’t like writing bad reviews much, but what can I say? Wes Craven’s Scream 3 is disappointing. Putting aside a certain character’s hair in the movie, let’s look at some problems it has, be they large or small.

Yes, Ghostface is back to kill again, which is to be expected. The usual question will emerge: Who is the killer? We’re also supposed to wonder about the motive. As these sequels pile up, those questions get harder to even ask, and suspension of disbelief becomes more of a looming presence. After all, just how many times can Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) be targeted as part of a mass murder campaign, by various assailants, all for related-yet-different reasons? Also, how many times can these plots still involve Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber)?

Unfortunately, Scream 3 doesn’t successfully address all of these concerns. Basically, I had a harder time suspending disbelief and just enjoying the movie. Granted, you can tell they tried to make it work, but it was becoming a tired formula by this point.

The simple reality is, ideas tend to get old after a while. For example, back when Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford, it was probably more shocking in 1975. Nowadays, though, people are so jaded by shootings that they almost shrug them off at this point. At a certain point, it’s almost unfair to expect people to stay in perpetual shock over tragedies. A similar dynamic holds true for this movie.

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Ghostface

Like all Scream movies, part 3 has to reveal Ghostface, then “expose him” at some point. Yes, he introduces himself in an interesting way, as we see he can alter his voice to seemingly match any character he wants. That is sort of a cool ability. However, it’s truly one of the few elements to the mystery that kept my attention. Other than that, the characters seem oddly almost disinterested in the events surrounding them. Could it be they’re written to be too far in on the joke?

Self-Awareness Stretching Thin?

Wes Craven’s original Scream helped rejuvenate modern horror, partly by giving us the self-aware horror movie. While it was never my favorite franchise, I can respect damn near anything for being influential. Also innovative: Ghostface almost has this vibe of the “Anti-Hero” of slasher villains. There’s something “underdog-like” about him, and at no point will the average viewer see him as a near-invincible killer like Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers. It makes the movie seem more real, and we may even identify with the killer more (as freaky as that sounds).

Scream also made fun of itself. The other characters are almost self-aware “stock” characters. For example, Dewey Riley seems like a bit of an everyman, and an underachieving cop. while Gale Weathers is the self-serving, roving reporter. All of the other characters are there to supplement what kids now call “tropes,” and we recover from these elements understanding this idea was somewhat innovative at the time. We are also in on the joke. That can work once, maybe twice, but it can easily be stretched thin as a concept. Scream 3 just seems like a movie that didn’t need to happen. It has nothing new to say.

More Reasons it Falls Short

Sid walks into the movie at various points, characters angrily confront somebody, they fight Ghostface, and that about sums up the whole affair. Like in the original Scream, there are sordid details about Sidney’s mother and father, and, again, we’re supposed to believe that this would result in numerous murder rampages. Unlike, say, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, where the killer emerges from a nightmare world into reality, Ghostface somehow keeps emerging from long-buried sexual dalliances, to oddly hold people accountable for them who really were not involved. That becomes a very odd pattern, especially if you really try to piece it together.

However, if you don’t even care about the truth behind the murders, Scream 3 has basically failed to do its job. That would describe my experience with this movie. It was not more disturbing than the original two, nor more fun. In fact, there’s another odd factor here which takes away the suspense: There’s never a sense that Sidney can’t solve the mystery and crimes in time to save her life. There’s little tension.

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I Don’t Remember Any of the Kills

Here’s the critique that’ll really hurt overall fans of the Scream franchise. I don’t remember any kills from Scream 3 very well, and I just watched it. That’s unfortunate because let’s face it: That’s one of the few elements that might have helped saved the movie. I’m a bit puzzled as to why there aren’t more creative, messed up kills here.

For example, how about someone gets her eyes ripped out and stuffed in her bra? It’s a terrible, shocking idea, and the suggestion might’ve resulted in protesters at screenings…but would it have been a memorable scene? Yes! I feel messed up for suggesting it, but scenes like those are what put Giallo movies on the map. Some of those movies are genuinely on the shitty side, but we remember them because of their creepy, innovative, outright offensive and outlandish kills.

My Theory On Why Scream 3 Falls Short

I could take heat for suggesting this, but I think Wes Craven wasn’t so much about shocks anymore near the end of his life. In fact, there’s a sense he might’ve been bored with the horror genre, like he may have felt confined to it. I can understand that. Sure, I think it’s fun to see an obnoxious character’s hand in a blender or have them get mauled by a mountain lion, or what have you, but I don’t watch horror exclusively, either. If your heart’s just not in it, it’ll probably be reflected in the movie.

Maybe I shouldn’t say the movie is a failure, but it falls a little short. In terms of its action, an element I like is the “hunter becomes the hunted” dynamic, where Sidney is basically running after Ghostface at times. Still, that’s not a unique “survivor girl” fare. The only other element that’s striking is when characters stumble upon a secret door, which makes it so much more “Scooby-Doo” (though no one in Scooby-Doo was ever dismembered, or even drenched in blood).

Beyond that, most of “Scream 3” is about Sidney Prescott being oddly attached to her mother’s (real or imagined) shortcomings. In the movie, she even works as a crisis worker, talking people out of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. That was sort of a nice angle. However, it also wasn’t enough to sustain my interest in this movie. Why did I write so much about it then? Because Wes Craven was so good that even his lesser movies tend to make me think.

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What are your thoughts on Scream 3? Am I being too brutal on it? Scream at me in the comments!

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nicole Luttrell

    July 15, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    You are not wrong! The only good part was the first ten minutes, because Liev Shriber was in it. After that you can turn the movie off.

    • Wade Wainio

      July 15, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      Like I said, they could’ve at least partly salvaged it with interesting, shocking kills. I even watched a video of all the kills to make sure I wasn’t missing something…turns out I was right to say they weren’t interesting, either.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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