If You Haven’t Sampled The Faitheism Project Podcast, This Is A Good One To Sample

Our sister site — The Faitheism Project Podcast — just dropped its latest podcast and (okay, I’m biased), I really recommend it.

In “The Faitheism Project Podcast”, a devout atheist (me) and a Presbyterian Pastor (my friend Randy Lovejoy) sit down to discuss spirituality — as opposed to religion. They are, in fact, two very different things. And, once you make that distinction, a conversation about religion becomes less contentious because, as Randy and I keep discovering, all of us, really, are on the same kind of spiritual journey; we just use different vocabulary to describe it. The Faitheism Project Podcast opens up the discussion by removing judgment. It’s not about winning an argument. It’s about discovering our commonality where we least expect to find it.

In this episode, Randy lets his hair down. He talks with remarkable candor about his actual spiritual process — the path that led him to where he is. It’s been challenging in ways both spiritual and physical. He’s been to some pretty remote places, put himself in harm’s way because he truly wanted to help those who most needed help by going TO them and directly helping. We’ve all got a horrible travel story or two in our past — especially one where either food or water and our gut went to war with each other.

Randy’s stories beat anything I’ve got hands down — for which I am grateful.

In this podcast, I also do a tribute to my old boss the action movie director Dick Donner. Dick was my boss back when I ran “Tales From The Crypt” for HBO. Dick — if you don’t know — produced and directed the “Lethal Weapon” movies, “Scrooged”, “The Goonies”, “Timeline”, a gazillion TV shows (back in the 60’s) and the horror classic “The Omen”.

Dick had a theory as to why “The Omen” succeeded as massively as it did. And his theory had something to do with the family Bible that sat in many American homes (unread of course).

There’s also a YouTube version (if you prefer to watch).

Please enjoy!

Of Movie Monsters & “Franken-Christians”

In my time, I’ve written a few horror movies. I’ve written or produced (or written AND produced) franchises like Freddy Krueger, Children Of The Corn, Tales From The Crypt… I’ve helped create really good monsters and some really crap monsters. After all, in a horror movie, the whole point IS the monster.

Good monsters endure, bad ones get forgotten instantly. Back in the late 80’s, I co-wrote a bunch of episodes of the “NIghtmare On Elm Street TV series. Freddy, of course, is a great movie monster. Great mythology. Great character nuances (which, in a movie monster, are pure gold).

I also co-wrote “Children Of The Corn II: Deadly Harvest”. In typical Hollywood sausage-making fashion, we made Children Of The Corn II — and re-launched a failed franchise — not because anyone wanted that movie made but because of a deal. That was a crap monster, that one. Vague and mealy-mouthed (corn-meal of course). Creepy but not very compelling (in my opinion).

I also had a hand in the very good monster in “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight”, the first Tales feature film. Billy Zane gets full credit for turning what was, on the page, a fairly pedestrian monster into what was, on the screen, a very good monster: fun, funny yet nasty & believably vicious.

Then there was Lilith — the monster of “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood” — a good idea for a good monster that got turned into a pedestrian idea for a monster because if you cast a movie for all the wrong reasons, you’ll screw up your movie. I worked with the “Walking Dead” team (briefly) when they tried to turn their show into an interactive arena event so I speak fluent “zombie”. While working on Tales From The Crypt, one of my bosses was Richard Donner, the director of horror classic “The Omen” whose wisdom about good monsters I drank like the finest, Jim Jones-iest kool aid. Yeah… I know a thing or two about monsters.

And We The People have one right in our faces: The Franken-Christian!

How else to explain the mind-bending trip from “Do unto others” to this — the above picture. Or this —

What’s a non-Christian to make of American Christianity when it paints itself the way it paints itself? There’s no Jesus in any of this whatsoever. And yet, THIS monster has what it claims is Jesus’s face. Reminds me of a really good “Tales” episode directed by a talented guy named Bill Malone and starring a really terrific actress named Sherrie Rose: “Only Skin Deep”. A confident alpha male picks up a mysterious, masked woman named Molly at a costume party. Goes back to her place (in a funky warehouse space) where they have great sex — except she never takes off her weird mask. As the confident alpha male will learn, that “mask” is the face of Molly’s last lover — and she’ll be wearing HIS face when she goes out to party next time.

Molly was a very, very good monster.

