the Half-Baked 'Prints'
By Paul Briggs
EXT – HOTEL – DAY
The front of a large, luxurious hotel/convention center. It is about mid-afternoon, a bright and beautiful day.
The end of the world began, not in terror and darkness, but in innocence and light.
INT – HOTEL – DAY
A corridor. A sign saying "INT'L INORGANIC CHEMISTRY ASSOC. CONVENTION" points down the hall.
It began here, now, at this place…
FADE TO a conference room. Men in suits and lab coats are listening to DR. ECKELBERG, who is gesturing at a blackboard covered with complex diagrams of molecules.
…with this conference of learned men.
"That's Jonathan Almond's voice," says Scott. "He was Jerry Heath. Good guy."
The year is 1985. It is Justin's twelfth birthday, although his official birthday party won't be until Saturday. To celebrate, his friend Mr. Scott has agreed to preside over a private screening of his old messterpiece, Prints of Darkness, which has just been released on VHS — coincidentally, in time for its 25th anniversary.
His father and older sister are there as well. Picture them, grouped around the TV. Young Justin, with his ginger hair in all directions and his look of perpetual eagerness, holding the place of honor in front of the TV. Seated next to him on the sofa is Mr. Scott, sixty, sad-eyed and bald. His father, an urbane, well-dressed man of fifty, with a full head of white hair but no other sign of aging, standing behind them. And of course Amanda, nearly sixteen and already chiseled by the world's finest sculptors from a block of solid trouble, is standing back by the doorway, watching it all with her cold blue eyes.
First, some background: Justin Rosewood was never like other boys. Other boys go through stages where they want to be cowboys, superheroes, astronauts, Olympic athletes and so on. It takes them some time to work out what they really want to be when they grow up. Justin, on the other hand, had always known, even as a child. As soon as he realized that those wonderful things called "movies" didn't just happen — people somewhere actually went to work and made them — he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and from that day onward he never changed his mind.
Naturally, he read every book he could find on moviemaking, but he wanted more. He wanted his father to find some people who made movies so he could talk to them and find out how they do what they do. You'd think this would be easy in California, but it's a big state and not everybody there knows somebody in the movie industry. Those that are in the industry have enough trouble with people seeking autographs, seeking work, pitching script ideas, etc., without having to deal with inquisitive children.
As it happened, his father made the acquaintance of a director while running the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara. A porn director who called himself "Don Ezekiel" was shooting some scenes at Lake Chapala, and wanted to make sure he was obeying the local laws — or at least wasn't disobeying them in a way that would land him in trouble.
Tim Rosewood was a pretty open-minded guy, but "Don Ezekiel" was not the sort of man he would normally introduce to either of his children. But after an interview, he found that Donald Harvey Scott — for that was his real name — had once worked on more respectable movies.
Well, slightly more respectable. Scott had been assistant director on Werewolves of the Old West and The Car that Ate Women. No one would call these movies great art, but they were competently made B-movies and it was no shame to have been involved in them.
But then there was that other movie — the first one Scott directed. The one he hadn't mentioned because he didn't really want to talk about it. But Justin, being Justin, had found out about it anyway. Prints of Darkness, starring Jonathan Almond and Susan Black and directed by D. H. Scott, screenplay by D. H. Scott and Rex Greider, had been released in 1960 by Discernment Studios with the promise to audiences that "if you're not afraid of the dark… you will be!"
They weren't. Not only was it one of the most notoriously bad movies of the twentieth century, it was one of the few to constitute an actual public health hazard. There were so many cases of laughter-induced syncope at screenings of Prints that theaters found it saved time to keep a couple of nurses on standby in the lobby. It might not have been so bad if he had been able to pass it off as a comedy, but its tone was too sincere for that, and it was too different from other films of its kind to be interpreted as a parody. In short, this movie was the reason Scott spent the next quarter of a century directing (mostly) soft-core porn under the name "Don Ezekiel."
"Except for the establishing shot of the hotel," says Scott, "all the convention scenes were shot at this little community college on the morning of the third day of shooting. In the afternoon, we did the establishing shot for Dr. von Herzog's office there." (Of course, all this is long before the days of DVDs with directors' commentaries, and Web sites with production diaries, so having the director in their home to explain it all is even more of a privilege than usual — even if, some would say, the movie is hardly worth explaining.)
(whose voice reveals him to be the narrator)
Dr. Eckelberg? I'm Dr. Gerald Heath. That was an excellent talk you just gave.
He has some kind of accent. It doesn't matter what kind. German, Yiddish, Russian, Swedish, French… whatever the actor is good at.
You mentioned a chemical you had discovered that oxidizes instantly when exposed to light. Tell me, does it change visibly – change color, for example?
In theory, it should — but since the change is instantaneous, we cannot know. By the time we can see it, it has already oxidized. Why do you ask?
I'm a research scientist with Lux Mundi.
I have heard of your company. It makes photographic film, yes?
Yes. Of course, we're always on the lookout for new photoreactive chemicals.
Well, you would be hard put to find anything more photoreactive than this. However small the exposure, however dim the light, you may be sure the change will happen.
Of course, for this very reason you must be careful to prepare the formula in absolute darkness.
That won't be a problem. I've been blessed with a very good darkroom assistant.
"I'm sorry about Dr. Eckelberg," says Scott. "All I needed was an oldish man who could do a decent foreign accent. What I got was… the brother-in-law of one of the producers, who could do a bad Bela Lugosi impression."
"Bela Lugosi?" says Mr. Rosewood. "I thought that was supposed to be Inspector Clouseau."
"Yep, it could've gone either way."
"And was 'Dr. Eckelberg' a Great Gatsby reference, by any chance?"
"Yep. I was young and pretentious."
"What are those weird noises?" asks Justin. The opening credits are playing on a black screen, to the sound of generic creepy theremin music and odd noises in the background — liquids being poured, things being set down on tables.
"It was supposed to just be the sound of somebody working in a darkroom," says Scott. "Me, in fact — I got my start in photography before I got into movies."
"Like me?" said Justin, whose parents had given him his first camera when he was eight, and who was already a fairly good photographer.
"Yep. My original plan was to have an animated sequence of white lines on black showing the lab assistant doing her thing in the dark, but the animator got hired by Disney and didn't have time to work for me, so I went with the black screen.
"But then the studio said, 'What is this? We start out with these two guys talking shop at the Inorganic Chemistry whatever and cut to darkness and random noises? This is a horror movie, right?' So they decided to replace it with the theremin. Somehow the instructions got all mixed up and we ended up with both at once."
"Well," says Justin, "except for the end-of-the-world stuff… that was kind of…"
"Boring? Unpromising?" says Scott. "I know. There's a reason why I put in the voice-over at the beginning. Had to give 'em a reason to stay in the theater.
"Now get ready to feast your eyes on Susan Black. The last of the old-time classic beauties — they don't make 'em like that any more. And — never mind how I found this out, but" — he winks at Justin — "she's a real blonde."
The lady emerges from the darkroom, and she is everything he said she was. Her face is lovely, and although her lab coat over a dark A-line dress offer very few hints about her body, those few hints are tantalizing. Her hair is light blond, but her eyes are a very dark brown. Even in black and white, the effect is striking.
In a moment that looks completely unscripted, she trips over a wastebasket and falls down.
I'm sorry! I forgot! Miss Martine, are you all right?
(getting up, not looking directly at Melissa)
But, Melissa… this is the third time you've left something out of place for me to trip over.
I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear. I just… keep forgetting exactly where things are supposed to be.
I'm sorry, Miss Martine. I've never worked for anybody who's… who's…
I think the word you're looking for is "blind."
