Wednesday, March 21, 2012
REEL MONSTER (the novel) - pages 1-10
This is the first ten pages of my third novel REEL MONSTER, which is based on a screenplay I wrote a while back (if you're here to read the screenplay, go to the previous blog post). What I may do is post a few chapters here and there gradually, which will help motivate me to keep editing the current rough draft. Then I'll ultimately compile everything into one coherent novel. Any comments or feedback would be appreciated as I go along.
The story is about two misfit teens who find a magic VCR that enables them to pull their favorite movie star (Johnny Cruise) out of the movies and into the real world. With Johnny as their new friend, the two teens try to become the most popular kids in their high school and win over the girls of their dreams.
In the spirit of John Hughes movies like WEIRD SCIENCE and other fun 1980s teen flicks, REEL MONSTER is mostly a fun teenager story inspired by my days at high school and the fantasies of my youth.
by matt burns
WGA Registered #1193808
“Video Palace” was one of the first video stores to be born out of the video age. Of course, this was before any type of Blockbuster Video ever came about. And it goes without saying that nobody knew what the heck Netflix was...or a Redbox, for that matter. Video stores hadn’t really been franchised yet. They were mostly independently-owned deals, each with a unique name and personality of their own.
The interior design of “Video Palace” was pretty simple: buzzing fluorescent lights, movie posters surrounded by blinking marquis lights, and red, wall-to-wall carpet that was supposed to evoke feelings of the ‘red carpet’ at a Hollywood movie premiere. The smell of fresh popcorn hit your face with a vengeance as soon as you walked into the store (Mr. Craven - the owner - purposely kept the machine near the entrance to instantly put his customers into a movie mood). Bags of the popcorn were sold for a dollar apiece and cinema-like buckets were also available for an additional twenty-five cents. Then, of course, there were Milk Duds, Snowcaps, Good ‘N Plenty and Ju Ju Bees available at the front counter, all packaged in Jumbo-sized boxes like how they were at cinemas.
There were three televisions spread throughout the store - two small ones that hung from opposite sides of the ceiling, and then one giant, big-screen TV located on the floor in the way back of the store. This TV was basically the antithesis of the slim widescreen televisions of today. The thing weighed a ton, had a huge fanny and had to be transported via wheels.
All three of the televisions were synched up to one VCR that Craven controlled from behind the front counter. It was usually playing a family-friendly movie, like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON or something else from Disney or at least something that the MPAA rated to be no higher than PG. Craven, of course, only played his favorite movies and knew all the content by heart. This meant he never had to worry about any curse words popping up when a mother and her little children were in the store.
Like most video stores of the era, Video Palace was also notoriously known for its “Adult Closet” in the way back of the store. Craven was never proud of this closet, but he came to terms with the fact that he needed it as a way of keeping up with his competition. On most nights, there was usually some shuffling coming from the closet and then eventually a middle-aged man would emerge looking sheepish and a bit red in the face. Remember, these were the days before the Internet, so the fellers had to feed their appetites for everything pornographic via videotapes. Playboys, Husslers and Penthouses could only give a gentleman so many jollies. Most of these gents couldn’t afford the Spice Channel either, unless they had a scrambler, but those were hard to come by.
Other than ‘the closet’, however, the store was a family-friendly place. Mr. Craven treated all of his customers with the utmost charm, charisma and friendliness. He loved talking movies with his customers. And they loved talking to him as well.
Tonight was no exception to the rule.
“How are you tonight, Sir?” asked Craven, who was dressed like the usher to a movie theater (black pants, white shirt, black bowtie and cummerbund).
“Great,” said the customer, who looked like an accountant or broker who just got off his shift in the financial district. It was ten minutes of ten and he was the last customer of the night.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Excellent. Could I have the last four digits of your phone number, please?”
Craven typed the number into the IBM computer and summoned the proper account.
“Last name?” he asked, just for verification.
The information checked out OK and Craven proceeded to scan the customer’s rentals: A Fish Called Wanda and Back to the Future.
“Aaah, yes...excellent choices,” Craven said to the customer.
“I’ve heard great things.”
“You won’t be disappointed.”
Craven finished scanning the videos and placed them at the far end of his counter, on the other side of the security gate that stopped thieves.
“All set. Enjoy the movies.”
“Thank you,” said the customer as he grabbed his rentals and left the store.
Mr. Craven leaned over the counter and watched the customer exit into the outside parking lot. His eyes were already rather magnified from the lenses of his coke-bottle glasses, but they became even bigger and wider, almost to the point of looking...well, a tad mad. Only the God that created him could have known what was going on in this man’s mysterious mind.
