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The Real Story: Scream (2013)

Smithsonian Channel
DVD Released: 9/5/2017

All Ratings out of




Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/23/2017

We've spoken a lot in the last few years about movies which are based on true stories. It would appear that this has become a prerequisite for Oscar-nominated films, as the bulk are biopics or derived from a real-life event. There is a cousin of this sub-genre which consists of movies which were "inspired" by a real occurrence or individual. For example, neither Psycho nor The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were biopics of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, but both utilized facets of his real-life story in their narratives. Thus, it can be interesting to trace fact in a fiction film. This is the notion presented in The Real Story: Scream, which purports to inform us what inspired the Wes Craven classic.

In 1990, Gainesville, Florida, the home of The University of Florida, was held under a reign of terror, as five students were brutally murdered. Not only were these individuals killed, their bodies were mutilated, with some being decapitated, and they were placed in deliberate poses. The police were baffled and the press dubbed the killer "The Gainesville Ripper". Residents of Gainesville feared for their lives, with some parents taking their children out of school. The area was placed under curfew. A suspect was arrested, but he had no connection to the crimes. A man named Danny Rolling was taken in on a robbery charge, and it was discovered that his tools matched those used to gain entry into the victims' apartments. Further DNA testing confirmed that Rolling was a prime suspect. He was convicted of the murders, and was also suspected of a series of killings in Louisiana. Rolling was executed in October, 2006.

The Real Story: Scream essays this story, but offering interviews with law enforcement officials and a journalist who were involved in the case. We see archival news footage, some crime-scene photos, and diagrams of the murder scenes. The piece offers a detailed account of the killings, laying out a detailed overview in it's 47-minute running time.

The piece also presents us with the notion that screenwriter Kevin Williamson was influenced by the coverage of "The Gainesville Ripper" and incorporated facets of the real-life story into his screenplay for Scream. The Real Story: Scream attempts to draw parallels between the movie and the real-life story, including the fact that students were targeted, that the crimes were violent, that the town was placed under curfew, and that police were baffled. Are you telling yourself that those are extremely random and most likely common factors when it comes to a crime spree? Because that's exactly what I was saying to myself while watching this. While the law enforcement officials interviewed here focus on the real case, film critic Adam Smith draws some very tenuous comparisons between "The Gainesville Ripper" and Scream. The issue here is that we never hear from anyone involved with the film. We are told that Kevin Williamson used the case as a springboard, but he doesn't appear to corroborate this. The late Wes Craven is mentioned multiple times, but he doesn't appear either. (Yes, he was still alive when this was made.)

So, The Real Story: Scream is an oddity. If you are truly interested in learning more about the case of Danny Rolling, "The Gainesville Ripper", then you will certainly find this interesting, as it offers a very detailed account of the murders. (I was in college at the time, so I remember being interested in the case, but I didn't know most of the facts presented here.) But, if you are a looking for a definitive expose on the real story which lead to the creation of Scream, then you are going to have to put a lot of faith in this show. Most everything presented on that front sounds like pure speculation and, again, the similarities are very basic ones. The lack of involvement of anyone even remotely related to Scream robs the show of any credibility on that front, but the coverage of the murders is certainly commendable.

The Real Story: Scream most likely pulled a muscle jumping to conclusions on DVD courtesy of Smithsonian Channel. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The show is comprised of various types of footage. The interviews with the experts is sharp and clear, as is the footage from Scream. The archival interviews and news footage varies in quality, with some showing grain and video noise. Of course, this isn't caused by a faulty transfer. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a documentary, I was surprise by the impressive use of stereo and the "whoosh" sound effect during transitions offers noticeable surround sound.

The Real Story: Scream DVD contains no extra features.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long