That early 1990s was a weird time for horror. After the “Golden Age” 80s with all its splatter and slasher goodness, the beginning of a new decade seemed somewhat lost and rudderless. We were waiting for something, someone, to step onto the scene with a new, fresh perspective, and Kevin Williamson was ready to fill that need.
Now, I’m not saying the early 90s didn’t produce some quality entertainment. We had Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Candyman, In the Mouth of Madness, and The People Under the Stairs, but the films felt like holdovers from the previous decade rather than something new set to usher in a new millennium of entertainment. Williamson was poised to fit that bill beautifully.
Kevin Williamson was born in North Carolina and spent his formative years in Port Aransas, Texas. He was a storyteller from an early age, but decided what he really wanted to do initially was act. He earned a BFA in Theater Arts from East Carolina University and moved to New York to start a career.
Between the Big Apple and Los Angeles, Williams had a number of small roles and appearances in music videos, but it was not the career he wanted. In 1992, he wrote and sold a script titled Killing Mrs. Tingle, based on Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin, which unfortunately sat on a shelf for a number of years.
Then in 1994, reportedly inspired by a true life case of serial murder, Williamson wrote Scary Movie which would eventually become Scream, released in theaters on December 20, 1996. Gone were the days of stumbling in the dark by characters who apparently had never seen a horror film in their lives. These characters knew the genre inside and out and those who didn’t, failed to survive.
It was exactly the breath of fresh air that the genre needed. Not only did it spawn a franchise that recently wrapped on its fifth installment, but Williamson became one of the most sought-after writer/creators in Hollywood seemingly overnight.
In 1997, he gave us Scream 2, but also penned the script for I Know What You Did Last Summer. The latter, based on another novel by Lois Duncan, introduced an entirely new set of teens dealing with the consequences of covering up what happened late one night on a lonely road after their graduation. This too, would spawn a franchise, though it failed to hold onto the magic of that first film, perhaps because Williamson was not involved after the initial installment.
The following year, Williamson teamed with director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Til Dawn) to bring The Faculty to theaters. The standalone film took place at a high school where students and faculty alike are slowly being taken over by an alien parasite.
The Faculty boasted a serious roster of older and new talent including Jon Stewart, Piper Laurie, Famke Jannsen, Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, Clea Duvall, Jordana Brewster, Elijah Wood, Shawn Hatosy, Usher, and Josh Hartnett, who appeared in Halloween: H20 the same year as Laurie Strode’s son. Though it never gained quite the status as some of Williamson’s other work, it is arguably one of his best in that early line-up. The balance between know-it-all speed-talking teenagers and horror hit a sweet spot and produced a genuinely terrifying film.
In 1999, Williamson stepped into the director’s chair when he was given the opportunity to finally make Killing Mrs. Tingle–though the title would be changed to Teaching Mrs. Tingle by the time the film was released due largely in part to the shooting at Columbine High School which happened the same year.
The film starred Helen Mirren as Mrs. Tingle, a hateful history teacher who is the only one standing in the way of Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes) from taking the top spot as Valedictorian of her class and earning her scholarship to Harvard. When an attempt to cull the teacher’s favor goes horribly awry, Leigh Ann and her two besties, played by Barry Watson and Marisa Coughlan, end up stepping way over the line.
Sadly, Teaching Mrs. Tingle did not live up to Williamson’s other projects, but it did little to stop the the demand for his work as a writer, though the early 2000s were the epitome of a rough patch. Scream 3 debuted in 2000. It was the first film in the franchise not directly written by Williamson and the film suffered because of it. Then, in 2005, Cursed was released, and…well…that’s a whole article on its own. Let’s just say it didn’t go well.
Thankfully, Williamson was still working as a producer on Dawson’s Creek–a show he created–and 2011 brought his star back in a big way.
Scream 4 took audiences by storm. It had been over a decade since we’d seen one of the films. The original cast reunited for the venture written by Williams and directed by Wes Craven yet again. The film surprised us all when it felt just as fresh as that first outing and it reaffirmed Williamson’s talent as a writer for anyone who thought he was out of the game.
Before long, he had spearheaded the cult-based thriller series The Following and was tasked with developing The Vampire Diaries for the CW.
More recently, Williamson created Tell Me A Story, a series that weaves together fairy tales in a modern horror thriller narrative and worked as a producer on the newest Scream film which is due out next year.
Of course, some of you are enjoying the trip down memory lane but still perhaps wondering why it is I’m writing this as part of our Pride series here at iHorror. The reason is simple. Kevin Williamson is gay. It was, in fact, a gay man who gave 90s horror a distinct look and vibe of its own.
Why is this important?
First, it’s part of our history and an awful lot of people have worked very hard to make sure the LGBTQ+ community has no history. A people without a history do not matter and have no power. So, by acknowledging Kevin Williamson, we’re acknowledging a part of our power.
Second, there are an awful lot of homophobic horror fans out there who like to pretend that queerness and horror are mutually exclusive when in fact they’ve been constant bedfellows from the beginning. There’s an undeniably petty part of me that just loves reminding them of that from time to time.
Regardless, Kevin Williamson and his work will be intertwined with the horror genre for generations to come, and we here at iHorror salute him for Horror Pride Month.