Who is Ghostface? It’s the question behind every Scream film, but who is the real man behind the mask? It’s not Jill Roberts or Billy Loomis but the very real Danny Rolling, the Jack the Ripper of modern America. Even though the 1996 film starring Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox shares very little in common with the original story, it borrows the paranoia that struck the sleepy college town of Gainesville as well as the sinister brutality of Rolling’s character.
The spine of the Scream films is its unique balance of self-awareness and ignorance taking place within the characters. The film itself is very self-aware. It knows the rules and cliches of horror movies and goes about dismembering them. It’s the actual villains though, in this case, Billy and Stu, who are lacking in this self-awareness as they seem blind to the reality of their own actions. At the end of their massacre, the duo reveals their individual motives, but it’s easy to see that they’re just excuses. They would have found any reason to kill and justify it with logic. Their real motives — Billy is just angry and psychotic, and Stu is a happy lap dog that doesn’t seem to know what’s going on half the time.
Put these boys together, and amp them up to the max, and you’ll get something close to Danny Rolling a.k.a. The Gainsville Ripper. Home to my home state (my aunt actually lived next door to two of the victims), Rollings was a serial killer who murdered five college students in August of 1990 over the course of four days.
Danny Rolling was born on May 26, 1954, to Claudia and James Rolling, two people who definitely weren’t meant to have children. James was a cop who consistently abused his wife and children, acting as if their very existence was a burden on his day-to-day life. He first started abusing Rolling when the boy was less than a year old when he’d beaten him for not crawling correctly. It only got worse when Rolling’s brother Kevin was born in 1955. There was even a time when James beat and handcuffed his son to the floor, calling the police and leaving him in a jailcell just for embarrassing him.
When Rolling started grade school, his mother had a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental health clinic after a failed suicide attempt. After that, he quickly fell off the deep end, finding solace in drugs and alcohol and turning to music to chase away the demons, all the while absorbing pieces of his father’s hate and violence. He was actually a pretty good musician. If things had turned out differently he might’ve had a decent career in music.
The Gainesville Ripper
In the year of the murder spree, Rolling followed his mother’s footsteps in having a nervous breakdown. By this point, he’d built up a list of crimes including at least one sexual assault as well as multiple petty offenses that kept him jumping in and out of prison. In 1990, he finally snapped and attempted to murder his father, then 58, by shooting him twice in the face. The man survived but lost an eye and an ear in the attack.
Shortly after that, Rolling changed his name and started a new life in Florida. He was now Michael Kennedy Jr., but this new and improved version was just as troubled as the old and on August 24, 1990, the spree of the Gainesville Ripper officially began.
The first victims were Sonja Larson and Christina Powell, two incoming freshmen at the University of Florida that he followed home. He raped and murdered them both, mutilating their bodies post-mortem. The next day, he broke into the apartment of 18-year-old Christa Hoyt, whose murder would become the most infamous of the five. Similar to Larson and Powell, he raped and murdered Hoyt before cutting off her head and placing it atop a bookshelf, setting her decapitated body up on the bed so that they would face whoever discovered her.
By this point, fear had begun to spread across the campus. In just a few days, the University of Florida was suffocating in paranoia. Students carried weapons, they slept in groups behind triple-locked doors with someone keeping watch at all times. By the end of August, thousands of students left campus, and/or transferred schools. Even after it was over, there were hundreds who never came back.
The final day of the spree occurred on August 27 with the murders of Tracey Paules and Manuel “Manny” Taboada, both 23. He killed Taboada while he slept and chased down Paules when she heard the commotion in their shared apartment. They were the only victims he didn’t mutilate although he did pose Paules’s body in a sexual position
Capture and death
Rolling wasn’t actually arrested for the murders but on burglary charges miles away in Ocala on September 7. He was later connected to the murders when tools found in his car matched some of the markings on the victims’ bodies. Further investigation led to the discovery of a one-man campsite near the student apartments where a series of audio diaries featuring Rolling’s admitting to the crimes were discovered.
Similar to Billy and Stu who made excuses for their actions, Rolling gave his own preferred excuse at his trial. He claimed that he’d wanted to be a “superstar” similar to Ted Bundy, even though there were clear signs in his past of trying to fight the “urges” that compelled him to kill and having trouble with violence way before Bundy was even a thing during the 70s.
On April 20, 1994, Danny Rolling was given a death sentence that was carried out in 2006 by lethal injection.
Connection to Scream
Some of the greatest films of all time were inspired by crime and a lot of them, by violent crimes; Zodiac, Monster, My Friend Dahmer, Snowtown, Memories of a Murder, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. We hate the crimes (sometimes) but love the art they inspire and thanks to an aspiring screenwriter who stayed up late to freak himself out on a tv documentary, the Wes Craven classic Scream can be added to that list.
In March of 1994, Kevin Williamson was watching a feature on the Gainesville Ripper on Turning Point and it gave him an idea. He sat down and wrote a script, completing it in just three days, about a masked killer that stalks kids in a sleepy town named Woodsburrow. He called it Scary Movie, a name that would eventually become Scream, incorporating the way that terror overtook an entire town in a short amount of time thanks to a deranged killer.
