Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Zack Roth and Eli Barker studied their potential new roommate prudently, trying to determine if he would fit in. Physically, Clive Whedon fit the mold they sought. He was paunchy, sluggish, and had donned a Friday the 13th t-shirt for their meeting.
“We just have a few questions to make sure you’re the right roommate we’re looking for,” Eli explained. “First, how old was Jamie Lee Curtis when she made Halloween?”
“Who played Pinhead in Hellraiser and how many times?”
“Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead eight times in eight movies. Same as Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger eight times in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.”
“He’s good,” Zack declared.
“Let’s give him a hard question. Who played Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?”
“Bill Johnson. That wasn’t a hard question. Try something more obscure.”
“The first zombie movie ever made?”
The questions stopped as Zack and Eli conferred through whispers. Then Eli shared the good news with Clive.
“You passed the test. You can live here with us so long as you cover your half of the rent, which is 650 a month. And we’ll need a security deposit.”
“No problem,” Clive said, taking out his wallet and counting his first month’s share of the rent and the deposit.
“That’ll cover it,” Zack said, excepting the money. “There are three bedrooms. Yours is the last one on the left. There’s a twin bed in there. Sheets, blankets, and pillows are in the closet.”
“Great,” Clive said. “All my stuff is back at my mom’s house. I’d pick it up tonight, but I’m exhausted. If it’s cool with you guys, I guess I’ll crash here tonight and bring my stuff over in the morning.”
“Good, now sit down,” Eli ordered. “We’re about to watch Bonesaw.”
“Yeah, you want to talk about obscure… It was made by Jack Hopper in the late 70s. He only directed two films. This is the one that made it to DVD.”
“What happened to the second?”
“All prints were destroyed after the first couple of showings.”
“Fuck knows,” Eli said, opening the DVD case and popping in their copy of Bonesaw. “The legend is that the film was so graphic, so realistic for its time that audiences couldn’t handle it. The studio chickened out and all the reels were burned.”
“What was it called?” Clive asked, intrigued.
“You’ll never guess who’s in this movie,” Zack said, talking over previews of other horror flicks from the 70s. They were all original trailers that had not been re-mastered or altered in any way.
“I give up. Who?”
“Jeff Goldblum. He’s got a little five minute cameo towards the end of the film. I think this might’ve been the first thing he did.”
“We should try and track him down.”
“No, Jack Hopper. Maybe he has copies of the reels.”
“Sure maybe he could give us a private screening in his basement while his nephew plays the banjo,” Eli said, laughing. He piped down as Zack dimmed the lights and their feature presentation began.
* * *
Zack and Eli woke the next morning to discover their new roommate had not ventured out yet to gather his belongings. He had however made a fresh pot of coffee and was busy scouring the internet with Zack’s laptop.
“What are you doing up so early?” Eli inquired. “You’re not one of those early risers, are you?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I keep thinking about Ravage. I’ve put this movie through every search engine I can think of and there are no reviews, no information about the cast or crew besides Jack Hopper. There’s not even a date. The best I can find is a series of tenuous urban legends surrounding the making of the film. But I found something better; Jack Hopper’s hometown. We find Hopper, we find the movie.”
“I’m down for a pointless, money squandering road trip,” Zack said. “This could be the hidden gem of horror films and those reels, if there are still copies, are probably collecting dust in Jack Hopper’s basement.”
“I still say the whole idea is sketchy,” Eli said.
“I didn’t tell you the best part,” Clive smiled. “Where he lives.”
“Where does Jack Hopper live?”
“Right here on Long Island. Just two and a half hours away.”
“I’m going to pack my stuff,” Zack said.
“You guys are crazy,” Eli moaned. “But if you’re both going, I guess I can’t pass this opportunity up. Give me some time to get ready and we’ll go. Clive, MapQuest a random address from the town and print the directions. At least we’ll know how to get there. And by the way, since this was your bright idea, you’re paying to fill up the car on the first stop for gas.”
* * *
Sunday, January 6, 2013.
Hopper’s hometown of Eden Harbor was 140 miles east from their apartment in Cherrywood.
“You know what I hate?” Clive said from the backseat, trying to kill time with mindless conversation. “Those reward membership cards. How many fucking cards do they expect your wallet to hold? Best Buy, FYE, CVS, Staples, Barnes and Noble, Sears, practically every store in the mall has their own card. A few more and I’ll need a man purse to carry this shit around.”
“Wait, so you shop at Sears?” Eli laughed, and Zack couldn’t help but join in.
