Thursday, November 18, 2010

The birth of RAZOR DAYS - a fairy story about survival horror.

Back in 2002, while working at Incredibly Strange Video in Dormont, I happened to have on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As it ended, I thought to myself, “Marilyn Burns’s character is going to need so much therapy.” Then came the little post-script title about how no evidence was ever found after a massive police search of the area. My wheels started turning. While no scholar of the slasher genre, I’d seen enough of them to wonder about those surviving “final girls”, what their lives would be like from that point on.

In 2002, the endless cycle of remakes hadn’t yet reached the theaters, so there hadn’t been a major Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chain Saw “type” of movie released for a while. The indie scene was filled to the brim then—and will always be—with survival horror, homages and rip-offs of the original films. In fact, later that day I watched Carnage Road, which featured a character named “Quiltface” for his impressive mask made of multiple skinned faces. The idea that there are psychotic cannibals out there, hoping to catch, kill and eat us, was always a fascinating little terror of mine. It had grown stronger in recent months as Amy and I scouted out rural farmland for our new home. Passing one back-woods house with a gaping hole in the side, while the proud owner sat on the porch skinning…something (all I remember are clumps of blood and fur as we increased speed), I turned to Amy, indicating the “For Sale” sign on the trailer next to the lot. “If I’m going to be murdered in my sleep,” I told her, “I definitely don’t want to be raped and murdered.” So we kept looking.
Then I rediscovered this Berni Wrightson comic cover and things started to gel in my head. 

  Survival horror always reached an end, either with triumph, rescue, succumbing to madness, or that final surprising resurrection—that dead hand springing back to life and grabbing the final girl just as the credits rolled to the sound of her echoing scream, betraying everything she’d gone through. What these types of horror movies never addressed were the scars left behind.

The first reaction to that consideration is, of course, “Who wants to see a crying victim in therapy for two hours, telling the story to her shrink?” So skip that part too. What happens after? After the survival, after the therapy, after the investigations and allegations and accusations. One person out of four survived a camping trip. Could they be to blame? Isn’t that more plausible than Leatherface and his family? Police find no evidence—how the hell hard were they looking? Or are they in on it too? (Something that was addressed in the inevitable Texas Chain Saw remake.) But most importantly, all that convolution aside, how do you put your life back together after something like that?

Having lived in the world, journeyed out amongst other people, I have met survivors of rape and molestation. I have met people who have survived moments of horrible and random violence. I’m not referring to brutal abductions or even war flashbacks. Comparatively small things like a mugging, a bar fight, or even the prolonged illness of a friend or relative, leaves behind its echo. Even if these folks seem, outwardly, to have completely recovered, the violence is still there in scarred-over memory. And it comes out. Usually rarely, but those wounds open, sometimes with a minutia of prompting. So if its particularly shattering, how do you put yourself back together?

After a couple of turns with this germ of an idea—first as a short story and then a comic book—I found the meat of this story I wanted to tell, and the first thing to go was that image of the head hunter from Wrightson’s painting. As much as I would have loved to tell that story, it wasn’t the story that wanted to be told.

The story that became Razor Days was much more intimate and introspective. But very violent. It’s about a trio of final girls and what they decide to do after the credits have rolled.

So here we are eight years later, and I’m finally getting the chance to turn this script into a movie. There were multiple fits and starts over the years, including a nasty little few weeks where we had the film ripped away from us in pre-production by a dishonest producer who promised the world then took it all away. That was a carpet-yank moment for us because this wasn’t just a movie we could make on weekends in our backyards. It required a realism that our other movies did not. It wasn’t a ____-horror movie, either. It wasn’t a comedy-horror like Severe Injuries or a semi-futuristic zombie fantasy like The Resurrection Game. We couldn’t invent our own worlds here. Razor Days required solid ground beneath our feet. Which requires money. So we put it on the back burner, turned the fire low and let it simmer.

In the meantime, Amy and I worked on the script, refined it and brought it down closer to eye-level, working out how even the most fantastic elements could have a light shone on them and still feel solid. While we’re used to not giving up—the Happy Cloud motto is “The bumblebee doesn’t know that its physically impossible for it to fly”—we had two others in our court who never gave up either: Debbie Rochon and Alan Rowe Kelly. The pair of them mentioned that movie to anyone who would listen. Then, one day, the right listener came along.

Bob Kuiper, my long-time friend and publisher of Sirens of Cinema, who has displayed more faith in me than what is surely rational, was someone I’d worked with for over five years, but had never met. Circumstances kept us from seeing each other in person. Some of this problem was caused by distance—he in Indiana, we in the nowhere-zone of PA—and was compounded by other things, chiefly bad timing. He’d been burned by partnerships before—had a movie or two collapse around him—as had we, so our initial conversations about producing a film together required a lot of circling and dancing, resembling many of the knife fights from West Side Story minus the snapping.

Then, by chance, the planets aligned and the three of us finally met, face-to-face and over beer, at Horrorhound, Indy. We discuss plans for the future and we hint that we’d love to make Razor Days. There is much nodding and smiling and great plans for the upcoming empire.

And who is one of the first people we introduce Mr. Bob to? Alan Rowe Kelly.

What’s the first thing he says to us? “What’s going on with Razor Days? I love that script!”

It was an unscripted, unpaid for moment. But it was enough proof for me that the universe isn’t constantly out to get me. Because by the end of that weekend, Bob had provided the green-light for this movie to be made. The first project for the partnership of RAK Media and Happy Cloud Pictures will be something completely different from anything we’ve attempted before.

After all the struggling and fighting and the inherent madness of the indie film industry, after all the back-stabbing, the trash-talk, the horrific allegations and the depressing dissolution of long-time friendships, we were reminded that sometimes, this business doesn’t completely suck. There are wonderful people out there. They’re tough to spot through the guarded gauze of cynicism and self-defense, but they’re there, and they’re willing to expose themselves to your dreams and desires. And the only price is: you have to live up to their trust.

Because betrayal is a violent act as well. It can leave scars just as deep and leave damage behind. Now all of a sudden, you’re on the other side. You’re not the survivor or the altruistic hero. You’re standing on the precipice of villainy. You want to be the villain of your own life story—act selfishly, lie, cheat, and fuck your way to the top. It’s actually faster—an express elevator to success.

I’m happy that, after all this time, we took the stairs and had good friends to walk with.

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