Right we're gonna go back…to the dim recesses of Yale University circa the early '70s. Where as an undergrad I'd founded a Tuesday midnight horror movie society known as Things That Go Bump in the Night.
An institution which since folding its tent in the mid-'70s has taken on the mantle of legendary primarily through word of mouth -- twice-told tales handed down from generation to generation by those who were there...also helped along by a glowing write-up of our various shenanigans in noted humorist Christopher Buckley's book Thank You For Smoking.
Things That Go Bump in the Night was a pact signed in blood with a kindred spirit I'd met one spring evening in ’71, holding court in the kingdom of shadows of somebody's Yale dorm room -- a preternaturally handsome and spooky preppy from Barrington Illinois who loved old horror films just as much as I did.
I dunno who arranged this sit down…a mutual friend I guess…who’d raved:
"You just have to meet Bill -- this guy is really weird!"
A guy who is now a horror actor of worldwide ill repute, the one and only Bill Moseley.
Never heard of old Bill? Come on!
Bill made his skull and bones playing Choptop, the deranged Viet Vet sporting a '60’s tie-dyed shirt and a steel plate in his ugly bald head -- topped off with a Sonny Bono fright-wig -- in Tobe Hooper's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TTCMII).
Bill was outstanding as Otis Driftwood in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects -- a spurious movie title if ever there was one, which I never quite got, frankly. I mean, if you were actually rejected by the Devil, wouldn't that indicate an overwhelming surfeit of sheer Christian Godliness bubbling up from your innermost core?
Bill has to date appeared in about 133 horror films of various quality according to my last check-in with IMDB. But one thing is for certain: he's always essentially BILL in whatever role he essays, Sonny Bono fright wig not withstanding.
You can put him in anything from the umpteenth remake of White Fang to HBO's Carnivale series to the aforementioned Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. Any old vehicle with the necessary arterial spray / joie de mort-vivant, and he'll always be (and evermore shall remain) essentially: OUR BILL. Meaning what you see is what you get. Bill is reliably camera-ready and rarin' to ghoul.
Talk about irreducible essences.
But you don't need me to vouch for Bill's bona fides.
Suffice to say when I arrived at the Glasgow Film Festival a few years ago to perform my live score accompanying the legendary 1931 Spanish-language Dracula, I casually mentioned my longstanding friendship with Bill to the guy who picked me up at the airport.
"You know BILL MOSELEY??"
This guy was literally gob-smacked by our long and intimate association.
Anywho, Bill is a True Blue Old Blue. And after graduation, when Bill lit out for the territories to seek fame and fortune as a horror movie star, we made a little pact: namely, that Bill would give me an on-screen shout-out only I would recognize in his films.
Now what was that based on exactly?
Flashback to 1973...a couple years into our running the successful Things That Go Bump franchise at Linsley-Chittenden 101 -- an ugly large lecture classroom housed in a non-descript Yale faculty building on the Old Campus by day. By night, if you squinted your eyes real hard -- a shrine to cinematic dreams courtesy of the Yale Film Society, of which I was a Director.
The YFS ran 3 different classic / important films a night at LC101, 7 days a week! The entire history of cinema as we then knew it (well, a good chunk of it) could be yours for the price of regular admission (75 cents a throw) -- with Cahiers du Cinema, Sight and Sound, and Andrew Sarris’s essential The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 our programming Bibles.
Linsley-Chit as it was known (our Palace of Dreams) was kitted out by a projection booth in the back housing two 16mm projectors and editing equipment which included a hot splicer for emergency breakage of celluloid. At the front of the room was a raised dais / mini-stage flanked by two standing lecterns on either side of the platform, where various professors, some of them famous (Harold Bloom), or soon-to-be-famous (J. Hillis Miller), or destined to languish in obscurity (names are being held here to protect the guilty) gave it their best shot during class hours. Suspended over the rear wall hung a cylindrical pipe-shaped tube housing a rolled-up electric movie screen, which could be raised and lowered to taste at the flick of a switch.