I can manage well enough, as long as everything is exactly where it should be.
"Did she — I mean the big fat cleaning lady — was she supposed to have done that on purpose?" asks Mr. Rosewood. The woman in question is kind of cute, but at least a hundred pounds heavier than the leading lady, not to mention hopelessly wooden. "I've had people working for me who found little ways of messing up my day."
"Nope," says Scott. "I admit it's hard to tell — she wasn't much of an actress. Not like Susan — notice how she never makes eye contact with anybody, and never looks straight at anything? For a sighted person, that's a hard trick.
"When I was a boy, I was paid to look in on a blind lady that lived down the street. Truth is, though, she didn't need a lot of caretaking. But for obvious reasons, everything had to be in just the right place."
"Susan Black," says Mr. Rosewood. "Is that her real name?"
"Nope. She was born Eloïse Loweree. Susan Black is just her stage name. Like the flower — black-eyed Susan."
"What happened to her, anyway? I've never seen her in any other movies."
"She moved on to the stage. You should have seen her do Blanche DuBois back in '78."
At this point, Dr. Heath comes in and asks Anne if anything's wrong. She smiles and says no, obviously not really wanting to get Melissa in trouble. Dr. Heath hands her the new formula, with instructions he translated into Braille on the way back. She runs her fingers over the pages, still looking at Dr. Heath, and promises she'll have the filmstock ready by Wednesday. ("I guess she's a Braille speed-reader," says Scott ruefully.)
Once the film is ready, Jerry uses it to photograph Anne in various alluring poses, in a bikini or other skimpy outfits. (This doesn't do a lot to advance the action, but nobody complains. In fact, Justin is being pulled further and further into puberty even as he watches. "For a blind chick, she sure knows how to put on her makeup," says Amanda.) With each shot, he closes a blind, turns off a lamp or unscrews a flashbulb, lowering the light by just so much.
In the next scene, the film has apparently been developed, and Jerry's friend Dwight, a fat, balding man with a silly mustache and a threadbare suit, is operating the projector.
"I know where I've seen those guys!" says Justin. "They were the two cops in The Car that Ate Women."
"Yep. I'd worked with Jon and Larry before and they had good chemistry and screen presence, so I thought I'd try giving 'em a starring role. Whatever else might've gone wrong, they didn't disappoint me."
At the moment, they themselves look disappointed, and no wonder — as they go through the slides, all they can see is one solid white screen after another.
Well… you win some, you lose some.
There was never any guarantee that this was going to work.
I followed the formula exactly. Something may have gone wrong when I adapted it to a photo emulsion.
I'm sure it wasn't your fault.
The worst part is, Mr. MacIntyre is going to be here next week. Between what you paid this Eckelberg guy and what you spent on the raw materials, he's going to want to know what we've got to show for all this money.
Are you going to look at all of them?
I want to be certain before I have to write this off as a loss.
Anyway, this is the last… hmmm.
In this one… am I seeing things, or can you make out details?
Look, there's her eyes… there's her jacket and skirt… I didn't really believe this last shot would work — the light was much too low for conventional film — but this looks more like a bad overexposure…
You know what I think? I think Dr. Eckelberg wasn't exaggerating. I think his chemical is a lot more sensitive than I expected.
(turns to Anne)
How soon can you make another roll of film?
There's already one. I had enough chemicals on hand to make two… so I did, just in case.
Annie, you are one of the great hidden treasures of the earth. I'll take a second set of photos, starting tonight. Let's see how good this stuff really is.
"You know, Jon's about the only one of these guys to come out of this debacle with his movie career in one piece," says Scott. "He's appeared in forty or fifty different films since then. All of 'em bad. But he eats, and he keeps a roof over his head. Larry Moore — the guy who played Dwight — got some bit parts in a few other movies, but he died back in… I think it was '71. Heart failure.
"All these scenes of Lux Mundi were cheap and easy to shoot — simple backdrops, some basic furniture, a few props… mostly just the actors and the camera."
The second set of photos, taken in much deeper darkness, turn out as clear as daylight. "Of course, most of 'em really were taken in daylight," says Scott. "I used filters and lighting tricks to make 'em look a little strange."
"That sounds like a lot of work," says Justin.
"Yep," says Scott. "Making all the photos — these and others — was the longest part of making the movie. Half of 'em I took before it was even greenlit, just so I'd have 'em ready."
This last photo was taken inside my landlady's basement between three and four a.m. Lighting conditions were as near to pitch blackness as I've ever… seen…
His voice trails off as he looks at the photo.
When we see the photo, there is an unhappy-looking old man standing in the shadows at the back, looking at the camera.
So who's this guy?
I don't know. I'm certain I was alone down there… and I can't say I recognize his face, either.
What would he be doing in a pitch-dark basement in the middle of the night?
Glad you think so. Here's another one — are you going to show this photo to Mr. MacIntyre?
Good question. (laughs)
It depends on his attitude. If he's at all half-hearted or reluctant to try to market this new film, the last thing I want to do is tell him that a strange flaw showed up in one of the prints.
The first week you came to work here, I knew I'd be working for you one day.
But what do you think this is?
Looks like your basic double exposure. I don't recognize the image, but think about it — if someone accidentally gave our Anne a used piece of film to convert to the new formula… how would she know?
"Is that how you made it?" says Justin. "A double exposure?"
"No, dummy, he found a real haunted basement," says Amanda, who has never seen the movie but can already tell where this is going.
"Yes," says Scott. "The other photo was of our props man standing against a matte black background on the soundstage — that made the whole picture darker. For the astronomy photo, I just took black construction paper, poked lots of little holes in just the right places and put it up over a window."
Those photos are what Jerry concentrates on when showing off the film to Mr. MacIntyre, an older man in an expensive-looking suit.
This is from the best photo currently available of the constellation Coma Berenices… and this is a photo I took last night of that same constellation, using film treated with the Eckelberg formula. Look at all that detail!
Imagine what a real astronomer could do with this film. Imagine what astronomers would pay to get their hands on it.
How much money do astronomers have to begin with? They're not looking for oil up there, you know.
Look at these photos of the wilderness at night. Never before in history have human eyes seen this kind of detail in such low light. It's a whole new way of looking at the world. Every amateur and professional photographer alive will want to join in the adventure.
What you're describing sounds like a fad. Fads come and go. One can make a certain amount of money off them, but I was hoping for a more permanent benefit.
How about… military applications?
Spies? Scouts? Reconnaissance aircraft? Don't you think they could find a use for this? A contract or two with the Pentagon would do us a lot of good.
I'll discuss this with the rest of the board. You may possibly have something that could earn us some money here.
"I realize it's kind of pointless to ask logical questions about a movie's plot," says Mr. Rosewood, "but… what's wrong with this guy? First of all, as I understand it, the company already paid for the formula on spec. If they own it, they better make the most of it. Second, Mr. MacIntyre and the rest of the board should be singing and dancing and carrying the hero and all his assistants around on their shoulders. Including the fat ones. I mean, this would be a huge money-maker. Even I can see that."
"But then wouldn't he have to tell them about the ghost?" says Justin. "I mean, I know he doesn't know it's a ghost yet, but…"
"There you have it," says Scott. "Rex and I had to make Mr. MacIntyre a little leery of the whole thing, even to the point of maybe not being the world's greatest businessman. That's something you want to watch out for, by the way — it's all very well to have a 'character-driven' plot, but when you've got a plot that only works if all the characters are bone-dumb, you've got a problem. The establishing shot for this next scene, by the way, was of my Aunt Delphine's place in Sacramento."
