Filmed and directed by Oscar Chan
Narrated by Corey Johnson
It’s only a movie. As viewers of horror, we’ve always got that to fall back on. No matter how scary a film gets (and sometimes they get pretty damn scary), we’ve always got that security blanket to grasp if we need it. Hey, it’s only a move. Except when it’s not.
The Smithsonian Network has released a true crime documentary entitled “The Real Story: Scream”, which gives a detailed telling of the crime that inspired Kevin Williamson to pen the script that would go on to be Wes Craven’s genre-rattling Scream. And even though the program is set up more like a news story, I found myself with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies after watching and hearing about the hideous acts performed in this case. This time it’s not only a movie.
As the story goes, on March 9, 1994, Williamson was watching an ABC broadcast news special report about a series of gruesome murders that happened four years earlier in Gainesville, Florida (that’s Gator country, baby!). The killer would become known as “The Gainesville Ripper,” and he left a pretty gnarly wake in his path.
“The Real Story: Scream” tells the story behind the biggest manhunt in Florida’s history as Gainesville and the surrounding areas were absolutely crippled with terror as police closed in on the killer. Williamson did not recreate the Gainesville Ripper in Scream, but rather took interesting elements from the case and added them to the story he was building in Woodsboro. From the ambitious reporter to the media frenzy to the terrified students and the wrong man initially arrested for the crimes, all these aspects from the Florida murders were present in Williamson’s film.
The documentary itself does a great job of bringing in key experts to discuss the events of the crime. You hear from state attorneys, journalists, a film critic, the University of Florida spokesperson at the time, a blood spatter specialist, the chief of forensics and more; even the mother of one of the victims speaks. However, as a horror fan, and the fact that this piece is all about the relationship of Scream to this case, it would have been nice to hear from Kevin Williamson or Wes Craven at some point. Especially Williamson would have been a great addition to the documentary as he could have given details as to just what aspects of the case intrigued and inspired him the most.
Also, while describing the crime scenes, it seems like “The Real Story: Scream” is, at times, dancing around the details. For example, at the scene of the first murder, the documentary tells that the bodies were posed in some deranged way. In fact it mentions it several times. However, it never tells the viewer how the bodies were posed. No time to get coy now, guys. Spill the beans, give us the details. If we’ve come this far with you, give us everything you’ve got.
Although many of the visuals you get with “The Real Story: Scream” are either stock footage shots of Gainesville or recreations of the crimes, there are a few pretty intense moments, such as actual footage of the police interrogation with the killer and some shots of his survivalist outdoor living accommodations. There is also footage from an audio diary the killer was keeping on a cassette recorder.
“The Real Story: Scream” is an intriguing program. Fans of horror will dig the sneak peek into just what inspired the beloved film; however, there is enough background about the horror genre included in the piece to get non-horror fans up-to-speed while not boring those already familiar with the genre. And although, again, it would have been nice to hear from some of the makers of Scream, the piece does a nice job of detailing the similarities between the actual murders and the film. And take my word for it… if you’re like me, after watching “The Real Story: Scream”, you’ll definitely want to do a set of rounds around the house to be sure all the doors and windows are locked. There’s some crazies in them thar hills, folks. Be safe out there.
“The Real Story: Scream” airs Sunday, July 28, 2013 (8PM ET/PT), on the Smithsonian Channel.
3 1/2 out of 5