French link murders to cult film

'Scream' blamed for outbreak of teenage violence

By Paul Webster in Paris
The Observer
Sunday, June 9, 2002

France's third teenage murder in two years linked to the influence of the Scream horror film trilogy has sharpened fears about the impact of screen and video game violence on the young.

The case brings to nine the number of killings around the world specifically linked to Wes Craven's movie. Other violent films and video games have been linked to many more, including the 16 deaths in April at a school in Erfurt, Germany, when a teenager obsessed with violent computer games ran amok.

A signature of the Scream trilogy, a mask based on Edvard Munch's famous painting 'The Scream', has also figured in killings carried out by adults in Britain and the US.

The latest killing, more chilling than any Scream episode, will strengthen the case of those who argue that screen violence is directly linked to crime, a position generally rejected by the movie industry but supported last year by veteran director Robert Altman when he said violent blockbusters had shown terrorists who attacked the US 'how to do it'.

France's Culture Minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, has set up an inquiry team to advise whether a new category of film censorship should be introduced for horror videos, which account for more than half of video rentals by children.

'I have been quite shaken by this attack,' he said. 'It raises all sorts of questions about official responsibility for material that can unbalance young minds.'

The latest murder took place at Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire, western France. Key pieces of evidence against a youth, identified only as Julien because he is 17, were Scream videos, a Scream mask and a kitchen knife similar to the one used by the fictional killer who carries out senseless stabbings on a US campus.

Julien watched the Scream video over and over again after returning from school to his home, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. After watching the first episode of Scream in his bedroom, he rang two girls, but they were out. Then he rang Alice, who invited him to her house, where he was given an orange juice by her father before the two teenagers - who had once been in the same class - decided to go out for a walk.

It was about an hour later that a neighbour walking his dog heard the girl screaming and found her soaked in blood, lying on the ground near a football pitch. While waiting for an ambulance, she gave her own address and Julien's name, saying that he had pulled out the Scream mask from his shoulder bag just before he started stabbing her.

The post-mortem showed she had been stabbed 17 times. The neighbour told police that her last words were: ' Faîtes moi une sourire, je sais que je vais mourir. ' ('Smile at me, I know I'm going to die.') An hour later she died in Nantes hospital.

'Julien seems to be living a virtual experience,' a policeman who assisted in the interrogation said. 'Even though he has admitted the stabbing, he does not seem to see it as a real event.'

Julien's lawyer, Elisabeth Daussy-Rioufol, said the youth, a shopkeeper's son who planned to become an architect, had conceived the attack 'like a film script' over the past year.

'At the beginning he intended to kill as many people as possible before being killed in his turn,' she said, describing Julien as 'very intelligent and the product of a pleasant, problem-free childhood. But he considered his life monotonous, and he underwent it like a ghost.

'He now feels horror and remorse for Alice's death, saying that he only wanted to see what it was like to stab someone.'

In another case during 2000, a 16-year-old boy wore a similar disguise when he attacked and severely injured his parents with a kitchen knife. The same year in a Paris suburb, five young men wore Scream masks when they raped a young woman.

Three months ago two teenage girls in eastern France tortured a classmate using a knife which the local prosecutor said 'strongly resembled the weapon in Scream, which the girls had watched before the attack'.

Psychiatrists questioning Julien said they were worried about the inability of some young people to distinguish between reality and fiction.

Their alarm has been increased by the news that the horrifying details of the murder at Saint-Sébastien have contributed to a national rush to rent Scream videos.

The debate in France mirrors growing anxieties in the UK and the US. Last year a report by the American Academy of Paediatrics found that by the age of 18 the average young person had seen 200,000 acts of violence on television alone.

Dave Grossman, an American expert on the psychology and physiology of killing, has found that repetition, desensitisation and escalation reduced the normal human unwillingness to kill. He said: 'We have raised a generation of barbarians who have learnt to associate violence with pleasure. All the time in movie theatres, when there is bloody violence, the young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn and drinking soda.'

Apart from Scream, the US Parents Television Council associated other pop culture favourites with specific crimes. They included the Oliver Stone movie Natural Born Killers and Marilyn Manson's album Portrait of an American Family .