The Terrifying True Crime Story Behind ‘Scream’

The errant ring of a landline never inspired fear in our collective consciousness until Drew Barrymore picked up the phone in the iconic cold open of 1996 horror classic Scream. At first convinced she’s dealing with a wrong number, the caller (Scream’s terrifying masked killer Ghostface) slowly toys with her until a full on game of cat and mouse erupts, and what audiences assumed to be the Final Girl fights for her life. It’s this scene and the chase that ensues that opens the trailer for the upcoming Scream, hitting theaters January 14th. A new killer taunts another young woman who thinks she’s home alone, but with a modern twist. It’s both an important throwback to the roots of the franchise, and tees up what’s sure to be another horror classic: Scream did for the telephone what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean, and there’s a real life phone call that inspired it all.

The trailer for Scream (2022) brings us back to the basics: a girl, Ghostface and a guessing game about who’s behind the mask.

Back in the early 90’s, Scream writer Kevin Williamson was house sitting for a friend while trying to break into Hollywood. One night he returned to the home that wasn’t his and noticed a window he didn’t remember opening. Feeling unsettled, he called a friend and the two got to talking about a news story Williamson had recently heard about, and how the setting was like “something out of a horror movie”. When Williamson hung up the phone, he had the opening scene of Scream in his head. He sat down and wrote an 18-page treatment of the story, and the rest is history.

What real life event could have inspired such sadistic and demented killer like Ghostface? The inspiration came from the horrifying true story of serial killer Danny Rolling, also known as the Gainesville Ripper. In August of 1990 Danny Rolling caused the small city of Gainesville, Florida to descend into pandemonium when he murdered five college students in four days. Not only was the pace of the murders (similar to those depicted in the Scream movies) terrifyingly unprecedented, the murders themselves were especially gruesome because the killer enjoyed taunting the community at large – just like Ghostface.

In the new Scream, Ghostface (inspired by real life serial killer The Gainesville Ripper) is back to terrorize the town of Woodsboro.

Unlike the hulking shadowy “shapes” of 70s and 80s slasher movies, Ghostface is so terrifying because he’s a real human (or humans!) who is three dimensional, known to the victims, and always has a motive connected to the victims past. The franchise has shown that Ghostface really could be anyone and as the tagline for Scream (2022) promises: “It’s always someone you know.” 

Thirty two years after The Gainesville Ripper struck, and 25 after the original Scream, Ghostface has returned to Woodsboro – And he’s scarier than ever. Our final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back, with Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) to stop a new masked killer as he hunts a new group of teenagers. The real life inspiration for Scream’s Ghostface adds another layer of terror to what’s already a horrifying premise, and the reason that Scream remains an iconic horror franchise to this day. 

Watching the trailer for the new Scream, it’s hard not to conjure up the words of Scream’s deceased horror movie buff Randy Meeks (RIP) from Scream 3: “The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest. Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.”

Scream hits theaters January 14th. Check out the trailer below, and get tickets here