Quail Before the Awfulness of ....


There are some films whose very nature gives you an insight into the pitch session that inspired them, even if you have never met anyone involved or done anything other than watch the movie, as is the case here. Quake is one of those movies. We take you now to the offices of Roger Corman, executive producer of Quake, where he and director Louis Morneau are interviewing writer Mark Evan Schwartz about his script for Quake.

Corman: I love this script. I think it might go big-time. I think it could be one of those rare $50,000 budget movies that turns $5 million in profit. Now, that's quality filmmaking.

Schwartz: I'm glad to hear that.

Corman: Of course you are. But we do have a few ideas where we could juice up the script on a cost-effective basis. Louis?

Morneau: No one could be higher in our enthusiasm for this script than us, Louis. But we think it should tie in with some modern trends in filmmaking that we KNOW audiences respond to. Creepy tales of obsessive love are all well and good, I mean, look at all the boffo box office "The Collector" did plus of course it's a fine arts kinda book which never hurts. But we think the movie needs a little more -- it needs a slimy alien monster!

Schwartz (astonished): A slimy alien monster? In a story about a lower-class man who kidnaps a woman he feels he can never have?

Corman: They're HUGE at the box office right now. You cannot go wrong with slimy alien monsters.

Schwartz: But ... but ... slimy alien monsters have NOTHING to do with the story I've written.

Morneau: Oh, come on, Mark, loosen up. This is the movie biz. Be creative. You could write it in somehow ... you know, the slimy alien monster is jealous or something.

Schwartz: Jealous? Jealous?

Morneau: We can work on his motivation.

Schwartz: YOU may work all you want on your slimy alien monster's motivation, Mr. Morneau. I won't have anything to do with such a project.

Corman: We thought that might be a deal-breaker. So we've come up with another angle -- WE know how to be flexible. WE know how to be creative. Tell him, Louis.

Morneau: We think your movie needs to be set in the future, after a nuclear or similar holocaust, when rag-tag bands of nomads dressed in rags fight to death in an apocalyptic wasteland.

Schwartz (sputtering in outrage): An apoca ... apocalyptic WASTELAND?

Corman: Apocalyptic wasteland stories are INCREDIBLY cost-effective, Mark. You can film the whole thing out in a junkyard in some desert town and it looks so right, dress the actors out of the nearest Salvation Army ... it's a WONDERFUL milieu for value-priced filmmakers. You cannot go wrong with apocalyptic wastelands, especially if you have a slimy alien or two lurking about.

Schwartz (coldly): You will forgive me for pointing out that the whole poor man/rich woman theme will be rendered meaningless if EVERYBODY HAS BEEN BLOWN TO HELL AND GONE!

Morneau: I beg to differ, Mark. It will add incredible poignancy to your story, that this man is driven to kidnapping by his feelings about class differences, which are in fact meaningless because everybody's dead.

Schwartz: NO! No apocalyptic wasteland. If you want to do a story about slimy aliens wandering around junkyards, do so. But not with my script you're not.

Corman: Granted, it's your script Mark. And it's a great script. We love it. We really do. But you see, we're the one's putting up the money here. We're the ones taking the risk with your script. And while we love your script, we gotta have SOMETHING in it that leads us to believe we'll get our money back.

Morneau: It's only fair, Mark.

Corman: But we're reasonable guys Mark. So we've got one more idea. You can take one from column A or one from column B or one from column C, but if you don't pick anything we'll just have to close the restaurant, Mark. If you get my drift. Louis?

Morneau: You'll like this idea, Mark. Picture this: your story of romantic, obsessive love is set against the backdrop of an earthquake!

Schwartz (weakly): An earthquake?

Morneau: An earthquake! Incredible idea, isn't it? The intimate personal drama of a madman and the woman he loves and has captured, set against the sweeping saga of a major metropolitan city in the grip of a quake!

Corman: Mark, this earthquake idea could be one of the most value-laden concepts in filmmaking. We'd only have to build one decent-looking set -- the pre-quake set! The rest could be just piles of junk left over from our earlier movies. Add a few stock shots of sirens and police cars racing around, and some shots of extras dressed in rags running around in the streets, and we're THERE!

Schwartz (sensing defeat): An earthquake. All right. An earthquake.

And thus we have the movie "Quake."

The story begins with Jenny, played by Erika Anderson, and Dave, played by Eb Lottimer, having a minor domestic squabble. She's a defense attorney, he's a cop, and they are upset with each other for obsessing over their jobs instead of each other. Harsh words are exchanged and he drives off, with a virtual cloud of doom hanging over him. Jenny, meanwhile, takes a shower, which means we get to see her naked a little.

A gratuitous shower scene with nipple-poppin' nudity. Yay!

Shortly after that, the quake begins. There's a lot of camera shaking and stock footage and things fall down, some of them on Jenny. She's knocked unconscious and injured while wearing only a black bra and a slip (see the opening vidcap of this review). Fortunately, the apartment tower's handyman Kyle, played by Steve Railsback, is right there to help her. He tends her leg wound (a bookcase fell on her upper thigh) and takes her back to his apartment, where she'll be "safe".