Once we got Things That Go Bump up and running in the late spring of '71, we screened dozens of primo horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films every Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday's at midnight to a coterie of delighted lunatic fringe Yalies sick of the Sterling Memorial Library grind, who would come to scream and shout and let off steam and cannabis smoke during our sacred witching hour ritual. We had our own display case inside Yale Station which featured the actual original posters, lobby cards and stills for each week's film, courtesy of annual field trips to Mark Ricci’s East Village temple of cinema The Memory Shop. (Mark actually played one of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead.) We also had the best, most provocatively lurid posters made up just for us by our mad printer friend Alex which we festooned all over Yale, which helped drive the whole thing and usually put asses in seats, as they say. We also printed up brochures which included a menu of all our upcoming films and featured our colorful rodomontade-like blurbs describing each film as the ne plus ultra of…what exactly? Our weekly seances became quite an event on campus -- and Bill and I became notorious as the lunatic hosts. We would strut and fret our 5 minutes on the stage before the films decked to the nines in assorted thrift store glam rubbish, occasional rubber masks -- kind of an early John Waters look -- introduce the films with a little show and tell, and then take our reserved seats in the front row center.
The lights would come down…and Let the Games Begin!!
One night we had booked a real campy stinker of a horror film, Universal’s outlandish 1956 sci-fi opus The Mole People directed by Virgil Vogel and starring iconic B-movie actor John Agar -- a close personal friend of John Wayne's, and Shirley Temple's first husband.
The real stars of the film are of course The Mole People, with veteran makeup artist Bud Westmore's rubber prosthetic Mole Men get-up (no Mole Women visible in the film, unfortunately) delivering the frissons -- if not laffs a’plenty. Our screening of this enjoyably ludicrous film brought out a mere handful of Yalie hard-core slackers such as ourselves, sad to say, plus one certifiably insane nutter flying on God knows what who consistently echoed the on-screen dialogue in a high-pitched double-speed Polly Parrot voice a mere millisecond after each line of dialogue was uttered onscreen.
F'rinstance when the expeditionary crew is first being lowered into the bowels of the Hollow Earth, the foreman of the winch crew yells out in a rough, manly voice:
"GOIN' DOWN NOW!"
"Goin' down now! Goin' down now!” gibbered the human psittacine in falsetto --resembling nothing so much as a squawking parrot on a hideous jag.
This phrase, we later agreed, would be the secret words uttered by Bill on screen once he hit the Big Time as acknowledgement of our long friendship and association.
And Bill kept his word, for awhile anyway, in Texas Chainsaw 2 and White Fang.
But let's cut to the chase here—
Amongst the numerous success d’estimes of our couple years Run—nothing—but nothing—will ever measure up to the horror…the horror on display the night we invited The Poet onstage to consecrate the evening’s entertainment:
a screening of the sublime 1945 back and white Ealing Studios British horror anthology Dead of Night.
Now who was this infernal Poet anyway?
Damned if I know or can recall exactly. Somebody’s friend, I guess, a transient literati visiting the Yale campus, kitted out in all the accouterments of someone’s romantic ideal of a Poet circa the Beat Generation (you could do worse than watch this opening scene of Roger Corman's Bucket of Blood to get a flavor).
Anyway this unknown dude walked up to me 5 minutes before showtime, and respectfully asked me if he could get up and read one of his poems before the film?
Being a charitable, Big Tent sort of guy then (still am), I whole-heartedly went along with his request after running it by my partner in crime Bill, who agreed that we should give the guy a shot to read.
I mean, the vetting process was nil. I just thought we should take a flyer on this. Even today I'm more or less of the same mind when a young unknown singer asks to step up to the plate and try and sing one of the Jeff Buckley / Gary Lucas opuses.
I give 'em a shot.
Why not?? I think one should encourage fledgling creatives, I know this is the opposite of how so many smug "professionals" operate, but in their case, it's merely bad karma.
Anyhow, Bill and I got up onstage first, did our typical introductory schtick, and then by way of nothing in particular I announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a guest Poet in the house with us tonight who asked if he could read one of his poems before we begin our film. Let's give him a big Yale welcome!!"
So this hirsute, bearded guy dressed in faded Army-Navy olive-drab shuffles forward out of the darkness sloshing cheap white wine out a plastic see-through cup -- the cliched epitome of an Artiste -- climbs up on to the stage, takes his place at one of the lecterns, brandishes his foolscap containing the text of his poem, and announces over the mic:
"This is called EASTER."
Bill and I move to the back of the stage a bit...and the guy begins to declaim in a loud, measured, stentorian voice:
"THEY CAN'T BELIEVE HE'S RISEN AGAIN!"
