One day I’m going to forget to keep cross-posting these happy little rants to this blog, and then you’ll have to go and find them on Twitter.
But not today.
One day I’m going to forget to keep cross-posting these happy little rants to this blog, and then you’ll have to go and find them on Twitter.
But not today.
This world has too much negativity, and it’s getting to me.
I’ve decided to record occasional videos about movies that I love, particularly movies that might sometimes be neglected or glossed over.
Here’s one such video about CHUD 2: Bud the CHUD, a movie I’ve greatly enjoyed over the years.
Let’s face it, I’ll probably forget to post most of these videos to this blog (this poor blog has been somewhat neglected over the last decade or so), but follow me on Twitter if you like this one because I’ll probably do some more.
In between shooting Powertool Cheerleaders vs the Boyband of the Screeching Dead and writing my mystery project, that is.
Hope you’re doing well.
When Paranormal Activity came out, a lot of people were absolutely terrified by it. The flick’s reputation nowadays isn’t really up amongst the horror greats, and I think an awful lot of the reason for this can be put down to the conditions under which we experience horror movies.
Here’s the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of short rants about filmmaking, screenwriting and whatever else is on my mind. Hope you enjoy it, and don’t forget to subscribe.
With the movie IT smashing box office records for an R rated release all over the place, there are a number of think-pieces floating around on the Internet suggesting that IT is not really a horror movie after all.
The emergence of Jordan Peele’s frankly brilliant Get Out earlier this year also showed signs of this phenomenon, with some critics falling over themselves to suggest that this was somehow more than “just” a horror movie. A Guardian article tried to float the tag of ‘post-horror’.
This seems to happen with monotonous regularity, whenever smart horror films with good characterisation cross over to a new audience who don’t consider themselves to be the “type” of audience who routinely watch horror movies. It’s a subject quite close to my heart, as I have worked in horror all of my professional life and am heavily involved in the launch of an exciting new company called Sun Rocket Films which also deals largely with genre releases.
Horror is poised to have its very best year ever at the box office (and was even beforeIT came along and ripped through even the most optimistic expectations of box office returns with a taloned clown-hand), so I expect this particular drum to be drummed again and again, as people who don’t like horror wriggle and squirm to avoid facing up to a cold, hard truth.
Yes, they do. They do like horror. They might not like the label, but they like the contents.
My next movie is KILLER APPS, which will be shooting through Sun Rocket next year. It’s another horror, certainly, but throughout the scripting process I’ve taken a great deal of care with the characters and I’m hoping that my dark little story of Kayla Frost and her cellphone addiction will be able to stir emotions in the audience other than just fear. I love my characters on the page, and try as hard as I can to make sure that those characters survive the sometimes bumpy journey from page to screen.
I’m proud of my genre.
When horror is done well, it can change the way people think and feel in a way that few other genres can. It can prompt empathy where none previously existed, and point out injustices in a way more visceral and involving than any number of well meaning but funereally-paced dramas.
And even when it doesn’t do these things, that’s fine too. Sometimes, just fear is just fine. Even when the genre doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out or IT, a glimpse into a fictional inky darkness can make us truly appreciate the sunshine in the lives we have.
FOOTNOTE: Horror represents fantastic opportunities in terms of ROI and tax incentives for investors. Sun Rocket Films are holding a presentation in Southend-on-Sea on September 27th for those interested in film production, business professionals or those looking for tax-efficient investments. Places can be reserved via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-as-investment-tickets-37731400635
For more information about Sun Rocket Films, please visit sunrocketfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @sunrocketfilms
I got thinking about horror aimed at kids over the last week or so, partly due to a discussion I was having of Facebook regarding the original rating of Poltergeist. It prompted me to write this article for Huffington Post, which recycles a paragraph from a blog post I wrote for this site a couple of years back but is otherwise new stuff.