Maybe the problem with too many American Christians is that they don’t celebrate Jesus’s life nearly as much as they celebrate his death. They’re less interested in “doing unto others” than they are in the ooga-booga and magical thinking that the Apostle Paul created out of whole cloth as he took his version of Jesus — and Jesus’s teaching — out to the Gentile world. The Jews rejected Paul’s version of Jesus because many of them, unlike Paul, had actually MET Jesus and heard him teach. Also — the Jews knew their mythology and knew that what Paul was trying to do with it simply didn’t conform to their understanding of it. Paul had little use for a living Jesus. He would have had no use for a Jesus who lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. Paul needed a Jesus who was dead but (most importantly) who ROSE from the dead. Paul needed a Jesus who beat death as the basis for the church he imagined. It’s a genius invention — but that is what is: an invention. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

Ah, but “Franken-Jesus” does. Put together from disconnected parts, the Franken-Jesus preaches “do unto others” while practicing “do what I say or else!”.

His followers, by design, are all Franken-Christians. They worship the falsest of idols.

And thus, the horror movie of American life fades in…

Beware The “Franken-Christian”

In my time, I’ve written a few horror movies. I’ve written or produced (or written AND produced) franchises like Freddy Krueger, Children Of The Corn, Tales From The Crypt… I’ve helped create really good monsters and some really crap monsters. After all, in a horror movie, the whole point IS the monster.

Good monsters endure, bad ones get forgotten instantly. Back in the late 80’s, I co-wrote a bunch of episodes of the “NIghtmare On Elm Street TV series. Freddy, of course, is a great movie monster. Great mythology. Great character nuances (which, in a movie monster, are pure gold).

I also co-wrote “Children Of The Corn II: Deadly Harvest”. In typical Hollywood sausage-making fashion, we made Children Of The Corn II — and re-launched a failed franchise — not because anyone wanted that movie made but because of a deal. That was a crap monster, that one. Vague and mealy-mouthed (corn-meal of course). Creepy but not very compelling (in my opinion).

I also had a hand in the very good monster in “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight”, the first Tales feature film. Billy Zane gets full credit for turning what was, on the page, a fairly pedestrian monster into what was, on the screen, a very good monster: fun, funny yet nasty & believably vicious.

Then there was Lilith — the monster of “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood” — a good idea for a good monster that got turned into a pedestrian idea for a monster because if you cast a movie for all the wrong reasons, you’ll screw up your movie. I worked with the “Walking Dead” team (briefly) when they tried to turn their show into an interactive arena event so I speak fluent “zombie”. While working on Tales From The Crypt, one of my bosses was Richard Donner, the director of horror classic “The Omen” whose wisdom about good monsters I drank like the finest, Jim Jones-iest kool aid. Yeah… I know a thing or two about monsters.

And We The People have one right in our faces: The Franken-Christian!

How else to explain the mind-bending trip from “Do unto others” to this — the above picture. Or this —

What’s a non-Christian to make of American Christianity when it paints itself the way it paints itself? There’s no Jesus in any of this whatsoever. And yet, THIS monster has what it claims is Jesus’s face. Reminds me of a really good “Tales” episode directed by a talented guy named Bill Malone and starring a really terrific actress named Sherrie Rose: “Only Skin Deep”. A confident alpha male picks up a mysterious, masked woman named Molly at a costume party. Goes back to her place (in a funky warehouse space) where they have great sex — except she never takes off her weird mask. As the confident alpha male will learn, that “mask” is the face of Molly’s last lover — and she’ll be wearing HIS face when she goes out to party next time.

Molly was a very, very good monster.

Maybe the problem with too many American Christians is that they don’t celebrate Jesus’s life nearly as much as they celebrate his death. They’re less interested in “doing unto others” than they are in the ooga-booga and magical thinking that the Apostle Paul created out of whole cloth as he took his version of Jesus — and Jesus’s teaching — out to the Gentile world. The Jews rejected Paul’s version of Jesus because many of them, unlike Paul, had actually MET Jesus and heard him teach. Also — the Jews knew their mythology and knew that what Paul was trying to do with it simply didn’t conform to their understanding of it. Paul had little use for a living Jesus. He would have had no use for a Jesus who lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. Paul needed a Jesus who was dead but (most importantly) who ROSE from the dead. Paul needed a Jesus who beat death as the basis for the church he imagined. It’s a genius invention — but that is what is: an invention. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

Ah, but “Franken-Jesus” does. Put together from disconnected parts, the Franken-Jesus preaches “do unto others” while practicing no such thing.

His followers, by design, are all Franken-Christians. They worship the falsest of idols.

