To celebrate the publication of the long-awaited Strange Attractor Journal 5, my publishers hosted a special launch event at Camden Arts Centre on Thursday April 27, which included the staging of a couple of scenes from Let Me Die a Monster, an exploitation movie script I had cowritten with ‘the Truffaut of smut’ (BBC Radio 3) David McGillivray at the distant start of 1997.
The experience took me back nearly 25 years to the end of the previous century and the start of the new millennium. There were two things that struck me about this unique period. The first was a sense of looming catastrophe. It was a very apocalyptic time: one of mass suicides, technological terrors, potential alien invasions and the collapse of civilization itself. The message was in the mainstream media, out on the streets and in the air: everything must end. The second and more encouraging thing about this period was the sense of frivolity that went with the apocalyptic mood – if the whole thing was about to come crashing down, people’s attitude seemed to say, let’s at least have a party while it’s happening.
Living on the edge of a disaster that hadn’t happened yet produced a strange kind of gallows humour – and the screenplay that David McGillivray and I worked on together back in 1997 remains a good example of it. I have written a short account of how the project came about as a preface to the published version of the screenplay in Strange Attractor Journal 5 for those who wish to learn more. Perhaps a better introduction to the script might be to consider some of the forces driving it. At the time it seemed perfectly normal that the production company who had initially approached me and then later brought David and I together to write Let Me Die a Monster should be called Trash 2000 – it suited the times, or at least it suited how I understood those times. Trash 2000 had been making videos for Stereolab, Cornershop and Leftfield, which were using a lot of the imagery and attitudes that appealed to me, so when filmmaker Nick Abrahams approached me on behalf of Trash 2000 to ask if I had any ideas, I was ready.
So, did I have any ideas? Well, no – I didn’t. It was only after the initial meeting that I recalled that there was a story I was very interested in writing – and that was the one about the American movie actor Nick Adams. He was one of a small bunch of Hollywood stars, including Russ Tamblyn and Joseph Cotton, who had made monster movies for Toho films in Japan. At the time, I’d been a consultant for a BBC2 history of the horror movie, dealing specifically with the kaiju phenomenon in general and Godzilla in particular. Nick Adams had appeared in one extraordinary Godzilla movie, known in the West as Monster Zero AKA Invasion of Astro Monster.
As far as I was concerned, Godzilla was the apocalypse incarnate. What made the Nick Adams connection so fascinating was not only that Adams died relatively young, overdosing on pills, but he had also been close friends with two other mythically self-destructive figures: Elvis Presley and James Dean. This connection was the starting point for Let Me Die a Monster. I developed a story that begins with Adams’ suicide – the pills producing a powerful hallucination in which Nick sees himself back in Tokyo making one last kaiju movie; but things are not going so well for him. His part keeps being rewritten, and he’s gradually being upstaged by a second American actor, who’s clearly after the starring role. Adams starts cracking up. The script for Let Me Die a Monster concerns itself with the flashbacks and fantasies unfolding in the dying actor’s brain.
For the Camden Art Centre reading David McGillivray selected two scenes and assembled a wonderful cast to interpret them. I am particularly indebted to him, Kamura Atusko, Iain Stirland, Daryl Crick and Henry Galvan for such an extraordinarily special event.
Strange Attractor Journal 5
David McGillivray and KH posing for the camera
Stirland and Crick in character
The cast and the writers from right to left: Henry Galvan, Daryl Crick, Iain Stirland, Kamura Atsuko, David McGillivray and KH