He scooted out from behind the counter and scurried over to the store entrance. The parking lot outside was dark and deserted - no action as far as he could see. Mr. Craven glanced down to his brand new digital calculator watch: it was still two minutes until closing time, but the parking lot seemed quiet enough and he couldn’t really wait to get down to business.
LOCK! SHACKLE! SNAP! He secured the door with three separate locks and shut the Venetian blinds over the store’s front windows. Then he killed the fluorescent lights and tip-toed to the way back of the darkened store. Just to be on the safe side, he figured he ought to take a peek into the adult closet, even though the contents inside disgusted him more than anything in the world. Craven was the kind of guy who preferred a Disney movie over a pornographic film any day. He was a kid at heart. His body was sixty years old but his heart was about twelve.
He creaked the door to the closet open, took a quick peek inside - being sure not to make any eye contact with any movies lining the shelves - and saw that there was no sign of any creepy gentlemen left over. In the past, he’d had problems with certain men hoping to be locked into the place over night. Their intention was to watch all the pornographic movies they could feast their eyes on and play with their body all night in the most filthy of ways.
Fortunately, there was no sign of any creeps like that tonight. Yuck! Disgusting specimens of the human species.
Craven shut the closet door and sidestepped his way over to a shelf of movies lining the back left wall of the store. This was the special “Johnny Cruise” section that he had just recently assembled now that Johnny had more than a dozen movies under his belt and many more on the way.
He took one more peek over his shoulder to be absolutely sure the store was empty and then reached for a video entitled "STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT!", which was by far Johnny Cruise’s worst movie and considered - according to many critics - to be one of the worst movies of all time, perhaps even making Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE look like CITIZEN KANE. The movie was an action comedy about a nun who witnesses her best friend (and fellow sister) being murdered by an unknown assailant on the convent grounds. Johnny plays a cop who is assigned to catch the killer and he also has to protect the nun from being silenced by the killer. Of course, the cop teaches the nun how to use a gun for protection and that’s basically where the movie’s title comes from.
Yes, STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT! was, perhaps, the worst movie of all time and the video itself hadn’t been rented by one single person since the first month of its release a few years ago. Mr. Craven was pretty sure that the chances of this video being removed from the shelf were slim to nil, so he knew that it was the best video he could use to conceal the lever. Wait, the lever?
Yes, the lever.
Mr. Craven removed the dusty STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT! video from the shelf, only to reveal a mysterious red lever that said “Pull Me”. Craven’s eyes swirled with utter madness and he ran his fingers through his wild, white hair. "A-hee." A giggle bubbled out of his throat and he did exactly what the lever told him to do: he pulled it.
Suddenly, the shelf of videos started to rotate ninety degrees like a secret passage in some old Scooby Doo cartoon. “A-hee-hee-hee!” cackled the wild Craven. He took one last peek over his shoulder and placed the STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT! videotape right back where he found it. Then, he entered the dark passageway and got swallowed by an abyss of darkness.
The shelf of videos rotated back to its original position, just like nothing ever happened.
The secret laboratory was something straight out of some B-1950s-science fiction-movie, like Howard Hawks’ THE THING or Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. There were beakers bubbling with mysterious green potions and test-tubes smoking with purple chemical compounds and even one of those Jacobs Ladder things with that electrical charge that went bzz bzz bzz. Cobwebs covered a shelf of leather-bound books lining the back wall and one of the books looked like something the Evil Queen would have been using in SNOW WHITE when she turned herself into a hag.
What stood out the most in the laboratory was a wooden perch in the far corner of the room, and on this perch was a big, black raven named Maxwell. This was Mr. Craven’s pet bird of several years, the closest living being that ever came close to being his soulmate, as Mr. Craven never had any interest in getting married or being involved in any kind of a serious relationship. Yes, that bird and his movies were his only true friends. He would have never been able to give any other living person more love than he gave to his bird and his movies. It just wasn’t possible. And this simply wouldn’t be fair for any woman out there in the world. He would have been a terrible husband, not to mention a terrible father.
“Maxwell, my darling!” shouted the wacky Craven as he entered the laboratory with a wild grin smeared over the entire lower third of his face.
Maxwell puffed out his feathers, flapped his wings twice and let out a squawk.
“I know, Maxwell. It’s been a busy night, my sweet. But now we can resume our more important duties.”
