So I called up Moriarty to try to give him some advice on how to rid his labs of those poor unfortunate souls... in pain... But instead I just started laughing as I heard the ghost of Fatty Arbuckle cackling in the background... I knew it was him cause I recognized that unmistakable laugh we heard so often back in the teens... But Moriarty went on and on about this LOST SOULS thing... Does it star Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi as the keeper of the law? Well... let's see...
Hey, Head Geek...
After rereading yesterday's report, I realized that I'm handling this whole haunting thing wrong. I've been feeling sorry for myself, asking why I'm being haunted, and generally letting it continue. Today I've resolved to do something about it, to tackle the issue head-on, and to take the fight directly to the source. One of the things that has inspired me to take this action is my recent reading of Pierce Gardner's ferocious script for the upcoming New Line release LOST SOULS.
"There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan." So says C.S. Lewis in a quote that opens the screenplay, and it sums up the central struggle of this film, the intelligent counterpoint to the moronic END OF DAYS, which I finally read the revised production draft of, and which is also currently shooting. The difference in approach between the two projects couldn't be more dramatic, and it makes all the difference since they are, at heart, very similar stories.
Ancient prophecies, Satan's rebirth on Earth, and a few desperate people who know the truth -- these elements have been used before in supernatural thrillers, and they've been used to wildly different effect. When I first heard what LOST SOULS was about, I was skeptical of how they would approach it. I'm happy to say that the story by Pierce Gardner and Betsy Stahl is serious, high-minded, and creepy as hell from start to finish. The main reason their script works is because they create two central characters that we actually care about by the end of the script.
Maya Larkin is the first of those characters, and she's a perfect fit for Winona Ryder. As I read this script, I was able to picture her pulling off every moment, hitting every note just right. Unlike Call in ALIEN RESURRECTION, Maya's not supposed to be a bad-ass or a tough, hardened fighter. She's just someone who stumbles into a situation where she knows the truth about the potential end of the world, and no one else is going to do anything, forcing her to take the matter into her own hands.
Peter Kendell is the other lead, and this should be the breakthrough role for Ben Chaplin. As charming as he was in THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS and as well-used as I thought he was in THE THIN RED LINE, he's never really been showcased in a strong role, and this one certainly is. He's a superstar reporter, the author of best-selling books, and his whole world is turned upside down when Maya appears in his life to tell him that he is the vessel through which Satan is going to return to Earth. Considering the case he's covering at the film's start, he's sure that Maya is just a crazed fan, a stalker, and he dismisses her accusations at first.
There's a real JACOB'S LADDER vibe to a lot of the film as Peter's reality slowly crumbles around him. Like yesterday's THE SIN EATER, this is a film that actually understands religion and treats it seriously. Exorcism isn't treated as a wicked special effects show, but instead is shown to be the dirty little secret that the modern church treats it as. There's a chilling sequence early on where Maya tries to convince Peter of his role in the prophecy by giving him a tape of a failed exorcism to listen to. When he plays the tape, he hears nothing because of the corrupt nature of his birth even though the sounds of the ceremony can be heard at blistering volume by his neighbors, one of whom is driven to a particularly violent suicide by the madness she hears.
The film builds slowly, the evil becoming more pronounced as it progresses, and when everything finally comes down, it really pays off. The film plays for keeps. There are no easy answers for these characters, and there's no simple resolution. One of the real tests of this type of material is how grim they play it. In END OF DAYS, Satan's presented as a guy who walks around with glowing eyes popping off one-liners. He's not scary at all, and none of the supernatural happenings in the script are played for scares. Instead, it's an action film that uses the trappings of the genre to disguise the same old tired action movie plot. In LOST SOULS, evil is portrayed as part of man's nature, a pervasive force that can sneak into the cracks in any soul, and it's portrayed with a banal face that could be anyone. It hides behind the eyes of everyone on the street, and there's no way to draw it out until it's ready. The action that takes place in LOST SOULS isn't of the superhero variety. Instead, it's a natural extension of the dilemma that Peter and Maya find themselves in.
The choice of Janusz Kaminski as director is interesting. I hope it pays off. His work as a director of photography is beyond reproach, but that doesn't always translate into a good touch with actors or a sense of drama. Mikael Solomon is an example of a guy who is capable of great images but who has never really found a story worth telling. Jan De Bont is an example of a guy who is able to bring a certain amount of energy to his work, but who doesn't seem to have much depth. Ernest Dickerson has never made a film as a director that even remotely approaches the power of the work he did with Spike Lee. Peter Hyams, who frequently serves as his own D.P., is one of those guys who has a few decent pictures on his resume but who seems like a total hack for hire, hopping from genre to genre without any style that registers at all. Kaminski has been given a rare headstart for his debut, solid material and a good cast. If he's learned anything from watching Spielberg work with actors, then we're in for a real treat here. One thing is for sure -- the mood that infects every page of this script is sure to spill over to atmosphere-soaked visuals that should pay off in some nightmarish imagery, the kind that stays with an audience long after they see it.
Between this and THE SIN EATER, I'm giving this project the slight edge because of the cast. They're both sophisticated entertainment that is lightyears beyond THE OMEN or many of the ripoffs that followed that film's success. Seeing religion and evil handled in such a serious way is heartening. It means there may be new life in the horror genre as the milennium winds down. Friedkin's classic THE EXORCIST has been the standard bearer for this genre for twenty years now, but it looks like many of these new filmmakers have learned their lesson from that film well. Respect the audience, and you'll be rewarded. Take the low road like END OF DAYS and watch what kind of ass-kicking you get at the box-office. Please, people, as you make your moviegoing choices this year, make them wisely. We have a chance here to support the right projects and send a real message. That's part of the reason I'm doing this series. I've always loved horror films, and seeing the genre bloom anew like this makes me very, very happy.
Of course, I'd be much happier if I could get rid of this damn ghost. One of my henchmen has just informed me that the priests I called are here to try an exorcism. If that doesn't work, I may have to turn to a psychic for help. To prepare for that possibility, I'll be reviewing A STIR OF ECHOES tomorrow, with my choice for best Hollywood horror film on Saturday, and my choice for best horror film of the decade on Sunday. I hope I'll see you here for all three of those reports. Until then...