At the 7:35 pm screening of RIDING THE BULLET on opening night at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, writer-director Mick Garris was in attendance to answer questions after the film. Produced by the Motion Picture Corporation of America, the film is a modest-budget effort that opened in a few cities on Friday, October 15. How well it fares in these limited engagements will determine whether its release expands to other cities.
Judging by attendance on opening night, the prospects don’t look good, but the upscale Arclight may not be the best litmus test for this kind of film, which would probably play well in local, neighborhood theatres.
Before the screening, Mick Garris briefly introduced the film, which was based on Stephen King’s e-book, by saying that the ideas was to incorporate the two aspects of King’s work: nostalgia and horror. “Almost all of the books have both,” Garris said. “Most of the films have only one.”
This goal has both good and bad effects. The first hour of the film moves at an excruciatingly slow pace while Allan experiences numerous nostalgic flashbacks while he hitchhikes his way on Halloween to see his mother, who is lying in a hospital after a stroke. As if aware of pacing problem, Garris gooses up the proceedings with a series of “it’s-only-a-dream” type fantasy sequences that provide a few cheap shocks but don’t advance the story or tell us anything interesting about Allan. Unfortunately, the combination of sentiment and shocks is often self-negating: each tends to undermine, rather than enhance, the other.
After the screening, Garris took questions from the audience, many of whom clearly knew him. He said had been pursuing the project since he first downloaded the Stephen King story, which was released online, but it was a long difficult road finding financing. “Eventually, the producer at Motion Picture Corporation of America, Brad Krevoy, called me up and said he wanted me to direct PET SEMATARY III. PET SEMATARY II wasn’t a good idea, and PET SEMATARY 3 even less so.”
Krevoy wanted to shoot a third SEMETERY film for $2-million in South Africa, because it was at the time the cheapest place in the world to film. Garris convinced Krevoy to make RIDING THE BULLET instead, for approximately $8-million. Krevoy still pushed for filming in South Africa, but Garris couldn’t imagine trying to capture the American flavor of the King story in that country.
The film is an attempt to combine different elements into something that is not a typical horror movie, but the financers wanted Garris to put in more horror, like George Staub’s unexpected reappearance during a sentimental funeral scene near the end. “I’m not above the occasional cheap shock,” Garris admitted, switching into a joking Yiddish accent, “but hey, the kids love it!”
One addition of which he was more proud was the “Riding the Bullet” sequence during the third act. “That wasn’t there until the last draft of the script, and now I can’t imagine the film without it,” he said.
The scene takes place during the extended confrontation between Alan (Jonathan Jackson) and George Staub. As a young boy, Alan chickend out when his mother took him to ride the “Bullet,” a roller-coaster at a local amusement park. While trying to escape from Staub, Alan runs inside the abandoned amusement park and eventually finds his way onto the coaster, accompanied by phantom versions of his mother, father, and friends. “The problem was how to externalize that conflict into something visually interesting,” Garris said.
Garris is also proud of the casting of David Arquette, known more for comical characters, as the menacing Staub. “People know him as Dewey in the SCREAM films, but I saw a reel of his dramatic work,” Garris explained. “I like to cast against type. Like in THE STAND, I did not want Rob Lowe until I talked to him and said I would cast him if he played the deaf-mute character instead of the rock star.”
After RIDING THE BULLET was completed, Stephen King gave his approval for the use of his name in the promotion of the film (as “Stephen King’s RIDING THE BULLET”). Garris admitted that the King name above the title was the primary reason Motion Picture Corporation of America was willing to give the film even the small theatrical release it received. “It could have been ‘Stephen King’s Blank Leader,’ and they would have released it,” he joked.