Home » Scream, Murder, and Moral Panics

Scream, Murder, and Moral Panics

Drew Barrymore takes a call from the killer in Scream

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Wes Craven’s game-changing slasher, Scream, Wicked Horror presents a week of specially-themed content celebrating the movie’s enduring appeal. In this installment, April Bennett delves into real-life murders supposedly influenced by the hit flick.

Moral panics are phenomena that typically occur when rumor and myth combine to cause a public panic stemming from untruths. One of the most famous examples is the so-called Satanic Panic of the mid 80s and early 90s, when it was widely believed that day care personnel were shipping off children to be molested by high stakes politicians. Another case is that of the video game franchise Doom, which sparked the creation of the video game rating system for its “graphic violence” in the early 90s.

However, the panic surrounding Doom was also the catalyst for the false equivalency that violent video games caused a mythical spike of violence in children. Although, looking back, these instances seem on the border of the insane and ridiculous, they were very real events with very dangerous, real-life consequences. In the case of the notorious horror movie Scream, whose 20th anniversary is just around the corner, it was not exempt from this era of moral panics. The following crimes occurred in the years after the release of Scream, and the public accused the movie of inspiring these acts of violence.

Scream was indeed released in 1996, but by 1998 the first of the supposed movie murders had already been committed. Known as the Scream murder, the case involved Mario Padilla (16 years old) and his cousin, Samuel Ramirez (14), who joined forces to stab Padilla’s mother (Gina Castillo) 45 times, eventually killing her. Young Padilla cited to police that he stabbed her after Castillo grounded him and told him to empty the trash. After she was stabbed, however, Castillo managed to call 911, along with her husband, to report the attack before she sadly passed away from her injuries.Scream Moral Panics 2

Apparently, later reports indicated that the two teenagers were also going to stab and kill Padilla’s stepfather, who was supposed to be home, but luckily was not. Not only was Castillo killed, but the boys also stole $140 from her that was a gift after she had just given birth one month previously. Padilla and Ramirez both claimed that they were inspired by Scream and Scream 2 to commit the murder, and further noted that the measly $140 they stole was intended to be used to buy Ghostface costumes and a voice changer (items which are instrumental to the ghoulish killer in the Scream franchise).

During the trial, police claimed that the teens planned the attack after they watched Scream, while an expert psychiatric witness further suggested that the movie provided the teenagers with a blueprint for their crimes. While looking back, the latter statements are simply ridiculous, but the public was overtly interested in the movie that “inspired to kill”. However, the judge at the time did, thankfully, throw out this weak defense (also presented by the teens at trial) along with the presentation of any evidence related to Scream.

Nevertheless, just one year later, in January of 1999, Daniel Gill (14 years old) and Robert Fuller (15) lured and stabbed 13-year-old Ashley Murray. Gill and Fuller attacked Murray with a screwdriver and knife, stabbing him 18 times total, before wrapping him in a trash bag and leaving him for dead. Murray was found two days later by a neighbor walking his dog, barely alive, but he miraculously survived the ordeal with partial paralysis down the left side of his body.

However, after both Gill and Fuller were found guilty of attempted murder, they were given a sentence of six years. They only served three of those years. Just to put it into perspective, this short sentence came after Gill and Fuller maliciously attacked their friend of a couple years and planned the attempted murder for months leading up to the crime. Scream came into the case this time around after the media called the two “the Scream attackers”, since both Gill and Fuller claimed that they had watched Scream before the attack, and had drawn what we would now refer to as fan-art of Ghostface.

Scream moral panics 3Even the victim, Ashley Murray, believed that the film may have influenced the pair to stab him and leave him for dead. Rumor also spread after his case that the 14 and 15 year old killers were susceptible to drug abuse and even black magic at home. Elsewhere, without going into too much detail, apparently the Columbine shootings also had a hand in condemning Scream as a violence-inducing film that was corrupting the youth of today. Again, although this sounds ridiculous for the time, everything was being blamed for Columbine, from Satanic worship, to Marilyn Manson, to a fake homosexual relationship, to Doom, etc.

So, naturally since Scream was only three years old at the time of the shooting it was also blamed for influencing Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to do what they did. Although we may scoff at these forced and fabricated connections now, it’s worth noting that Scream was itself inspired by real-life murders, in this case the so-called Gainesville Ripper who terrorized college students in Florida in 1990, murdering five total. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson confirmed the Ripper heavily influenced Ghostface.

Overall, while Scream has been a hugely influential horror movie over the years, it will likely not be the last film to be blamed for atrociously violent acts. As a society, we are still unable to rationalize or understand what makes people, especially teens, snap and kill their family or friends. However, what is certain is that despite any video game or movie, these crimes will always happen and what we should focus on in these horrific cases is prevention and education, not igniting a fruitless moral panic.


Liked it? Take a second to support Syl on Patreon!
Share This Post
Written by Syl
Syl is a professional criminologist who shamelessly spends her time listening to true crime podcasts, watching horror films, and bringing real life horror to her written pieces.
Have your say!