The first draft of the blog post also had a bit about Joe Dante’s The Hole, which is another fascinating kid-orientated horror; very much a descendent of The Gate which, shit, I really would have written about too if I’d thought of it.
Basically, the piece would have ended up book length given half a chance. Go check it out.
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s pretty much only one reason that my shot-on-miniDV first feature ended up getting decent commercial distribution (which, in turn, led to me being considered a ‘proper’ filmmaker albeit one on a very, very low rung of the ladder).
I climbed an obstacle.
Cutting footage on a home PC was tough at the beginning of the century. It wasn’t something that the average home PC could do straight out of the box; it required a souped-up kit, capture cards and software that certainly wasn’t standard issue. It cost money, time and patience.
I cut Trashhouse on a home PC with a 20GB hard drive, (which at the time was a ridiculously huge amount of storage space and cost me a whole load of money). The flick is completely a product of its production context; the average film student watching the movie now would be dumbstruck at how amateurish certain elements of it look. From a technical point of view it’s all over the place; the grade is inconsistent, the compositing is shocking and there are CGI elements that look laughably poor in 2013 (and didn’t exactly look brilliant by 2004). It doesn’t look like the commercially released indies of 2013, which are within spitting distance of Hollywood in terms of visual qualities and technical expertise. But, in 2004, it didn’t really have to. The fact that it existed at all was enough to at least get a few potential distributors to watch it; there were only a tiny number of indie features getting produced in the UK each year.
There are some good things about TrashHouse, which ultimately meant that I got the chance to keep making films. These good things are the stuff aside from the technical stuff. It’s got a pretty decent script and some interesting ideas in it. If people go to it looking for a mainstream horror flick with high production values they’ll be bitterly disappointed, but if they go to it looking for a lo-fi oddity they’ll hopefully still find stuff to enjoy.
It’s a product of the obstacles I had to climb to get it made, and it only found its way onto the shelves of major stores because I had to climb those obstacles.
At the risk of sounding all “Eeh, in my day it were all fields around here”, which is never a good look, (especially when the day you’re talking about was only about a decade ago), I think what the new generation of filmmakers need more than anything else is some obstacles. Otherwise every brave new voice is competing with EVERYONE who can pick up a camera and produce something that looks perfectly great without really putting in any particular effort. The democratisation of film production comes at a price; if you give everyone a voice, you fast discover that an awful lot of people have got fuck all to say but they keep shouting anyway. The voices that would otherwise have immediately stood out get swept away on the tide of mediocrity. Bark bark bark.
At the time that clerks hit, Kevin Smith was an original voice. The reason that people heard him was because (can you guess?) his movie had to climb huge obstacles to get made. Shooting a movie wasn’t something that guys who worked in convenience stores could easily do, and Smith’s determination just to get the bastard made meant that at least a couple of people watched his flick out of curiosity. The fact that it existed meant that at least a few sets of eyes would be interested in watching it. As it happened, that was enough to set the ball in motion and make sure that the original voice got heard.
Nowadays, there are a hell of a lot of guys who work in convenience stores who are making movies. Some of those movies look close to professional. Very few of them are an original voice waiting to be heard, and my worry is that the ones that are have no way whatsoever of standing out. The average member of the public isn’t just going to keep watching no-budget movies looking for a diamond in the rough; they’ll decide they don’t like ‘them’ as if ‘they’ were a homogenous mass and go straight back to watching Hollywood product. There is nothing inherently interesting about making a 90 minute movie for no money, because it’s literally something that an eight year-old can do.
In the past, there were potential gems that never got made.
Now, they’re getting made and nobody’s actually watching them.
In a way, I think that’s worse.
PS. Despite all this, I still encourage people to go out and shoot movies. Go figure. My hour-long live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws is full of advice about how and why to do it. It’s a bit NSFW (gore, nudity and naughty words) and is embedded below.
I’m reeling a little.