The next scene is in the parlor of the boardinghouse where Jerry lives. His landlady is pretty much your standard Sweet Old Lady from Central Casting.
(handing her a check)
Here you are, Mrs. Collins. Another month's rent.
Prompt as usual, Mr. Heath.
Soon, I hope, I'll be able to afford a house of my own. If the board makes the right decision — which I can't imagine they wouldn't — Lux Mundi is going places, and Anne and I will have first-class seats. And speaking of Anne…
He takes out a little jewelry box, opens it, and looks at the diamond ring inside.
It's a shame she'll never see this. I just hope she thinks it feels good. I hope she… I hope…
He bites his lip. He's very, very nervous about this.
I'm sure she'll say yes, but… do you really think she can be a wife? Look after your children?
I don't know… but I've seen her do a lot of things I never thought she could do. You could say I've learned not to bet against her.
Anyway, with enough money we'll be able to hire a nanny if we need one.
I suppose I just think your good looks are wasted on her.
I've got a question to ask you, Mrs. Collins.
(reaching into his jacket)
I took this photo in your basement, a few nights ago.
I wondered what you were doing down there.
He hands her the photo.
No one else I've talked to seems to know who this man is. Do you recognize him?
If this is a joke, it's in very poor taste, Mr. Heath.
I don't understand.
I knew this old man. He was one of my tenants.
He hanged himself in my basement the year before you moved in.
"Wow, I didn't see that coming a mile away," says Amanda.
"Hush, child," says her father.
The phone rings. The landlady picks it up.
May I ask who's calling, please?
It's for you.
(handing him the phone) It's a… Mister MacIntyre.
SPLIT SCREEN — Jerry holding the phone on the right, Mr. MacIntyre sitting at his desk on the left.
I've spoken to the rest of the board. They say this sounds good.
Our factories in Baltimore and Seattle say they can be ready to make the film in bulk within two weeks. Then it's just a matter of getting the word out.
Before we begin, is there anything we should know?
There is a long pause while Jerry tries to decide what to say.
Hello? You still there?
Sorry. I'm thinking.
What I'm thinking is… this is still a very new product. Just on general principles, we should offer people an address to send any photos with… unexpected flaws… along with a description of where and when the picture was taken, what sort of camera they were using… just so we can refine it and improve it if we have to.
Are you expecting any problems?
No, but it never hurts to be prepared.
I like the way you think. We need someone to be project manager for the Eckelberg formula — marketing it, refining it, finding more uses for it. I think you just talked yourself into a job.
Thank you, sir.
In addition to a raise, this will come with a big package of stock options. Our good fortune will be yours.
Jerry smiles… but after a moment, his smile disappears, to be replaced by a troubled expression.
INT — JERRY'S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Jerry lies awake. Over the course of the following VOICE-OVER, we FADE TO him getting up, sitting on the edge of his bed, pacing the room, staring out the window and getting back into bed.
Why did I lie? Why did I not tell him the truth, show him what I had found?
Greed and ambition… even the honest ambition of becoming a man with a home and a wife…
Cowardice… fear of being thought a madman by my own employers…
But in my own defense I must say there was more to it than that.
I was a scientist — and not a theoretical scientist, but one in search of practical applications. My business was with chemicals and light — physical phenomena. Metaphysics and spiritual matters had never before intruded on my domain… and I had never missed them.
In short, I did not believe in ghosts. I never had, and I wasn't quite ready to start. Not then.
But in the end, why I did it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the consequences.
"Not exactly your typical mad scientist, is he?" says Mr. Rosewood. "I mean, he seems like a decent guy with reasonable motives. He's not all 'bwoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha, soon I shall rule the universe'… did you want to present scientists in a better light than usual?"
"I suppose that would've been fair. I mean, they give us all this stuff…" Scott waves at the VCR, the TV and the rest of the appliances in the room. "And how do we thank 'em? We make 'em look like cackling looneybirds trying to breed a super-race of mutant hamster-men.
"Truth is, it just never occurred to us. There was no need for any of these guys to be evil, so… they weren't. There's only one real human villain, and he doesn't show up until later. The studio kept trying to get us to throw in some character who was screaming about people tampering in God's domain or something, but we didn't see any need for that either."
"How did you come up with this story?" asks Justin.
"I didn't — not by myself. It was Rex who did most of it.
"I met him at a party. I was running around, looking for the right script, and he said he had an idea for a great horror movie. His idea was more or less what you've seen so far — someone invents a new, super-sensitive type of film for taking pictures in the dark, but when they use it, ghosts start showing up in the prints. All he wanted from me was help making the script a little more accurate — he didn't know anything about photography.
"But his real problem was that he only had the start of an idea. The ghosts show up, but what happens then? What do they do? He didn't know.
"As it happens, I had… not really ideas, but images stuck in my head… a couple of nightmares I'd had. So we sat up all night drinking coffee and brainstorming, and by morning we decided we had the makings of a script. That's how it began." He sighed. "We really thought this would be one of the great works of horror."
"You know, until he whipped the ring out," says Mr. Rosewood, "I had no idea that the hero and the blind lady were anything more than co-workers."
"I know," says Scott. "There were a couple of other scenes between them, but they got cut — didn't advance the action enough, the studio said. There were also a couple of scenes with Dwight Simmons and his family. Those got cut too, so this coming scene is the first time you'll meet them.
"Speaking of the next scene, I have to admit it didn't turn out the way I intended. We had permission to shoot the outside of the restaurant, but the inside would have cost a lot more and taken too long to arrange. We had all the right furniture, but we went through all the backdrops and couldn't find a good one. So we used a boring one and turned the lights down so nobody would notice. We realized too late that we'd turned them down too far."
Dwight, his wife and son, Jerry and Anne are sitting around a table. The only light comes from a pair of tiny candles, which light all their faces from below. It looks like they're dining out in a haunted-house-themed restaurant.
"Wooooooooh, spoo-ooky dinner," says Justin.
"It looks like the power went out," says Amanda.
"We should have used bigger candles," says Scott.
It looks really gross.
That, my little friend, is very much more your problem than mine.
I only wish we could eat like this more often.
I wish we could afford to.
Soon we'll be able to afford all sorts of things.
"We." You use that word a lot these days.
I hope that's not a complaint.
On the contrary — I like hearing you say it.
"I was told there'd be horror," says Amanda. "Don't people get eaten in this movie? When does it start?"
"Pretty soon," says Justin, "but we have to get through the mushy stuff first."
Then Jerry and Anne are standing outside the restaurant.
When I first met you, I… I have to admit I pitied you. Then… when I saw how good you were at your work, I felt nothing but admiration for you. Now… now there's more to it than that.
Working alongside you has been one of the great privileges of my life. I'd like to work with you… my whole life.
What are you saying?
I'm saying I love you. I'm saying there's no other woman I'd rather spend the rest of my days with. I'm saying…
He kneels down in front of her and holds the box with the ring in front of him.
She reaches out to the sound of his voice, and touches his face. Her hands run down his shoulders, and she finds his extended right arm. Her fingers run up his arm to his hand. She finds the box and opens it. Her fingers feel the diamond and trace the ring. Her face lights up.
I… never dared to imagine…
Will you marry me?
"I know why you did that," says Justin.
"Focusing the camera in real tight on her fingers, when she was doing that. You were trying to show us her point of view. Well, not view, but… um… what it seemed like to her."
"You really do have an eye for this stuff, don't you?" says Scott.
"I should hope so," says his father. "He's read enough books."
"Good for you," Scott says to Justin. "The mushy stuff is now over. From here on, it's all looming dread gradually building into stark, quivering terror. At least that was the plan."
