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Entries in Insidious [2011] (1)

Wednesday
Apr062011

Insidious (2011)

An Exorcise in Homage

Here's another gem that came across my Inbox last night.  I have no idea if it's real, but it's damned compelling--which is more than I can say for Insidious.  I've seen the movie, and have no desire to waste energy on a review.  Please accept this e-mail as a poor substitute.

I discovered your site about three months ago, while Google-ing articles about kids kicking seats on airplanes (I travel alot and was looking for tips on how to deal with these evil little dwarfs).  I rarely agree with your reviews because I think you're pretty elitist in your point of views and too often let your brain get in the way of your gut when it comes to watching some pretty awesome movies.

But...

You do seem to be gaining some pull in the industry, believe it or not--which is why I wanted to fill you in on some of the behind-the-scenes dirt behind Insidious.  I worked as Second Assistant to the First Associate P.A. on the movie, and I've gotta tell ya: I don't know how this thing ever got green lit, much less out the door and into the number three box office slot opening weekend.

The first thing you need to know is that composer Joseph Bishara is taking Alliance Entertainment, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell to court (I know this, 'cause my friend Kyle polishes Joe's cymbals).  Joe alleges that the filmmakers deliberately denied him a co-screenwriting credit, even though everyone had agreed that Insidious would be an entirely new kind of horror movie where the score was even more responsible for the story than the guy who created the characters.

I remember early script meetings where Wan and Whannel would be slumped at the far end of the table popping Pepto because the studio was constantly yelling at them for the lack of genuine scares in the screenplay and storyboards.  The big gripe was that market research had shown that audiences were tired of modern ghost movie cliches like eerie children scribbling strange, violent pictures; menacing voices crackling over faint radios/monitors; and ghosts dressed in old-fashioned clothing popping out of the dark with wide, insane smiles.  The director and writer were going crazy, mumbling about not having had an original idea in years and crying into their coffee.

All that changed when Joe showed up one morning with a duffel bag full of stainless steel cookware.  He stood up on a chair and yelled "Seize the day" before hurtling three saucepots at the wall.

"The movies," he said in a thick Hungarian accent (funny, 'cause he's from Anaheim), "is as much an auditory medium as it is a visual one."

"If you want your theatre audience to shit their pants, all you have to do is fill the soundtrack with noises like this..."

(He hurled an unwashed collander past producer Oren Peli's head, which crashed with room-shaking reverberation.)

"...every three to five minutes, and Voila! Instant scary blockbuster!"  To drive his point home, Joe jumped down and began circling the table, beating two skillet lids together like a haywire wind-up monkey.  He tripped, though, and one of the lids flew into the pair of overhead projectors silently screening Poltergeist and Wes Craven's New Nightmare on the east wall.  My intern friend Lars got knocked on the head pretty badly, and had to stop transcribing the movies into Whannell's laptop just long enough to get a Band-Aid.

It was a nutty idea, but everyone signed off on it.  I remember Whannell and Wan being so relieved by this new development that they stopped coming to the script meetings (I later found out they spent the rest of pre-production shopping for cars and indoor swimming pools).

The whole thing with Joe is minor, though, compared to the controversy surrounding the design of the movie's demon.  My cousin Ashley tends bar at the Shoehorn Tavern, where a lot of the crew unwound every night; and she told me that the art directors, Jennifer and Thomas Spence were regulars; they'd get really hammered and yell at people about how they'd wasted so many years and so much money on art school just to be told by some fifteen-year-old junior executive that the monster in Insidious should look like the love-child of Darth Maul and Freddy Krueger, grafted onto the body of Pumpkinhead.  I hear they'd planned to sue Alliance as well, but there's some law about filing papers from rehab...

Oh, and did you hear that Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne almost walked off the movie?  Apparently, they were really excited when they signed on to play the parents of a "haunted" little boy because they were huge fans of Paranormal Activity and the first Saw (Insidious is the brainchild of those films' creators).  But halfway into filming, there were rumblings that Whannell had mistakenly given Wilson script pages from Poltergeist 2: The Other Side, and later on told Byrne that the reason her characters' other two children disappear from the movie halfway through is because Joe had exceeded the production's music budget ("Nothing says 'terrifying' like the sound of a Martha Stewart Dutch Oven shattering against concrete!"), and the studio had to make up the cost elsewhere.

(You can see the results of these problems on film: Notice Wilson's persistent look of confusion from about the half-hour mark on, as well as Byrne's constantly looking around for something important.)

And!  Hot off the presses is talk of another lawsuit!  The estate of Zelda Rubinstein, the creepy little actress who played the psychic in Poltergeist (she died last year) is apparently going after Alliance and actress Lin Shaye.  My roommate Cesar, who validates Legal's parking in Lot "C", says their claim is that Shaye's part in Insidious is so similar to Rubinstein's role that their case is a slam dunk.

It's true: In the movie, she shows up to help this poor family retrieve their kid, who's been sucked into the astral plane by malevolent forces.  She brings along some nerdy assistants who rig the house with cameras and supernatural-detection equipment (Wan puts his stamp on the material by dressing Shaye's lackeys like Geek Squad clerks).  Rumor has it that Alliance is willing to settle quietly, with a "Special Thanks" credit on the May 15th blu-ray, as well as a 0.05% royalty on all Insidious Red Box rentals.  But we'll see...

Sorry if you were looking forward to something scary and original.  Like Wilson and Byrne, I thought Paranormal Activity and the first Saw were pretty brilliant horror movies--so much so that I chose to work on Insidious instead of Yogi Bear 2: Grin 'n Bear It.  My mistake.  It's clear that this is just a cheap cash-in that doesn't even rise to the level of Wan's far-superior Dead Silence (though I'm not sure if I actually dug that movie or just Donnie Wahlberg's part in it).

By they way, it's totally cool for you to put this up on your site: There were fifty of us assistants in these meetings at any given time.  Hell, by the end of shooting, it was only assistants and lighting crew, making dirty shadow puppets on the wall of the creepy-living-room set.

If you use this, please call me Carol Anne.