Upon its release in the tail end of 1996, Scream redefined slasher films. Many subsequent flicks were inspired by the metafictional approach of having characters aware of movie tropes, reinvigorating a subgenre that was viewed as tired and repetitive, and sparking interest in further sequels from its tiring franchises. Less commonly known though is that the movie was inspired by the crimes of a real-life serial killer.
When writer Kevin Williamson was watching documentary series Turning Point, he came across an episode about Daniel Harold Rolling, a paraphiliac killer who became known as the Gainesville Ripper.
On August 24th, 1990, Rolling broke into the apartment of 17-year-old university students Sonja Larson and Christina Powell. Finding Christina asleep on the couch, he instead went upstairs and discovered Sonja in her bedroom, whereupon he taped her mouth shut, tied her hands behind her back and stabbed her to death. Returning to Christina, he secured her in the same way, cut off her clothes and raped her, then forced her face onto the floor and repeatedly stabbed her in the back.
The next night he broke into the apartment of 18-year-old Christa Hoyt by prying open a glass sliding door with a combat knife and a screwdriver. He subjected her to the same horrific treatment as Christina, the knife blows piercing her heart, then decapitated her body and posed her head on a shelf.
Two days later, he used the same method to break into the apartment of Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada. He killed Taboada after a brief struggle and left his body where it lay, then broke through Paules’ attempted bedroom barricade, where she met the same fate as Christina and Christa.
Rolling was caught a little over a week later after being arrested for an unrelated burglary, whereupon police matched his tools to marks left at the murder scenes, and subsequently discovered audio diaries that alluded to his crimes in his makeshift campsite in a wooded area near the student apartment complex. He was formally charged in November 1991 and plead guilty in 1994 before his trial could begin. He was sentenced to death, and finally executed in October 2006.
The fear of a potential intruder discovering an unsecured window in his home was Williamson’s initial inspiration for Scream, leading him to draft an 18-page treatment about a young woman alone in a house who receives a threatening phone call and is then attacked by a masked killer. The story behind the movie is a shocking one, and reinforces the notion that one of the reasons we watch horror is to retain some control over the terrifying unpredictability of real life, making us feel less helpless and alone.