At last, the Eckelberg film has been made, sold and shipped everywhere under the brand name "Nightfilm." One day, Dwight and Anne come down into the lab's basement to find Jerry, clutching a handful of photos, looking troubled. "For reasons you'll see in a minute, I needed a real location for this scene," says Scott. "I used the same basement I took the ghost shot in. Decorated it a bit so nobody'd notice. At least I hope they didn't."
What's on your mind?
"I am thy father's spirit/Doomed for a certain term to walk the night/And for the day confined to fast in fires/Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/Are burnt and purged away."
I'm just trying to understand what I'm seeing. Trying to think of a way to explain it to myself.
Look at this one.
He shows Dwight a photo of a young man in a leather jacket and his girlfriend standing by the side of a mountain road.
There is a one-column newspaper article held to the photo with a paper clip.
From Roanoke, Virginia… Keith Kilgore and Renee Freeland. Died in a motorcycle crash on June 13, 1958 at this very spot. Photographed at 2:45 a.m. on June 4 of this year.
He hands Dwight a photo of a middle-aged cowboy in a western-looking landscape. A handwritten note is clipped to it.
From a ranch in Colorado… say hello to John Mulberry, 1889-1937… thrown from a horse. This was taken by his grandson last week.
He shows Dwight a photo of a beach. There is a row of intense lights in the distance — meant to be a city — and a beautiful woman in the foreground wearing a ruffled, corseted dress, a fringed shawl and a broad-brimmed hat with feathers on it. Several old newspaper and magazine articles are clipped to the photo.
From a Long Island beach… this is believed to be the socialite Duplissey Morgan, who was killed by her husband in a jealous rage back in 1911.
"Now if you stop the tape at just… the right moment," says Scott, "here… we… go…" One of the newspaper articles discussing the Duplissey Morgan murder has the subhead "Outraged Husband: 'I Caught Her With the Paperboy'."
"Oh my god," says Justin.
"Anyone ever tell you about the Hays Code? It was like the MPAA ratings, only much worse. That was my little one-finger salute to it. Went by too fast for them to see it, of course. It's the little things that help you keep your self-respect. This next shot is why I filmed this scene on location."
In the next shot, Jerry gestures at something off-screen, and Dwight turns to look. The camera rotates to slowly reveal just how many such photos are pinned to the bulletin boards — dozens of them, each with a tag saying where it came from, some with letters or clippings attached. "Much more effective than just cutting to the bulletin boards," says Scott, "but we couldn't do it on a soundstage. We needed a place to turn the camera around."
These are just the ones I've had time to inspect — confirm they're not fake. I've got a backlog of hundreds, from all over the country — and soon we'll be shipping the film overseas. God knows what we'll get then.
How far back do they go?
What do you mean?
You said one of them was of a woman who was killed in 1911. Are there any of people that died even earlier?
Most of them seem to be from the twentieth century, but there are a few from earlier — Civil War battlefields and so on. I haven't gotten any from further back than that.
Which is kind of a relief. I'd hate to think we all spend eternity hanging around in the dark looking ghostly.
Perhaps these aren't really departed souls. Perhaps they're only a kind of… scar… left on the face of reality by the violence of death.
I'd like to believe that. Trouble is… in all these shots, they're always looking at the camera. They're conscious… and thinking… and they know we can see them now.
And that isn't even the bad part.
What do you mean?
Jerry opens his suitcase and takes out a folder stuffed full of photos and notes.
At least ghosts are human… or were. These other things… I don't think they were ever human to begin with.
What other things?
A lot of them just look like patches of shadow. Like in this photo, taken by a Boy Scout troop hiking in the Adirondacks.
He shows a photo of small, dark, indistinct shapes among the trees.
Others are very clear indeed. This photo came from a military flight into foreign airspace… it doesn't say where — I assume that's classified.
Anne, it's sort of hard to describe. It's a kind of flying wheel thing covered with eyes and wings.
As he speaks, we see the photo.
It doesn't look like a flying saucer. It looks more… alive… but not like anything I've ever seen. I got another shot of something similar from Palomar Observatory.
Then there's this thing with all the heads…
We see a photo of what looks like a seven-headed cat with wings and glowing eyes lurking in an alley.
A cop on stakeout in Philadelphia took this.
Now that's what I call weird.
You think that's strange, you should see the things getting their pictures taken in Arkham, Massachusetts.
"You've read Lovecraft!" says Justin.
"Nope." says Scott. "Not much, anyway. Rex was the Lovecraft fan. We all got different tastes — I like writers with a little more dialogue." Justin looks a little disappointed at this, but says nothing.
What scares me is, the people sending you all this stuff… sooner or later they're gonna start going public. Then we'll all have some explaining to do. And they'd have done it by now if you hadn't told them to send it to you instead.
I didn't do it to cover this up. I did it because I thought it was my responsibility to figure out what was going on.
I have to admit, though… I'm in over my head here.
Do you know of anyone who could help? Someone whose judgment you trust?
When I was in college, there was a theology professor… a Doctor von Herzog. I was looking for a course that wasn't science, just to round out my studies, and someone recommended him to me.
He was a very wise man… If I were to show these to anyone, it would be him.
I'd have to take a couple of days off to visit him.
I think everyone will agree that you've earned it.
The actor playing "Doctor von Herzog" has a faint but noticeable German accent which is a good deal more authentic-sounding than that of "Dr. Eckelberg." He is about fifty, and the scars on his face are — even in black and white — obviously not makeup. Apart from that, he looks like a sort of poor man's Max von Sydow.
"Martin Kuenstler used to be a big star in Germany," explains Mr. Scott. "During the Nazi era he made some compromises… okay, he appeared in some propaganda movies that were maybe a little nastier than they needed to be… and then he got a little scarred in the last bombing of Berlin… and afterwards, he pretty much had to take work where he could get it. Finally, he was reduced to doing business with the likes of me."
To be quite honest, Gerald, my first thought would be that these people were attempting to perpetrate some sort of fraud.
In the first place, professor, these shots — some of them anyway — are being mailed in by some fairly respectable people. Astronomers, army officers… not the sort of people you'd expect to play games like that.
Oh, you'd be surprised. I've seen more than my share of… contrived miracles… and some of them came from people you would swear were of the utmost probity.
No doubt you're right — but, Professor, I came here because I trust your wisdom. I hope in turn, you will trust my expertise. If these were fakes, I would know, and I wouldn't travel all this way to show them to you.
I meant no offense. If you're willing to vouch for their authenticity, then I'm willing to believe you… it's just that I'm not used to dealing with real physical evidence. On the big question — the question of God — either everything is evidence or nothing is, depending on how you look at it.
These, on the other hand, definitely constitute evidence… but of what? That is the question.
At the very least, they are evidence of the existence of some form of Hereafter — and one not entirely separate from this world, but at least partially intertwined with it… connections forming in the places where people die, or the places that meant the most to them in life.
I can handle the idea of ghosts, but… some of what's in those shots doesn't look like anything I remember hearing about in Sunday school. Have you guys been holding out on us or something?
Not at all. It occurs to me now how little we can claim to know — even we Christians — of the world to come. We have been told of God, heaven and hell, angels and devils, the saved and the damned… and that's about it. Some writers — Dante, for instance — have tried to flesh the matter out a bit, but their works are not considered canonical by any church I know of.
Now if you heard someone describe this world as "humans, animals and plants, land and sea…" wouldn't you feel that a certain amount of detail had been lost?
If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that the next world might be as… complex and intricate as this one.
I would hope that it is infinitely more so, if we are to be there forever.