Craven grabbed a white lab coat from off a wooden rack and put it on over his video store uniform. Then he drew his full attention to an observation table in the center of the laboratory. On the table was Craven’s latest project, what he considered the project of all projects. It was no Frankenstein monster or Bride of Frankenstein or anything along those lines. No, it was a strange machine, rectangular in shape and silver in color. There were also dials. And knobs. And buttons!
Mr. Craven hovered over the machine and started to caress the top of it with his hand, like it was the newborn child he never had. Then he reached into the chest pocket of his lab coat and pulled out a small screwdriver.
“Ah, Maxwell. With a twist of this screw here, my creation will be complete!”
Maxwell squawked in delight as Craven inserted the Phillips-head screwdriver into the machine’s last remaining loose screw. With a simple twist, the screw became tight and the machine was officially complete.
“At last, it is finished!”
He took a step back from the observation table, trying to get a better birds-eye-view of his creation. His eyeballs were practically popping out of their sockets now and the teeth to his grin started grinding together in almost an animalistic excitement.
“Years and years of work have gone into this experiment, Maxwell! And tonight we shall enjoy the fruits of our labor!”
Maxwell hopped on his perch and flapped his wings in over-excitement.
“Yes, tonight is the night, Maxwell! The moment has finally arrived!"
Mr. Craven couldn’t help but allow cackles to bubble up his throat.
“A-hee! Hee! Hee!”
And more cackles.
“Hee! A-hee! Hee! Hee!”
By this point, Maxwell was flapping his wings and squawking maniacally. He didn’t understand a word Mr. Craven was saying but he could get a sense from his master’s energy that there was something to be absolutely ecstatic about.
“A-hee! Hee! Hee!!!” Craven’s cackles reached an unhealthy intensity and he suddenly began to feel a pain in his chest growing in strength. “A-hee...Hee...Hee...” Along with the pain, he started to feel a bit light-headed and his skin broke out in a sudden and strange sweat. It was about at this point that Mr. Craven knew something was terribly wrong.
His right cheek started to feel numb and he could literally feel the numbness travel down his neck, down his arm and soon proliferate throughout the entire right side of his body. Then he became conscious of his breathing, mainly because getting oxygen into his lungs seemed to get more and more difficult to accomplish. His breaths became shorter and shorter and he could literally feel the beating of his heart get slower and slower. And, then, without warning, he lost all balance and all motor skills. Quicker than a man could snap his fingers, Mr. Craven collapsed to the floor. And that was that. He was dead.
Maxwell’s squawking lessened as he realized something had happened to his master. He flew off his perch and landed on the chest of the lifeless Mr. Craven. The black bird gave his master a few pecks on the chest with his sharp beak, as though trying to administer CPR. But the bird’s efforts were done to no avail. Maxwell’s master was dead and there was no hope of resuscitating him.
Several Years Later...
The walls of his bedroom were in a transitional phase, which was actually reflective of a more figurative transition taking place on the inside of Mikey. Of course, there were still a few baseball pennants, race car posters and other decorations that identified the room as a “boy’s room”. These decorations had been there since way before Mikey had been able to establish any kind of individual identity for himself. His parents had put them there when they were decorating the room, mostly in an attempt to instill an early onset of masculinity in their son. And also to ensure that he would grow up to be heterosexual.
But Mikey was sixteen now and trying to claim his identity as his own. So the Lamborghini posters were in the process of being covered by Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and other ‘cooler’ posters that Mikey at least thought better defined him, though he wasn't really sure yet.
There was one part of his wall, however, that Mikey knew definitely defined him and always had defined him and that was the “Johnny Cruise” tribute, or what Mikey referred to as “the shrine”, although it didn’t really have candles or altars or anything like that. It was just a section of his wall that was completely plastered with various Johnny Cruise movie posters.
First, there was Johnny Cruise in a movie called “Witch Ring”, which was about a group of teens who discover a mysterious ring in a forest that apparently once belonged to a long-dead witch. The ring gives them magical powers, which are cool at first, but then the ring seems to create a portal that allows dark forces to enter their lives and, well, it becomes a good vs. evil kind of thing. This was one of Johnny’s earliest films, made when he was in his early twenties.
And then there was “Edward Terrestrial”, a movie where Johnny finds an alien stuck on earth, takes the creature into his suburban home and introduces him to all the neighbors. At first the suburban neighbors are fearful of their new friend but then they think he’s cool and some of the women want to date him. Things get dicey, though, when the neighborhood bully gets jealous of all the attention Edward’s getting and makes plans to annihilate the alien.