Of course, nothing about Scream reveals any obvious connection to Rolling. The story and characters are their own, and the ages were changed to high school years. Unless you know beforehand, there’s no way to tell that Scream was inspired by anything other than horror clichés. Although, the film does give a vague, brief, reference to the reality of its inspiration when near the end, a manic Billy shouts, “movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative.” The comment was screenwriter, Kevin Williamson’s own personal rebuttal to Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole’s claim that violent entertainment was influencing crime. Dole cited Natural Born Killers (a film that criticizes the media’s glorification of violence) as “evidence” and this was Williamson’s way of saying that art imitates life and if life does imitate art, it’s because the cause is already there.
By the way who else can’t wait for Scream 5? I’m excited!
Movies n TV
Consecration, a Film Review
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook.
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook. This R-Rated film includes Jena Malone, Danny Huston, and Janet Suzman as its starring cast. The film is currently available on AMC+ and Shudder.
After her brother dies, Grace (Jena Malone) goes to Scotland to investigate the circumstances. At every step of the way, Mount Saviour Convent seems to interfere with her investigation. Father Romero (Danny Huston) seems eager to help her, even if Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) resists her, but a strange fear seems to direct their actions. Worse yet, Grace endures visions of the past, present, and future.
What I Liked
A surprise performance steals the movie for me, that being Eilidh Fisher’s Meg. This nun-in-training remains consistently inconsistent, forever making me unsure of what to expect. With uncertainty and mystery at the heart of the film, Meg expresses that instability by keeping Grace and the viewer on edge.
Mother Superior and Father Romero have perfect friction with each other. Both manage the supernatural situation in their own way, acting as enemies and supporters toward Grace as needed. This friction also adds to the uncertainty that surrounds Grace’s investigation.
The mystery itself surprises me, though there is barely enough to add the context one needs for this mystery. However, it still earns credit for creativity and deception. Most twists and reveals become apparent and often underwhelm me, but Consecration deserves credit for catching me off guard.
Consecration showcases some alluring visuals, CGI not included. The setting and designs really add to the movies. At times, these visuals purposely contrast their environment as the narrative requires. Usually, it complements the central vision. The film gives off a pleasant aesthetic throughout its runtime–barring the CGI.
As a horror, Consecration has haunting moments. The mystery remains the central selling point. However, it leaves the viewer in constant uncertainty that helps the horror thrive.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Self-harm and suicide reoccur throughout the film, across several scenes and characters. Aside from ensuring the audience remains uncertain of events, there are no larger discussions or much focus on the issue.
Child abuse defines the backstory of certain characters. Unlike the point mentioned above, this earns more of a narrative focus. However, it’s still not exactly the point of the mystery. Don’t expect the film to explore this with sensitivity or depth. If these seem like dealbreakers, Consecration might be a skip.
What I Dislike
I briefly touched on a CGI problem, which hinders the otherwise interesting and alluring practical visuals. There are no ways to understate how distractingly bad one scene’s CGI is and how it upsets that quality. This scene, no spoilers, happens to be the most open use of CGI. There are other CGI moments, but none distract or hinder like that first scene.
The monster reveal underwhelms in a specific way. The twist perfectly aligns and sets up the foundation for this reveal to make the monster work. However, several reshoots add context to prior scenes to show this “demon” in action, and it somewhat upsets the effectiveness of those scenes.
Thoren Ferguson’s DCI Harris shows up sporadically throughout the film. He acts as the force of law, often hostile but completely underutilized. I suspect DCI Harris had a larger role, but somehow this plot was reduced. I assume this because he plays an important scene at the end that doesn’t seem earned. This isn’t to undermine Ferguson’s performance, as he does everything he can with what he’s given.
Consecration hooked me in and kept me engaged throughout its runtime. While the horror is middling, it has merit. The mystery remains the strength of the film, though it’s somewhat underdeveloped. If your mystery films tend to keep you in suspense through shifty characters and secret religious orders are your thing, Consecration might evoke your interest.
(3 / 5)
Movies n TV
You Reap What You Woe
Episode five of Tim Burton’s Wednesday was very busy. A lot is going on here, and most of it is quite fun. So let’s not waste any time getting into it.
First, we must discuss the fate of poor Eugene. If you’ll recall, the last episode ended with Wednesday finding him in the woods, covered in blood.
Despite Principal Weem’s insistence that he’s resting up and healing, he’s actually in a coma in the local ICU. But maybe she has reason to gloss over that unfortunate fact. It’s parents’ weekend, after all. Probably not the best time to admit that a student was grievously injured.
While there are certainly some Nevermore students who are happy to see their parents, none of our main characters are among them. We know that Wednesday isn’t thrilled to see her family, as she’s still resentful that they left her there.
Still, she’s not exactly pleased when Gomez is arrested for the murder of a man named Garrett. This devastates the family and forces Morticia to reveal a secret she’s been keeping from Wednesday.
Morticia also finally gets a chance to talk about Wednesday’s visions with her. She tells her that Goody Addams, who’s made psychic contact with Wednesday several times, is there to teach her about her visions. But Goody Addams is also super vengeful, and not to be trusted. I wonder why.