On the way home, our hero turns on the car radio and hears "A spokesman for Lux Mundi had no comment on the reports of Nightfilm customers finding ghostly images in their photographs." "I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later," he says to himself.
At the door, Dwight greets him with a stack of newspapers with stories about the Nightfilm images. (For budget reasons, we only see the top one, which carries the story "THINGS THAT SAY 'CHEESE' IN THE NIGHT.") "The good news is, I think I've found a way to make Nightfilm for motion pictures," he says. "The bad news is, Mr. MacIntyre wants to see you… downstairs."
Jerry's boss is in the room with all the photos, thumbing through the various files.
Dr. Heath… I don't know whether to fire you or promote you again.
You could have had the decency to warn me.
I didn't know how to tell you… and I wasn't sure you'd believe it.
I don't appreciate being lied to. Especially by someone I've invested so much trust in.
I'm sorry. If there's any way I can make amends…
The good news is, thanks to all this publicity, Nightfilm is selling better than ever. We can't manufacture it fast enough.
The bad news is… some of us have reputations to think about — reputations which are frankly not compatible with… whatever all this is.
With all due respect, Mr. MacIntyre… you're a businessman. I'm a scientist. Being associated in any way with claims of the supernatural will do much more harm to my reputation than yours.
Well, then, I have some very bad news indeed for you. I've called a press conference for this afternoon, at which you will personally answer all the questions.
"Again, when does the horror start?" asks Amanda. "Shouldn't somebody be getting disemboweled right now?"
"Are you kidding?" says Mr. Rosewood. "A press conference where you have to explain this? Now that's what I call a horror story."
INT — PRESS ROOM – DAY
About what you'd expect. A podium in the front, a horde of reporters filling the room, flashbulbs and hubbub. Jerry stands at the podium, trying not to look nervous.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Dr. Gerald Heath. I'll be answering your questions as best I can.
To begin with, a number of people have come forward to say that they have found… disturbing images in photographs taken at night with Lux Mundi's Nightfilm. Now, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize personally to any of our customers who feel less than satisfied with this product. However, I must emphasize that there is no reason to believe that there is any danger, either to those who purchased and used Nightfilm or to anyone else.
Now. Are there any questions?
Do you believe these pictures are genuine?
I've personally inspected many of these photos, and I have yet to find one that shows any sign of having been tampered with.
So you're saying we can photograph the dead now?
No. If you go over my words, you'll find I have been very careful not to say any such thing.
All I have been saying is that strange images are appearing in photographs. Now, whether you believe these images are ghosts or goblins or tricks of the light… they are definitely images. That much cannot be denied, and it is as much as I am willing to say.
To your knowledge, has anyone succeeded in using this film to communicate with any of these… images?
No. At the end of the day, this is just film. All it can do is take pictures of whatever is there.
And as for communicating… that would imply there was something there to communicate with — which, again, is more than I am prepared to say.
FADE TO MONTAGE of Jerry talking, lightbulbs flashing, reporters asking questions, Jerry shaking his head.
It went on like that until dinnertime — the same stupid questions asked again and again a hundred different ways, as if somehow if they just asked the right way, they could coax a different answer out of me. It was like a nightmare.
No. No, it wasn't. That was what I thought at the time… but that night was when I, like everyone else, started learning what nightmares really were.
Sure enough, there he is, tossing and turning in bed. The camera zooms in on his head, and we fade to a ten-year-old boy running hither and yon, looking lost and terrified, amid overlapping, phantasmagorial images of deep dark forest and the sound of someone or something smacking its lips and going "Mmmm, ymmm, nmm-nmm."
"This is disturbing on so many levels," says Amanda.
"I'll take that as a compliment," says Scott. "You may recognize the lip-smacking noises from The Car that Ate Women. I reused the sound effect."
"So why is he sleeping alone? Shouldn't the blind chick be in bed with him?"
"Blame the Hays code. Even if they'd been married… it was just a different time. Thank God for modern degeneracy."
The next morning finds Dwight in a diner, bleary-eyed and unhappy, sitting at the counter. "There used to be six different scenes where people talked about their nightmares," says Scott. "Now there's only two, and I had to fight for those two. I think you'll agree I was right to insist on keeping 'em."
You sure? You always took it with cream and sugar before.
Never mind how I always took it… I'm sorry. I barely slept a wink last night.
You too, huh?
It'll be a few minutes, hon. I'm making a fresh pot right now. Seems like a lot of people want a lot of coffee this morning.
She gestures around the room. Several other people have the same bleary-eyed look as Dwight. Jerry comes in and sits down next to Dwight.
That is a matter of opinion.
I had the worst dream last night.
Jerry motions for him to continue.
I was running through my house. It was dark… I kept turning on the lights, but they wouldn't work. I was looking for my wife and son… I could hear them screaming… just shrieking in terror… but I couldn't find them.
And then I woke up.
And they were still screaming… They were both having nightmares. All three of us… at the same time.
How does that happen? How?
Coffee's ready. Sorry for the wait.
(sets a hot cup down in front of him)
This one's on me. To tell you the truth, hon… I didn't sleep too good myself.
INT — LUX MUNDI LABS — EARLY MORNING
A break room. Anne sits on a couch, clutching a large mug of coffee. There is a terribly haunted look in her useless eyes. Melissa sits next to her, a hand on her arm.
It was… terrible. You can't imagine…
I was lying, naked, face down, on some kind of pavement. Flagstones, hard and very cold against my skin. These… things were holding me down.
What kind of things?
Monsters. They were small, but there were many of them. They crowded around me.
(not sure she wants to know)
What… did they look like?
(shaking her head)
I can't tell you. I was born this way — I don't know what it is to see… even in my dreams.
But I could smell them. They had an earthy smell, like wet dogs and damp, rotting leaves. One of them leaned in close — no more than an inch from my face. Its breath was hot, and stank of blood and offal.
I could hear them — the snuffling of their nostrils as they took in my own smell. Their voices… those voices did not come from human throats, and they spoke a language I could not begin to recognize. But when I begged them to let me go, they seemed to understand. They laughed. The sound of their laughter… Melissa, I have known the cruelty of men, and this — this was something more.
And I could feel them. They were covered with hair — long, coarse hair, matted and crusted with filth. I could feel their nails. Oh yes, I felt their nails… over every inch of my skin — they poked and pinched and prodded. Their touch made me shudder. They took their time. They seemed to be… savoring the moment.
And then… I felt their teeth.
(not quite breaking down)
I screamed myself awake. I screamed myself hoarse, do you understand?
I believe you.
I know it was just a nightmare, I know it wasn't real…
I know sometimes I seem a little standoffish. It's because my life is a kind of war — a constant struggle against helplessness and dependence. Every day, fighting to prove myself, to be as self-sufficient as I can — to say, "Here are some things I can do on my own…"
You cannot imagine the horror — in my own bed, in my own mind — being reduced to such an appalling state…
"This was the part that really scared me when I was a kid," says Justin.
"I got news for you, kid," says Amanda. "You're still a kid. Kid."
"She gives a hell of a performance, doesn't she?" says Scott. "Just imagining what she's describing is… well, it's sure as hell scarier than the ending." He sighed. "I don't know… I read this scene back then and thought 'this is it, I know it's just a horror movie but no way can the Academy ignore this' and now I look at it and…" He sighed.
"And what?" asks Mr. Rosewood. "It seemed fine to me. One of the better parts of the movie, I would have said."
"It's too obviously a written monologue. The structure of it — 'I could smell them,' 'I could hear them,' 'I could feel them' — human speech is never that well organized. It doesn't sound like anything anybody would say."
"I hadn't thought of that," says Justin.
