There’s a very strong appeal to movies like Ed Wood, Hitchcock, and James Franco’s upcoming The Disaster Artist. People love to see behind the scenes stories, especially for their favorite movies. Documentaries based on films appear to be at an all-time high. We’ve had Never Sleep Again, Crystal Lake Memories, More Brains, Doc of the Dead, American Nightmare and too many more to count, just in recent years. It’s great to see this, but I definitely don’t want dramas based on entertainment history to disappear.
Every movie has a story of how it came together to either become great or fail miserably. Both can be equally interesting. Making any film is the result of a lot of hardwork by a very diverse group of people. That’s part of what makes the process so much fun, so exhausting, and such a challenge. There’s a wealth of story material there, particularly if people already have a strong connection with the production the story would be chronicling.
Features chronicling the making of a film can fit just about any genre, even if they’re biographical. Sure, not every single horror movie has a background worth dramatizing on the big screen, but there are some behind the scenes stories in particular that I think are screaming for exactly that kind of treatment.
The making of Cannibal Holocaust
Let’s just start with this one and get it out of the way. It sounds like one of the most horrifying, grueling film shoots of all time. Nobody was prepared for the lengths the movie would go to, let alone the lengths the crew and the director would go to in order to achieve the desired shocks. Director Ruggero Deodato has admitted that he was pretty careless making this movie and that animals should not have been killed on screen just to get a reaction out of the audience, but they were. Actor Carl Gabriel York even became convinced that Deodato was actually going to kill him and so he kept all his money with him at all times and had a plan in place incase he needed to take off into the jungle. I’d love to see this movie structured as a courtroom drama, given that Deodato was taken to court to prove that he had not made a snuff film, with the behind the scenes insanity told through flashbacks.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of interesting stuff that went on behind the scenes of the making of the original Elm Street, particularly the stories that inspired it and how long it was passed around Hollywood before it eventually got made. But I think there’s even more potential for greatness in an indie comedy about Nightmare on Elm Street 2. There’s so much to be explored here, so much unintentional comedy when you think about the fact that everyone—aside from Mark Patton and maybe screenwriter David Chaskin—claims they were clueless as to the film’s very obvious, fairly blatant homoerotic subtext. There’d be an element of drama, of course, as the pressure on Patton to make this work was very real, as well as the overall pressure of turning an indie horror that was still making a name for itself into a major franchise.
The making of Poltergeist
The Poltergeist curse is infamous. Just about everything terrible that could have happened to the cast and crew did happen, but most of it happened afterward. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. The interesting story, to me, still lies in the goings on behind the scenes of Poltergeist itself. Because, over thirty years later, how much do we really know about it? Debate still rages as to whether Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg actually directed the film—although fans tend to lean heavily toward Spielberg. This has gone on forever. While Poltergeist was still in theaters, Fangoria was reporting on rumors of who was actually directing it. There’s a lot of room for artistic license in a potential feature adaptation. Imagine how much fun it could be to see the story of Poltergeist told in multiple, completely different ways from different crew members. Or it could be a mystery/thriller, structured around one crew member trying to get to the bottom of things and uncover the truth behind whoever is actually directing this film.
The making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
Imagine making a classic thriller and dark character drama that’s completely dependent on its two leads. Now imagine that those two leads hate each other more than any other person on the planet. That was the case with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Their rivalry was no secret, even at the time when they were both cast in the picture. In some ways, their casting was seen as a kind of publicity stunt, given that both of their careers had taken a downward turn and their hatred of each other was notorious. The set consisted of verbal and physical abuse between the two of them, including Davis kicking Crawford in the head so hard that she required stitches. A story like this would make for a great drama/comedy combination, perhaps with Meryl Streep as one—or both—of the actresses in question.
The making of Troll 2
Of course Troll 2’s story was already chronicled in the excellent documentary, Best Worst Movie, but that mostly focused on the aftermath. How did the people who worked on this bizarre, terrible feature go back to their lives and deal with its incredibly unexpected success? That’s definitely a behind the scenes tale worth telling and the documentary told it well. But I would love to see something along the lines of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood about how this movie even came together in the first place. How a bunch of people who were not actors tried their best to bring to life the vision of someone who well and truly believed they were making the greatest film of all time, that’s something I both want and need to see portrayed on the silver screen.
The making of The Exorcist
While I didn’t want to get into the “curse” surrounding Poltergeist, the Final Destination type events that went on behind the scenes of The Exorcist stick out to me as they depict the actual making of the film. First there were the inevitable set tensions. Like Hitchcock and Kubrick, Friedken wanted to get the most realistic performances that he possibly could and so he kept the entire cast on edge from pretty much beginning to end. The on-set accidents that occurred during the production of The Exorcist are staggering. Linda Blair, then a child, nearly broke her back when a harness malfunctioned during one of the bed shaking scenes. Max Von Sydow suffered a series of unexplained illnesses throughout the shoot. Large stage lights regularly fell without any explanation. The key sets of the Reagan house burned down in the middle of production—all except Reagan’s bedroom, in which most of the possession scenes occur. Then, of course, there were the actual deaths linked to the production, including actor Jack MacGowran. It may not be respectful to turn the making of The Exorcist into an outright horror flick, but it has all the makings of a surreal and paranoid thriller.
The making of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Anyone who is a fan of that film or the franchise as a whole should read Gunnar Hansen’s 2013 book, Chainsaw Confidential, which is a brutally honest account of what went on behind the scenes of Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 masterpiece from beginning to end. The cast and crew went through hell to make this no-budget endeavor, most of them without much faith that it would even be seen, let alone remembered as an all-time classic. Marilyn Burns was tortured in order to give that truly traumatized performance, getting cut, bruised and thrown out of a second story window on the shoot. Gunnar Hansen was isolated from the rest of the cast, began to stink like a slaughterhouse and nearly went mad inside of that unwashed mask. The whole production was unbelievably careless to the point that it’s a miracle anyone even made it out alive.
The making of The Shining
This has to be the big one, doesn’t it? There’s no more infamous and legendary “making of” story surrounding a horror film than that of The Shining. But let’s ignore anything that was touched upon in Room 237; I don’t want to see another chronicle of conspiracy theories although that was interesting in its own way. What I want to see is a film depicting the actual making of the movie, because that’s where the insanity truly lies. From Kubrick calling Stephen King in the middle of the night to ask him if he believed in God, to Kubrick forcing Nicholson to drive an ax through the door over fifty times, to Kubrick making Scatman Crothers break down crying during a scene, there are no shortage of insane stories from the set and they all center on the director. But the number one story I’d love to see adapted to film is the relationship between Kubrick and Shelley Duvall. He treated her miserably, verbally abusing her from the first day to the last and forbidding crew members from speaking to or even looking at her unless the cameras were rolling. Most people claim that this was to draw a truly terrified and nervous portrayal from her, including the actress herself. But was it worth it? That’s a question that’s absolutely worth making an entire feature to answer.