April 2004

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

Dreamcatcher: Fuck Me, Freddy

I saw Dreamcatcher on opening night, and it's Larry and Andy Wachowski's fault. See, this time last year, Matrix fever was in the process of sweeping me towards 1:30 AM screenings at the Mann Chinese and the acquisition of not one, not two, but three separate soundtracks, and I was giddy over the prospect of seeing Final Flight of the Osiris, the first of several animated Matrix shorts, on the big screen. Osiris was only being shown as pre-Dreamcatcher entertainment, however, so Warner Brothers got my nine dollars, I thoroughly enjoyed the snazzy animation, and as the short's credits rolled, I whispered to my friend, "I don't care how bad Dreamcatcher is. That was worth it."

Not exactly "What's the worst that could happen?" or "I'll be right back!" But I certainly shouldn't have been surprised.

The trailer for Dreamcatcher, even now, is still effectively creepy. Four friends, alone in the woods, toasting their Native American folk art. "I don't want to see this, Jonesy." "The thought of slaughtering Americans sickens me." The forest animals, running away. "Wwwwhat do you want from us?" Sure, it's impossible to tell what the movie is actually about -- but from the trailer, it looks to be a cool horror flick.

Turns out, it was the best comedy of 2003.

Unintentionally.

Here's the story, best as I can explain it. Four childhood friends, bound together for life by the psychic abilities passed onto them by a retarded kid they took under their wing as adolescents (I'll give you a moment to parse that), are enjoying their twentieth annual hunting trip when a lost hunter stumbles into their cabin, disoriented, exhausted, and farting like crazy. Turns out, the farting is a sign of a bigger problem -- namely, alien invasion, which Morgan Freeman, a badass military-government guy, has been fighting off for twenty-five years. Despite Morgan Freeman's best crazy-megalomaniac efforts to quarantine the area, one of the aliens possesses the body of one of the friends, and it's up to the others to try and stop him from spreading the alien contagion to the world at large.

Rewatching this movie had its high points, if only because my roommate was getting ready to go out while it was on, and poking her head in occasionally to see what was making me laugh so hard. She'd never seen it, and catching her up was, if nothing else, therapeutic.

"So this is the part where the phallic shit weasel farts out from the ass of the hunter guy and into the toilet, and Jason Lee sits down on the toilet to prevent it from getting out, but he drops his toothpicks in the process, and because he has some weird oral fixation on gnawing toothpicks, he decides that it's a good idea to get off the toilet and pick up a toothpick. And that's when the shit weasel escapes from the toilet and bites off Jason Lee's junk."

"I wouldn't say it's phallic necessarily," my roommate said, watching the carnage unbelieving. "The mouth is totally vagina dentate."

"It's penis and vagina combined."

"Jason Lee's being attacked by sex."

"Well, this is Stephen King."

Really, I could make fun of this movie for pages and pages. I could, for example, mention the part where Thomas Jane uses Tom Sizemore's gun to talk psychically with the possessed Damien Lewis. I could bring up the bizarre profanities the four friends use as in-jokes, including "bite my bag," "kiss my bender," and my personal favorite, "fuck me Freddy." I could bring up the fact that the retarded kid the four boys got their psychic powers from turns out to have been an alien the entire time, saving the day with one cheerful exclamation of his name: "I DUDDITS!"

I could do that. But that's not the point of this column. The point of this column is calling attention to one very important fact -- this movie was not made by hacks.

James Newton Howard is by far one of my favorite composers. ILM is at the top of its game. John Seale has three Oscar nominations and one win for the cinematography of The English Patient. Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant are respected character actors with a number of awesome films in their past (okay, not counting A Guy Thing or Scream 2). Damien Lewis and Thomas Jane have established theater careers and blossoming film potential. Everybody loves Morgan Freeman. And the damn thing is written by Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman, arguably two of the best screenwriters in the business, and directed by Kasdan himself, who's no novice behind the camera. Sure, the horror/sci-fi genre was new to him. But how does this much talent, with countless Oscar nominations and careers of success, end up coming together to make a movie about aliens that fart out from peoples' asses? I mean, HOW?

I wasn't sure of the answer myself until I sat down with the DVD featurettes, watching the interview with Stephen King conducted right after he'd seen a rough cut of the movie. He talks about his accident (hey, did you know that Stephen King was hit by a car? Did you?), and the painful recuperation process. And then he talks about what inspired him to write Dreamcatcher:

"I wanted to write a story that was pretty much set in one cabin... I wanted to write about GUYS and what GUYS are like when they're on their own... What I really wanted to write was an old-fashioned monster/invasion story... I wanted to explore the taboo zone -- it used to be the bedroom, but movies have gone beyond that, and it's the bathroom now... The scene where the guy has to sit on the toilet to keep the alien from escaping really became the driving force behind the book. [Dreamcatcher] is gonna do for the toilet what Psycho did for the shower."

I want to write a letter to Mr. King. I want to write a letter explaining that he's still ripping off Alien even if the alien pops out the ass and not the chest. I want to write a letter explaining that if he wants to write a scary movie about people trapped in a cabin, it'll probably be more effective if the people are actually trapped in the cabin. I want to write a letter explaining that if he's interested in writing four different stories, maybe he ought to do so with four different books. But in the end, I know it's pointless. In the time it'd take me to write such a letter, King will have already written another six hundred page bestseller, which'll inevitably be optioned for yet another movie. And then we're screwed all over again.

This is what happens in a world of brand names, people. I don't object to King's recent National Book Award because he's a popular writer; I object because I don't think he's particularly great. But instead of simply being a decent writer producing new and interesting stories, he's become an uberselling machine, and his financial success leads Hollywood to believe that every word written by the man is gold. "I was looking for ... a robust story, something I could sort of cut loose with a little bit and use some of the effects I've been wanting to use and shoot some of the action I've been anxious to do for a while," Kasdan said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. A fun action movie that'd raise his box office average is what he meant. It's all a numbers game, you're only as big as your last hit, and Stephen King's always a safe bet.

Added all up, there have been at least thirteen successful movies based on his work -- the latest, Secret Window, is holding its own admirably against Jesus, Jim Carrey, and zombies. According to the IMDb, there are five movies based on King's work due to come out in 2004/5. That's five more stories about four childhood friends losing their innocence, five more stories about brilliant writers being stalked by lunatics, five more stories about strange Maine goings-on. Stephen King, Hollywood has decided, is good news. And nothing any of us say will convince them otherwise.

People are seeing these movies, buying these books, and just ensuring that future years will contain nothing shelves full of derivative pastiches of the same goddamn King story. We're all to blame, folks, for movies like these. Every single one of us.

As a Stephen King character would say: Fuck me, Freddy.