And thus, the horror movie of American life fades in…

Sylvester Stallone Has ALWAYS Behaved Like A Trump Voter — I’ve Seen It UP CLOSE

Heroes run TOWARD burning buildings, bent on saving people. Zeroes, on the other hand, don’t. “Actor” Sylvester Stallone has, it seems, very recently paid $200,000 to Donald Trump to become a card-carrying “member” of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Old Pervert’s Club. Imagine surveying the landscape post insurrection and choosing to side with insurrection and bullshit and The Big Lie. This is Rocky — BEFORE he finds his soul in Adrienne’s eyes and STOPS being some low level mob boss’s leg breaker. The real Sly Stallone has always been THIS Rocky — the corrupt goombah looking for a feather bed somewhere in the mob structure. Now, I’ve never met Stallone in person. But I feel like I have because our lives intertwined almost every day while I was making the movie “Bordello Of Blood” in Vancouver, British Columbia while Stallone was making a movie called “Assassins” just across the border in Seattle. Our connection was my actress Angie Everheart who — at the time — also was Stallone’s fiancé. Spoiler Alert: Stallone treated Angie horribly. He cheated on her relentlessly — which I know because Stallone tried to get my production unit to help him do it.

“Bordello Of Blood” was the second of what was supposed to be a trilogy of “Tales From The Crypt” branded horror movies, a deal that arose after my then partner Gil Adler and I took over running the show going into its third season (1992). That was supposed to be Tales’ last season; HBO felt the show had run its course but Gil and I turned the franchise around. In particular, we reinvented the Crypt Keeper which, in turn, reinvigorated the show. We ended up running for another four seasons; part of that surge in the franchise’s popularity at the time was a three picture feature deal at Universal Studios. “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight” was the first feature we produced. It’s a solid, well-made movie — directed by the incredibly talented Ernest Dickerson — about a group of people trapped in a remote decommissioned church by a charismatic demon played by the also incredibly talented Billy Zane. After “Demon Knight’s” success, we set out to make our second Tales feature — which, initially, was going to be a nuanced, character-driven, psychological horror piece set in New Orleans. Circumstances, greed and a deal that had nothing to do with us interceded however and Universal pulled the plug on “Dead Easy”, the movie we were weeks away from shooting and, instead, assigned us the task of making “Bordello Of Blood” — a romp about vampire hookers living in the basement of a funeral home.

On paper, “Bordello” sounds great — if horror movies are your thing. But, as with most things in life, you still have to DO the thing to actually make it succeed. We didn’t so much “do” Bordello as Bordello “did” us. When you make movies for completely inorganic reasons — because of a deal rather than because you want to tell a particular story — you can’t be surprised if bad things happen and keep happening. That’s the story of the making of “Bordello Of Blood”. Every day making that movie was stupider than the day before it. When I think of the accumulated talent of the named filmmakers (my executive producers on Tales were Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Richard Donner and Walter Hill — some of the biggest movie makers EVER), it boggles my mind that we made so many silly, expensive, amateurish mistakes while making the movie.

One of our earliest amateurish mistakes was casting our villain.

Now, understand: every single one of us set Angie Everheart up to fail (which she did not). She acquits herself admirably. She brings everything she has to the job and she should be proud of her work. The movie has fans — and so does she. But… Angie’s miscast. She just is. Horror movies are all about the villain. How you cast Freddy Krueger is vital. “Demon Knight” works mostly because Billy Zane fills every frame he’s in with fun and menace. He was an experienced film actor when we cast him; all that experience helped because, frankly, the script was meh. Billy made a dogmatic part his (the rules behind our story’s mythology still baffle me and I helped write them). Angie didn’t because she couldn’t. In her defense, the part was even less “written”. She, too, was playing a monster beautiful on the outside, not-so-beautiful on the inside. While Billy had a pool of menace inside him, Angie did not. That’s the rub — she didn’t because she’s a super lovely person — on the inside!

Over the course of my career, I’ve cast hundreds of actors. I don’t think I’ve ever cast an actor to “act”. I’ve never wanted them to “act”. I’ve wanted them “to be”. In film acting, the camera sees everything — even things the actor doesn’t intend an audience to see. The harder they try to “act away” those things, the more “actory” their performance becomes and more the story as a whole suffers. Better to hire actors who, in some way, are like the character. That’s what most casting really is — hiring actors who are enough LIKE their characters that the audience won’t bump on them playing the part. What makes great actors great is their honesty, courage and willingness to be that honest for the sake of a story and an audience. The more real actors seem, the better they serve the story they’re part of. So — we hire actors “to be” and not “to act”.

Hiring Angie and expecting her “to be” Lilith (her character) was unfair. Originally, Gil and I wanted Robin Givens to play Lilith. Robin, we’d been told, could be tricky to work with. We didn’t care about that — FFS, we worked for Joel Silver — one of the most notoriously difficult people in Hollywood. Nothing Robin did could equal Joel. Also, instead of Dennis Miller (who plays the lead), we wanted Danny Baldwin. But Joel insisted on casting our three leads himself — his prerogative as the executive producer. I could devote a whole book to my “Dennis Miller Experience”. Dennis is a talented man. He’s very smart and wickedly funny. But, he’s deeply unhappy and seems determined to make everyone around him equally unhappy. He’s a bully.

