by Joseph Farah
Last year, one of United Artists Pictures surprise hits was “Child’s Play,” a horror film about a diabolical and murderous spirit that inhabits a doll and terrorizes a mother and her son. Not only did the moderate-budget screamer gross $35 million in theatrical release, it also sold more that 200,000 video cassettes.
Therefore, by Hollywood standards the film, starring Catherine Hicks and Chris Sarandon, was a natural for a sequel. Producer David Kirschner and director John Lafia were set to start shooting the sequel on Oct. 15, 1989, when United Artists (UA) movie President Richard Berger called to say “Child’s Play II” was dead.
The decision to kill the project has horrified the Hollywood establishment because it was made not for financial reasons, but for considerations of taste. UA, you see, is about to be purchased by an Australian group that thinks horror films, while profitable in the short term, are destructive to the image and long-term success of the company.
“Why would you make a film like this?” David Evans, who will be the new chief executive of UA, asked of Kirschner. Startled and puzzled, Kirschner pointed out that it was a sure thing. He explained that Universal Studios built its entire foundation on horror films. Gore, excessive violence and shock had long been a Hollywood tradition.
As befuddled as Kirschner was, the rest of the industry was even more perplexed by this unusual programming decision based on higher standards and moral values. “I think the decision is insane,” one unnamed studio chief told the Los Angeles Times. “The one thing they don’t have is product.” A top Hollywood agent asked: “Since when had anyone in this business drawn a line that means not making money?”
Indeed, when word got out that “Child’s Play II” had been turned down by UA, every other studio in town immediately went after it. Conventional wisdom held that the film had the potential to be another long-running series like “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Paramount, Warner Bros., Columbia, 20th Century Fox, the Price Co., Carolco, New Line, and even Disney all expressed interest, but Universal appears to have the inside track on distribution rights. Kirschner plans to shoot the film as an independent production.
Still, there is concern throughout the business about UA’s apparent prohibition on horror and what its officials describe as certain other “exploitation genres.” Admission by industry insiders that Hollywood actually “exploits” audiences is considered a form of heresy within the establishment. The industry is still spoiling over a campaign for “higher standards” waged by British producer David Puttnam during his reign at Columbia. Even current UA honcho Berger reportedly disagrees with the decision of the Australians.
Meanwhile, the new team, which includes Christopher Skase, chairman of the Gintex Group, and Evans, is due to take over the company September 30. Evans said he did not want the company associated with any film that connected a child with murder. One source said the new rules would prohibit films like “The Bad Seed,” “The Omen” and “The Exorcist” from being made by UA.
The development raises some interesting questions: Is if possible that foreign ownership will actually bring some standards to Hollywood? With the entry of the Japanese and Australians into mainstream Hollywood production, will studio executives be more likely to begin questioning the long-term implications of producing exploitative entertainment? Will the bottom line remain the only criterion for determining which projects are pursued?
In Hollywood lately, there’s been much concern expressed about pollution of our environment. Rarely if ever, however, have the self-righteous activists in the entertainment industry bothered to look in the mirror and examine the kinds of effluents they themselves are spewing into our homes and theaters. They apparently believe the environment is limited to the air, the water and the earth, and that pollution of the mind is somehow less important than pollution of the body.
At a time when criminal and sexual violence are reaching epidemic proportions in our urban areas, few Hollywood executives have been willing to reflect honestly on how their own products may be helping to spread such diseases. In fact, the widespread gratuitous sex and ultra-violence in the media is certainly having a far greater impact on our society’s values than the occasional public service messages encouraging recycling and preservation of the rain forest.
Whether moved to do so entirely by public relations motivations or by genuine ethical concerns, UA officials are Hollywood pioneers in the art of restraint and self-control. While it is too early to begin celebrating the redemption of Hollywood, the incoming team at UA at least deserves some credit for bucking the tide.
Please contact Mr. David Evans to thank him for his stand against exploitation films and his decision to drop “Child’s Play II” from the United artist production schedule. He needs your encouragement since many Hollywood leaders have expressed their displeasure at his morality. His address is: Mr. David Evans, President, United Artists Pictures Inc., 450 N. Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.