This morning, I was lecturing about screenwriting in general (and pleasing your audience in particular) and I mentioned the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors. I spoke about that notorious test screening where the “Would you recommend to a friend?” cards allegedly came back with only 13% of affirmatives, dictating that the original “Everybody Dies” ending got the chop and a new, cheerier ending was added to the flick. I spoke about the pros and cons of tailoring your product to the whims of your audience. I spoke about whether a black comedy needs to end like a black comedy, or whether it can give the audience a happy ending without compromising its moral integrity.
I spoke about all of these things with mixed feelings, because I’m a massive Little Shop of Horrors fan who is also a deleted scenes obsessive and yet my feelings about that original ending are decidedly muddled.
Frank Oz has spoken quite eloquently about the problem with the original ending, in terms of the way that theatre and film pack very different kinds of punches. The power of the close-up, man; we see Audrey’s eyes welling up as she pictures Somewhere That’s Green and, Goddammit, we want that character to get her happy ending. Audrey and Seymour dying in the version that has now been released as the Director’s Cut is still a serious bummer, and following it up with what feels like *endless* footage of the planet getting destroyed means that the ending feels drawn-out and kind of mean spirited. What plays as an upbeat black joke in the theatre feels downbeat when stretched out so far. Having been delighted to get hold of this ‘Director’s Cut’ initially, I’ve now watched it a bunch of times (sometimes with groups of students) and the chill that apparently fell upon that Orange County test screening nearly three decades back still falls across people watching it for the first time. I don’t think it’s the content, I think it’s the execution; I’d reached the conclusion that after the novelty of the bleak ending wears off I’ll probably end up going back to the theatrical. That, for all its tonal inconsistency, the upbeat ending somehow still works better.
After the lecture, something weird happened. I googled the test screening to check I’d got a couple of my facts right and chanced upon the LSOH Wikipedia page. In amongst all the things I already knew, there was a mention of the ‘lost’ full version of Meek Shall Inherit.
Ok, here’s where my deleted scenes obsession kicks in. I was not only aware of the full version, (which even Frank Oz seemed to have forgotten about, judging by a couple of comments he made a few years back), but I had a handful of stills that were in this book. Also on my hit-list as far as deleted scenes went was an alternate version of the feeding sequence involving Orin’s severed head, which I’d seen a still from in Cinefex magazine back in ’86 and I’d always wondered how it would play tonally. Neither of these scenes were in the deleted scenes compilation on the Blu Ray, and I’d become convinced I’d never seen them.
Then I noticed a recent amendment to the Wikipedia page, which said that the Meek Shall Inherit full version (including a dream sequence where Seymour turns into a plant) had appeared online. Less than a minute later I found it (thanks to the miracles of Google). I’d barely recovered from watching it when I clicked the text beneath the clip and found links through to two more videos of deleted scenes from a mysterious workprint.
To me, these were the holy grail. We had the plant-dream, we had the severed head feeding.
Amazingly, we had a much shorter version of the ‘Everybody Dies’ ending, as it screened at that ill-fated showing.
Jesus Christ. I watched them all, back to back, *directly* after watching the Director’s Cut (and then the theatrical ending on its own for good measure) so I had the nuances of the released versions pretty locked down in my mind.
See, there’s an incredible lesson for editors lying in the rubble of this wonderful treasure-trove of deleted scenes. I love the theatrical. I’m fascinated with the director’s cut, but it comes off disjointed and mean-spirited in the way everything is so drawn out.
Yet here, in this unseen version that’s more violent than the DC, we can learn the power of tiny changes in the edit. When Seymour feeds the baby-bird-in-a-tin version of Audrey II for the first time, the workprint edit choices stress something that both the Theatrical and the DC shy away from; blood.
We see a horrible shot of the blood gathering at the end of Seymour’s finger as he squeezes and squeezes, which is kind of yuck.
We see blood splashing over the plant’s adorable baby-bird ‘face’, and it’s a pretty horrible juxtaposition.
