The Player

Anno Dracula 1990

 

It was unnatural that a warm man should be so enthused at the Hour of the Wolf.  Behind heavy-framed glasses, the kid’s eyes jittered and shone.  He wasn’t on drac, so Alucard guessed the auteur-in-waiting had caffeinated himself on a dozen jolts of full-strength Java.

‘You are?’

‘Adam Simon,’ said the kid.

The writer-director wore a too-big check shirt outside khaki pants and hadn’t shaved in the twenty-two hours since the last daybreak.  He waved his hands constantly, a distraction.  If Alucard concentrated, he saw movements beyond the ordinary human optical spectrum.  A rarely useful vampire trick.  Sometimes, he was distracted by artefacting in his vision, almost lulled into fascination by shapes and colours the warm couldn’t see.

Simon had made a couple of Roger Corman pictures, The Howling Man and Blood Chemistry 2.  He was looking to pitch something at a major minor or a minor major. 

Alucard was an independent with deals all over town.  His line of old blood money and new Wall Street finance was the envy of corporate conglomerates who still didn’t know what to do with motion picture studios they’d swallowed twenty years earlier.  He chose to work out of Miracle Pictures because one of his third-generation companies had a controlling interest monopolies and trusts people would never figure.  He paid himself rent on office and stage facilities and set it against tax.  Most nights, he hit the lot sometime after three and took meetings and calls until dawn.  He was at his best and the warm were drowsy or cranked.  No one in the business complained about having to stay up or get out of bed to see him.  Most would sacrifice more than a few hours’ sleep for a face-to-face with John Alucard.

Simon had been haunting his outer office for months, cajoling Beverly for a pitch window.  She must have taken pity on the lost soul.  He would give her a taste of the cat for that.

The kid sat, without being asked.  Visitors’ chairs, six inches shorter than Alucard’s solid throne, were constructions of chrome and canvas designed to become uncomfortable after a few minutes.  This office was his sanctum: it didn’t do to encourage people to settle in.  Simon sank lower into the chair than he’d expected and found himself craning to see over Alucard’s desk, a pair of antique Spanish grandee coffins supported by four bowed hardwood angels.  The kid was momentarily distracted by a framed Warhol, a silk-screened red and yellow and black multiple reproduction of an 18th Century portrait of Carmilla Karnstein.

‘I’ve a project I think you’re going to be very excited about, John,’ began the writer-director.  ‘Blockbuster potential, but with integrity.  A star vehicle, but with something to say.  It’s very makeable, within a tight-ish budget.  Or on big bucks if that’s what it takes.  Whatever.’

‘Sands are flowing, Adam.  Preamble eats into your pitch slot.’

Simon swallowed and began.

‘We begin,’ he said, hands raised, palms out, opening like theatre curtains.  ‘A John Alucard Production.  An Adam Simon Picture.  Big Star Name in … The Rock.’

‘A boxing picture?  Doesn’t Stallone own the title?’

‘Not RockyThe Rock.’

‘I like Stallone, though.’

‘So do I, enormously.  Death Race 2000, great movie.  F.I.S.T., very underrated.’

Alucard made a funnelling motion, sand in an hourglass.

The Rock,’ said Simon.  ‘The Big House.  Alcatraz Island.’

‘A prison picture?’

‘Exactly, but with a twist, a new wrinkle, an angle.  A prison picture, with vampires.’

Word around town was that John Alucard was a soft touch for vampire pitches.  He hadn’t green-lighted a viper movie since The Lost Boys, but the flurry around the botched conjuring had left a wrong impression with the bottom-feeders.  Every night, he nixed vampire pitches.  The American public had a limited tolerance for films about the undead.  Audiences wanted characters to wake up warm at the sunrise, not go all the way into the night.  The Lost Boys sailed under the radar because it was a dhampire movie.  At the end, bad vampires Kiefer Sutherland and Edward Herrmann were destroyed, and nice kids Jason Patric and Jamie Gertz turned warm again.

‘Adam, just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I’ll back a vampire picture.  Mayer, Glick and Warner were Jews.  How many films did old Hollywood make about Jews?’

‘Uh, The Life of Emile ZolaGentleman’s Agreement.’

‘Ancient history.  I know all about Alcatraz.  You’re not the first to come to me with this idea.  I’ve even had your title pitched, by Eszterhas or Shane Black.’

‘The title’s not important.  It could be From Dusk Till Dawn.  That’s classier.  Or Lock-Up.  Or The Concrete Coffin.’

‘Your Corman background is showing.  This is The Big Doll House with vampires.’

‘”With vampires” isn’t the twist.  This isn’t just another vampire prison movie.  They’ve been done to death with Linda Blair and Sylvie Kristel.  I have a new new angle.’

‘Sands run low, Adam.’