At the time that we were casting “Bordello”, Joel had a movie awaiting release: “Fair Game” starring Cindy Crawford. Mostly a Big Action Movie producer, Joel was convinced that “Super Models Starring In Movies” was the next, big Hollywood trend that he, Joel, was inventing. “Fair Game” ended up bombing horribly — in part because Cindy Crawford is a very talented model but not a talented actress. So — when the idea of Angie came up — Angie, at the time, was a well-known, well-respected and sought after super model — it wasn’t entirely insane. But it wasn’t sound casting either. And Angie’s name came up only because her fiancé at the time — Stallone — was already working for Joel on “Assassins”.

We shot Bordello in Vancouver rather than LA because we were running away from the IA — the union that most of our crew belonged to. Joel was in a perpetual battle with the IA. While our crew was all union, their deal with us was “non-union” because, though we were one of HBO’s most popular shows, our budgets were tiny (by Hollywood standards). Some months before we started working on Bordello, the IA had struck another of our sets, shutting it down. In the childish tit-for-tat, Joel felt it was his turn to be the bigger asshole, so he pulled the movie out of LA and sent us north to BC. Never mind that it was June.

Thing is with horror movies? Night time is prime time. Scary things seem scarier in the dark. One thing you have very little of that far north in summer? DARK. Oh, sure, there’s a nighttime during summer — but it’s only a few hours. In Vancouver in July (when we were actually shooting), the sun doesn’t disappear from the sky until gone ten pm and the first traces of dawn appear in the sky around 2:30 am. That gives you four and a half hours of darkness in a nine to twelve hour shooting day. It makes no sense. Why on earth would you do such a thing — go make a movie somewhere antithetical to the movie you’re making?

Because we were going to be in Vancouver, Stallone apparently saw an opening. He began to needle Joel on the “Assassins” set in Seattle to hire his fiancé (he called her his girlfriend in related conversations) not just to “be” in our movie, but to star in it — as the villain. That was Sylvester Stallone’s idea for “Bordello Of Blood” — and damn if we didn’t do it! When Joel first approached us (“Guys, guys! I have a great idea — Angie Everheart as the villain in your movie!”), Gil and I balked immediately (“What? No, Joel, please don’t do that — we’ve already read Robin Givens and she’s great!”). Joel persisted though (because Stallone persisted).

Trying to find another voice that would appeal to Joel, Gil and I called Billy Friedkin. Billy had directed an episode of Tales the previous season and we’d had a great experience working with Billy. He had just directed Angie in a small role in his thriller “Jade”. “How is Angie as an actress — for our movie,” we asked Billy. We knew the role she’d played in “Jade” was small and, for Angie, very close to home (where she could “be” rather than “act”). “She’s a very nice person,” Billy told us — code for “she’s not right for the part”.

We took that professional assessment to Joel. No dice. “How about we screen test her!” Gil suggested. That way, Sly would be able to see it for himself. As someone who loved Angie enough to want to marry her, surely Stallone would come to his senses. We did the screen test. Angie gave it her very best shot but anyone looking at it honestly would have given up — if only because they loved Angie enough not to subject her to work she couldn’t possibly do justice to. Still, Stallone wouldn’t be happy on his movie if Angie wasn’t cast in ours. WTF!

We cast Angie. She really, REALLY is a terrific human being who deserved to be treated with respect — a thing her fiancé did not have for her. From the time she arrived in Vancouver — toward the end of formal prep — Angie would travel down to Seattle on the weekends to be with Sly. But, when we started shooting, Sly’s assistant called our production office and asked if there wasn’t some way we couldn’t “HOLD ONTO ANGIE” for the next couple of weekends.

Wait, what? “Hold ONTO Angie”? Why? No reason was offered. Just — Sly would like it if we could. Well, as there was 1) no justification to hold Angie for the weekend and, 2) even trickier, nothing for us to have her do instead of traveling, we declined. I mean, seriously — what did they expect us to tell Angie? “No, you can’t leave Vancouver cos you have to study your lines in this genius piece of crap script?”

On the plus side, Angie NOT visiting Sly meant she wasn’t coming back to our set with Angie’s lines rewritten (by Sly) and every bit of her performance already directed — again, by Sly.

