The Big (Demo) Reel
want to call it Nightcrawlers. That sounds like a worm movie."
So said the
director. Fair enough, I thought. I had since found out there was
another story called "Nightcrawlers" (by Robert R. Macammon,
I think), which had been dramatized on the revamp of the Twilight
Zone series shown on CBS in the mid 80's. Only trouble was, it
was left to me what to call the danged thing now.
the first thing I had to write was a Demo Reel. United wanted to make
sure that we could actually do scary movie-type stuff, and gave us
a thousand bucks to prove it. Roger didn't want to do anything from
the script, but wanted a stand-alone sequence. I wrote a ten-minute
scene centering around an old fortune teller and his client (in a
requisite remote setting). During the tarot card
reading, the magician realizes the cards coming up are intended for
him, and he hustles the woman out, unfortunately into the waiting
maws of unseen (and therefore cost-efficient) beasties. He is then
visited by a mysterious figure in a trenchcoat and fedora, with glowing
red eyes. You'll recognize the coat-and-hat figure as one of my inspirational
icons, Michael Whelan's painting Smiler. This was supposed
to be the zombie, Alfie, possessed by the exiled god Yog-Kothag, much
like a voodoo loa possesses a willing practitioner.
originally wanted the Entity (as I called him) to send out a writhing
bolt of electricity (or something) that would race about the room,
disentegrating everything in its path - an evolution of an effect
he had pulled off quite well in The Jet Benny Show. This would
have been too expensive in money and time, however, so we just decided
to have the magician catch a bolt in the chest - only being saved
by the big damn mystic amulet he wore.
The end was
left hanging... we cut to the outside of the house, where the energy
bolts are making all the windows flash like a cheap disco, and we
hear the Entity laughing. Suddenly all sound cuts out, and the house
goes dark. Fade to black.
was to play the magician, Ben Magnus, and another of our actor friends,
Kayce Glass, played the woman. Kayce had a very easy touch with comedy,
and we knew she could give the somewhat clichéd character a
bit of its own life.
scouting found a nicely remote house in the nearby small town of Huffman.
The owner had died recently, and we were given
permission to film there for one day. So we arose at the crack of
dawn one Saturday, myself carrying along every piece of arcane decor
I possess - practically everything you see in the reel is mine - and
I started the day with a heaping helping of latex layered on by make-up
man J.C. Matalon. The job took a couple of hours, if memory serves.
Peanuts, in movie makeup time. The worst part of the whole thing was
the makeup on my hands. If you have latex on your hands and touch
anything before it is properly powdered and finished, it sticks
and tears, like day-old chewing gum. This became especially odious
a week later when we shot the closeups of my hands turning the cards,
and any small amount of friction caused the latex to rip and me to
sit with my hands under a dryer for another 20 minutes.
It was also
during my makeup session that our generator caught fire. I missed
out on that, luckily, so sorry - no amusing fire stories this week..
proceeded fairly smoothly, after that, if slowly (a motif which would
dog us throughout). The plan was to shoot the reel more or less in
order, a rarity and a luxury made possible through some careful writing
(ahem). Anyone with a modicum of technical expertise... say, from
watching TV... will notice that all the sound in Forever Evil
(and The Jet Benny Show) is totally looped. All footage was
shot without sound, with dialogue recorded on audio tape for later
reference in re-recording under studio conditions. Roger felt this
was the cheapest way to ensure total control over the audio. He was
the card reading scenes were shot, the sun was going down, which was
somewhat fortunate, since it was time for Kayce to get munched. We
continued doggedly on. I shot the scene where Ben packs his bags hurriedly...everything
you see in the drawers and closets were the possessions of the deceased
owner, it should be added. What had not considered was that when you
have an actor with a thin coating of latex on his hands, and you use
those hands to rifle a drawer filled with stuff, the latex loses,
and loses quickly.
hand touch-up. (I still say it would have been faster to have had
J.C. paint a bit on my
hands, turning the torn, hanging latex into badly burned hands for
the climactic fight, but that idea was poo-poo'ed.) I also found that
the coat-and-hat zombie concept had been scotched in favor of a cloaked,
hooded figure with glowing red eyes. Which is why, in the final version,
Ben has it out with an enormous Jawa.
of our last shots was me getting zapped with a lightning bolt. The
bolt itself was animated later, of course, but that gorgeous starburst
centered on my chest was produced by simply placing a slide projector
bulb on my chest. And yes, it burned the living hell out of me. After
nearly 24 hours of shooting, we were all exhausted and somebody forgot
the plate that was supposed to be placed between the bulb and my skin.
The subsequent close-ups of my pain-wracked face are quite real (acting!!!).
The sun was
rising as we packed up. After editing and looping all the sound, United
was quite impressed. So impressed they wanted the demo reel to be
in the finished picture. So impressed they upped our budget. We were
given the green light to go ahead.
onto a series of re-writes... well, no, there was actually only one
re-write that I was involved in. These were conducted mainly with
Roger at his apartment, but sometimes solo at my duplex, on a series
of battered typewriters. All good writers have battered typewriters.
You simply cannot write well on a shiny, gleaming new typewriter.
(This dictum no longer holds true, thanks to the computer age; I haven't
touched a typewriter in several years. I guess now you can't write
on a non-dusty screen. Whatever.)
was about this time that I came up with the new title for Nightcrawlers.
I felt it fit perfectly (so, of course, I had to argue for it), and
it continued my love of one-word titles: Nemesis.
my re-writes... the inclusion of the demo reel into the continuity
of the story actually gave me an opportunity to combine several scenes
into one, saving an oodle of screentime. Roger had an informal read-through,
for timing purposes. Guess what? The script was almost three and
a half hours long. Like I said before, a little knowledge is a
very dangerous thing. The name Nemesis was starting to seem
more and more appropriate.
Big Black Nemesis! Parthenogenesis!
No One Moves A Muscle As The Dead Come Home!