In the late 1980s, horror movie-loving teen Rolfe Kanefsky decided to make a new kind of scary movie. Instead of characters who followed all the old clichés, making all the wrong moves (going into a dark basement alone, investigating a strange noise, running down a dead-end hallway), Kanefsky wanted his characters to be self-aware. Using his extensive knowledge of horror cinema, Kanefsky wrote a script that drew on, and subverted, classic horror tropes. He raised money by going door to door in his neighborhood, then shot the film in 1989.
The finished film, entitled There’s Nothing Out There, follows a group of teenagers who slowly realize they’re living the plot of a horror film. Led by a horror movie expert named Mike, they start to pick up on the tropes and clichés they’re experiencing, and fight back using their knowledge of the rules of the genre.
If that synopsis sounds a bit like the plot of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), that’s no coincidence. Though There’s Nothing Out There was a hit when it premiered as part of the Independent Film Project in 1990, it never found mass distribution. The hopeful young Kanefsky showed There’s Nothing Out There to a handful of Hollywood producers—including one young producer named Jonathan Craven, son of Wes Craven—but they all passed.
The younger Craven promised to show the film to his father, but Kanefsky never heard back. A few years later, Scream premiered, featuring its own set of self-aware teens, using their horror knowledge to fight back against a mysterious killer. Though Craven never mentioned being inspired by Kanefsky’s film, there are clear similarities between There’s Nothing Out There and Scream.
Charlie Lyne’s excellent short documentary, Copycat, details the making of There’s Nothing Out There, and the parallels between Craven and Kanefsky's films. Check it out below, or watch There's Nothing Out There for free on YouTube.