Shortly thereafter, we heard some stories from the “Assassins” set that suggested exactly “why” Stallone wanted Angie on the Canadian side of the border. I cannot vouch for the following story’s veracity. It’s a great story nonetheless — and we heard it FROM the “Assassins” set. Stallone finishes a shot and returns to his trailer where a “pretty young thing” is waiting for him. Stallone doesn’t know that his wireless mic is still LIVE, still broadcasting back to the sound cart on the set. As the crew begin to gather around the sound cart, they’re treated to Very Famous Actor Sly Stallone having sex. Stallone, it turns out, has a few preferences (who doesn’t?) “That’s it, that’s it,” Stallone is heard saying, “Cup the balls… cup the balls!” There are a few “Stroke the shaft” thrown in, but what gets the whole crew laughing is “Cup the balls”.

The next morning, we were told, Stallone walked onto the “Assassins” set to find EVERYONE on the crew wearing the same t-shirt that read across its front “Cup The Balls”.

Did it really happen? I don’t know. But, I sure as hell hope it did.

It sucks to be a shithead’s co-conspirator. Toward the middle of the shoot, I needed to get away for a few days and arranged to fly down to LA to hang with my wife. Flying on other peoples’ dime is the best! As I settled into my first class seat — the section’s only passenger for that flight — and a drink was put into my hand while we waited to taxi from the gate — I felt a little of the stress begin to ameliorate. We were waiting, it turned out, for one last passenger to make it through the jetway. Finally, she did: Angie. She, too was flying home for the weekend.

Now, let’s be real — when a woman as statuesque and stunning as Angie Everheart greets you in a public space the way Angie greeted me, that should make a male glow from the inside. The whole rest of the world thinks beautiful women like you. For some reason, that matters. And, under most circumstances, getting to spend some quality face time with Angie (who’s actually very smart), talking about work but also about life — that would have been awesome. But, Angie sensed something was wrong with her relationship with Sly. She spent the entire three hour flight talking about Sly — how much she loved him. How excited she was for their future together.

And there I sat the entire time, knowing and thinking what a rat bastard Stallone was for cheating on her so relentlessly, so openly. So disrespectfully.

We finally got to LA, Angie and I said “See you Monday back in Vancouver!” and went our separate ways.

A few weeks later, Sly formally broke it off with Angie. I think Sly’s assistant called her to tell her. And my actress — not up to the part to begin with, having been cast only because Sly insisted — now had to be coaxed from her trailer because she was rightfully depressed.

Think of what actually happened here: Stallone wanted to break his engagement to Angie but didn’t have the courage to tell her to her face and then used US as a kind of mental “consolation prize” that HE had procured for HER.

I’ve always known that Stallone was a conservative. It’s neither here nor there to me. Don’t bring that crap onto my film set though. And do NOT infect my film set with it.

Stallone’s problem isn’t his conservatism, it’s that he’s a greedy, selfish pig who seeks approval from and community with other greedy, selfish pigs. If I was going to make a movie about greedy, selfish pigs — I’d know who to cast.

And now? I’ll even know where to find him…

Horror Movies & Christianity: A Match Made In…

To be honest, I’m not sure there’d even BE horror movies without Christianity. I used to do a show for HBO called Tales From The Crypt. Among my executive producers — my bosses — were some of the biggest filmmakers working: Joel Silver (the Lethal Weapon movies, the Die Hard movies among other Big Budget Thrillers), Bob Zemeckis (the Back To The Future movies, Forrest Gump, Castaway), Walter Hill (48 Hrs, The Warriors, Southern Comfort) and Richard Donner. Donner directed the first big Superman remake the 1978 version with Christopher Reeve. He also directed The Goonies, Scrooged, the Lethal Weapon movies, Assassins and 1976’s The Omen. For the record, while doing Crypt, I also got to work with William Friedkin, director of that other testament to the horror-worthiness of Christianity, The Exorcist. I’ll get to that momentarily. The very cool thing about working with the people I got to work with is that I got to pick their brains. Donner is a big, animal-loving puppy dog of a guy, a stoner from way back. In talking about The Omen — and why it succeeded the way that it did — he was pretty clear. After experiencing the movie, plenty of people went home, opened their Bibles (probably for the first time ever) and found — right their IN THEIR OWN HOMES — the very words that had just damned the characters in the movie that scared the crap out of them. The movie’s mythology was their religion’s mythology. That fact itself touched something down deep in them. It made the horror more personal.