“That’s not my point,” Clive said, exasperation in his voice. He glanced at the directions he had printed from MapQuest and said, “Eden Harbor is the next exit.”
Eli snapped his right blinker on and turned off Sunrise Highway at Exit 68. The tires of Eli’s Pontiac Firebird gripped the curving exit ramp loosely, as the roads were covered by an invisible sheet of ice left behind from Friday’s snowstorm.
As they neared the end of the ramp, Eli tapped the brakes gently and the car skidded slightly across the pavement, coming to a stop just before they reached the main road. “That was a close one,” Eli breathed heavily, and the Firebird turned right on Main Street.
The roads of Main Street were no better than the roads of Sunrise Highway, and the balding tires of the Firebird did not enhance the traction, but rather caused Eli to zigzag all over the icy road.
“Why don’t you pull over just to play it safe?” Zack suggested.
“No way,” Eli demurred. “If anyone can handle this puppy, it’s me. I’ve driven through worse conditions than this.”
“The town bakery is two miles up the road,” Clive said, reading from the printed directions again.
“That’s what you Map-Quested?”
“What, you said get directions for a random address in Eden Harbor so we’d have something to go on. And I figured we’d stop there so I could get a black and white cookie.”
Eli ran over a patch of black ice buried under a thin veil of unmelted snow and the Firebird spun out of control. The frontend of the Pontiac struck the side of a metal guard rail and continued to spin in circles. Eli gripped the wheel so tightly his knuckles turned from white to red in seconds. The rear of the car fishtailed and struck the rail on the opposite side.
As their respective lives flashed before their very eyes, the Firebird continued to skid down the slick road before it came to a dead stop in the center. Eli slammed it into park, but the car was already turned off before he had a chance to remove the keys from the ignition. The Firebird had died as soon it came to a halt.
Eli turned the keys in the ignition, the engine sputtering as he pumped the gas pedal with his foot. Without the engine running, Eli managed to slide it into neutral and steer gently as Zack and Clive pushed from the rear. They were able to push the Pontiac off to the shoulder, and then Eli continued his futile struggle of trying to jumpstart the car by pumping the gas and twisting the key.
“Give it a rest,” Zack advised. “You’ll flood the engine. There’s some damage to the front, maybe to the engine too. We’ll need to call for a tow truck.”
“Guess we’re stopping at that bakery after all,” Clive almost grinned if not for the fact that they came seconds away from death.
* * *
They had walked half a mile down the road, and in that time, several other vehicles passed in their direction. Eli assumed the hitchhiker position on every occasion, but the motorists all sped by as if the three were invisible.
“How far did you say the bakery was?” Eli asked, wheezing and struggling to catch his breath. He wasn’t used to this sort of strenuous activity. He was used to walking from the couch to the fridge to get a snack, and then back to the couch. He had ran, much less walked a mile in years.
“We’ve still got a mile and a half to go, but there’s got to be a gas station or something coming up.”
“I don’t see anything on the horizon,” Zack said pessimistically.
“Why the hell do they even bother calling this Main Street?” Eli wondered, still wheezing.
“I see something,” Clive pointed ahead. “I think it’s a boatyard.”
“Hallelujah,” Eli exclaimed. “I bet there’s an office or a trailer there with a phone we could use to call a tow truck.”
* * *
The boatyards hours were listed in the window of the trailer. They were open from nine to five, but the door to the trailer was locked and a sign taped to the window read BACK IN FIVE MINUTES, SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.
So they waited. Zack removed some change from his pocket and treated himself to a Dr. Pepper from the soda machine adjacent to the trailer.
A lone fisherman wandered up from the bulkhead, tackle box in one hand, rod and reel in the other. “Do you know where the dock master went?” Eli stopped him to ask.
“I can’t say I’ve seen him,” the fisherman said. “Sorry boys.”
“Do you have a car?” Eli also inquired.
“I have a truck. I was just walking to it when you stopped me.”
“Can you help us? We had a bit of an accident and we need a lift to the nearest service station.”
“And to the bakery,” Clive added.
“Forget about the damn bakery,” Eli scolded, then turned his attention back to the fisherman. “Again, we could really use your help.”
“Sure,” the fisherman nodded. “I’ll give you a lift. I can tell you’re not from around here. What brings you to Eden Harbor?”
“It was fatso’s idea,” Eli said cruelly and nodded his head towards Clive. “We came down from Cherrywood to try and find Jack Hopper. We heard he grew up around here and still owned property.”
