When it comes to 90's horror, two franchises come to mind: Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Both original films were successful. Both went on to produce sequels. Both created villains that are now a part of pop culture. So which villain reigns supreme: The know-it all trivia king, or the creepy man with a hook for a hand.
Ghostface: It all began with a phone call and ended in a bloodbath. Two bored, sexually frustrated teens, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) begin a killing spree one night in the small town of Woodsboro. From there, these two were immortalised on film which in turn spurned a long list of copy cats, Mickey (Timothy Olyphant), Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf), Roman (Scott Foley), Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Jill (Emma Roberts) all hell bent on the same thing – kill Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). But what sets Ghostface apart is how knowledgeable 'he' is when it comes to horror trivia. “If you get it wrong, you die. If you get it right, you die.”
The Fisherman: A group of drunk teens (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr and Ryan Phillippe) hit a man with their car then decide to dump the body. No body, no crime. Yeah, I can see how he'd be a little pissed about that. The following year Julie (JLH) gets a letter in the mail with the chilling words 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' scrawled on a small piece of paper. Some one knows what they did. After a couple of scares (running Barry over with his car, cutting Helen's hair) the Fisherman ups the ante, killing Barry in a crowded room before stalking Helen in one hell of a chase scene that still gives me chills. His ultimate goal: Revenge.
So, let's get ready to rumble...
Both film franchises have sequels. Scream came out in 1996. It's sequel, Scream 2, arrived in 1997 while Scream 3 made it's debut in 2000. Scream 4 was the most recent film in the series, arriving in cinemas in 2011. There is talk of a possible Scream 5 to appear within the next couple of years. Hopefully this is just rumour.
I Know What You Did Last Summer came out in 1997 and it's sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer hit cinemas in 1998. There was a direct to DVD third film entitled I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, but none of the original cast returned for it, so naturally, it failed. (Fun Fact: Muse Watson's Fisherman was played by Don Shanks in I'll Always Know. Don portrayed Halloween serial killer, Michael Myers, in Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers)
Like my past Place Your Bets articles, I'm going to be looking at the original films only.
The cast and characters always add to the success of the villains. In the case of Scream, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard were behind the slayings, and despite their very weak motives (“My mom abandoned me because my dad was having an affair with your mom” and “peer pressure”) their characters were still loveable right to the end (Hey, don't judge me, I thought Billy was hot). Notable deaths included Drew Barrymore at the beginning and Henry Winkler as the principle. (Fun Fact: A bronzed statue of Henry's character can be seen in the hallway of Woodsboro High in Scream 4 when Jill and Kirby are talking).
In the case of I Know What You Did Last Summer, casting an established stage and screen actor as the villain added to the fear factor. (Fun Fact: Muse Watson scared the living bejesus out of me in this film, but it was because of him and me wanting to watch him in something less scary that I began watching Prison Break and NCIS) Muse's movements were chilling from his long strides across the park as he chased Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the way he held the hook in his hand, turning it oh so slightly so that the light reflected off it or just the fact that he gets this crazy look in his eye at the end all added to the creepiness factor that is The Fisherman. Notable deaths include The Big Bang Theory star, Johnny Galecki, Bridgette Wilson (Helen's older sister) and Stuart Greer.
When it comes to body count Scream leads the way with seven deaths, however only five of them were performed by the killers. Sidney, in self-defence, killed both Billy and Stu. (While Billy and Stu killed Sidney's mother, she never made an appearance in the original film, thus not including her in the body count) I Know What You Did Last Summer proved to be more damaging with Ben Willis performing all the kills himself. Six confirmed deaths in the film. (I am including that of David Egan at the beginning. We don't see David's death, but we know from later clues that Ben was responsible for his demise)
Weapon of choice is easy. For Ghostface, it's a hunting knife, and a telephone to inform his victim of when he's coming. For the Fisherman, it's a long sharp fishing hook that he holds in his right hand. At the end of I Know, Ben's hand is cut off so in the sequel, the hook replaces his hand.
I always find killers without motives to be scarier. Billy tried to play that card before confessing to Sidney that he killed her mother because she was having an affair with his father and it was the reason his mother left. Stu cited peer pressure as the reason for his involvement. In the case of the Fisherman, it's purely and simply revenge. He killed David Egan because he was responsible for the death of Ben's daughter, Susie. Then when the mains hit him with their car and try to cover it up, he seeks them out, delivering one hell of a line when Julie tells him it was an accident. “I know all about 'accidents', and let me give you some advice: When you leave a man for dead, make sure that he's REALLY dead!”
In the height department, Ghostface fluctuates throughout all movies except the third one. Skeet Ulrich is 5'10 in height while Matthew Lillard is 6'3. This has been one of many issues I've had with the Scream series. As for the Fisherman, being played by the same actor helps prevent this from happen. Muse Watson is 6'1 but still manages to be menacing. When Muse was replaced by Don Shanks in the horrendous third film, then the Fisherman's height shot up to 6'4-6'5.
If popularity was a war, then Ghostface won it hands down. He became more popular than the Fisherman, but like Freddy Krueger before him, Ghostface became more comical than scary. The Fisherman, whilst not commercially as popular as Ghostface, still manages to keep his creep factor, not giving in to the comedy side of horror.
So who wins the battle of the 90's horror villains?
Despite three sequels, a never-aging cast, and Wes Craven's direction, this battle surpasses Ghostface in favour of the hook wielding maniac, The Fisherman. With the hottest cast of the late 90's, a shiny sharp fishing hook, and very neat handwriting, Benjamin Willis, a.k.a The Fisherman of Southport, North Carolina, takes home this trophy for successfully scaring audiences and the main characters to the point of wetting themselves.
Giving horror fans the world over reason to fear small towns, a stupendous chase sequence that rivals the original Halloween, and ethics that should you hit someone with a car, go to the police before they come back to kill you, the Fisherman is one man you don't really want to meet in a dark alley. Just ask Helen...erh...you know what I mean.
Winner: The Fisherman