Alas, I did not get the chance with Billie Friedken to talk specifically about “The Exorcist” but working with him was both challenging and rewarding. Billie directed a terrific episode called “On A Dead Man’s Chest” — about a mysterious tattoo artist whose tattoos literally come to life. We put the episode in the world of garage rock bands and hard luck music clubs. The rapper Heavy D played the tattoo artist (a small part actually). Gregg Allman and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones also played small parts, giving us rock ‘n roll “authenticity”. Billie didn’t want big names for the rest of the cast. He wanted good actors who could play because they were rock musicians too. We cast Yul Vasquez and Paul Hipp. Tia Carrerra was the female lead and the wonderful Sherrie Rose was a groupie.

When my partner at the time — Gil Adler — and I told executive producer Joel Silver (the most actively engaged of the Crypt Partners in our quotidian lives) that we wanted to hire Billie to direct an episode of Crypt (Billie was experiencing a down period at the time), Joel — a firecracker of a human, apt to go off at any moment — warned us that Billie was a firecracker of a human, apt to go off at any moment. Gil and I — having learned how to handle a firecracker of a human as this was now our second season doing the show — told Joel we’d take our chances. For the most part, working with Billie was great. He saw Crypt as a way to get back to his bare bones, documentary-making roots. He didn’t want the band we were forming from our actors to sound in any way “produced”. If it sounded unpolished — good! If the sound quality was less than optimal — also good!

Our natural inclination was to pre-record our band’s music then play the tracks back during production with the actors pretending to play and sing. Billie wanted no part of that. We had our first creative fight. I argued for the better sound quality. Billie argued that he didn’t care about that. He wanted authenticity. Billie was, shall we say, persuasive. Quickly, too. About thirty seconds in, I surrendered. Billie didn’t care. He continued his argument — with increasing intensity and volume for another two minutes.

Finally, I managed to outshout him: “Jesus, Billie, you won the argument ten minutes ago! Stop already!”

Billie stopped. And smiled. He’d been having a blast watching me, waiting for me to finally do what I did.

But, back to Christianity and horror. If you Google “Christianity” and “Horror Movies”, the question that pops up is “Should Christians watch horror movies?” as if their tender sensibilities needed protecting (while, apparently, no one else seems to have this “tenderness” problem with their sensibilities). That framing fails to take into account how important Christian mythology is to having horror movies in the first place. Christianity did two things that Judaism didn’t as it emerged like the alien from John Hurt’s chest in the first Alien movie —

— For starters, Christianity promised that, if you believed in it, you could defeat death just like Jesus. In inventing Christianity, the Apostle Paul (Jesus had zero to do with it) focused not so much on Jesus’s “do unto others” teaching and more on the idea (not the fact since it did not happen) of Jesus rising from the dead. Consider the Big Names in the Jewish story — Abraham and Moses. When they die in the text, they die. There’s no coming back. No rising from the dead is even contemplated. On the other hand, with Christianity, zombie-fication of its hero was there at the start. The sales pitch was “Jesus is a good zombie!” Believe in him the way we tell you to and you, too, can be a good zombie just like Jesus. Judging by Paul’s results, he read the room brilliantly. People loved the idea of beating death. They still do. The second clever innovation: Satan. Hell — the way Christians think of it — really doesn’t exist in the Jewish mind. A guy who lives there like he owns the place — that doesn’t exist in the Jewish mind at all.

The closest thing Jews have to “hell” is “Sheol”, a bleak, shadowy place — “The Pit” or “The Land of Forgetfulness” — but wholly without any concept of “judgment or reward and punishment attached to it”. Aside from movies about overbearing Jewish mothers (Portnoy’s Complaint comes to mind though more because of the book than the movie), the only Jewish-inspired movie monster is the Golem. Even with plenty of “help”, the Golem ain’t much of a monster — movie or otherwise. It’s an empty vessel. Fill it with evil, it becomes evil. Fill it with good, it becomes good. As monsters go, Golem’s a total shnorrer compared to Satan.

I’m not sure human beings ever created a better character than Satan. When it comes to evil — and horror — Satan is one stop shopping. He’s also part of Christianity’s first innovation — defeating death. If that’s the carrot, Satan is the stick. If you don’t defeat death via Jesus, Satan awaits you, so, you might as well throw in your lot with Jesus. Where did this need for punishment come from? Suffering for one’s sins is not in any way organically Jewish. Guilt is — but that’s not born of paranoia. Jews are supposed to feel “guilty” for not living up to their obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. Jews, if they’re being “proper Jews”, should feel every last bit of the world’s injustice deep down in their “souls” which should be the trigger mechanism for them doing something to change that injustice.

Movies have been especially good at pilfering bits and pieces from polytheism to create monsters. The problem almost always comes down to complexity. Make the villain too complex and the audience loses interest. That’s why Christianity’s “Satan v God” dynamic has been so successful for so long. God is good and Satan is bad. Who can’t get that?