‘Here’s our pre-credits sequence.  The dock on Frisco Bay.  Sunset.  An armoured car draws up.  It’s like a prison cell on wheels, a black iron cage.  It’s a tank constructed inside-out, not to keep the crew safe from the world but to keep the world safe from the passengers.  A boat, also armoured out the wazoo, is waiting to take the new fish out to the Rock.  We see the island on the horizon, gulls circling above in the twilight like vultures.  A John Ford sky, blood-red with grey clouds.  Guards with riot-guns, crossbows, burning crosses.  We get pro ball players or wrestlers. Huge guys, arms like cantaloupes, slabs of beef.  Close-up: silver dum-dums chambered into a pump-action shotgun.  The rear door of the armoured transport opens.  The grizzled senior guard — Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman — reads off a clipboard, giving us voice-over intro to the cons.’

‘The guard is the star part?’

‘No. No.  Best Supporting Actor Nomination.’

‘I like someone younger in the lead.  More sex.’

‘You’ll get it.  You’ll get a lot of it.’

‘Sex in prison?  Sounds like a fag art movie.  Jean Genet is dead again, you know.’

‘The Rock is co-ed.  It’s for vampires, remember.  Some of those nosferatu women are hardcore.’

Alucard let that pass.  Miriam Blaylock, the most elegant murderess of the 80s, had wound up on the Rock.  Ricia ‘Rusty’ Cadigan, the lonelyhearts killer who’d just lost a final appeal before the Supreme Court, was on the island too, safely welded into her solitary cell.

They were all idiots, to his mind.  Like Lacroix and Macelli.  Hopped up on what their ‘vampire powers’ could do, they thought they were beyond the law.  Alucard hadn’t personally killed anyone warm since 1982.

‘We see cons come out of the van,’ continued Simon.  ‘Big, small, mean, sneaky.  We get their histories.  What they’ve been convicted of. Horrible, horrible crimes.  Mass murder, serial murder, drac-dealing, death cults.  One’s an elder, nailed with charges that go back centuries.  A Transylvania Movement terrorist who led an assault on a Romanian gymnastics team, popping the heads off five fifteen-year-old girls.  Call him something like “Baron Monster”.’

Alucard smiled.  Meinster was too short and prissy to be a movie villain, but Steven Berkoff had already played two a clef versions of the TM elder.  If Berkoff was busy in the theatre, there was always Julian Sands.

‘And there’s a woman, America’s first home-grown female vampire serial killer.’

‘Rusty Cadigan?’

‘We change the name, of course.  Ratty Cardigan.’

‘Good.  Cons doing five hundred years have nothing to do but study law and bring nuisance suits.’

Three competing prime time drama-docs about Cadigan were in the works, with Susan Dey, Lauren Hutton and Lynda Carter flashing dental plastic as prettied-up vamps.  Hoffman, Rusty’s warm lawyer, had a reputation as the most voracious bloodsucker in Los Angeles.  He had injuncted transmission of the specials, while co-operating with Nick Broomfield, the British filmmaker, to get his client’s bizarre side of the story in a theatrical documentary, Diamond Skulls.  Rival sets of victim relatives, standing to benefit financially from their own ‘based on a true story’ TV movies, were in on the act with their own lawyers, as was the homicide cop who had made the arrest.  By the time the legal dust settled, the public would have lost interest and found another monster to care about.

‘Anyway, four or five of the worst vampires you ever saw — no offence, John — are on the dock, in silver chains.  Red eyes, fangs, snarls.  Then the last convict, the star part, comes out of the car-cage, hands shackled in old-fashioned iron.  He looks at the sunset, is dazzled, and shades his eyes.  He’s a warm man.’

A switch flicked in Alucard’s back-brain.

‘You have me,’ he said.  ‘What’s a warm man doing there?’

‘Doesn’t matter, really.  We contrive circumstances.  Say his wife and family were killed by a vampire cult and he took them all down with a flamethrower and stakes.  Flashback time, later in the picture.  But the cult’s leader had connections.  A rich kid new-born.  His old man a big wheel. Noise has been made in Congress.  There are pale anti-defamation groups.  Our man has acted just as ruthlessly as a vampire, has done as many dark deeds.  So he’s the first warm human to be sentenced to the Rock.’

‘It couldn’t happen.’

‘This is the movies.  Our man — Clint Eastwood, say, or Scott Glenn — is on the boat to an island full of the blood-sucking undead.  The vampires he killed have fathers-in-darkness or get in the population.  The whole prison is stuffed with vampires who haven’t tasted warm blood since they were slammed up, and who have a collective monster jones for the red red red.  And our man is the only warm, pulsing neck in the place.  Two thousand nothing-to-lose honest-to-Bram Stoker bloodlusting undead monsters, and one living man in for a hundred years.  How can he survive?’

