Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

'Movies Made Me Murder'


Mask From Scream
Mask From the Movie Scream

The movie, Scream, directed by Wes Craven, featured a character wearing an elongated white face mask with hollow eyes and a black cowl, popular among Trick-or-Treaters and for Halloween parties.  Aired in 1996, the film satirized a collection of past slasher movies, offering the plot of a teenage girl targeted by a maniacal killer (Ghostface) who must learn her town's secrets to save herself.  But even satires can trigger unbalanced minds to mimicry.  It's all in the images.

Movie Poster: Scream
Movie Poster: Scream

Even as Scream spawned two top-grossing sequels, it also inspired crimes.  For three or four years after its release, a number of teenagers were inspired to murder: a boy and his cousin in Los Angeles obsessed with the film murdered his mother by stabbing her 45 times; a man wearing the mask shot and killed a woman in Florida; a boy in France killed his parents while acting as Ghostface; and in England, a pair of boys repeatedly stabbed a third one, claiming the film had prompted them to do it. 

Daniel Gill, 14, and Robert Fuller, 15, from North Yorkshire, were found guilty on October 22, 1999 of the attempted murder of Ashley Murray and were sentence to detention in a juvenile facility for six years.  They stabbed Murray eighteen times and left him to die, but a day and a half later a man walking his dog found him, and he recovered.

Just before the attack, the boys had watched Scream at the home of a drug dealer, who had shown them occultic items and weapons, and allegedly told them that the gods wanted Murray to die.  Their defense was that this influence had blurred the line between fantasy and reality, as well as the line between right and wrong.  Drawings of Ghostface and pictures of knives turned up in one boy's schoolbooks, according to the BBC.

But they were friends of Murray's, and even he conceded that the film might have directed their behavior.  That was the statement he gave to police.  They had lured him to an isolated spot, he said, and then Gill stabbed him repeatedly in the cheek and head.  Fuller held him and stabbed his arm.  Only when Murray pretended to be dead did they leave, but he was too injured to find his way to a hospital.

Fuller accused Gill as the ringleader, and while Gill initially refused to admit his part he later said that the drug dealer had given him drugs and urged him to kill Murray.  He had believed it was a supernatural command.

While it appears to be true that some people who immerse in horror imagery feel provoked to commit the same aggressive crimes they just viewed, it's also true that there is no evidence of a causal factor, and millions of people watch such films without feeling instigated to act.  Some people process external images into aggressive behavior, others might gain catharsis, and still others remain altogether unaffected.  A few become horror film makers or novelists.  It's not easy to know just what effect a specific film might have.  Whatever results, research shows that it has more to do with the viewer than the material viewed.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'