The Catholic Church invented a whole hierarchy of good in response to the evils they perceived as threatening them. Paul invented the idea of the “Christian Soldier”. “Armored with faith”, these “heroes” set out to defeat a monster — the infidel. Hovering above and around it all, the specter of death.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula goes right at that Christian fear of death and turns it on its head. Dracula already lives forever! The thing that will stop that from happening (aside from garlic and sunshine): a cross! Christianity will stop a creature who, like Jesus, has found a way to defeat death. Oh, the irony — it burns!

My late friend Scott Nimerfro worked on Tales with me. Scott was much more an aficionado of horror movies than I am. Frankly, though I made a good living in horror, it’s not the genre I look to when it’s quittin’ time. Scott came from Minnesota. His family was kind of religious; if I remember correctly, Scott’s mom was born again. While Scott and I never talked about our religious feelings when we wrote together (we wrote several episodes of The Outer Limits together plus numerous pilots — some that we even sold — and a couple of screenplays), Scott always brought an insider’s sense of what scared Christians and what didn’t. Scott died in 2016 after a year-long battle with angiosarcoma. He would have laughed at the idea of Christianity and horror movies being a match made in either heaven or hell.

Can’t ya see it up there on the screen? Christianity and horror movies are a match made in Hollywood. But all the prerequisites for a bang-up relationship were there at the start. Throw in a talking snake and call “Action!”

Beware The “Franken-Christian”

In my time, I’ve written a few horror movies. The whole point of a horror movie, of course, is the monster. Good monsters endure, bad ones get forgotten instantly. I’ve written for a few “good” monsters — Freddy Krueger, for instance (I co-wrote a bunch of episodes of the “Freddy’s Nightmares” syndicated TV series back in the early 1990’s). Freddy, of course, is a great monster. Great mythology. Great character nuances (which, in a monster, are pure gold). I co-wrote “Children Of The Corn II: Deadly Harvest”. That was a crap monster, that one. Vague and mealy-mouthed (corn-meal of course). I also had a hand in the very good monster in “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight”, the first Tales feature film. Billy Zane gets full credit for turning what was, on the page, a pedestrian monster into what was, on the screen, a very good monster: fun, funny yet nasty & believably vicious. Then there was Lilith — the monster of “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood” — a good idea for a good monster that got turned into a pedestrian idea for a monster because if you cast a movie for all the wrong reasons, you’ll screw up your movie. I worked with the “Walking Dead” team (briefly) when they tried to turn their show into an interactive arena event so I speak fluent “zombie”. While working on Tales From The Crypt, one of my bosses was Richard Donner, the director of horror classic “The Omen” whose wisdom about good monsters I drank like the finest, Jim Jones-iest kool aid. Yeah… I know a thing or two about monsters. And We The People have one right in our faces: The Franken-Christian!

How else to explain the mind-bending trip from “Do unto others” to this — the above picture. Or this —

What’s a non-Christian to make of American Christianity when it paints itself the way it paints itself? There’s no Jesus in any of this whatsoever. And yet, THIS monster has what it claims is Jesus’s face. Reminds me of a really good “Tales” episode directed by a talented guy named Bill Malone and starring a really terrific actress named Sherrie Rose: “Only Skin Deep”. A confident alpha male picks up a mysterious, masked woman named Molly at a costume party. Goes back to her place (in a funky warehouse space) where they have great sex — except she never takes off her weird mask. As the confident alpha male will learn, that “mask” is the face of Molly’s last lover — and she’ll be wearing HIS face when she goes out to party next time.

Molly was a very, very good monster.

Maybe the problem with too many American Christians is that they don’t celebrate Jesus’s life nearly as much as they celebrate his death. They’re less interested in “doing unto others” than they are in the ooga-booga and magical thinking that the Apostle Paul created out of whole cloth as he took his version of Jesus — and Jesus’s teaching — out to the Gentile world. The Jews rejected Paul’s version of Jesus because many of them, unlike Paul, had actually MET Jesus and heard him teach. Also — the Jews knew their mythology and knew that what Paul was trying to do with it simply didn’t conform to their understanding of it. Paul had little use for a living Jesus. He would have had no use for a Jesus who lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. Paul needed a Jesus who was dead but (most importantly) who ROSE from the dead. Paul needed a Jesus who beat death as the basis for the church he imagined. It’s a genius invention — but that is what is: an invention. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

Ah, but “Franken-Jesus” does. Put together from disconnected parts, the Franken-Jesus preaches “do unto others” while practicing no such thing.

His followers, by design, are all Franken-Christians. They worship the falsest of idols.