Especially since he used a hammer and nails to secure all the doors and window shut except one.

When Jenny comes to, she doesn't realize she's been kidnapped by a madman, primarily because he's tended her leg wound, put a shirt over her and made her some tea. But when she wanders into his darkroom while he's on the phone pretending to be talking to the authorities, she finds a huge stash of photos of herself that Kyle has taken of her without her knowledge, using his telephoto lens.

When she confronts Kyle he explains it away to her satisfaction, and so they drink coffee until he starts yammering, as madmen do, about being strong and in control and isn't it wonderful she's so perfectly suited to him and all and he always knew she was secretly attracted to him?

Jenny's clued in to the fact that her "rescuer" is nuts by now and when some firemen arrive to get the building evacuated moments later, Jenny makes a break for it, so Kyle has to handgag her and drag her into a closet where he knocks her down and ties her hands behind her back.

This is when I first suspected that Kyle and Jenny's relationship was off to a rocky start. Because whenever I'm on a date and I have to knock my date to the ground and tie her up and gag her to stop her from screaming for help, it's turned out badly. Call me sensitive, but when a gal starts screaming and struggling to escape, I have to believe the magic has gone out of the relationship.

Next scene we see Jenny tied to Kyle's bed, her wrists spreadeagled to its head, her ankles tied together, her mouth tightly cleave gagged. And Jenny is enjoying being tied to the bed even less than most half-naked kidnap victims, because aftershocks from the quake are wrecking the building, while madman Kyle just stands around and talks about how strong he thinks he is.

Even under the best of circumstances, earthquakes are nerve-racking affairs. But when you're half naked and tied to a bed by a madman, they're nerve-racking AND kinky!

Kyle thinks that the earthquake has wrought a fundamental change in the natural order of things, and that a strong guy like him is bound to do well in this new world. It's a common enough thread in disaster movies, the breakdown of society as the infrastructure goes. You can see the logic of it because it happens on a smaller scale, too -- for example, whenever the mail is late I kidnap the neighbor's dog. When there's a brownout I can't resist going out in the streets and jaywalking furiously. And don't get me started on what I do when traffic lights malfunction.

Jenny sees the writing on the wall, perhaps because the earthquake has damaged the building and the walls are kind of sagging. She decides that she'll play along with Kyle for a while and see if she can't catch him off guard.

And Kyle is an off-guard kind of guy. He lets Jenny go to the bathroom so she can do "woman stuff" before their Night of Love, where Jenny is able to hide a razor blade in her bandage and also obtain a packet of knockout drops, or something that can be used as knockout drops, which is pretty common stuff to be found in the bathroom of crazed kidnappers and such. I'm surprised he didn't leave a flamethrower in there she could hide in her bra.

Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, hubby Dave has realized that leaving his wife alone in a blazing city is just not right, especially after a terrible spat like the one they had. So he reverses direction and heads back to wifey and shortly thereafter wrecks his car, in part due to aftershocks from the quake, but you gotta figure he's distracted by his domestic situation as well.

This is fine DID melodrama construction. The hero must make his way across a burning city to reach his Damsel in Distress wife before the earthquake or Kyle does something terrible.

Unfortunately, Jenny's plan to render Kyle unconscious with the knockout drops comes acropper when she swallows the drugged glass of wine instead of Kyle, and ends up helpless and sprawled across the dining table.

Kyle takes silence for consent and rapes Jenny, though it's not shown explicitly onscreen. We just see him rip off Jenny's blouse as she sprawls across the table, then see him standing over her sprawled body. And the next scene we see is a slow pan up Jenny's naked and still unconscious body as she's once again tied to the bed, this time only by one wrist, so Steve can make some commemorative portraits of himself and Jenny on the occasion of his raping her.

Even drugged and unconscious, she looks pretty good.

Well, I won't go into the particulars of how this movie ends, but I will say that the script isn't going to put John Fowles out of business any time soon. Like a lot of other feebleminded imitations of Fowles, this movie eschews character development and the battle of wits between captor and captive in favor of people hitting each other a lot and hurting each other in painful, grisly ways. Thus, Jenny hits Kyle with a two-by-four several times, ties him to a bed and sets fire to it, and of course we know about the failed drugging attempt. Kyle hits Jenny several times, wrestles her into submission a couple of times, ties her to a bed and a post, and of course rapes her. Most of their dialogue consists of screams and moans punctuated by cries of "Stop that!" "What are you, crazy?!" and "Please stop!" "For god's sake stop!" Which is dramatic enough by doesn't do much for character development.

At the very end there is a nice line. Jenny tells Kyle, "I'm just not the sort of girl who will put up with kidnapping, assault, rape and murder." Now we finally know what the phrase "I'm not that sort of girl" really means.

Take your own incriminating post-rape photos with your unconscious victim -- now that's madness!

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