Chris Nashawaty
December 26, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

Let’s recap for a sec: so far on this list we’ve got an out-and-proud TV star who’s hands down the year’s biggest controversy magnet; an evil-genius auteur who throws around $200 million like it’s chump change; and no less a legend than Bob Dylan. So who the hell is Kevin Williamson? And more to the point, what’s he doing in this company?

The short and none-too-sexy answer is that Kevin Williamson is a Hollywood screenwriter — one of those overly caffeinated, midnight-oil-burning, neglected stepchildren of the entertainment industry. But if you’re still scratching your head, then odds are pretty good that your typical Saturday-night plans don’t involve watching knife-wielding, Edvard Munch-inspired postmodern psychotics or hollering at blood-splattered buxom teens to ”Get the hell out of the house!”

You see, Williamson is the guy who laid hands on the played-out horror-film genre and miraculously raised it from the grave with last year’s $103 million semiotic slasher sensation, Scream. But far from being a one-hit wonder, Williamson followed up Scream with the $70 million-and-counting chiller I Know What You Did Last Summer and the equally (if not more) clever sequel Scream 2. In return, the 32-year-old scribe, who still looks back on his dreary ”twentynothing” gigs waiting tables and temping as if it were yesterday, landed a nice fat deal (which could net him $20 million) to call Miramax home.

Ironically, now that Williamson’s been anointed the macabre patron saint of sardonic body-count flicks, he’s moving on. In January, he’ll be trying to trade the whole ”horror boy” image for the mantle of the next John Hughes with his teen drama Dawson’s Creek — a fresh and hip coming-of-age TV series so realistic it makes My So-Called Life look like Joanie Loves Chachi.

On paper, the secret Williamson formula seems deceptively simple: Write Smart. But the reason Williamson’s been able to strike such a nerve with his young core audience is that instead of talking down to them, he compliments them. Williamson shows teens a reflection of how they want to be seen: witty, urbane, and always armed with a perfectly barbed, sarcastic comeback. ”You know how when you’re a teenager and someone says something really smart-ass to you and your reply is never as good as the one you come up with in your head later?” says Williamson. ”Well, I make sure my characters come up with the lines they’d normally come up with later that night in bed.” The result is like listening in on the teen equivalent of Bogie verbally sparring with Bacall in The Big Sleep.

Rather than sitting back and raking in the green, though, Williamson’s already at work casting his next film, Killing Mrs. Tingle — a Heathers-esque dark comedy about a group of kids and their evil schoolteacher, which he’ll also direct. On top of that, he’s toiling away on an as-yet-untitled self-referential sci-fi script for director Robert Rodriguez and another in-development TV series called Wasteland; then, finally, he’ll get crackin’ on the script for Scream 3, which he says will be the last installment. ”I sort of feel like I’ve been unemployed for so long with all these stories to tell and now someone wants to hear all of them,” says Williamson. ”I feel like it’s all going to end one day so I better take advantage of it while I can, because today’s hot flavor might be gone tomorrow.” Don’t bet on it.

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