"It's a balancing act. You want good, memorable lines, but you don't want them to sound fake. We always tell the actors 'never let them catch you acting' — but I think for a screenwriter, the best advice would be 'never let them catch you writing.' Speaking of things that sound fake…"
Anne is accosted on the street by a crazy-looking guy. He screams "THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING! THE GATES OF HELL HAVE OPENED UP!" It should not be possible to overact while uttering these lines, but the actor playing the crazy guy manages it. Finally Jerry shoos him off.
Days went by like this. Terror haunted our dreams at night, and during the day madmen walked the streets uttering visions of horror. By now it was clear that whatever was happening was affecting not only us, but millions of people throughout the world.
Then the deaths began. Some were suicides, others were people who stayed awake all night and fell asleep behind the wheel the next day. Riots broke out in every mental hospital.
The gang gathers at the Simmons house to discuss the recent outbreak of nightmares. Mr. Simmons' wife and son have had a new dream, in which a strange man appeared and tried to tell them something.
He had a long, black beard, and his robes were covered in strange symbols. He said "A-go… bah-rah-steece… Voce… ess…" something, success…"
I remember he said "A-go… soom… something…"
He said something about "sue-koo-roe…"
It sounds like this man was speaking Latin… "Ego Barrastis" would mean "I am Barrastis" — whoever that is.
I'll take your word for it.
And that's another thing. My wife and son don't know any Latin — how can they be having dreams in it and getting the language right?
That's a very good question.
"Wait," says Amanda. "What does this nightmare crap have to do with the ghost photos?"
"We're getting to that," says Scott.
The next shot is of the front of the White House. The President is played by someone who looks almost exactly like Mr. Scott — but Mr. Scott of 1985, not Mr. Scott of 1960. ("Yep, I cast my pop as the President." Scott Senior is on the bland side, but not as bad as you might expect.) The President is talking to Doctor von Herzog in the corridor. "We tried and we tried," says Scott, "but we couldn't make a backdrop with the right kind of curve for the Oval Office. So this president does most of his work in the hallway." And down the hallway they go, backed up by two Secret Service agents, one of whom must surely be the fattest agent in Secret Service history.
Mr. President… what I believe is happening here is a sort of… Pearl Harbor of the soul — an unprovoked attack upon the human psyche, launched with no warning of any kind.
An attack by whom? Or what?
I wish I knew.
But… I may know where to begin looking for answers. Dr. Gerald Heath and his Nightfilm… and the things seen therein. It's not much of a lead, but it's the best I have to offer.
There's something else, too. A number of people have come forward throughout the country — and elsewhere — saying that somebody named Barrastis is appearing in their dreams, speaking Latin. They say he says he's an ancestor of theirs, and that he can speak to his descendants. They say he says he can help.
At this point I'm ready to try anything.
"So how does the President know this doctor guy?" says Justin.
"I'm glad you asked," says Scott, "not because I have an answer but because it's the sort of question you need to ask when you're looking at a script. There was a scene where one of the President's aides introduces Von Herzog to him as 'one of the nation's foremost experts in theology and applied metaphysics' but it got cut. You sort of have to take it for granted that this is the President's go-to guy at times like this."
Before long, Jerry and Dwight have been summoned to the White House to confer with the President. Dwight has brought his wife and his Nightfilm motion-picture equipment, in case they come in handy. Again, they confer in the hallway.
The situation continues to deteriorate. Suicides, accidents… outbreaks of general madness… I don't know how much more we can take.
About this Barrastis… my historians tell me that there was a man of that name living in the Middle East in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Some sort of… evil sorcerer, apparently. They called him "Barrastis the Blasphemer." He dabbled in alchemy and conjuring. Claimed to be able to summon and command any spirit, djinn or angel… up to and including God and the Devil.
So they banished him from Egypt and he went east. Finally he ended up in Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. He was killed when Genghis Khan sacked the place.
I have to say, Mr. President… even assuming that a departed spirit is trying to talk to us — which is already a lot to assume for a scientist — I'd hesitate before I approached this particular spirit as a source of reliable information.
I agree. But until some other dead people start coming forward, it looks like we're stuck with him.
(hoisting motion-picture camera)
If we can call him and get him to come… with this camera we ought to be able to get a real-time image. Of course, we won't be able to hear what he's saying…
Then all we need is a lip-reader who knows Latin and we're set.
"Now here's where things get weird," says Justin.
"Where they get weird?" says Mr. Rosewood.
"What are they going to do?" says Amanda. "Hold a séance?"
"I thought you said you'd never seen this before," says Justin.
Amanda's jaw drops open. Sure enough, there they are, holding a séance right there in what we might be meant to think is the Oval Office. Once again, the scene is lit mainly by candles, and it's just as well. The President, von Herzog, the two Secret Service agents and Mr. and Mrs. Simmons are sitting on the floor amid a circle of candles, holding hands. There is just enough light to show that what they're sitting on is a cheap rug with a Stars and Stripes motif. Nearby, Jerry is working the camera, which is hooked up to a TV monitor on a desk under a heavy tarp (presumably to keep its light from washing out the Nightfilm). The lip-reading Latin interpreter sits at the desk, his head and upper body covered by the tarp.
"I apologize, Justin," says his father. "You were right. This is indeed where things get weird."
O Barrastis… we summon thee from beyond the veil, from across the river of death… thy granddaughter of many generations doth summon thee… come forth, o wise Barrastis, and give us thy aid and counsel as thou hast promised.
Amanda is the first one to start giggling. In a touch of realism, Mrs. Simmons says these lines as if she knows she's supposed to utter them exactly as they are written, but also knows how ridiculous they sound.
(looking into camera, moving lens side to side)
I see him!
He flips a switch. On the TV monitor, a flickering image of BARRASTIS appears. He has a long beard, a turban, and a caftan covered with alchemical symbols. His lips start to move.
I am Barrastis. I have come… to help you.
"Those are real alchemical symbols, by the way," says Scott. "I got them out of a book. Of course, if you actually can read lips you know he isn't really speaking Latin, he's reading aloud from some old poem or other."
"But why is he wearing a Sikh turban?" says Mr. Rosewood.
"Because I didn't read enough, that's why."
"Don't feel too bad. I saw a TV show once where Ricardo Montalban was playing a Sikh… clean-shaven, no less. Oh, and do you recognize the interpreter's voice?"
"It's the same voice as the alien car thing," says Justin.
Barrastis, where are the nightmares coming from? And speak slowly, so the interpreter can keep up.
There are spirits of darkness… that lurk in the shadows… and haunt the dreams of mortals… inspiring dread and terror on which they feed. They flee the dawn… to return at dusk. Your children sense their presence… in the dark corners and the hidden spaces… in the closet, under the bed… but they know not what they fear.
Once they ruled the night… supreme and unchallenged… held at bay only by the glow of bonfires. But man learned to turn his homes… and even his cities… into fortresses of light… first with candles and lamps… then with… strange vapors and lightning?
(quickly, speaking over the interpreter)
Gaslight and electricity.
And so, year by year, century by century… the empire of darkness was diminished.
Now, mankind has… unwittingly escalated the war.
(gestures at the camera)
This new… alchemy of images… reveals that which has hitherto been hidden from human eyes… piercing the very heart of the darkness… exposing the demons to the cold and deadly light… of reason and comprehension. This they cannot bear. The nightmares and madness… that now afflict the minds of so many… represent a desperate counterstrike by the forces of darkness.
Suppose we want to counterstrike their counterstrike. How do we get at them?
No mortal weapon… can harm a spirit. If you would give them battle… you must first bring them to… your own plane of existence.
How do we do that?