Then, of course, there was “Speed Hard Two”, which was your typical car-chase action movie. Johnny plays a retired race car driver who’s forced to get back into the driver’s seat when his girlfriend is kidnapped. Instead of ransom, all the kidnapper wants to do is race Johnny in the race of all races. Will he get his girlfriend back alive? All he can do is race like he’s never raced before and find out.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
Mikey’s alarm clock was going off and there was movement beneath the dinosaur designs of his twin-sized comforter. His hand slithered out of the bedding, turned off the alarm and he poked his head out of his sheets. He was a scrawny kind of a lad with dark, thick hair, pale skin and cheeks that sunk into his head, making him look kind of emaciated.
He looked over to the clock and tried to read the time, but the red digits were blurry and out of focus. He rubbed the morning mucus out of his eyes and then his vision began to improve. It was 6:30am. Agh! So early in the morning, yet if he stayed in bed only a couple seconds longer there was the very real possibility of him being late for school.
He rolled his head over to a pillow beside him that was practically hanging off the edge of the bed (he liked to pretend his bed was Queen-sized). There was a yearbook on the pillow, open to three or four rows of freshman-year photographs, and one particular photo was circled several times with a black Sharpie. It was a girl. Her name...was Lindsay Myers.
“Hi, honey, how’d you sleep?” asked Mikey, like he was a husband talking to a wife.
The yearbook photo, of course, did not give him any kind of response. But Mikey imagined it saying, “I’m good Mikey and, oh, I love you so much!”
"I love you, too," he whispered.
Mikey leaned over and gave Lindsay a (close-mouthed) kiss. It was very romantic and classy with no tongue whatsoever...not even the tip. The kiss sent a rush of energy through his body. Since he was still a little too young to drink coffee without stunting his growth, the morning kiss was essentially Mikey’s caffeine, the umph he needed to get his little bony bottom out of his bed and begin the day.
Brian’s bedroom certainly had a different 'look' going on. Where Mikey’s identity was still in question, Brian was pretty sure he had his sense of self already well-established - basically, it was that of a “Horn-dog”. Yes, there were hot Kathy Ireland posters and cut-outs from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit centerfolds. He also had some cool Grateful Dead posters - not because he was into the band or a stoner in any sense of the word - but mainly because they looked cool with the black-light he had recently purchased at a store in the mall called “Spencer Gifts”. There was also a lava-lamp on his nightstand and on his desk there was one of those Tesla coli balls...you know, that thing with the electric currents that zap your fingers when you touch the glass.
Brian's bedroom was also noticeably messier than Mikey's. There were empty Pepsi cans and Slurpee cups and candy wrappers all over the place. There was also a greasy bag of Burger King with a half-eaten Whopper still inside it. Then there were dust bunnies on the carpet, dirty socks hanging over the desk chair and soiled Kleenex overflowing from the wastebasket (and let's just say he wasn't suffering from a cold or allergies).
The only thing that Brian and Mikey's bedroom DID have in common was - yes, that’s right - an entire wall dedicated to the great Johnny Cruise. Brian had apparently saved every single movie ticket from every single Johnny Cruise movie and taped it to his wall. He also had a couple head-shots from Johnny signed “Thanks for everything!”. (Deep down, Brian knew that the autograph was likely fake, but there was no need to face that reality.) And, yes, of course, he also had a whole collection of movie posters, many of which were the same as Mikey’s but some were different.
One of the posters Mikey didn’t have was “Driving Mr. Bernie”, where Johnny plays a chauffeur hired to drive a big corporate bigwig around New York City. One morning Bernie dies in his backseat and Johnny’s afraid that he’s going to be accused of murdering him. With the help of a mustache, Johnny takes on the dead man's identity, which is also helped by the fact that Bernie is about the same height and weight as Johnny.
Another poster Mikey didn’t have was for “The Mighty Rudy” in which Johnny plays the coach for a football team of teenage misfits. He’s forced by a judge to coach the team when his Wall Street firm is indicted with fraud. He has a choice between two years in prison or community service in the form of coaching the football team. So he chooses to be a coach, but, of course, all the kids on the team stink and he has to take them from the worst team in the league to the best in a matter of a few weeks.
Brian even had an original movie poster for the notorious STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT! Even though the movie was the worst of all time, Brian still felt the need to complete the Johnny Cruise collection. The wall wouldn't be the same without it.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
Brian popped his rusty hair out from under his sheets. He was wearing a retainer (in the form a of a headpiece) and his face was covered with dried zit cream.