“You’re looking for Jack?” the fisherman asked, his eyes suddenly wide and glowing like moonlight.
“You know Jack Hopper?” Clive asked enthusiastically.
“Know him? I can take you right to his house. Jack would be delighted to meet three fans who drove all the way to see him.”
The three fan boys were just as jovial and radiant as the fisherman. They were about to meet an icon amongst the horror community. Finally, things were looking up for the three of them.
The same could not be said for the dock master, who was stretched out on the floor of the trailer; his throat sliced from ear-to-ear.
* * *
The fisherman zipped past the service station, claiming they could phone a tow truck from Jack’s place. “He won’t mind,” the fisherman assured them.
They passed four more boatyards, a couple of small bars and restaurants, a supermarket, and a coffee shop before the fisherman turned off Main Street and from that point on, it was the scenic route. The houses became less and less frequent as they drove on. The clear blue sky painted a beautiful, yet ominous backdrop.
From the backseat, Eli quietly mimicked the banjo tune from Deliverance until Zack shushed him. Clive was riding up front with the fisherman and felt obligated to make conversation. Halfway to Jack Hopper’s residence, it dawned on him that they had accepted a ride with this man without being formally introduced. Still, Clive felt safe. The odds were against this man if he tried anything, as they outnumbered him three to one. But Clive believed this man had no ill intentions.
He had spent half his life in a small town similar to Eden Harbor. He had encountered the type before; friendly, polite, eager to help. It’s a quality you won’t find living in the big city.
“The name’s Clive Whedon,” he introduced himself. “The two in the back are Zack Roth and Eli Barker. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but thanks for being kind enough to give us a lift. What’d you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” the man replied. “It’s Harry Resnik. And it’s no inconvenience. Jack’s a dear old friend of mine. We do favors for each other all the time. He’s always supplying me with fresh bait for my trips offshore.”
Harry Resnik made a sharp right turn and clouds of white dust drifted up from the dirt road he had turned onto. The house was a good five-hundred feet away from the road, but the mailbox on the corner clearly read HOPPER.
Jack Hopper’s place was an old decaying farmhouse with no cattle or crops in sight. Beside the property, an old Quonset hut with corrugated sides and roof that looked like something out of World War Two. The front and sides of the hut were rusty from years of battling the rough storms and snowfalls.
“Thanks for the lift,” Clive said as they climbed out of the truck.
“No problem,” Harry said, waiting for them to close the doors.
“You’re not coming in?”
“No need to. Jack is no celebrity to me. He’s just another local. But like I said, he’ll be delighted to meet the three of you. Don’t be shy, just knock on the door and explain the situation. He’s very approachable.”
They slammed the doors shut and Harry Resnik drove his truck in reverse back to the road. The three stood out on the veranda, examining the property. It wasn’t the kind of place you’d see on MTV Cribs, but for a guy like Jack Hopper, they all figured it sufficed. “Why do you figure he’s got a Quonset hut on his lawn?”
“Storage?” Zack replied, unsure of the answer. “Or maybe he’s one of those nutcases who are prepping for the end of the world.”
After a short debate over who was going to knock, Eli rapped on the side of the screen door several times.
The wood door beyond the screen opened, and a man appeared, but didn’t speak. Through the screen, Clive could see a man well into his sixties; his skin crinkly and lacking in color, his hair a memory of the past.
“Check’s in the mail,” Jack pledged, assuming they were creditors.
“No, sir, you misunderstand,” Zack spoke first. “We’re not creditors. We’re not here from the bank or anything. We’re just a couple of fans who happened to run into some car trouble. A friend of yours gave us a lift. He said you’d have a phone here and you’d be happy to see us.”
His demeanor changed suddenly and the door was thrust open all the way. “Come in, please,” Jack smiled. “Pleasure to meet you all. It’s so rare to encounter people who are aware of me. I stopped doing conventions because not enough people were familiar with Bonesaw.”
“Well, we loved it,” Zack assured him. “It’s a shame what happened to Ravage. That’s sort of the reason we came here.”
Jack Hopper made a sound that was not quite a laugh, but not quite a sigh. It fell somewhere in between the two. “That’s the one film people who recognize me always ask about. You’re right, it was a shame. Basically the studio tried to interfere with the first film. And I knew they were going to try and interfere with the second. So I decided to film it on my own, independently. No studio interference, even though the studio did eventually agree to release it.”
“So what went wrong?” Zack persisted.