There is a spell… a circle of great power… which can compel any spirit to… take corporeal form and appear within it. By this means you may… transform the demons into physical beings. What harm your infernal machines of war… will do to their living bodies… you would know better than I.
If you are willing… I will teach you the invocation… and show you the circle. Yet beware! For the demons will always be drawn to human life… but once they become creatures of flesh and blood… it will no longer be your fear on which they feed.
At this point, Mr. Rosewood is laughing too.
"I'm sorry," he said. "This is the part where I always crack up. I mean, their plan to get rid of the Demons of Darksome Doom or whatever they are… is to shoot them?"
"To bring them onto the physical plane and then shoot them," says Scott, "and blow them up, of course… it seemed like such an ingenious idea, but somehow in the execution…"
"If you think this is funny," says Justin, "just wait."
Dr. Heath and the Simmonses have returned home. The President gives Barrastis's instructions to General Johnson, a gruff middle-aged man (played by Sam Rourke) who is understandably a little skeptical of all this.
Well, Mr. President, if these really are your orders I will obey them, of course… but I do have some questions.
All right, let's hear them.
First of all, if this guy Barrastis was so evil, what's he doing running around free like this, showing up in people's dreams? I mean… shouldn't he still be in hell? Did they let him out on parole or something?
The President looks to von Herzog.
I think if we knew the answer to that question, we would know a great deal more than we do now.
"Well, that's helpful," says Mr. Rosewood. "Are you sure you didn't mean this to be funny?"
My second question is, do we trust him?
I've called an old friend, Yitzhak Ben Meir, an expert in theurgy and the kabbalah. He'll be able to tell us if there's anything wrong with Barrastis's spell.
The next scene is out in the desert. Men in uniform — military surveyors and engineers, presumably — are drawing the lines of the circle in the sand, along with the arcane words and strange symbols around it. God only knows what they think of this work.
"Why does it look like a big puffy flower?" said Justin.
"That's what a pentagram looks like when you turn it inside out. One of our lighting guys happened to know some geometry."
"Why not just use a regular pentagram?" said Amanda. "It would've looked cooler."
"I had my reasons," says Scott, "and I wanted to get it right… not that it mattered in the end. By the way, this is one of the few scenes we shot outdoors."
At twilight, somewhere else in the desert, a rabbi is riding in a military Jeep. The driver remarks that he hasn't been sleeping too well lately, and then yawns tremendously, nods off at the wheel and crashes. The crash is staged very badly — the vehicle drifts aside from the moving backdrop, and we cut to… a static shot of an entirely different vehicle overturned in a ditch. At this point, Justin is laughing too.
"I'm sorry," says Scott. "I don't have any excuses to offer except that it was the last day of shooting, we were over budget already, and nobody had a Jeep they'd let me wreck. I hate continuity errors."
At night, the magic circle is lit by torches. General Johnson calls on his mortar and machine-gun crews. They confirm that their weapons are trained on the circle and ready to fire.
My personal opinion is, this is a big waste of time. But if anything does happen to appear in there, just make sure you blow it to hell and gone.
(turns to his AIDE)
Now where the Sam Hill is Ben the Mayor or whatever his name is?
Still no word.
Well, if we're going to finish this crazy show by midnight, we'll have to start without him. What's the first thing we do?
It says here "he who would challenge the demons must face them with bare chest, weapon in hand."
(unbuttoning his shirt)
The Army-Navy Club better never hear about this.
In a nearby bunker, a group of bewildered-looking soldiers are huddled over the microphone, reciting a nonsense chant that they are reading off a piece of paper in front of them. A loudspeaker in the middle of the circle carries their chant. As they chant, the general, his shirt and rifle in one hand and his clipboard in the other, proclaims in ringing tones:
Demons of dread and darkness, spirits of terror and the night, I challenge you!
Haunters of shadows, I challenge you!
Dealers in fear, I challenge you!
Come forth from the realm of nightmare!
The circle of power calls you!
Come forth to the world of flesh and blood!
Come forth and give battle!
The expression on his face proclaims "No, I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth either." It's hard to say whether this is General Johnson's reaction, or Sam Rourke's. It is at this point that Scott gives up and starts laughing.
"What was I thinking?" he says.
At the stroke of midnight, there is a rumble of thunder. And then…
Nothing happened, sir.
I can see that!
But something did happen.
(putting his shirt back on)
What happened was, we did all this stupid voodoo horse pucky for nothing! We made ourselves look like idiots out here! This… Barrastis… was nothing but a fraud and a con artist when he was alive and he hasn't gotten any better now that he's dead! He's probably somewhere laughing at us now.
EXT — THE DESERT — NIGHT
BARRASTIS appears on a mountaintop, in the flesh, very much alive. He spreads out his arms, looks up at the sky and laughs evilly.
But not half as hard as the Rosewoods — and, at this point, Scott. "So the spell let Barrastis through too?" says Justin. "Stupid spell."
Yitzhak Ben Meir finally arrives, looks at the circle and shakes his head mournfully. (When he finally speaks, he turns out to have no trace of any kind of accent. Scott says that Larry Spezio, who plays the rabbi, couldn't do accents and didn't try, which puts him ahead of the clown who played Dr. Eckelberg.)
We followed these crazy instructions to the letter!
I can see that you did, but I'm afraid you were lied to. The circle is perfect, but inverted… with mathematical precision.
What does that mean?
I am afraid, General, that what it means is that if this circle were used to summon demons… the inside of it would be the only place on Earth that they could not appear.
You mean they could be anywhere?
Anywhere it's midnight or later.
The movie cuts to the Simmons place. Mrs. Simmons is talking to Junior in his bedroom.
Listen very carefully, Junior. I'm going to tell you one more time.
There are… no… monsters. No monsters under your bed, no monsters in your closet… (sniffing the air) Did somebody let a wet dog in he-AIEEEEEEEE!
Sure enough, something under the bed has just grabbed her ankle and is pulling her in. Junior starts screaming along with her. Mr. Simmons bursts into the room, grabs his wife's hand and pulls her out from under the bed. "I went to all the trouble of filming the scene where he crashes around the house in the dark," says Scott, "and the studio cut it. They said you couldn't see anything."
Anyway, Mrs. Simmons is unharmed, except for one lousy bite mark on her calf. Her husband pokes at whatever is underneath the bed with a baseball bat, but then says it has disappeared. ("I think it was the bit about the wet dog that killed the horror," says Mr. Rosewood.) Then they start hearing noises coming from the closet. "We have to get out of here," says Mr. Simmons.
"Why?" says Amanda.
"Now pay attention," says Scott. "Here's where it all goes completely over the edge."
Dr. Heath is asleep. To the sound of very dramatic music, something crawls out from under his bed.
Justin and his father laugh harder. "No matter how many times I see it I always crack up," says Justin.
"What… the…" says Amanda.
"I can explain everything," says Scott.
Is it… a badly groomed Ewok? A baby Bigfoot? A cross between a teddy bear and Cousin It? It looks like… actually, it looks and moves exactly like a toddler wearing a body suit covered with lank, matted horsehair. The small figure's head is covered with what is probably black pantyhose, with a fringe of more horsehair around the back. This terrifying monster clambers up onto the bed.
"That's your monster?" says Amanda. "A midget in a balding gorilla suit?"
"Nope," says Scott. "Midgets are expensive. Couldn't afford 'em. We had to use preschoolers. In fact, that's Mr. Almond's son right there." At this moment, our hero is trying to fight off the little goblin with pillows and blanket. Not even the loud, dramatic musical score can make this look serious.
