Scream 3

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The “Scream” trilogy ends with an installment not as good as the first but better than the second — and still a darn fine movie that both parodies the teen-slasher genre, as well as being one itself.

This time around, Sidney (Neve Campbell, who continues to squint her eyes all the time instead of acting) is hiding out, living a quiet life after all the mayhem of the first two films. She’s brought back to action again, though, when the cast and crew of “Stab 3” — the third movie to be made about her story — starts getting killed. Former cop Dewey (David Arquette) is a technical consultant on “Stab 3,” and newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox Arquette) starts snooping around once the bodies start falling.

Tied in with all this is the revelation that Sidney’s mom — whose death started the whole thing in “Scream 1” — had a two-year period in which she disappeared. Turns out she was in Hollywood, making slasher films, on the same backlot being used to film “Stab 3.”

Such revelations of previously unknown backstory are typical of second sequels. It’s also normal for a later film in a series to ignore some things that happened in a prior one (this one ignores the killer in “Scream 2,” even while further explaining the motives of the killer in “Scream 1”). “Scream 3” admits these flaws in its characteristic self-aware fashion, but acknowledging your weaknesses doesn’t make them OK. The original “Scream” managed to have its cake and eat it, too, by having characters who grew up watching horror films and therefore knew all the “rules” (don’t go in basements alone, never say “I’ll be right back,” etc.), but who still managed to fall prey to a serial killer.

Unfortunately, horror films since “Scream 1” have changed themselves to fit that kind of sensibility, making “Scream 3” seem just a bit passe — a victim of the trend that, ironically, “Scream 1” began.

Nonetheless, “Scream 3” is undeniably well-done, thanks to director Wes Craven’s masterful sense of the horror/comedy combination. Humor abounds in the first two-thirds, particularly as Gale spars with the woman (Parker Posey) who is playing her in “Stab 3.” Inside jokes and references to other horror films abound; catching them all would require, I suspect, a second viewing. The jokes taper off when the focus shifts to horror in the last few reels. The revelation of the killer is, as always, a genuine surprise, though not as satisfying as in “Scream 1,” when there were so many more entertaining characters to choose from.

Despite any small complaints, though, “Scream 3” is a success, proving that it actually is possible to make two good sequels to a good horror movie. And that’s where the “Scream” series — which was created to mock the crappy, sequel-spawning slasher genre — really has the last laugh. It’s succeeded in not just satirizing teen horror films, but in actually beating them at their own game.

A- (; R, lots of bloody stabbings, other violence, and pretty heavy profanity..)

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