Prior to the feeding, we see Seymour laying out all that newspaper to soak up the gore. During the feeding itself, as previously mentioned, we see him feed the head to the plant, like a grim punchline to the sequence before we zoom into the plant’s maw to hear the laughter.
By not shying away from these tiny but unpleasant details, the workprint footage could *only* be leading towards the grim ending. And then, wonderfully, when the grim ending turns up at the end of the compilation it plays like a goddamn dream. Where it was long, drawn out, cumbersome and repetitive on the ‘Director’s Cut’, here it plays like a big bang of giddy, over-the-top monster movie. It’s short enough to pack a wallop, and the ‘punch’ images are actually synched with the ‘punch’ bits of the song. It’s bloody great.
Suddenly, in these few minutes of grainy footage, I can see my favourite version of Little Shop of Horrors. One that works tonally right the way through, going blacker than either of the others but never feeling mean about it. It’s a goddamn morality play, after all.
The last bits of my personal Little Shop of Horrors jigsaw fell into place today, and I love the movie even more than ever. Seems a shame to have to lobby for a new Blu Ray a mere three months after the last one came out, but sod it.
The queue starts here.
PS. I talk a bit about screenwriting and editing in my hour-long show about horror filmmaking, which is embedded for free below. If you regularly read this blog, you’ll already know that and will be rolling your eyes at me embedding it again. If you’re not a regular reader, I hope you check it out. Please note that it has some gore, nudity and swearing and isn’t safe for work. Unless you work somewhere that really digs gore, nudity and swearing, of course.
Gremlins came out when I was 10.
My parents were Daily M*il readers (it’s okay, they’ve stopped now. They probably got sick of me complaining endlessly about it from the age of about 15 onwards) and so the first time I ever heard about the flick was from a manufactured moral outrage piece in the summer of ’84, full of details based entirely on a very bloody early draft (which you can find on the ‘net if you look around enough) and bearing little relationship to the finished film.
It sounded horrible. The M*il editorial rolled out a list of atrocities (including Mum’s head getting cut off and the dog getting killed) which I couldn’t reconcile with the fluffy picture of Gizmo sitting beside the article. The easily horrified 10 year-old me contented himself with being a bit horrified, and then forgot all about it.
Autumn rolled around, and something odd started happening. Merchandise for the movie began turning up in the shops, and didn’t seem to fit the content that I’d read about in the ‘newspaper’ over the summer. The toys were clearly pitched at my age-group. I thought they looked interesting and fun, but the bleak horrors detailed in that first Daily Mail article also gave them a whiff of darkness, of forbidden fruit. I thought, in other words, that they looked awesome.
Various tie-in books appeared on the shelves at the same time, and I read all of them. From the ‘storybook’ aimed at 8 year-olds through to the George Gipe novelisation clearly pitched at adults, I picked up each one and read every word. I bought every gum card. I knew absolutely everything about Gremlins, every plot twist and every special effects technique, by the time it got slapped with a 15 certificate by the BBFC. Fascinatingly, they have recently released the documents leading up to this decision at this link here.
I taped Film ’84 the night that Barry Norman reviewed the film, and the two short clips that he screened that night were my only window into the movie for the best part of a year. I watched those clips again and again (“Come on Barney, be a good dog”) until the tape was stretched and warbling, but couldn’t see any more as the BBFC had decided that it needed to be kept from me.
It was nearly a year before Gremlins was released on VHS, as was the custom in those days. By the time I finally got to see it, I had reached the dizzying age of 11. A mere few months later, my parents bought me an ex-rental VHS of the movie for my 12th birthday, on the basis that I’d been renting it nearly every weekend and the steep tag of £55 for the ex-rental tape would actually work out cheaper in the long run.
It is, of course, the movie that defines me more than any other. You seen my chapter of Nazi Zombie Death Tales? Well, yeah, the Gremlins influences run deep in that one. The mix of horror and comedy is a constant in everything that I do.
