It’s almost Halloween, which means we have horror movies on the brain. And one of our favorites here at Nerdist is Scream. The 1996 film—penned by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven—is a classic in the teen slasher genre. It follows a high school student named Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who becomes the target of a masked serial killer known as Ghostface. The menace terrorizes the small town of Woodsboro, California, offing Sidney’s classmates in a plot of revenge. Scream was such a mega success that it spawned a whole franchise, including three sequels and a TV spinoff. And it was also loosely based on a true story.
Here’s everything you need to know about the real-life crime that inspired Kevin Williamson to write Scream.
Who was the Gainesville Ripper?
Danny Rolling was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1954. He had a difficult child, as many eventual killers do: one plagued by abuse and disorder in the home. As an adult, he struggled to hold a steady job and in 1990 attempted to kill his own father. Later that same year he went on a murder spree in Gainesville, Florida. Over the course of few late August nights, Rolling killed five students—one from Santa Fe College and four from the University of Florida. All were murdered in their apartments, and all were killed with the same murder weapon: a knife. Rolling posed the bodies in odd ways to provoke shock. Soon after the murders, he became known as “The Gainesville Ripper.”
The murders received widespread attention in Florida. Many students withdrew their admissions to the colleges involved. Fear spread through Gainesville, and it spread quick. Luckily, it didn’t take long for Rollings to be discovered. On September 7, 1990, he was arrested in nearby Ocala on a burglary charge. Police found tools in his possession that matched marks left in the Gainesville crime scenes. He was charged with five counts of murder. He pled guilty in 1994, confessing that he committed the murders to achieve notoriety, like Ted Bundy.
Police also drew comparisons between the Gainesville murders and another triple homicide in Shreveport that happened years before. Rolling would eventually confess to these murders, too. All-in-all, Rolling murdered eight people. He was sentenced to death, and as killed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on October 25, 2006.
How did the murders inspire Scream?
Screenwriter Kevin Williamson was home alone one day when he stumbled on a news segment about the Gainesville Ripper. While watching, he noticed an open window in his living room, and realized how easy it’d be for someone to enter and harm him. Instead of spooking him too much, the realization inspired him to write a treatment for a film he called Scary Movie. The script would eventually become Scream.
Ultimately, here aren’t a ton of parallels between the Gainesville Ripper and Ghostface. With the exception of their murder weapon and their flair for posing dead victims, the killers are pretty different. Ghostface, who is actually two people—Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) and Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich)—has a motive. Billy’s dad had an affair with Sidney’s mom, which ruined his family. He’s bent on revenge. Meanwhile, Rolling committed his murders for notoriety. A random act that is actually much scarier, since it could happen to anyone, regardless of their life circumstances.
Even with the difference in motive, it’s clear what a major effect the Gainesville story had on the inception of Scream. It’s always interesting to see how real-life stories morph and influence the culture the way they do. Horror remains a perfect way of examining our darkest fears, and Scream is an excellent example of that. It’s about the easy and swift way killers can emerge. And how senseless killings don’t spare the young. It’s a horrifying parable, because it feels so real. And it’s why Scream remains such a titan of the genre. The kids are not alright.
Featured Image: Dimension Films