While much of the episode is about freeing Gomez from jail, the subplots are no less interesting.
Let’s start with Enid. As we know from the first episode, she has yet to grow into her full werewolf potential. If she can’t do this, she’ll be shunned by her kind and likely abandoned by her family pack. Her mother wants to help her, by sending her to a summer camp meant to help werewolves wolf out. Enid refers to these as conversion therapy camps. Which is clearly a problem.
The story that shook me was Bianca. She’s outright afraid when her mother shows up. And the reason is soon made clear.
Her mother is part of a cult called the Morning Song. Bianca’s mother is married to the leader. She’s been using her siren song to trap people in the cult. But her powers are fading. She wants Bianca to come take her place. If she doesn’t, she’ll reveal a terrible secret of how Bianca got into Nevermore Academy in the first place.
I honestly don’t have a lot of bad things to say about this episode. Except that wolf out is a ridiculous term and I cannot take anyone who uses it seriously at all. The characters were fun, the storyline was interesting, and it was satisfying to start getting answers. It helped that this episode included some real-world bad guys, like conversion therapy and cults. If every other episode of this season had been as good as this one, the show would be top marks from me all around.
This episode was a dramatic example of exactly how parents can fail at their job of raising their kids. And, thankfully, how they can succeed. We see Enid’s mom refusing to let her grow at her own pace. We see Sheriff Galpin ignore a clear cry for help from his son Tyler. We see Bianca’s mother, involved in a cult, using her child for her siren powers. And of course, we don’t see Xavier’s parents at all.
But we also see Morticia being a good mom to a difficult kid who’s rebelling against her. We see Enid’s father supporting her, exactly as she is. We see Eugene’s moms by his side at the hospital. At the bedside of their son, they are still able to give comfort to Wednesday. That is some strength right there.
Overall, this was a fun episode. We got some answers and were introduced to even more questions. I had fun watching it, and I’m looking forward to the next episode.
(4 / 5)
Movies n TV
Solace, a Film Review
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Morgan and Abbie Cornish.
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film includes Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, and Colin Farrell. As of this review, it is currently available to Netflix and Hulu subscribers.
As a string of murders leave FBI agents Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) perplexed, Joe turns to an old FBI contact and friend, Dr. John Clancy. Dr. Clancy possesses psychic abilities that make him an essential asset, but tragedies in his personal life leave him distant and broken. Fearing a person with similar gifts as himself, Dr. Clancy cannot help but lend his assistance.
What I Like
This cast is great, with notable legends living up to their reputation. While by no means career-highlighting performances, they work well together and provide a weight that pushes past lackluster character roles.
As the main character, Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Clancy stands out above the rest. Given the most screen time and plot relevance, this opinion comes easily. His role has the most opportunity to make us care for his character.
Solace creates fun and engaging scenes that tie directly to the characters’ psychic abilities, adding tension in unique ways. While other movies with psychics utilize similar strategies to convey this power–the movie Next comes to mind–the scenes add variety to otherwise lackluster cinematography. This decision also adds a somewhat strategic nature to the psychic battles.
Originally intended to be a sequel to Seven, this idea, thankfully, does not follow through to the final product. The story behind that is the typical Hollywood shuffle and brand recognition. I can’t exactly figure out a place to put this interesting fact, but the choice remains a benefit to the film.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Slight spoilers ahead! Read this section with that in mind.
A closeted man contracts AIDS and infects his wife. As this goes into rather old homophobia and fears, I felt it needed mentioning. Considering the film’s release date, 2016 (US), the plot point feels uninspired.
Some gratuitous sex scenes tie into the above reveal. The dramatic reveal and voyeuristic nudity (of the wife) make for an odd viewing experience. When the reveal isn’t shocking, it doesn’t exactly add much weight to the elongated scenes.
What I Dislike
There are no tactful ways to go about the low effort of the film. It’s surreal to see the names attached, the concepts addressed, and how it all fumbles. I imagine this discrepancy has something to do with the original sequel idea, but that remains speculation. Ultimately, the film feels awkwardly low budget for the cast it possesses.
Adding to this weakness are the underdeveloped characters and rushed plotlines. The film feels unfocused in direction, revealing things as they become relevant with fluctuating degrees of foreshadowing. Some of these revelations work, with some speculation, but adding them all together makes Solace weaker as a film.
This film isn’t scary, despite the premise being extremely promising. The idea of a potentially psychic killer does evoke a lot of possibilities, added with the exceptional cast, and it seems destined for success. Yet, the horror is middling at best.
Solace wants to be more and achieves some success in certain areas, but its inability to build and support these ideas hinders the overall quality. Perhaps Solace desires to upstage the twists of the typical mystery thriller that makes the film grasp too many new and interesting ideas. Regardless of the reason, the film suffers, and the viewing experience becomes underwhelming.
For a thriller killer, Solace doesn’t hold much water to competition. While the cast performs their roles perfectly and works well with each other, the notable weaknesses in writing and lackluster visuals don’t do the acting justice. A surprisingly exciting cast becomes a disappointing letdown. (2 / 5)