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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

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.

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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.

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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 clichĂ©s. 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!

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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