“The film was very ahead of its time. Even with films like Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, people just weren’t accustomed to the brutality. It was too real for mainstream audiences, too savage. So the film was pulled from every theater in America and the studio demanded all prints be burned.”
“I still have several reels in my basement. They’re a little beat up, but it only adds to the viewing experience in my opinion. It gives it a real grindhouse feel.”
Zack was giddy, on the verge of bouncing up and down. He was like a kid at Christmas.
“How much for a private screening?” Zack asked.
“For three true fans… free of charge. I still have an old projector and screen down there. Just give me a few minutes to set it up and make the popcorn.”
The floor above creaked and Eli tilted his head up to the ceiling. “What was that?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s just my son, Lucas. He’s almost fifty, but he hasn’t worked a day in his life because of his condition. Speaking of which, don’t say anything about it. He’s very sensitive.”
“We wouldn’t dream of it,” Zack assured him.
“What condition?” Eli asked insensitively. Zack jabbed him in the gut with his elbow as if to say “shut up”, but it was already said and Jack didn’t seem to mind Eli asking. He actually seemed used to it.
“He suffers from Parry-Romberg Syndrome. It’s a rare facial syndrome that is characterized by progressive degeneration of tissues beneath the skin, usually occurring on one side of the face. In layman’s terms, he has a bit of a crater face. It looks as though the whole left side is being pulled into a sinkhole. Poor guy.” Jack shook his head with sorrow.
“Sounds like it would make a hell of a horror movie.”
“That was my thought too. That’s why I cast Lucas in Ravage. He wore a mask through most of it to conceal his condition, but he was still riveting. But the studio just didn’t see the potential. Now, let’s go get those reels running. And I'll have Lucas phone a tow truck for you. Just write down your plate number, the make and model and he'll take care of it.”
* * *
For the first thirty minutes, the three guys sat in stunned silence as the projector hummed away and the carnage unfolded across the tiny silver screen. The film was graphic beyond their wildest expectations. Nothing they had seen before could have prepared them for this movie.
On the surface, it was your basic low budget horror flick. Gratuitous nudity, characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, a unknown killer running around in an unnerving Smiley Face mask. But Jack was right. The film was too savage, too aggressive. They had seen plenty of fright flicks in their day, but never did the blood and gore look so real, so vivid. The whole experience was like watching an extended snuff film. And Clive was beginning to think that wasn’t too far from the truth.
“Dude,” Clive leaned over and whispered to Zack. “This is fubar. Call me crazy, but I think… I think what we’re seeing… is real. Look at all that blood. Doesn’t look like corn syrup and red dye to me.”
Glancing up the stairs, Eli noticed the basement door was slightly ajar. The cold air circulating through the uninsulated basement seemed to stop flowing behind him, and the air was growing warmer.
The glow of the screen was not enough to illuminate Jack’s vast basement, and amidst the darkness behind them, Eli felt a presence.
He wasn’t sure at first, until he felt the warm breath on his neck and shoulder.
Eli turned his head, peering out the corner of his eye. He caught a glimpse of pure terror that was not confined to the screen. The last thing he saw was a man wearing a Smiley Face mask.
* * *
Something wet splashed against Eli’s face and he gasped for air as his eyes flickered and tried to adjust. The blow to the head had temporarily scrambled his circuits and he wasn’t even sure what year it was, or what the hell was dripping down his face.
The liquid reached his lips and he smoothed his tongue across them. “Water,” he moaned. “Just water.” He tried to move, but something was preventing him, holding him in place.
Their arms were suspended overhead, wrists tied by rope that was looped around the support beams of the huts rafter. Clive was in the middle, Zack to the right, Eli to the left.
As his hazy vision came into focus, he heard a voice ring out through the hut. It was Hopper, standing alongside his masked progeny, and looking down at a tool bench. “Let’s see what we have to play with today. Chainsaw, hatchet, machete, scalpel, nail gun, butcher knife, crossbow, sledgehammer. All the proper ingredients we need to make a horror film. Are the cameras rolling yet?”
“Not yet,” a voice beneath the mask said. But the words sounded mumbled, as if Jack’s son was talking out of one side of his mouth.
“What are you waiting for? We’ve got a movie to make.”
“Mr. Hopper, you’re making a terrible mistake. I implore you to reconsider.” His pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears as Jack selected his first batch of toys to incorporate in the film.
“You were nice, respectful,” Jack said directly to Clive. “That doesn’t mean you get a pass. But I’m saving you for last. Until then, enjoy the show.”