The BBFC downgraded Gremlins to a 12a last month, meaning that if it were released at the cinema today a 10 year-old could see it accompanied by a parent. 29 years after the flick hit the cinemas, of course, I have a different perspective on it. I’m a parent myself, and I can easily imagine the shitstorm that would have hit the BBFC if they’d graded it PG in ’84 (the only other option realistically available, as it was still 5 years before even the mandatory 12 would be introduced). It’s not just the violence, needless to say, but some of the other wonderfully dark shit too; I wouldn’t want to be the parent who had to comfort a crying 6 year-old after discovering the truth about Santa via the less-than-comforting medium of Kate’s gloriously horrible speech.
Regardless, I’m certainly glad I got to see the flick at 11. If I’d been kept away from it until actually turning 15, I think the impact would have been slightly dulled. There are certain flicks that you need to see at certain ages for maximum impact. In fact, I was discussing this on Twitter the other day with Danbo12, who asked whether Poltergeist would live up to his expectations (he’d never seen it). I was about to answer an enthusiastic ‘yes’ when I paused; all of my experiences of Poltergeist are filtered through having first seen it in my early teens. Poltergeist taps into the fears of a child rather beautifully; it sums up the fears of the thing under the bed or the scary shadow outside the window better than any other flick I can think of. Approaching it for the very first time as an adult, having left those kind of fears behind and moved onto more tangible concerns, I suspect that it might underwhelm.
The same thing works in reverse for The Exorcist. I know that the last time it was re-released at cinemas, there were certainly a considerable number of teens and yound adults guffawing at the screen and generally screwing up the experience for everyone. It would be tempting to write this off as whistling past the graveyard; as the behaviour of young people very enthusiastically showing off how scared they weren’t in order to look tough. There’s probably a bit of that, true, but I think there’s something else too. For a teenager, The Exorcist simply isn’t a particularly scary movie. The horrors of the movie are pitched squarely at the fears of the parent not the child, and as those under 25 are notoriously bad at empathy (for various interesting biological and evolutionary reasons that I won’t go into here) they’re likely to come out of it pretty unscathed. Show the flick to a 40 year old with a kid approaching puberty, however, and I think you’d fairly quickly kill the idea that the flick has lost all its power over the years.
It’s all interesting stuff. The film we’ll be shooting later in the year, Evil Apps, has two 19 year-old protagonists. It’s a film about technology, social networking and the way we communicate. Having leads much out of their teens would have made no sense whatsoever. You can see me talking about Evil Apps towards the end of the live show embedded below.
I have worried about it, though. If I bring the sensibilities of the things that scare me now and apply it to a film with two teen leads, am I going to be able to make those things translate? Teenagers and 20-somethings are generally a hell of a lot less concerned about where the social networking yellow brick road is leading us than those who grew up in a pre-internet age are, so am failing to target the concerns my own target audience? Will the young leads put off the audience with whom the concerns of the script might otherwise resonate?
I hope not. I hope that the script will tap a common sense of unease for both age groups, and even if it doesn’t there’s a beauty of an exploding head in it.
Right, I’m off to complete my collection of Gremlins bubblegum cards. Tooth decay has no age limit.
There’s a video on YouTube that I don’t want you to watch. You probably haven’t seen it. It’s one of the truly great moments in horror cinema, and I don’t want you to go and check it out under any circumstances. In fact, I’ll be genuinely pissed if any of you do go and check it out as a result of reading this blog. Don’t do it, kids.
In fact, sod it, I’m going to call it ‘Scene X’ and won’t even tell you which movie it’s from. Because if you watch it on YouTube, you won’t actually see it in any meaningful sense.
Scene X has got a whole load of heartbreakingly crass and badly written comments underneath it. “This is supposed to be scary? ROFL”, “its not even scary”, “I thought ti was hilarious” and so on, the dull echo chamber of fuckwittery reverberating through the bowels of the internet. The sound of the barely literate congratulating themselves on their lack of engagement with a thirty-year old clip removed from any sense of context.
