EXTRA: The ‘Scream’ Secret

SANTA MONICA, Calif., February 4, 2000 — Four years ago, “Scream” made slasher movies cool again, made big-screen stars out of Neve Campbell and a few other TV teens and made lots and lots of money.

Today brings “Scream 3,” the final entry in the series. The release is a real head-scratcher for some. On one hand, Miramax is pushing it in a record 3,467 theaters; on the other hand, it’s pushing it into said theaters with a minimum of (how can this be?) hype.

“In my two years of dishing out gossip and news for my Internet Web site, I have never seen such a low-profile for one of the most popular franchises,” says Thomas Chau, webmaster of Cinema Confidential (www.cinecon.com), a movie rumor-tracking Web site, tells Hollywood.com.

In the movies, secrecy means either one of two things: (1) Your movie stinks and you don’t want anybody to know (until they buy tickets); or (2) Your movie just plain stinks. But in the case of “Scream 3,” insiders insist that Miramax’s motive for secrecy is (get this) it wants to keep a secret.

“To the uninformed, it is understandable why it may look bad,” says Chau. “The truth is, “Scream 3” is being kept under heavy secrecy. REALLY heavy secrecy. At the same time, they really want the third film to be the final, definitive chapter that will finish off the trilogy nicely. A month before ‘Star Wars: Episode I’ came out, I could’ve pieced together all the leaks and rumors and outlined the entire story for you. With just a few days until the opening of ‘Scream 3,’ however, I’m clueless.”

In the Internet age, when movie rumors are the sport of cyber-nerds and untruths are often spread faster than truths, it’s perhaps understandable why Miramax might be reluctant to reveal too much about “Scream 3” until the 11th hour. In the months prior to the release of “Scream 2” in 1997, several different versions of that film’s script were posted on the Net by fans, in effect spoiling the ending for anyone who read it. The ending, in which the killer’s identity is revealed, is always the biggest surprise of the “Scream” movies.

Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik says the studio is “especially protective” of the “Scream” movies, and purposely limited press screenings of “Scream 3” to one week before the release, to “prevent story leaks and ruining the surprise about the ending. Each of the ‘Scream’ films was known for its surprise ending, and the third installment will be no exception.

“We have the highest confidence in this film, that it will complete the trilogy on a very high note,” Hiltzik told Hollywood.com. “In terms of moving the release date from Christmas to February, we did that so as not to compete with ourselves. We released ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley‘ in December, which we felt may appeal to a similar audience.”

Hiltzik adds that the later release also provided some breathing room for director Craven to finish shooting and post-production on the film. Craven went into production on “Scream 3” immediately after finishing his previous movie, “Music of the Heart,” which was released in October.

To be sure, the traditional trademarks of a problem release have been there all along with “Scream 3.” First, the movie’s release was pushed back from Christmas Day to the unremarkable Feb. 4, suggesting Miramax wasn’t confident in its box-office power. (February isn’t exactly the traditional season for horror pictures, either). Miramax never even released a full-length trailer to theaters, only a short teaser.

Then there were the rumors (albeit unsubstantiated) circulating on the Net that, as of just a few weeks ago, director Wes Craven was still re-shooting scenes to finish the film. And on top of all this, “Scream 3” wasn’t written by the series’ creator, Kevin Williamson (who passed due to overwork) but by Ehren Krueger, a newcomer, who had to write quickly under intense pressure.

At one point the buzz got so bad that the New York Post last week reported that the studio wasn’t holding any press screenings – always the sign of a bomb. That rumor was quickly deflated by Miramax officials, who pointed out that a full press junket and reviewer screenings were held over the past week in Los Angeles and New York.

But advance word on “Scream 3” has brightened a bit in the last week or so, as those lucky enough to attend the elusive press screenings posted their reviews on Web sites. Early reviews have been positive, saying the film dovetails nicely with the story arc of the first two “Screams,” and that screenwriter Krueger ably mimics Kevin Williamson‘s knack for self-referential horror movie wit. And in today’s Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas called it “genuinely scary and also highly amusing,” and “a razzle-dazzler.”

If Miramax’s publicity strategy has created some doubts about the film, its release pattern for “Scream 3” shows that the studio is backing up its claims of confidence. The film is being released in more than 3,000 theaters today across the nation.

“This is a tremendous number of theaters,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box-office tracking firm. “Sometimes February can be a dumping ground for bad movies, but in this case Miramax is going to benefit from the lack of competition for the teen audience. Other than ‘Next Friday’ there really isn’t much out there for teen-agers, and kids are probably chomping at the bit to see this movie.”

Dergarabedian also contends that horror movies aren’t just for October anymore. In 1998, “Halloween: H20” was released in the summer and performed well, for example, he says. He expects “Scream 3” to perform comparably to its two predecessors, both of which made more than $100 million in the U.S. and about $170 million worldwide, and were the all-time top-grossing horror films before something called “The Blair Witch Project” came along.

“The box office has been slow since the holidays, and I think everyone is looking for ‘Scream 3‘ to reinvigorate movie-going,” Dergarabedian says.