A mighty hoot and holler issues forth en masse as if one gigantic Voice from the unbelieving Crowd. A tidal wave of derisive, corrosive Laughter breaks over the lectern. The affronted, indignant Poet is literally stopped in his tracks reeling from this onslaught. He lets the wave cascade over him for a full minute, and then finally, mind at the end of his tether, shrieks Jim Morrison-like at the top of his voice:
There is a moment's stunned silence as the crowd staggers from The Poet's blow-back. And then the audience re-doubles their efforts, cat-calling and booing the guy at double the previous volume with curses, shouts and imprecations to vacate the stage pronto.
He starts all over gamely…repeating:
"THEY CAN’T BELIEVE HE'S RISEN AGAIN!!"
And once again, he is shouting into the Void -- if not into a veritable and very vocal Sea of Troubles.
Time is suspended as this eternal Ping-Pong match goes on and on and on. The guy never gets past reciting the first line of his poem! And every single time he repeats the opening line...all Hell breaks loose!
The audience, thinking the whole thing is some kind of infinite jest courtesy Lucas and Moseley, continue their boorish jeering.
The Poet, "baited with the rabble's curse" (The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act V Scene VI), unable to make any headway at all beyond repeating the poem's opening line...finally, tragically, visibly breaks down in front of everyone, and suddenly makes a violent gesture.
He attempts to bodily shove his heavy wooden lectern clear off the lip of the stage and topple it Quasimodo-like down on the heads of the front row of spectators!
One of our regular customers in the front leaps to his feet in defense of the front row redoubt, and another regular jumps up and cold-cocks this guy with a right to the jaw!
At that precise moment, Bill leaps out of the shadows, reaches under the lectern and grabs hold of a box full of Blue Books -- a Blue Book being a lined blue-covered booklet used to inscribe examination answers during Big Tests (ie, not porno) -- and shouts "START THE FILM!" to our faithful projectionist back in the booth, Doug McKinney.
And as the film's first images start unspooling on the screen -- an Eternal Ricorso as it were, if you know the film -- a sequence that gets repeated verbatim at the end of the film, creating an infinite dream-loop…Bill hurls the box of Blue Books high into the air, where, caught in the glare of the projected beam of light, they come fluttering down like the flying pillow feathers in Jean Vigo's Zero de Conduite.
The shunned and disgraced Poet screams and runs off the stage into the outer hallway, his face a rictus of thwarted creative agony.
Bill and I take our seats in the front row in stony silence and are forced as les directeurs to sit through our film du jour--a cavalcade of classic British horror stories by H.G. Wells and others that is Dead of Night.
But I’d seen this movie before. And sitting there, I cannot really enjoy the film, as great as it is. All I can think about was how a kind gesture on my part -- providing a public platform to a fellow artist as a favor, on a whim, on an impulse -- had literally exploded in my face and rapidly devolved into some kind of fracas.
I am nauseated by how cruel and insensitive the audience had been. How quickly they'd shed their veneer of Yale politesse and devolved into beastly bear-baiting swine, shitting and pissing all over another artist's creative attempt like that.
When the film is finally over and the lights come up, a couple of very disgruntled, unsettled Things That Go Bump regulars accost me and Bill -- accusing us of setting the whole incident up as some kind of monstrous prank.
"How could you guys DO that??
That wasn’t funny at all, Lucas!!"
Rumors swirled in the wake of this incident that The Poet had run out of there and attempted suicide that night, but was dissuaded by a friend -- who turned out to be the same guy who had jumped up and socked the dude who'd tried to fend off the incoming lectern after The Poet's threatened revenge on the audience.
Talk about a shock to the system. The whole thing literally sickened me.
The very next day I was admitted to Yale's Department of University Health inpatient clinic with a fever, where I holed up for a couple weeks with what turned out to be mononucleosis. I lay there for a very long time not allowing visitors in to see me...licking my wounds, psychic and otherwise.
This indelible incident -- a high-water mark of malevolence erupting out of nowhere, Jaws of Hell Opening Up Before You stylee -- almost but not quite mirrors Peter Geyer's extraordinary documentary of Klaus Kinski trying to deliver his one-man show Jesus Christ Saviour in front of an extremely hostile audience in 1971 Berlin.
But Kinksi was certifiably a genius (well, certifiable).
Was The Poet actually any good though?
We’ll never know…
I have no further details to share other than leaving you with that all too familiar saying:
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED.