Kevin Williamson on His COVID horror film Sick and Making a Scream Without Neve Campbell

Sick filmmaker Kevin Williamson was worried the Covid pandemic was too tragic to send up in a slasher flick — until he had an epiphany.

“I always felt the horror genre is the place where you can do these things,” said Williamson, whose work includes writing the first Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 4, and executive producing all the Scream sequels. “You can bring your darkness and cynicism to horror.”

Williamson and co-writer Katelyn Crabb fictionalized their terrors from Covid lockdowns, and John Hyams (Alone) came on board to direct. Sick is now streaming on Peacock.

Williamson and Crabb’s stab at Sick’s Covid theme involves the new set of fears the virus unleashed on society. “We tried to be respectful to everyone and not really take sides. We wanted to speak to the anxiety of Covid more than the politics of it,” Williamson said.

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Sick follows Parker (Gideon Adlon) and her best friend Miri (Bethlehem Million) as the pandemic steadily brings the world to a halt. The friends decide to quarantine at Parker’s family lake house alone — until an unwelcome visitor breaks in. 

Kevin Williamson spoke with MovieMaker about writing jokes for Sick that wouldn’t have worked during the height of the pandemic, and why he thinks gay audiences are drawn to horror. He also discusses how his love of the genre ties back to Jaws and the original Halloween, and shares his opinion of Laurie Strode’s story arc in David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy. Finally, he tells us how it felt to make Scream 6 without Neve Campbell, and why he thinks Wes Craven would love the new take on the franchise.

Joshua Encinias: It’s so funny how much things have changed since 2020. There’s the hilarious scene where Parker is being chased by the killer, but Jane Adams’ character won’t let her in the car because she isn’t wearing a mask. In 2023 it plays broadly for laughs, but I think three years ago people would’ve said that’s a conservative joke.

Kevin Williamson: I know, it’s true. I remember here in L.A., we were so concerned about wearing the mask and what we were touching. I was walking around with hand sanitizer in my pocket and the mask on. There were so many months in the early days when I didn’t leave my house. I remember you couldn’t get toilet paper, you couldn’t get paper towels and hand sanitizer. I was making homemade hand sanitizer. That’s how I was. [Laughs.] 

Joshua Encinias: What does setting Sick in the spring of 2020 do for the story?

Kevin Williamson: We knew it was a period piece, so to speak, And we wanted to take everyone back to the early days of the pandemic. When we were writing it, the testing kits and stuff weren’t readily available. So we had to go back and research what kits did appear back then, because we need to be very realistic.

Joshua Encinias: Do you think you’ve found a new franchise in Sick with director John Hyams? I think your movie is the first to crack how to tell Covid stories well.

Kevin Williamson: That’s true, it could easily be a franchise. I don’t know if it will become one. At the time, it was born as a way to pass the time during quarantine and it expressed our rage and anxiety toward what we were all going through collectively. When we first started, I wasn’t sure it would live to see the light of day. And then it did. We wrote the script and Miramax really liked it so they gave us some money to make it. Later, it sold to Jason Blum.

Joshua Encinias: Will you talk about promoting Katelyn Crabb from your assistant to co-writer of Sick?

Kevin Williamson: In Hollywood, an assistant to a writer, or a writer-producer like myself, is always a budding writer. That’s what I’m always looking for. It’s like, why would I bring someone on to assist me and their dream is to be an editor, or producer, or some other job in this industry. I want someone who can use their stay with me as a stepping stone. Being an assistant in Hollywood is a stepping stone, and you get a lot of great talent that way. Katelyn came to us by way of my producing partner Ben Fast. We’re a small company and during the pandemic, we were talking with her, and she had all these great ideas. I just knew she was the real thing, so we wrote a movie together, because I knew it wasn’t going to be long until I lose her. That’s what happens. They work for me, and then you hire them as a writer, and then you lose them, you have to find someone else. I’ve had a lot of great luck with assistants. I mean… Damon Lindelof was my assistant.

Joshua Encinias: Why did Blumhouse release Sick on Peacock instead of in theaters? Horror movies seem like a surefire hit these days.