Dr. Heath escapes the monster by turning on his bedroom light. (Even in physical form, these things are still afraid of the light.) Out in the hall, he finds a skeleton with a wig in curlers. "Mrs. Collins! No!" he says.
"What… were… you… thinking?!?" says Amanda, barely able to speak through her laughter.
"You weren't supposed to be able to see them!" says Scott. "They were just supposed to be these matted, filthy things lurking in the shadows that nobody ever got a good look at! I heightened the contrast in these last scenes, clipped out every frame where the monsters were too clear…"
"Yeah, the first time I saw this I thought if you couldn't see the monsters, this might actually be scary," says Justin.
"So you've said," says Scott. "Of course, all this was shot day-for-night because the little kids were scared of the dark…"
"So what happened?"
"Goddamn Discernment Studios. They looked at it and said 'Wait a minute! There's been a mistake! We can't see the monsters!' Also, the parents of those little kids wanted to be able to see them on the screen, even though you couldn't tell them apart. So the studio sent somebody in to do another print from the negatives, and this time make sure there was enough light and low enough contrast that the monsters could be seen. Idiots."
"I've got to find Anne!" says Dr. Heath. He grabs the phone.
Once again, we see Anne coming out of her darkroom — in terror this time.
Oh my God what's wrong?
There's something in there. I was working and… something just appeared in there with me.
You just had a nightmare.
I was wide awake!
Nobody should be working this late.
(showing a bite mark on her arm)
The "nightmare" bit me!
The phone rings. Anne picks it up.
Anne! Listen to me! Something terrible is happening!
You've got to get out of there! I'll come pick you up!
"Why is she working this late, anyway?" says Mr. Rosewood. "She's not still making the formula, is she? I thought it was being cranked out in factories now."
"Maybe she's trying to improve it," said Scott. "Or maybe I could only show her at work because giving her a living space of her own would've meant one more set to build."
"Do they have any place to go?" says Amanda. "Why not just find some room with good lighting and stay there till morning?"
"Because that would be boring!" says Scott. Anne and Melissa flee the building.
"This next scene is based on a nightmare I had once," says Scott. "I wasn't really there — I was sort of a disembodied presence. Anyway, there was a woman being chased through a parking lot at night by some kind of monster — I didn't get a good look at it. I knew she was blind, and at any moment she could run full tilt into a car or a lamppost. So I started shouting instructions to her, trying to get her out of there alive."
"That would make a cool video game," says Justin.
They make it to the door, but Jerry has arrived at the far end of the parking lot, and there is only one flickering streetlight in the lot. The lot is shot, at most, day-for-twilight, and the little monsters are out in force (milling around more or less at random). "I'll go up on the roof and use the floodlight," says Melissa. "When I give the word, start running."
"So now they've got a floodlight on the roof?" says Mr. Rosewood. "What… what purpose…" He can't even get the words out. Laughter is taking over again.
Melissa trains the spotlight on Anne, and she runs. Monsters stalk her, but jump back from the beam of the spotlight. "Left! Right! Straight ahead!" shouts Melissa.
"No, your other left!" says Justin.
Are you all right up there?
Melissa turns around, sees a row of monsters standing behind her. A look of despair and determination comes over her face as she realizes she is doomed.
Don't worry about me — just keep running!
"That look on her face…" Scott struggles to talk through his laughter, "that was supposed to be… despair and determination."
"Looked more like despair and constipation!" hoots Justin. "And was one of the monsters trying to pick its nose?"
Melissa falls to the ground for no apparent reason, and is quickly dogpiled by crawling, hairy goblins.
"Mmm!" says Justin. "Good eatin'."
"Why did they even bother going after the blind blonde?" says Amanda.
"Lower cholesterol!" says Mr. Rosewood. Scott is laughing too hard to speak.
Anne finds Jerry's car. ("Why didn't you just pull up in front of the door, dummy?" says Justin, falsetto.) As they drive off, Jerry says, "Let's find out what's happening out there," and turns on the radio to hear… somebody, possibly the announcer, shrieking.
This proves to be the last straw. All four viewers collapse where they stand or sit, guffawing helplessly. Showing foresight, Justin stops the tape long enough that they have a chance to get their focus back. Tears stream from their eyes.
Just as they're about ready to start watching again, they notice that Scott is slumped on the sofa, apparently unconscious.
"Uh… Mr. Scott?" Justin tugs on his sleeve, but nothing happens.
"Should we call 911?" says Amanda.
"Wait," says Mr. Rosewood. "Justin — do you know how to check his pulse?"
"Sure," says Justin. He leans awkwardly over the old man.
"He's got a pulse… he's breathing…"
"Okay, then," says his father. "I saw a man have a stroke once — this doesn't quite look like that… Let's just wait a minute and see what happens."
After less than a minute, Mr. Scott opens his eyes.
"I hope you're not planning to take up smoking, Justin," he says. "It does terrible things to your lung capacity." He sits up.
"I was laughing so hard I fainted," he says. "They say that happened a lot to people who saw this."
"Well, you scared the hell out of us," says Mr. Rosewood.
"Now you really have to tell us what you were thinking," says Amanda.
"That was the other nightmare I'd had," says Scott. "I dreamed that I woke up one morning and turned on the radio and all I could hear was screaming, no matter what station I turned to… and I knew it was the end of the world. It seemed a lot scarier at the time."
After that, the rest of the movie seems a little anticlimactic. In the middle of whatever town this is, barricades have been formed in the town square, with klieg lights behind them. Just as Jerry has delivered Anne to safety behind the barricades, he turns and sees Barrastis coming. They get into a fist fight. ("A hero scientist meets an evil wizard and they start boxing?" says Amanda.) Mr. Heath punches out Barrastis, who falls back into the darkness where the goblins swarm upon him.
And so the world ended, and the war began. We rule the day, but struggle to survive every night. They emerge from every dark corner, still hungering for our flesh. We fight them from our fortresses of light… and wait for the dawn to come.
"Well, as '50s horror movies go," says Mr. Rosewood, "that was a fairly original piece of work."
"I set out to make movie history," says Scott, "and damned if I didn't. There's Plan 9 from Outer Space, the movie that earned Ed Wood the title of 'Worst Director of All Time.' There's Manos — the Hands of Fate, which was so bad the cast and crew snuck out the back of the theater in shame… during the premiere. There's Heaven's Gate, the movie that wrecked United Artists. There's The Day the Clown Cried, which hardly anybody's ever even seen because the few copies of it are kept locked up in vaults like the last samples of smallpox. And… there's this.
"The lesson is, inside every horror movie there's a comedy waiting to get out. Whether you let it out or not is… mostly… up to you." He lets out a long breath.
"I was always one of those people who had a hard time taking a joke… at least if it was at my own expense. If I'd meant it to be tongue-in-cheek, it would have been one thing…"
"It probably wouldn't have been half as funny," says Mr. Rosewood.
"I know. I could handle setbacks, I could handle being ignored, but… making a fool of myself in front of the whole world… that was just too much." He turns to Justin.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I oughta be an inspiration to you. An example of what can happen if you keep trying and never let go of your dreams. Instead I'm a… cautionary tale."
"It's okay," says Justin.
Scott sighs again.
"Twenty-five years," he says. "In 25 years I never laughed at this movie. Not once. The few times I watched it all I could see was what it could have been, what I meant it to be…"
"Even without the damage the studio did," says Mr. Rosewood, "there was a good deal of ridiculousness that was… well…"
"My fault!" says Scott. "My fault! All my fault! Everything!" Scott took a deep sigh, leaned back on the sofa and smiled, like someone who had just set down a heavy backpack after a long, long hike.
"And damn, it feels good to admit that!"