The reason that Scene X is one of the greatest scenes in horror history isn’t the scene itself, it’s because of all the rest of the movie around it that isn’t Scene X. An ear-splitting gunshot in the middle of a Terminator movie might not even be noticed, whereas an ear-splitting gunshot in the middle of a film of a child playing would have a very different effect indeed. It’s all context, and if you rob a powerful scene of that you reduce it to meaningless pixels on a screen and then wonder why it doesn’t engage you.
So, no, I’m not going to tell you what Scene X is. Irritatingly, even knowing that there’s a brilliant scare-shot on the way will massively dilute your experience of the movie. The movie which is almost impossible to get hold of regardless.
So now you’ll probably never see it at all. Because I’ve painted myself into a corner, where telling you the title would be a meta-spoiler.
My name’s Pat Higgins, and my conscience is clear.
PS. Since writing this blog, a remake of the film that contains Scene X has come out and been a big hit. I’ve also performed and recorded a new live show about horror filmmaking, which is embedded below for your viewing pleasure. It may not have Scene X in it, but it has got a certain amount of gore, nudity and naughty words and is thus NSFW. Hope you enjoy it; if so, don’t forget to tell me about it on Twitter.
I think it’s fair to say that it all started with 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
My Mum took me to see a cinematic re-release of the 1954 Richard Fleischer version back in the Seventies. Common sense tells me it must have been around 1978, when I was four, but the official date for the re-release was apparently 1976, which would place me at the tender age of two. Either way, I’d seen the ads on the TV and had badgered my already long-suffering mother into taking me. My poor old Mum still had untold delights of genre cinema awaiting her over the next few years, until I reached such an age as I could be safely abandoned in the cinema on my own. The arrival of this date may have ultimately been somewhat hastened by her sense of parental responsibility failing to outweigh her desire not to sit through Krull for a fourth time.
My four/two year-old self had been looking forward to 20,000 Leagues for one reason alone, and that reason had tentacles and a snapping yellow beak. The TV ads for the re-release had focused on the squid fight scene to such an extent that I genuinely think I expected Giant Squid: The Movie rather than the well-meaning Jules Verse adaptation that unrolled before me. Result: I fidgeted. A lot. I suspect that I may have engaged in thoughtful discussion regarding the narrative with my mum; discussion along the lines of ‘Will the squid be on soon?’ every couple of minutes throughout the lion’s share of the running time.
But when those tentacles finally crept onto the screen, I fell silent. How could I not? I was absolutely and utterly transfixed. The bastard was glorious. I left feeling that I’d seen the single greatest sequence ever filmed, and the tiny seeds of cheerful, fanboy obsession were scattered onto the fertile soil of my pre-school mind. Without seeing that squid attack, who knows? Maybe today I’d be the kind of guy who feels more comfortable with a rugby ball in his hand than a box of popcorn. Maybe I’d have never fallen in love with film. Of course, this being in the days before VHS, it was years before I got to see the sequence again. So, in the meantime, I hunted for memorabilia and photos. But, more than that, I hunted for more movies with enormous rubber cephalopods.
Pickings were pretty slim. A few years later, I fell instantly in love with Warlords of Atlantis and was more than willing to overlook its flaws on the basis of the wonderful stop-motion octopus. I tried, but failed, to find somewhere showing Tentacoli after hearing it luridly described by my uncle, but was delighted when that same uncle (genre writer Tim Stout, who had a novel and a couple of anthologies of short stories published in the seventies and early eighties) pointed me in the direction of It Came From Beneath The Sea on ITV one Sunday lunchtime.
The years passed, and the arrival of VHS meant that I was suddenly able to compile my favourite mollusc moments on one dog-eared tape. I’d sit with play and record set to pause, waiting for the brief arrival of an octopus or squid in countless movies, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, where I felt that such an appearance would be inevitable. My interests broadened and my tastes became more varied, but the root of why I grew to love cinema in the first place always remained.
