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When Real Terror & Fictional Killers Meet

© 2017 - Stephanie Hoover, All Rights Reserved

mask similar to movie Scream
The masked killer in Scream was inspired by a real monster.

A serial killer inspired a horror movie that inspired a serial killer who became the basis for a horror movie.

It sounds far-fetched enough to be its own work of fiction, doesn't it? But it actually happened.

2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking horror flick Scream. This film was not only a tremendous success for Bob and Harvey Weinstein's new film company Miramax, it also single-handedly resuscitated a dying genre by doing what few thought possible: satirizing its own franchise while simultaneously terrifying audiences. Yet even more fascinating than the slasher's plot were the events leading up to its creation.

In 1983, William Peter Blatty released the novel Legion. It was the third book in what is now known as his "holy trilogy," and his vision of the final sequel to his blockbuster The Exorcist. Though the plot offered absolutely no relationship to the film The Exorcist II, Legion became a movie called The Exorcist III. Blatty himself wrote and produced it.



In The Exorcist III, Blatty's killer/demon is named the Gemini Killer. This moniker was in fact spawned by a real monster, San Francisco's Zodiac Killer, who took a personal interest in Blatty's first film. In January of 1974, Zodiac wrote to that city's newspaper describing The Exorcist this way:

[transcribed as written in original letter]

I saw & think "The Exorcist" was the best saterical comidy that I have ever seen.
The Exorcist III was released in August 1990. One Gainesville, Florida resident who saw the film was 36-year-old Daniel Harold Rolling. Days later the bodies of two female college freshmen were found in their apartment, stabbed and mutilated.

The next evening, the body of 18-year-old Christa Hoyt - who worked as a clerk for the local police - was discovered. Her severed head had been placed on a bookshelf. It seemed to mimic a scene from The Exorcist III in which a priest is decapitated in a church.

Two days later, two more roommates were found dead, stabbed and mutilated.

It was reported that the people of Gainesville were so terrified by the horrific and random nature of the killings that guns and other weapons of self defense were sold out for miles around. The University of Florida, located in the town, allowed students to take a leave of absence until the murderer was caught. Many took the school up on the offer.

Oddly, it was the not the murders for which Rolling was eventually jailed, but rather a bank robbery. Nonetheless, the evidence gathered at his woodland campsite linked him to the killings. But before the case even went to trial, he confessed to the five Gainesville murders. His DNA also linked him to the slaughter of a family of three in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana a year previously.



In 1994, a young screenwriter named Kevin Williamson was watching a news program discussing Rolling and the Gainesville murders. He happened to notice that one of the windows in the home where he was staying was open - something he didn't remember doing. It sparked thoughts of an intruder, which in turn fueled an 18-page movie treatment about a young woman, alone in a house, taunted and killed by a murderer wearing a mask. That treatment became the movie Scream.

Scream, released on December 22, 1996, cost $15 million to create. It grossed $173 million worldwide. And, it would not exist had it not been for the Zodiac Killer, who helped inspire The Exorcist III, which prompted the psychopath Daniel Harold Rolling to kill five students in Gainesville, Florida.

So... is truth really stranger than fiction - or only when the two seamlessly overlap?