Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Day They Turned Down My Pitch

Something, I'm not sure what, compels me to tell our faithful readers about a dark day in my past; the day my idea for a horror franchise was turned down by a major motion picture producer. It's something I've never been able to discuss before, as the shame of that rejection has haunted me ever since, but perhaps I should get it off my chest here.

A few years back I got a chance to pitch my idea for a long running horror franchise featuring a ghoul of the night, known as The Divider, who hunts down nubile co-eds and murders them in various gruesome ways. Nothing too original, but as this was pre-Final Destination I hoped that the inventive deaths would give me the edge on all the other franchise wannabees out there. The Friday the 13th films were becoming ever more gimmicky and self-referential, Freddy had died and come back only to disappear up his own post-modern pre-Scream arse, and Chucky was getting ready to settle down. Perhaps The Divider would be the key to my future success.

I took a trip to Hollywood and met with the head of Viewlane Pictures, Trip Dorfner III, as well as his hit maker, producer Zack Wackman, who was responsible for such slasher classics as I Wear Your Blood, I'm Hiding In That Conspicuous Shadow Behind You, and Sometimes A Knife Is Just A Knife And Not A Phallic Representation Of The Violent Undertones Of The Patriarchal Paradigm. Trip's office was covered with posters for those movies, some of them signed by directors and stars. It was a hell of a thrill for someone who grew up watching these movies, though I didn't tell them I would much rather have watched cheap Star Wars knockoffs when I was at an impressionable age. No need to antagonise them, I thought.

Not wanting to waste any time with chit chat, I began my pitch for The Divider, setting the scene. It was to be filmed in a quiet, urban yet leafy area, like the Georgetown I had seen in The Exorcist, a place where the locals felt safe to walk the streets, but the audience would get chills from looking at. Lots of shadowy places for evildoers to leap out of. Our main characters were to be four female co-eds, Regan, Nancy, Sally, and our hero Laurie. They all go to the same school and are fast friends, but are rivals for the manly men in the school football team. Except for Laurie. She's a virgin, and gets lots of flack from the other girls (and some of the men at the school) for being "inexperienced". They keep banging on about that, especially when it seems she is smarter, and prettier, and more inspirational than the other girls. They're jealous, and even though they're outwardly very chummy, inwardly they see her as a threat.

On the night of a big slumber party they have been planning (at which they hope to see some of the sexy boys they have been lustily pining for), they see a news story about an escapee from the local asylum, the brother of a local politician who had gone insane several years earlier. The politician's family was your typical dynastic deal; rich parents, children getting elected into civic positions, etc. Unfortunately, the brother, who had been groomed for great political success, had gone crazy one night, and had killed one of his aides with a chainsaw, leading to his commital in a local institution for the dangerously crazy. The politician had tried to help his nutzo brother out, but in the process ruined his own political career, and sullied the family name for good with his increasingly deranged efforts to bring his brother back into public life, prior to killing himself in disgrace.

And now the brother, hereby known as The Divider (as he had divided his family due to his crazy and deadly escapades), was free, and on the loose again. And where was the party being held? In the house that had once belonged to the dynasty, and now belonged to Laurie's family! Oh teh noes! (I accidentally said that at the pitch meeting; I really should have copyrighted it). While bickering about boys and making snide comments about Laurie's inexperience (because they really don't have anything else to say against her), Regan goes down to the basement of the house to see if she can find anything to humiliate her supposed friend further, and while she looks around, in the shadows behind her we see the ghostly mask of The Divider, in the form of a pair of Groucho Marx glasses/mustache combo! Just at the last second Regan spins around, as The Divider pulls an razor-sharp egg beater from his pocket, and whisks the poor defenseless co-ed to death, her screams ignored by the girls upstairs, who are busy ragging on Laurie.

At this point in the story I was pleased to see that Trip and Zack were very excited. The pastiche I had created, echoing so many other great slasher movies of the recent past, was just the sort of plagiaristic carbon copy nonsense they had traded in for years. This was what I had been banking on. So I moved into the next stage of my pitch with greater confidence. One of the boys turns up early, and, as he has a thing for Nancy, drags her upstairs for some hanky-panky, much to Laurie's disgust. There then follows a long preamble to a sex scene (which mostly occurs off camera, with only a bit of nudity thrown in to titillate), crosscutting with shots of the shadowy figure of The Divider approaching the room. Once the sex is over, and the couple are sitting back and talking about Laurie's terrible inexperience, The Divider leaps out at them, and kills them with a razor sharp Slinky! It is gory and nasty and goes on forever. By now Trip and Zack were counting money in their heads.

Laurie grows concerned that Regan has gone missing, and ventures downstairs to see what is going on with her, to be greeted with a vision of whisked death that terrifies her. Her scream would split the eardrums of even the toughest slasher fan, as she sprints back upstairs to Sally. Too late! She gets there just as The Divider pops up from behind the TV, lunging at Sally with a large, razor sharp wooden spoon. Sally is killed right before Laurie's eyes, and she flees the room, heading for the kitchen where she can make a stand against her attacker. Zack and Trip were leaning forwards at this point. I think it was here that Zack said he thought we had the beginnings of a real franchisable hit on our hands. I was so excited I could have danced on the spot.