I was eleven years old when pre-publicity started turning up for the big Spielberg-produced Christmas movie that year, The Goonies. By this point, I was devouring any information about film that I could lay my hands on. I used to obsessively collect bubblegum cards just to catch glimpses of scenes that hadn’t yet seen the light of a projector bulb. I used to read novelisations that were released before the movie’s launch.
And that was where I found it.
First page of the novelisation of The Goonies. On the inside leaf; a teaser bit of text from later in the novel, designed to whet your appetite. A description of an octopus attacking the kids, in a flooded cavern with a pirate ship floating sedately in the background.
For those couple of weeks, pocket money went exclusively on Goonies bubblegum cards. Early on in my quest, I picked up an index card. I noticed that cards 43 and 44 were listed Tentacles of Death! and The Rockin’ Octopus! respectively. Those were my Grail. I tore packets and chewed neon pink bubblegum until my teeth were falling like rain. Eventually, I got both cards. Tentacles of Death! was actually a split image, meaning there were two pictures on one card. Two smaller pictures, in other words. I squinted and squinted. I even used a magnifying glass. My appetite was most definitely whetted. The Rockin’ Octopus! showed the beast in all its glory, and took my breath away when I opened the packet. I bought the soundtrack album and grooved to the absolutely dreadful sounds of Eight Arms to Hold You by the Goon Squad, the song that I knew would ultimately score the scene.
I can still remember how I felt, queuing to see the movie a couple of weeks later. When it finally hit the screen, I knew virtually every line in advance from all my background reading. My impatience to get to the octopus stopped me from enjoying it fully. Twenty minutes from the end, the kids splashed down into the cavern with the pirate ship. I knew that, at any moment, Stef would start accusing Mouth of groping her underwater, not realising that it was a tentacle brushing past her leg.
Except she didn’t. The kids got on board the pirate ship without incident.
I did a double-take. I simply didn’t understand. I watched the rest of the film in a sort of daze, wondering where my octopus had gone. In the final scene on the beach, when a policeman asked the kids about their adventure, Data piped up;
“The giant octopus was pretty bad. Very scary”
It was everything I could do to stop myself crying.
I went to see the film again the following week at a different cinema, hoping that somehow there’d been a mix-up at the initial screening and that a reel had been missed. When it finally became apparent that all prints were mollusc-free, I wrote to Warner Brothers demanding the scene be reinstated. Or for them to send me a copy, whichever was easier. They didn’t reply. I collected any magazines that might be able to explain the situation, even spending the majority of a week’s pocket money on an imported issue of Cinefex which featured a couple of photos from the scene and, at last, a vague explanation of why it was removed. The word ‘unrealistic’ was cruelly bandied around.
It was another thirteen long years before I finally got to see the octopus scene in any form. During that time I considered various way-out plans to get to see the footage, including applying for a job at Burman Studios (who made the octopus) and asking for a copy of their showreel. I dreamt about the scene more times than I care to think about.
Then, one day in the late nineties, a grainy video clip turned up on a Goonies fan site. It had been video-captured from a US screening on The Disney Channel which reincorporated the scene. I sat and watch it a couple of dozen times, not really able to process the experience or even tell whether I was enjoying it or not. It was a further two years before I got to see it on a decent size screen, (on the final, nowadays inevitable, special edition DVD release), and probably another three for me to come to terms with the truth.
The truth about the octopus scene is very simple and straightforward. It’s crap. It doesn’t work. It’s badly executed, has no logical place in the movie and no pay-off. The flick works better without it.
But that’s a 36-year old screenwriter writing those words, and every time I even think about the subject the 11-year old that I used to be starts crying. And I can’t live with that.
So, the campaign for a director’s cut starts here.
And you can stick the rubber Suicide Squid back into Red Dwarf whilst you’re at it.