And thus, the horror movie of American life fades in…

Here’s The First Great “Life In The Time Of Coronavirus” Horror Movie

I have to be honest. The idea wasn’t mine — it was my wife’s. But the moment she said the premise, the rest of it played out almost instantaneously in my head.

That happens with me. I’ve written a few horror movies (“Children Of The Corn II”, “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood”) and wrote/produced “Tales From The Crypt” for HBO. I mention this “only” to lay down my bona fides. I’m not just a garden variety psychotic — I’ve actually made money at it.

What my wife pitched was a play on “Blow Up” (London photographer inadvertently photographs a murder in progress — but only after looking more closely — blowing up — the photo).

Her idea was this: someone watching a zoom meeting — a group of girlfriends, say — sees something in the background of one of those friend’s screens that makes them thing something bad’s going to happen.

That was it. The rest of the movie (with a few variations) came to me. Since no one knows when anyone will get to shoot such a movie — and figuring that by then this will be too faint a memory to mean anything anymore, I’m spending it here.

Here’s the horror movie — the thumbnail version: grab some popcorn.

There’s a group of girlfriends — 18 – 20 year olds. A few are quarantined alone for various reasons. A few are quarantined in small family groups — mom & dad plus a sibling. Normal family tensions.

But one of the girls — let’s call her Sophie — her family situation was strange to begin with. This is not a family you’d want to be quarantined with in the best of times. Let’s say there’s a bit of insanity in the family gene pool, the one exception being Sophie — who sees her friends and her Zoom connection to them as her only “lifeline”.

Did we mention that just as states and cities were ordering everyone into quarantine, Cousin MORGAN came to stay. In a family of crazies, Morgan’s the one all the other crazies won’t fuck with. He’s that crazy. And, having just gotten out of jail because of the approaching threat of coronavirus — he’s landed here because it was closest.

Did we mention also that Sophie’s family lives in a run-down old mansion (Grey Gardens style) — up a hill, around a bend — on the other side of the tracks from where all her friends live.

All Sophie’s friends adore her. They’ve all “taken care” of her, in part because she 1) came from the other side of the tracks but 2) was cool about it. All Sophie’s friends love Sophie — and are incredibly afraid of Sophie’s family — especially Cousin Morgan who they’ve always heard about.

Now — the fact is (back story here — we’ll learn all this as we go but, this being narrative — and a thumbnail — I’m dropping it here) most of Sophie’s family though eccentric and weird are harmless. But Cousin Morgan’s the real deal. And Sophie, her friend and the audience have every reason to be genuinely afraid of him. As far as we know.

Remember — our point of view in to Sophie’s family is Sophie.

The group has a Zoom call as the movie begins. We get how everyone’s quarantine is going day 1… day 5… day 15. For most of them, it’s a matter of muddling through — which they are. For a few others, the family dynamic is wearing them down. No one’s a child here. They’re all young adults and the ones forced back into their “high school bedrooms” (physically and emotionally) are beginning to bristle.

In Sophie’s case, it’s gone way beyond “bristling”. And that’s where — as Sophie’s friends begin to realize what’s happening in Sophie’s house (and what could happen to Sophie), the horror movie conventions begin to play.

What worries Sophie — the virus might be spreading inside her house. Her dad quarantined himself in his bedroom a few days ago. Locked the door too. Said he took in enough food and has water (there’s a private bathroom off his bedroom) to keep the door shut and the rest of the family safe. He won’t talk to them. Says hearing their voices is too hard. Only texts the others. He’s texted how exhausted he feels. Hard to breathe.

Problem is, Dad was the only thing in the house to balance Uncle Morgan — and what Sophie’s friends have seen are “hints” in the background of Sophie’s Zoom window that suggest she’s more a hostage than anything else.

And then, one night, Sophie doesn’t answer the Zoom invitation.

The horror movie is “what do Sophie’s friends do”. They’ll have to get to Sophie’s house, of course. One will at first — and give us a scary first-person, “Blair Witch” style creep-through of the carnage that’s already there.

She finds Sophie — tries to get her out — only to get killed by Uncle Morgan. A few more friends arrive. They get dispatched too. So does the cop who shows up.

Social distancing becomes an issue. The town’s on lockdown, say — because it’s suddenly a hot spot. The cops are stopping everyone who’s out and about — which will slow down Sophie’s friends at crucial moments just when Sophie needs them most.

One last friend (the one we’ve rooted for most) tries to save Sophie and nearly does when she realizes the terrible, terrible secret at the heart of it all — the real monster of the piece? It’s Sophie. SHE’S the one who, because of the quarantine, flipped out and massacred her whole family.

Sophie’s worse than a contagion. And, as the movie ends — she walks away — right into the sequel.

As we say in the business — “Scene”.