“Horror films provide positive examples of ordinary people overcoming their worst fears and conquering evil.”-Dawson Leery, Dawson’s Creek
Whether it be the fear that comes with first love, a first kiss, and even a first run-in with a serial killer, overcoming your fears is a recurring theme on the groundbreaking teen drama, Dawson’s Creek, which aired on the WB (now CW) from 1998-2003. Created by Kevin Williamson (the writer of Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Faculty), the series was infused with heart, charm, and at times, horror. In honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, I’m taking you up the creek for a look at the scariest episodes of the series.
When Dawson’s Creek premiered on January 20, 1998, it opened like a monster movie. A pretty, raven-haired girl is sunbathing on a dock as ominous music slowly begins to surround her. Suddenly, a fish-like monster reminiscent of the creature in Creature from the Black Lagoon pops up from the water and violently pulls her into the depths below.
It all turned out to be a scene the kids were filming as a part of Dawson Leery’s (James Van Der Beek) film project, but it set the tone that the series would have many unexpected turns, and that the characters would face numerous other battles on their journey together.
While the battles mostly revolved around love and self-identity, the series was also permeating with campy horror moments paired with Williamson’s fun, self-aware writing that made Scream so enjoyable to watch. These episodes weren’t of the same caliber as Wes Craven’s slasher hit, but they were just as entertaining…
Season 1: The Scare
By far the most fun–and most Williamson–horror episode of the series, “The Scare” takes place on Dawson’s favorite holiday: Friday the 13th. The episode opens with Dawson and Joey (Katie Holmes) in their usual position on the bed–watching a movie. This time around the pair are watching a little horror movie called I Know What You Did Last Summer.
“This movie sucks!” cries a frightened Joey, who goes on to say that she doesn’t like watching horror movies that are loaded with “cheese wiz.”
The pair continue to deconstruct the movie and the necessity of horror films, with Joey arguing that the world is already filled with enough fear, death, and evil that it doesn’t need to be recreated on film. Whether or not her opinion is right or wrong doesn’t matter, because Dawson slides out from under his bed with a hockey mask and scares Joey in good old-fashioned slasher movie form.
During all of this we learn of an unknown serial killer called “The Ladykiller” who is stalking women around Boston. Little do the teens know, The Ladykiller has his eyes set on Capeside.
The rest of the episode is a perfect mix of soapy teen drama and slasher film with the gang accidentally inviting a crazy woman back to Dawson’s home for a Friday the 13th seance that goes horribly wrong. It culminates with a cruel prank that brings the friends closer and ends with a revelation that Joey could have been The Ladykiller’s next victim.
Season 3: Escape from Witch Island
The year is 1999 and The Blair Witch Project was a surprise success. The episode, “Escape from Witch Island” pays homage to–and pokes fun at–the found-footage horror film with its own take on the witchy story.
In between Jen (Michelle Williams) professing her annoyance with the female lead of Blair Witch and insistence that the film wasn’t “remotely scary,” Dawson expresses his love for the film, calling it “groundbreaking.” In fact, Dawson is so impressed with the low budget horror movie, he wants to set out to make his own documentary film about Capeside’s very own witch legend: Witch Island.
He convinces his friends Jen, Joey, and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) to join him to investigate the legend of three 18th century girls who were murdered after being falsely accused of being witches. The legend claimed that the three girls haunt the island and anyone who goes there.
Filmed part documentary-style, the episode teeters on the line of legitimately creepy, and over-the-top cheesy. While not as charming as “The Scare,” this Blair Witch rip-off was still just as engaging to watch. The horror elements are perfectly intertwined with the character drama; particularly Joey, whose life parallels some of the experiences the teenage witches went through. As Joey uncovers the truth about the girls, she learns that she’s not so different—and neither is the world.
Season 5: Four Scary Stories
As Grams (Mary Beth Peil) beautifully states at the end of the episode, “A truly scary story should hit you where you live. Find you in a safe place and turn it into a den of nightmares.” And “Four Scary Stories” does just that to Joey, Pacey and Jack (Kerr Smith) when the group begin to divulge their real-life horror stories as they sit snug by the fireplace.
The episode plays out like a horror anthology and follows along with the four characters as they each recount their creepiest experiences. From Joey’s late-night library study session from hell, to Jack’s run-in with a frat boy ghost, to Pacey’s showdown with a mystery car seemingly out of an urban legend (Jackson starred in the 1998 horror Urban Legend), the fluffy tales were ghoulishly delightful.
While their light-hearted campfire tales were fun, Grams shuts the group down with her story—retelling an experience her granddaughter, Jen, had while working the late shift at a radio station. The episode, packed with excitement and dread, ends with an essential jump scare, and leaves the audience wondering if their favorite college kids from Capeside are ever truly safe.
Season 6: Living Dead Girl
Halloween is in the air, and Dawson is on the set of a Hollywood slasher movie starring his beautiful girlfriend, Natasha. Todd, the film’s director, tells Dawson about an eerie Hollywood legend where an actress was murdered on the movie lot they’re working on. Dawson brushes off the story until he begins seeing the ghost of the actress everywhere on set.
The episode, “Living Dead Girl,” is filled with inappropriate Halloween parties on film sets, cheap costumes, and haunted houses, making it a worthy addition to the Dawson’s Creek horror collection. While it’s the worst of the horror round-up, the filler episode provides a welcomed escape into a Halloween wonderland after a season filled with heartache, sexual harassment, and alcohol addiction.