Laurie runs over to the knife stand, pulling out two of the largest blades there, and spins around, looking for her attacker. For several heartstopping seconds nothing happens, and we watch Laurie's terror-stricken, sweaty face as she waits for something to happen. And then, with a crashing bang, The Divider bursts out of the fridge, wielding a razor-sharp ice tray! No one could have seen this coming. With a cry of defiance, Laurie plunges one of the knives into The Divider's chest, and with a gurgle, the killer slumps to the floor, seemingly dead.

Shocked and horrified, Laurie stumbles from the kitchen, still clutching one of the knives. For a moment she steadies herself in a doorway, and just as the audience begins to relax, from behind her stands The Divider, not yet dead! We watch in horror as Laurie stands there, oblivious to her impending death. Just as The Divider is in range of her with a razor-sharp turkey baster, Laurie hears his movement, whirls around, and plunges the other knife into his chest! Again, he slumps to the floor, seemingly dead.

Zack and Trip were beside themselves. This is gonna be a huge hit! they said. We're gonna get teenage asses on seats from Oakland to Newark! It'll be the smash horror sensation of the year! I was thrilled, but I told them to hold onto their horses, because the best was yet to come. Laurie walks away from her quarry, covered with his blood but still beautiful and unbowed by his viciousness. She heads for the front door, and is just about to open it, when a bloodied hand grabs her shoulder. It's The Divider! He tries to pull her away from the door, but his hand is slippery, and she pulls loose, swinging the door towards her and catching the Divider on the side of his head. There is a sickening crack, and The Divider again hits the floor. Seemingly dead.

Again the producers shouted their praises, and again I told them to hold on. As Laurie passes through the door, a hand grabs her ankle, and tries to pull her back into the house. They struggle, and she manages to get out, with The Divider hanging on for grim death, his head now over the threshold. With a scream of fury, Laurie grabs the doorknob, yanks the door shut on The Divider's head, over and over and over again, until the hand falls limply from her leg. Once more she breathes a sigh of relief.

It was at this point that Zack and Trip started to seem a bit uncomfortable, but I barely noticed until later, as I was just getting into the swing of things. As she makes her way to the end of her driveway, a car pulls up, belonging to Tad, the one football player who isn't a jock, and who secretly pines for Laurie. She falls into his arms, sobbing, and he consoles her. Laurie is finally safe. But not Tad! With a gurgling cry he stiffens, blood coursing from his mouth, stumbling back to reveal the razor-sharp end of an umbrella poking out of his chest. Laurie watches in horror as a figure rears up from behind him; the brother of The Divider! Back from the dead, his maggoty face a visage of grisly terror!

Laurie's scream once more pierces the night, as she races past the walking corpse, dashing into Tad's car, slamming it into gear, pedal to the metal, barreling the car into the zombie, shattering his body in two. Gore flies everywhere. Convinced the former politician is now finished, Laurie gets out of the car and tries to walk down the main road to the local police station, but from behind her she hears a shuffling noise. Almost too terrified to look, she turns, and sees the hideous sight of The Divider staggering down the road, carrying the still moving torso and head of his undead brother. It is truly a scene that would have sent shivers down the spine of America.

At that point Trip stopped me, and asked if that was going to be the end of the movie. I was shocked. Of course not, I replied. We haven't gotten to the really good bits yet, where Laurie tries to repel the unstoppable duo of The Divider and The Immortal Politician with a sword, a large stone from a nearby wall, a gun she takes from an incapacitated policeman, a shotgun from a police car, an exploding gas canister triggered by said shotgun, acid, another car, a tank, a flamethrower, a trash compactor, a lion released from the local zoo, pushing them down the same flight of stairs where poor Father Karras met his match, stamping on their heads, drowning, dropping a building on them, and tricking them onto a test flight of an experimental rocket and firing them into the sun. This doesn't work either. Each time The Divider and the other member of his long-defunct political dynasty rises up in an attempt to kill Laurie.

Shaking his head in sorrow, Zack asked me how long I thought the movie would last, and I told him my first draft came in at about 490 pages, though I wasn't quite sure I had reached the end yet. Then he gave me some good advice. He said that if we made The Divider, at the start of the movie half the audience would be rooting for Laurie, and half the audience would be rooting for The Divider. If the movie ends after 90 minutes, the audience would be rooting for Laurie. After over eight hours of death blows and contrived resurrections performed at the expense of believability and audience patience, they wouldn't be rooting for anyone, even though Laurie is obviously the good guy. An obstinate horror movie villain can only be so obstinate for so long before he becomes annoying, and then your audience will end up going to see some other, inferior movie instead, probably a heartwarming tale about an old man who just wants to stop his daughter (and granddaughter, and great granddaughter, etc. etc.) from getting an abortion. Then he told me to get the fuck out of his office.

Don't know why I just remembered all that. Just thought I should share.

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