Over the next two weeks, in celebration of Halloween and the new anthology The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “Dead Image” by David Morrell.
“You know who he looks like, don’t you?”
Watching the scene, I just shrugged.
“Really, the resemblance is amazing,” Jill said.
We were in the studio’s screening room, watching yesterday’s dailies. The director—and I use the term loosely—had been having troubles with the leading actor, if acting’s what you could say that good-looking bozo does. Hell, he used to be a male model. He doesn’t act. He poses. It wasn’t enough that he wanted eight million bucks and fifteen upfront points to do the picture. It wasn’t enough that he changed my scene so the dialogue sounded as if a moron had written it. No, he had to keep dashing to his trailer, snorting more coke (for “creative inspiration,” he said), then sniffling after every sentence in the big speech of the picture. If this scene didn’t work, the audience wouldn’t understand his motivation for leaving his girlfriend after she became a famous singer, and believe me, nothing’s more unforgiving than an audience when it gets confused. The word-of-mouth would kill us.
“Come on, you big dumb son of a bitch,” I muttered. “You make me want to blow my nose just listening to you.”
The director had wasted three days doing retakes, and the dailies from yesterday were worse than the ones from the two days before. Sliding down in my seat, I groaned. The director’s idea of fixing the scene was to have a team of editors work all night patching in reaction shots from the girl and the guys in the country-western band she sang with. Every time Mr. Wonderful sniffled … cut, we saw somebody staring at him as if he were Jesus.
“Jesus,” I moaned to Jill. “Those cuts distract from the speech. It’s supposed to be one continuous shot.”
“Of course, this is rough, you understand,” the director told everyone from where he sat in the back row of seats. Near the door. To make a quick getaway, if he had any sense. “We haven’t worked on the dubbing yet. That sniffling won’t be on the release print.”
“I hope to God not,” I muttered.
“Really. Just like him,” Jill said next to me.
“Huh? Who?” I turned to her. “What are you talking about?”
“The guitar player. The kid behind the girl. Haven’t you been listening?” She kept her voice low enough that no one else could have heard her.
That’s why I blinked when the studio VP asked from somewhere in the dark to my left, “Who’s the kid behind the girl?”
Jill whispered, “Watch the way he holds that beer can.”
“There. The one with the beer can,” the VP said.
Except for the lummox sniffling on the screen, the room was silent.
The VP spoke louder. “I said who’s the—”
“I don’t know.” Behind us, the director cleared his throat.
“He must have told you his name.”
“I never met him.”
“How the hell, if you… .”
“All the concert scenes were shot by the second-unit director.”
“What about these reaction shots?”
“Same thing. The kid only had a few lines. He did his bit and went home. Hey, I had my hands full making Mr. Nose Candy feel like the genius he thinks he is.”
“There’s the kid again,” Jill said.
I was beginning to see what she meant now. The kid looked a lot like—
“James Deacon,” the VP said. “Yeah, that’s who he reminds me of.”
Mr. Muscle Bound had managed to struggle through the speech. I’d recognized only half of it—partly because the lines he’d added made no sense, mostly because he mumbled. At the end, we had a close-up of his girlfriend, the singer, crying. She’d been so heartless clawing her way to the top that she’d lost the one thing that mattered—the man who’d loved her. In theory, the audience was supposed to feel so sorry for her that they were crying along with her. If you ask me, they’d be in tears all right, from rolling around in the aisles with laughter. On the screen, Mr. Beefcake turned and trudged from the rehearsal hall, as if his underwear was too tight. He had his eyes narrowed manfully, ready to pick up his Oscar.
The screen went dark. The director cleared his throat again. He sounded nervous. “Well?”
The room was silent.
The director sounded more nervous. “Uh … so what do you think?”
The lights came on, but they weren’t the reason I suddenly had a headache.
Everybody turned toward the VP, waiting for the word of God.
“What I think,” the VP said and nodded wisely, “is we need a rewrite.”
For information on The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Josh Beatman.
“Dead Image” by David Morrell. Copyright © 1985 by David Morrell. First published in Night Visions II, edited by Charles L. Grant, Dark Harvest Press. This excerpt reprinted by permission of the author.