He shut off the alarm and was about to roll out from under the sheets when he noticed - much to his frustration - that there was a teepee making its presence known down at his six o'clock. He lifted his sheets up from his chest and peered down to his crotch area to see what he was dealing with. Indeed, there was a massive (massive, in his case meaning about four or five inch) man-flag flying at full mast.
“Oh, for Christ sakes. Do you ever rest? I’m not getting outta this bed until you settle down.”
He gave his man-flag a few seconds to lower itself, hoping to at least get it down to half-mast. But the flag was being stubborn. Of course, he could have always done the "up & tuck" move - essentially hiding his thingy by tucking it up into the elastic waist of his sweatpants - but he had heard rumors of men damaging their thingys this way and that wasn't a risk he was willing to take.
“Look, I KNOW you want some action. I want some action, too. But I’m never gonna get laid lying in this bed all day, ya know?”
The flag seemed to be listening to Brian’s reasoning, because it suddenly began to show signs of lowering itself to a more manageable level.
“Little more,” Brian said with an encouraging tone.
The flag lowered about a quarter of the way down, now looking something like the Iwo Jima monument.
Finally, after what seemed to be at least a minute, Brian felt it was safe for him to get out of his bed.
George Washington High School (GWHS for short) was about as old as it was ever going to get. The town selectmen had recently voted in favor of a multi-million dollar renovation that was due to start as soon as school ended that upcoming June. The renovation was needed in order for the school to keep its State “accreditation”. None of the parents really understood the meaning of this whole “accreditation” thing, but they all feared their kids wouldn’t get into decent colleges if the renovation didn’t take place. Of course, there were a lot of old stinkers in the town (with no kids) who were against having their taxes raised yet again, but - after several Town meetings and debates - the voting majority came to realize that supporting the renovation was the right thing to do, even if they didn’t have any kids to benefit from it.
To Brian and Mikey’s misfortune, the renovation was going to take at least a few years and they would be long out of high school before they’d be in any position to benefit from any of it. But on the other hand, they felt special to be among one of the last classes to ever be part of old George Washington High School - the classrooms, the hallways, the gymnasium, the cafeteria, the lockers and, of course, the locker room with all its sketchy showers, door-less bathroom stalls and athlete foot fungus. Yes, the school was essentially retiring as soon as Brian and Mikey left, like a stellar basketball player retires his number, or something like that...
The first bell of the morning echoed throughout the halls. The sound of the bell broke up all the various cliques: the Football Players, Goths, Cheerleaders, Field Hockey Players, Geeks, Dweebs, Smokers, Druggies, Dickheads, Skaters and Haters. The first bell meant all the students had exactly five minutes to get to their first classes before another bell would sound. Any student who didn’t have their bum in their seats by the second bell would be written up as tardy and they would end up on "call list". "Call list" meant you would get called down to the assistant principal's office and have to explain the reason for your tardiness. If you didn't produce a note from your parents or a doctor explaining why you were late, you would get a one-way ticket to detention.
But while the school's bell system was meant to create order, it paradoxically made things much more chaotic than necessary: that is, if the current scene in GWHS' hallways were any indication. Yes, the students were scurrying all over the place like a bunch of cockroaches suddenly exposed to an intense light source. They had less than five minutes to grab books at their lockers, kiss their girlfriends goodbye, get a drink of water, make one last bathroom trip etc.
Like most mornings, Mikey found himself amidst all the hallway chaos. He was weaving his way in and out of the football players and dodging the paper airplanes that would inevitably fly his way.
“Mikey, wait up!” yelled a familiar voice from not far down the hallway.
Brian pushed his way through a clot of wrestlers who were spitting into paper cups (they were concerned about ‘making weight’, trying ever-so-desperately to lose that one extra pound they needed in order to wrestle in their desired weight class).
“Mikey, wait, hold on!”
“I don’t wanna be late, Brian!” yelled Mikey without turning around.
“Yeah, that would be the end of the world!” his friend shouted back sarcastically.
Brian dodged a skateboarder and two Druggies who wreaked like cigarettes and then caught up with his best friend in the whole wide world. “Did it come in yet?”
“What, SPEED HARD 2?”
“No, THE LITTLE MERMAID. What do you think?”
“Yeah, a whole shipment came in last night. We can watch it at the store tonight.”
A paper airplane whizzed into Mikey’s cheekbone - missing his eye by only centimeters - but he took the blow like a champ and kept moving forward. It was absolutely imperative that he make it to his class before the second bell. He never had to stay after school before (at least not for disciplinary reasons) and he wasn’t about to ruin his spotless conduct record now. No way. No-how.
Stay tuned for the next ten pages of REEL MONSTER...