‘Does he?’

‘Not in the end, that would be ridiculous.  They have to tear him apart.  He fights and fights, bests the worst of the bad guys, takes down the elder who’s the king of the cons, adds to his sentence by killing more vampires.  The only ending possible is that he’s brutalised so much in stir that he becomes the thing he hates.  He turns.  We end in solitary, with his red eyes and fangs.  He’s howling for blood.  It’ll be a killer finish.’

‘I don’t like it.  Audiences won’t go for negative.’

‘So he dies a hero.  Refuses to turn vampire.’

‘That’s distasteful.  No, he survives, beats the odds, and escapes.’

‘No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz.’

‘This is the movies.  Eastwood already made it once.’

Escape From Alcatraz, Don Siegel, 1980.  But that was about the old prison.’

‘Scrub Eastwood.  I still like Stallone.’

Stallone?’

‘He’s blue-collar for the sixpack audience, pretty enough to get in women and a few gays, and college kids like to laugh at his mumbling.  We get a Frank Stallone song over the end credits.  A cover of “The Green, Green Grass of Home”.  The point is that Stallone survives against the odds.  He not only escapes from the prison, but escapes from himself.  By breaking out — and he does this with the help of the Ratty character, who redeems herself and dies, but not until after they’ve had a steamy sex scene which ends with him letting her bite him but refusing to drink her blood and turn vampire — Stallone breaks out of his pattern of hatred for all vampires, which is really the hatred he has for himself because he couldn’t save his family. The Supreme Court upholds his appeal, so he’s home free and clear for the last scene at his family’s graves.  We have to say that not all vampires are badasses, because they’re an audience too.  The Granpas will like the girl who turns good in the end — we could get Brigitte Nielsen practically for free — and the nightriders will read the film as a story about the elder who tells the truth the warm wormmeat won’t hear.  For the elder part, I like a British voice to sell the dialogue, maybe Anthony Hopkins, Alan Rickman.’

‘That’s not quite where I was going with it.’

‘That’s the treatment I’ve bought.’

‘You’ve bought it?’

‘Just now.  It happened so fast you didn’t notice it.  Adam Simon, we’re going to make The Rock.’

The kid looked as if he’d taken a sledgehammer to the back of the head but discovered that it felt good.

‘With Stallone, this picture is a go.’

There were three minutes left of pitch-time.  Simon just sat there, scratching his curly hair.

Alucard flipped his intercom and told Beverly to have a contract ready for Adam Simon to sign on the way out.

‘I should run it past my agent.  And maybe my analyst.’

‘Sign while it’s hot.  Tomorrow night, maybe I take another vampire prison picture pitch.  It’s in the atmosphere.  Steam-engine time.’

‘Yeah, you’re right.  Thanks, John.’

‘Thank you.’

He shook the writer-director’s hand.

‘Have me the treatment tomorrow.  I’ll get it to Sly.’

‘I won’t sleep.’

‘I wouldn’t let you.’

In a cloud of glee and amazement, Simon left the office.  Alucard kept the intercom open.  He heard a burble of meaningless chatter between the kid and Beverly, then the vital scratching of the pen on the standard contract.

John Alucard now owned The Rock.

He ran down short-lists.  As policy, he didn’t care for writer-directors.  He preferred to deal with mutually hostile creatives who’d jostle each other for DGA or SWG credits.  None of his films had been written by fewer than twelve people and he used an average of three directors on any project.

For The Rock, he liked George Pan Cosmatos to get the master shots, to be replaced in mid-shoot by Russell Mulcahy for the style and the laughs and Peter MacDonald for the action and gore.  He would be proud to release a movie with an Allan Smithee credit.

One thing was certain.  Simon would end up being grateful for a small-print ‘and with thanks to’ mention between the location caterers and the licensed music rights in the end credits.  Alucard might let him shoot the ‘making of’ cable documentary.

He listened to the clatter of the kid leaving the outer office, floating off the floor but trying not to bump his head against the lintel.

‘Beverly,’ he said.

‘Yes, Master,’ deadpanned his Renfield.

‘I’ll be expecting an express delivery from Adam Simon tomorrow afternoon.  Arrange for him to bike it over.’

‘At his expense?’

‘How well you know me, my best beloved.’

‘It’s in the to-do book.  I’ll have his package by the time you pop out of your coffin at sunset tomorrow.’

‘Excellent.  Then tell security Adam Simon is never to be allowed on this lot again.  Deadly force is authorised if he attempts to violate the ruling.  In fact, I want you to buy a big bottle of liquid paper and obliterate his name from all our records except the legally binding contract he just signed.  Your primary instruction is never again to speak the name “Adam Simon” in my presence.  Am I understood?’

‘Yes, Master.’

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