In Which The Author Puts His Brain on the Rack
convinced myself that I Could Do Better Than Those Idiots, I set to
work plotting. Not against anybody (that would come later), but putting
together the storyline of my film. I watched Friday the 13th
rack up impressive numbers at the box office and thought, How much
more would a quality movie make? The Greeks had a word
for this : hubris.
I was also
mindful of an old moviemaking maxim: Hollywood eats its dead. So originality
was not a requisite.
of a Winter Night, as mentioned in Chapter
One, concerns a group of college pals venturing to a lonely cabin
in the woods (this was 1979, the same year Evil Dead started
filming. Hmmmm....). I don't think I'm spoiling anything by revealing
that there is a survivor at the end of Friday the 13th. These
facts slipped into the synergistic pressure cooker of my brain and
out came what I thought was a fabulous concept, and still do: what
happens when you survive a bad horror movie?
course, since '79, a bunch of successively more creatively bankrupt
F13th sequels have come and gone, and given us the mainstream
answer to my question: You die in the sequel. Without even
having to strain my memory, Friday the 13th Part 2, Nightmare on
Elm Street 4, and Alien 3 all come to mind as being guilty
of this, and, in my opinion, this is dissing the movie-goer big time.
All the empathy, all the fears, all the triumph you shared in the
last movie? Means nothing to us. All for naught. But don't let that
stop you from feeling empathy, fear, etc. for our new heroes (yeah,
right). Maybe we'll even let them live this time!
Like I said,
it pisses me off. But enough about them, let's talk about me.
Now, in 1978,
John Carpenter's Halloween also hit the theaters. It's impossible
to complain about Halloween, it's such a perfect example of
the genre done right. I was fascinated by the concept of an unstoppable
killer, and Halloween does a good job of not telling you why;
one of the times a leave-them-hanging ending actually works.
But the question why still hangs, and it went into the pressure cooker. Out
popped the solution: the killer's already dead. He's a zombie! This got me out of the psycho-killer genre, which I never liked, and
allowed me to tip my hat to George Romero and his iconic zombie movies
(not yet a trilogy at that point). Nailing the concept was a painting
called "Smiler" by the excellent illustrator Michael
Whelan, which graced the front of The Year's Best Horror Stories
1978. This was the image that formed the basis of the character,
the 13th franchise (odd how this series seems to dog me) realized
about the same thing in... what was it? Part 5? When Jason comes back
as a zombie. Yawn.
left the question of Why Is All This Horror Happening?
I didn't have to look too far. I had always loved the fiction of H.P.
Lovecraft. In my youth, while still looking for the writer's voice,
I wrote many, many pastiches of Lovecraft, as have others. My writings
had always lacked, in my opinion, because I'm a very action-oriented
writer, and Lovecraft, per se, is about mood, not action. Until
now, I reckoned. By resurrecting my own humble addition to the Cthulhu
mythos, Yog Kothag, the younger, more proactive brother of Yog Sothoth,
I had my driving force, and a villain: Yog Kothag's high priest, committing
ghastly slaughter to return his boss to Earth.
primarily an actor at the time, I was, of course, going to be the
main character, Marc Denning. This still left my pal, Robin (see Chapter
One). For her, I devised a character who survived an earlier slaughter,
and who would team up with Marc on his trail of vengeance.
Like I said,
I'm action-oriented. I wanted to make a horror film with action scenes,
aiming for a sort of creepy kineticism. And some humor.
At the time,
I was more comfortable with the medium of prose than script work,
so I wrote the first draft as a lengthy story titled "Nightcrawlers"
in 1980. A friend who read it handed it back to me, saying, "You
can't do that." "Do what?" I asked. "You can't
have humor in a horror film. It won't work." "Yes it will."
"No, it won't." In 1981, An American Werewolf in London
opened, and my friend admitted she was wrong. By that time, "Nightcrawlers"
had been rejected by several magazines, I was preparing to leave college
and move to the thriving metropolis of Houston, and then... I was
contacted by a fellow who wanted to make a movie.
Actually Writing the Bad Movie