“You sick fuck!” Eli shrieked and spit in his direction.
Jack picked up the hatchet and the butcher knife and passed them to Lucas. “Go to work. Entertain our audience, why don’t you?”
Clive squeezed his eye shut. The sounds of buzzing, carving, slicing, and sawing were all amplified by the enclosed hut. And so were the screams.
Warm blood sprayed across his face as he heard Eli’s final scream. Zack trembled as he tugged arduously at the ropes. His left leg was trembling involuntarily. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get it to stop twitching.
“You’re next,” Jack whispered, zooming in with his camera as Lucas fetched the chainsaw from the tool bench and yanked away at the starter cord.
“Open your eyes,” Jack said to Clive. “I want you to see. Lucas, remove your mask.” Clive’s eyes were still tightly shut and wasn’t ready to open them. “Open your damn eyes or I’ll have my son slice off your eyelids.”
Clive opened them slowly, one eye at a time. Lucas had pulled his mask halfway up, exposing his deformity. The right side of his face remained intact, while the left side was sunken and misshapen. It appeared as if the left side was gradually imploding. “Gentlemen,” Jack spoke again. “Allow me to introduce you to the newest face of horror – Smiley Face.”
“You mean Crater Face?” Zack asked, laughing.
The roar of the chainsaw filled the hut and drowned out most of Zack’s squeals. Clive was forced to watch and endure every second of his friend’s demise.
“You should’ve stuck to movie marathons and film conventions. You would’ve lived much longer. You wanted a horror movie, I gave you one. Granted, it’s a work in progress, but it still has potential.”
As “Crater Face” moved forward, chainsaw in hand, Clive closed his eyes again and did the one thing he could think of. He used his unbound leg to kick Lucas in the balls. The chainsaw flailed wildly in his unsteady hands. He flung the saw around aimlessly, struggling to retain his balance. He missed his target several times and wound up severing the overhanging rope with the teeth of the saw.
Clive fell to his knees and head-butted Lucas in the gut, causing him to fall backwards. The chainsaw fell to his side and buzzed around the floor with no direction. “You idiot!” Jack screamed at Lucas, gently laying the camera down as if he were placing a baby in its crib. It was still rolling when he picked up the chainsaw and switched it off.
Clive’s hands were still bound in front of him, but his movements were no longer restricted and the object of escape–the Quonset door–was thirty feet away from his hacked up comrades.
As Clive bolted for the door, Jack grabbed the crossbow and fired one shot. It was a miss, but the arrow pierced the corrugated side of the hut. As Jack positioned a second arrow with the bow, Clive forced the door opened and dodged his second attack.
Sunlight. Birds chirping. The ominous blue sky looking down on him. It all felt like a dream wrapped inside a nightmare. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet.
The road was five-hundred feet from the farm house and he’d be damned if his legs weren’t going to carry him that five-hundred feet and beyond. He ran, never once looking behind.
He ran until every muscle in his legs ached and cried for him to stop. He ran until the sweat poured down his body and his heart was pounding against his ribcage. It wasn’t until later that Clive realized he hadn’t gotten this much exercise since grade school gym class.
It could’ve been half a mile, maybe more before he came across the next house. Just a few feet away from the door, he collapsed and everything went dark.
* * *
Babies crying. Screams of joy and screams of pain. The overpowering aroma of ointments and disinfectants. The steady beeping of a nearby heart monitor. He breathed a sigh of relief when he recognized all the signs that he was in the hospital. He couldn’t even remember the last time he was happy to be in a hospital.
“Sir, are you feeling well enough?” A young nurse asked. Why do you ask? Clive wondered. Want to give me a sponge bath. Please let it be that. “You have a visitor.”
“Who? Are the police here?”
“Police? No, your Uncle Jack is here to see you.”
Clive gulped. It’s ok, you’re in a hospital. There are witnesses. You’re safe. “Send him in.”
“I was so worried about you,” Jack said as he entered the room, feigning concern until the nurse dismissed herself. “Congratulations. You’re the one that got away. Kudos to you.”
“Why did you come here?”
“To discuss my latest project. You see, the first film was too mainstream. Too much studio interference ruined it. Ravage was a chance to do things right, and it failed because the studio wouldn’t give it a chance. But now the sequel is in the works. And judging by today’s market, I have a feeling things will be different this time around. And you, you’re going to be my main star. And I have the perfect villain, Crater Face. Now rest… tomorrow we resume filming."