Kevin Williamson: That’s a really great question for Jason Blum. I think when he first bought it, I think they toyed with the idea of releasing it in theaters. But it’s a small movie, and it feels like a very intimate, small film, there’s not a big cast. It’s not a big spectacle. It’s a very insular chase sequence. The movie’s one big chase scene between a killer and these two young women. I think they talked about putting it in theaters, but ultimately Jason just wanted to get it out there as quickly as possible, and that meant going through his streaming deal with Peacock. He called me after TIFF [the Toronto International Film Festival] to say he wanted the film. 

Joshua Encinias: What are some movies or genres that inspire your work that might surprise people?

Kevin Williamson: The thing that always surprises people is when I tell them that the musical Into the Woods is what inspired Scream. I mean that only in the sense that it was a deconstruction of fairy tales. I saw that and went, “If you could do that to fairy tales, why can’t we do that to a horror film?” And that’s what got me into the tone of Scream. When I was a kid, the thing that influenced me the most was reading. I read all the page turners. My mom got me reading really, really early, and I was reading books well beyond my years. 

Joshua Encinias: I read you related to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode because as a gay kid, you were also just trying to survive in a small town. Is that why horror draws fervent gay fans? 

Kevin Williamson: This is where you need to talk to Bryan Fuller, because he did a whole documentary Queer Fear about it for Shudder. I think that for me, a lot of it is about the final girl, it is about trying to survive and having the absolute worst thrown at you and fighting through it. Laurie Strode is a beautiful character. She did everything right. You know, she was a smart kid, and she was a good girl, she was a babysitter, and she was responsible. And she had a whole future ahead of her, and still evil came knocking at her door. It’s a total coming-of-age story in one night, and I found that to be riveting. I also think there’s so much queer coding in the history of the genre. When you go back into the early days of the Hays Code, I believe there was so much queer coding that began in that time. Writers and gay writers were trying to express themselves in ways which weren’t allowed at the time, so they had to sort of hide it and shield it in all these metaphors and innuendo. I think that speaks loudly to the gay audience, who has always felt like they had to hide who they are. And now things are different.

Joshua Encinias: What do you think of Laurie Strode’s story arc in the new Halloween trilogy?

Kevin Williamson: [Long pause, then he laughs.] I was just so happy for Jamie to revive Laurie Strode. I was thrilled. Whenever Jamie Lee Curtis is on my movie screen I’m a happy man. 

Joshua Encinias: How involved are you as executive producer of the new Scream movies? 

Kevin Williamson: I’m there for whatever needs to be done. William Sherak is the hands-on producer with [production company] Project X, and I’ll do whatever they need from me. They are a very talented group of people making this movie and I learned that very quickly with the last film. So on Scream VI, I piped up when I felt like I needed to, I spoke up and I helped where I could. I’m a big cheerleader because I absolutely love Radio Silence and I love what they’ve done with it. I’m really thrilled with Scream VI. I’ve been a part of it from the beginning and I think people are going to love it. 

Joshua Encinias: Why do you think Wes Craven would be happy with Scream VI?

Kevin Williamson: It has some signature moves that Wes would have done himself. I feel like they’ve elevated themselves, they took what they did in the last one and turned it up a notch. I’m just so thrilled, it’s so much fun. It’s a beautiful sequel. This is Scream VI, so it could’ve gone in a different direction. But it didn’t. It went in the right direction. Scream VI feels fresh and new, and it changes a lot. 

Joshua Encinias: How does it feel to be the first Scream movie without Neve Campbell?

Kevin Williamson: Well, you know, it’s different. It’s a change. But you know, we still have Gale Weathers [Laughs]. It’s sad, of course I wish she was a part of it. But one of the things of not having to service your legacy character, is in this one we can really focus on the new characters. I feel when I’m watching this movie, I’m much more wrapped up in the sister storyline, the ones that survived Woodsboro from the last film, and how they moved to New York. I really get emotionally caught up in their stories. There’s a lot of time spent developing who they are in their relationships with each other. Not to say that I wouldn’t like to see Sidney Prescott show up in another one. Maybe we’ll see one day. Anything’s possible.

Joshua Encinias: Would you ever write an overtly gay horror film?

Kevin Williamson: [Long pause.] Yes. Without question. I might be working on one right now.

Sick is now streaming on Peacock.

Main image: Bethlehem Million and Gideon Adlon in Sick.