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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.

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!

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

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Mandrake, a Film Review

Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey, starring Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty.

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Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey. This film boasts a cast that includes Deirdre Mullins, Derbhle Crotty, and Paul Kennedy. It is currently available for subscribers in DirectTV, Shudder, Amazon Prime, or AMC+.

Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins) is a probation officer tasked with the most vilified case in her town, Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty). When a child goes missing, all eyes turn to the infamous Bloody Mary. Cathy, always believing in the best of people, tries to protect Mary. But evidence begins to mount, and Cathy finds herself in increasing danger.

Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw
In the forest
Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw

What I Like

Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty add weight to the film in their performances. Cathy proves resilient against the challenges she faces, while Mary can make any actions intimidating.
To not spoil anything, the ending is bittersweet in the best of ways, showing Cathy grow and mend relationships.

The atmosphere around Mary Laidlaw brings about the intimidation that earns the nickname Bloody Mary. It becomes easier to see why a town would fear this woman as we find her motives sinister.

Mandrake Cover Art: A mandrake behind Deirdre Mullins' Cathy Madden
Deirdre Mullins as Cathy Madden

What I Dislike

While there may be external magical elements, I found people obeyed Mary Laidlaw a little too easily for a vilified woman. There wasn’t enough for me to be convinced she intimidated them to action or magically charmed them. Or perhaps the performances felt underwhelmingly passive?

There was an irritating moment where a stalker helped save the day. The assistance is minor, but it still irritates me.

The daytime scenes of the film are bland. Perhaps it’s intentional, but the night scenes are stunning, making the contrast greater. While this film focuses on its night scenes, I couldn’t understand why it looked so bland, and sometimes poor quality, in the day.

Kraken eating a boat icon for Zeth M. Martinez
Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Mandrake can be a frightful enjoyment, especially when set at night where the details work. However, many elements left me wanting more or better. If you’re looking for a witchy tale, I’d say there are better options, but Mandrake can keep you entertained.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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