White House of the Dead [Nonexistent Movies]

Day of the Dead hands on

This is the test run for a new feature I’m thinking about making a regular thing. I got the idea several weeks ago when I was thumbing through old Fangorias and noticed how inaccurate their “Terror Teletype” column could be. Sometimes the upcoming movie news was right on the money, sometimes it got the details wrong, and sometimes the movies mentioned there never entered production at all. The column mostly existed in the age before internet, so I assume the editors employed a mixture of credible sources and wild rumors. Yet some would-be movies, however unlikely, are too thought-provoking to forget. From John Carpenter’s Escape from Earth to Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, it’s just fun to wonder what could have been.

Case in point: an unmade sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, my favorite horror film of all time. Prefacing a 1979 interview with Romero, Roger Ebert wrote: “Romero calls ‘Dawn’ the second film in his Zombie Trilogy. In the third, zombies will control the White House.” The article was the first time I ever heard of such a possibility. Unfortunately, these are Ebert’s words and Romero himself never makes mention of the third entry in this interview. (I’m reminded of a long-standing—and mostly debunked—rumor regarding an unmade Re-Animator sequel which places Herbert West in the White House.)

So where did Ebert get his information? Was Romero at one point developing a story which would have far exceeded the scope of Dawn? Lee Karr’s The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead refers to a 1978 television appearance (one year before the Ebert interview) in which Romero discusses tentative plans for the followup: “The zombies are a little more sympathetic. We see them organizing slightly now and if there’s ever a third film that’s what it will be about.” (In Day of the Dead, we see more of this sympathy and ability to organize in the zombie nicknamed Bub, but not to the degree which the filmmaker has suggested here or in the earliest draft of the script available to the public.) “Dario Argento, who we’re co-producing this film with, an Italian director, said that the third one has to be ‘Zombies in the White House’. And maybe that’s what it will be, I don’t know [smiles].”

MakingOfDayOfTheDead

It’s good to know Ebert didn’t pull the rumor out of his ass; Romero possibly told him off the record or perhaps the critic read this fun Rolling Stone article. (Somehow, I feel I should have known Argento had a hand in the sapling of an idea.) While it’s not 100% clear whether or not there existed an earlier draft involving Romero’s early plans (according to a questionable passage on Wikipedia, which doesn’t include references, the early draft on the internet is not the first draft of the script), I think it’s safe to say there probably wasn’t a “White House script” considering the scope of Dawn was noticeably reduced in Day. We might have seen such a movie if Romero hadn’t stuck to his guns when bigger studios offered him distribution (and bigger budgets) in exchange for R-ratings. But honestly: who the hell would want that? Sure, director’s cuts would have surfaced eventually, but would his films had had such a tremendous impact upon release had they been so safe and squeaky clean?

For me, the version of Day we got is a fine picture which manages to trump its predecessors’ special effects if nothing else, but it’s clear Romero’s ambitions have been held in check (or downright tortured) by the financial realities of filmmaking ever since. It’s also my opinion that each of his zombie films since Dawn have been a little less watchable than the last, but I actually enjoyed Land of the Dead even if I’ll (probably) never watch it again.

Day of the Dead in the White House could have been a blast, though, and perhaps a little more meaningful than the version we got.

Day of the Dead title card

Take Shelter (2010) [Midnight Movie]

 

I was surprised to find Take Shelter on Shudder because I wasn’t under the impression it was a horror movie. Thankfully, it fits in quite well because it’s more unsettling than a lot of the catalog there. You could call it “psychological horror,” but that’s misleading as well.

It’s hard to talk about Take Shelter without diluting it. I’d advise you to stay clear of online discussions and marketing material until you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself. I’ll tread lightly in regards to the plot. I always do, but I’ll be especially careful here.

Michael Shannon, who walks a fine line between everyman and “hey, it’s that crazy guy,” is just about the only person who could play this role: an everyman who might be going crazy. Shannon has increasingly vivid visions of impeding doom, which he tries to keep a secret from his wife (Jessica Chastain) and his deaf daughter. Global doom is scary, sure, but the film also plays with a host of other fears including debt, job instability, health care, and the inability to protect and provide for your family.

This may seem like quaint subject matter, but the movie is potent because it’s so grounded. The best movies about global events (Romero’s Dead films, the Mad Max series, Children of Men, etc.) are great because they’re not really about the superficial apocalypse stuff at all. Indirectly, they’re about what’s going on beneath the surface, particularly the fear of the future and the unknown. Take Shelter does the same thing, but in an entirely different way. The apocalypse may or not be real, but it’s coming either way.

Had the end of this film been in almost any other movie, I would have rejected it as pretentious nonsense. I’ve read plenty of differing opinions on the matter, and while none of ’em have fully swayed me, I appreciate so many people get something different out of it.

As for Shannon, I’m beginning to think it’s worth while to check out everything he’s ever done. Even in the movies I didn’t like, he was worth watching. And I’ve been on the fence in regards to Jessica Chastain, probably because I haven’t seen many of her movies, but I grew fond of her warmness in Take Shelter almost immediately. Supporting actor Shea Whigham, too, is pretty spot-on; I regret that in my Splinter post I reduced him to “a guy who kind of looks like Robert Carlyle.”

Seriously, don’t mess around with trailers or reviews or any of that shit. Just give the movie five minutes and see if it doesn’t hook ya.

98 Days until Corpus Evil!

CorpusSample2t

As usual I’m behind schedule. The holiday madness, ridiculousness at work, and the blog move aren’t helping one bit. I’m still spinning my wheels in part three (I like how I expected to have this section done by “the middle of the week”). The three parts in the middle of Corpus Evil are tightly woven, which means changes in one section cause ripples across the others, but I expect to have them done around the same time. By “done” I mean ready for the girlfriend inspection, at which point it’s going to be ready for other pre-release readers.

Amazon pre-orders for Corpus Evil will probably begin in January. I wasn’t aware you couldn’t list Amazon pre-orders more than 90 days in advance of the release date, which doesn’t feel like enough time to gain steam there. Frankly—and this is coming from someone who uses Amazon regularly—it’s troubling that the retailer has so much of the market under its thumb. There are certainly a lot of benefits, but how long will it be before they impose the same level of idiotic censorship on indie books as they do indie movies?

To be clear, Corpus Evil is far from the “extreme” variety of indie books in my opinion, but it hardly feels like my opinion would matter to the bastards whose guidelines made Samurai Cop 2 unwatchable on their VOD service. Not that I’m certain that movie would have been very watchable to begin with (I’m not a big fan of self-aware B-movies), but that’s beside the point.

Prom Night (1980) [Midnight Movie]

During a game of hide-and-seek, four school children accidentally push a little girl from the top floor of an abandoned building, killing her instantly. The bitchy ring leader of the gang makes the other three survivors swear they’ll never tell anyone what really went down. Fast forward six years and the children are now teenagers, gearing up for prom night. They’ve managed to keep their dark secret and it doesn’t really seem to affect any of them. This is odd to say the least.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who looks a little too old to be a high school student, is the sister of the victim. Her father is Leslie Nielsen, who isn’t nearly as fun as he was in Creepshow, and Sledge Hammer’s Anne-Marie Martin plays Curtis’s hot, Corvette-driving rival. The instigating moment of the film, mentioned in the paragraph above, happens in the first five minutes. Then nothing interesting whatsoever happens until the final act, at which point the masked killer will chase the characters through scenes that go on for far too long.

Martin’s character, who feels jilted by her ex-boyfriend’s interest in Curtis, concocts a Carrie-like prank which will humiliate Curtis as she accepts her tiara as prom queen. Another dreadful scene attempts to capitalize on Saturday Night Fever’s famous dance sequence, poorly, while the rest of the movie is chock full of high school rivalries and pointless gossip. I probably would have loved this movie if I were a teenager, provided I were a teenager in 1980.

I’m not sure why Prom Night is sometimes considered a classic. It’s about 90% filler and it’s immediately clear the killer is one of three people while, at most, only around four people will die. The infrequent kill scenes are so tame the film probably could have gotten away with a PG-13 rating if not for a handful of shots containing brief nudity. Unlike most slasher films, it’s not poorly made on a technical level (it’s actually pretty decent), but it really isn’t very interesting content-wise, either.

I started Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou soon after finishing this one and, although it was immediately more fun and campy, I fell asleep… hard. In fact, I haven’t slept so long during a movie in my life. (I suspect this has more to do with slogging through the first one than attempting the second.) I’ll give the sequel another chance in the future, but for the moment I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see of this franchise. Which is a shame because the VHS cover for part 3 has always piqued my interest.

When do you stop revising? [Corpus Evil]

Corpus Evil is told in five parts, beginning in 1982 and ending in the far future. I had planned on a single week of revisions for each part, but the first two parts took me months. I’ve just begun to revise part three of the story, but so far it’s going much better than parts one and two did. In fact, I think I’ll have it whipped into shape by the middle of the week.

And that’s a question I used to struggle with: How do you know you’re done with the first round of revisions? Lately, the answer is when I’m ready to show it to my girlfriend. After she’s done reading the book it’s going off to the beta readers. After that, I plan to use pre-orders to judge how much money I want to spend on editorial services, at which point I hope most of the developmental stuff will be done.

I still don’t have a marketable description for Corpus Evil, but I’ll talk a little more about it here. It was originally intended to be a short story about a group of teenagers who uncover an ancient evil in an abandoned church camp. Considering I had just spent five or six years working on an absurdly complicated science fiction novel, the story was extremely easy to write by comparison. (The biggest problem with the science fiction novel was I never set deadlines or limits on the revision period… the damn thing just ballooned and ballooned after the first draft was completed. I learned a lot, but I suspect I wasted a lot of my time, too.)

Immediately after finishing the short story, which was called Church Camp at the time, I began working on another short story. About two pages into it I realized the main character of the new story could be one of the survivors from the previous story, all grown up. Once again, the story nearly wrote itself. Meanwhile, I began to wonder: What happened to the other survivors?

I think the most honest ending in a horror movie was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which leaves its heroine screaming at the brink of irreparable insanity. Events like that tend to fuck people up. If your characters are mentally unscathed by the end of your horror tale, you’re either cheating your audience or kidding yourself.

The first part of Corpus Evil is the massacre, so to say. The rest of the book explores what happens next.

Corpus Evil is coming April 1st, 2018.