HALLOWEEN FICTION – A down-and-out ’70s film director thinks he’s made a deal with the Devil. 4,831 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Nobody liked Fred Pine. If he had any self-awareness, he wouldn’t like Fred Pine either. Pine made bitterness into an art form. Unfortunately it was the only art form he excelled at.
To say that his films were grade “Z” would be an insult to Ed Wood. Hell, it would be an insult to film. If Pine had just spent a little more time, effort and tender loving care on them, the films would be awful.
He tried his best. That was the scary part.
One look at his clothes and you could tell what he had for lunch the last three weeks. Far too much starch. In his food — not his clothes. A man of slender build, he’d never be as old as he appeared. His hair looked as if it were trying to remember the last time it was washed.
His wife had left him. But that was years ago. Pine figured she was jealous of his career. He recalled the last words he said to her as she hurried out the door: “If you think making films is so easy, you try it.”
She did. The Ex was now one of the most successful TV directors at Paramount. “Must have slept her way to the top,” he would mutter. But he was amazed she got as far as she did for a woman who hated sex. Then again, she was doing TV. Not features.
But introspection wasn’t his long suit. His long suit was plaid –- and two sizes too big. Room to grow into, as mother used to say. He wore loud clothes hoping to be noticed. He was noticed, but not in the way he wanted.
In his daily ritual Pine sprinted to his mailbox hoping that his spirits would be lifted by fan mail. The closest he came was a final notice from the electric company. He’d explained in his last letter to them that he was an artist. He wondered if anyone had actually read it.
The Universal lot had two commissaries. One where the crews and day players ate, filled with trays, plastic forks, paper napkins and a one-sheet of More American Graffiti.
Next store, 20 feet away, was the “other” commissary. This one was more Musso’s than Canter’s. They actually laundered the tablecloths, not just wiped them down. On the walls were signed stills of Hitchcock posed with The Birds and Bogart from a film nobody was able to name.
It was a different time back then — The Seventies — a great period to be a movie director in Hollywood. Taboos melted away. Films went way beyond permissive; they became grittier, uncompromising, with nuanced, complex characters. Sam Peckinpah never could have made Straw Dogs in an earlier decade. The stories were disturbing rather than uplifting. The clear distinction between good guys and bad guys was gone. A new generation of non-traditional leading men burst onto the screen.
Movies dealt with subject matters never approached before and took filmgoers places they hadn’t been. Filmmakers would find that fine line you’re not supposed to cross and drive right over it. That’s where the interesting stuff was. And most importantly the studios let the filmmakers alone to make their films their way.
Five of the best directors of the day were gathered at our regular lunch table in the “other” commissary when Fred Pine walked in.
Don Siegel, looking snazzy in his ascot, spotted him first. “Look who broke away from the tram tour. Would it be rude if we all hid under the table before he sees us?”
“Rude to whom?” Sam Peckinpah slyly mumbled between bites of his Cobb salad. In contrast to Siegel, Peckinpah wore a bandana and had his mirrored shades dangling from a canasta chain. He was downing white wine in record amounts in order to kick his vodka problem.
John Frankenheimer dropped the bad news. “Too late, he spotted us.”
Pine approached us. It was a safe bet he left a trail of sweat behind him. He rushed up and slapped Don Siegel hard on his back, much to Don’s annoyance: “Hey Don. STICK IT IN YOUR ASS!”
Everyone at the table just stared at Pine. Without missing a beat, Pine added: “That’s from Magnum Force – get it?”
Siegel calmly addressed Pine through clenched teeth: “That wasn’t my film. Ted Post directed Magnum Force. I directed Dirty Harry.”
Pine looked at him quizzically, “Are you sure?” Oblivious, he carried on. He was beyond containing himself. “Hey, gang. I wanted to invite my best buds to the premiere of my new motion picture event –-“
“I guess we’re off the hook,” Bob Aldrich said out of the side of this mouth but not that softly. As usual, Aldrich’s tie was dangling around his neck, giving the word “tie” a certain irony.
Pine gestured with his hand to simulate a marquee. “The Rampaging Revenge Of The Rampaging Robotic Robots 2. Catchy, don’t you think?”
“So’s influenza,” Peckinpah said with a mouth full of food.
Pine couldn’t be stopped. “You know my friend Grady Sutton? I’m bringing my 16-millimeter projector over to his place. We’re showing it there cuz he’s got more chairs. Oh, it’s BYOB.”
Peckinpah was enjoying this too much. “Yeah, Don. Didn’t you hold the world premiere for Dirty Harry at Grady’s?”
Siegel was right there: “No, I’m sure it was for The Wild Bunch. The opening of Dirty Harry was at Pinky Lee’s. The after party was at Grady’s.”
Aldrich wouldn’t be left out of the fun. “I can still taste those potato chips. What was that flavor?”
“Stale,” Peckinpah drolly added. He was on a roll. “The party was going fine til Clint ate all the saltines.”
Siegel: “You know he gets mean when he doesn’t get his saltines.”
Peckinpah: “Didn’t Grady Sutton test for the part of Harry Callahan?”
Siegel: “Yeah. But we went with Clint.”
Pine dived in: “I love Grady like a step-brother, but I think Eastwood was a better choice.”
Siegel: “Thanks, Fred. I’m relieved you think I made the right decision.”
Frankenheimer tried to repress his laughter. He was jerking around as if he were one of Jerry’s kids. Or even Jerry. He was practically eating his cloth napkin to keep his laughter in. This didn’t go unnoticed by Peckinpah. He deadpanned directly to Frankenheimer, “Tell me, John, who would you have gone with for Dirty Harry – Grady Sutton or Clint Eastwood?”
Frankenheimer leaped from the table and headed anywhere that wasn’t with us. I’d never seen him move that fast. Hell, I’d never seen him move.
But Sam wasn’t done with Pine. “Sorry about Ol’ Frankenheimer but he has the bladder of a 9-year-old girl. He’s about as much fun as Arthur Hiller at an orgy. We were thinking of kicking him out of our little group because of it. What do you think, Pine?”
“John’s a good guy. I can vouch for that. I say you should let him stay in.”
“OK, whatever you say. I was going to invite you to join our group. But now we have no openings.”
“But if his bladder is really that small –“
Mid-sentence, Peckinpah pointed to the other side of the commissary. “Look, there’s Robert Wise. Why don’t you invite him to your gala?”
Pine ran off in the direction Peckinpah pointed.
Aldrich looked in that general direction. “I don’t see Wise.”
“Neither do I,” Peckinpah said, pleased.
Pine was outside the commissary. He barely held himself up as he clutched onto some ridiculous steel sculpture that graced the walkway. Longingly, he peered through the window. He saw the five directors drinking and laughing. They were inside. He was out.
Pine slumped down in defeat. Defeat might be putting it too strongly. Let’s say self-pity.
Why wasn’t Fred Pine at that table? In his mind, he’s certainly as good if not better than any of them. He belongs, no, deserves to be there. And he’d be there, too, if it just wasn’t for his string of bad luck…
Like the time he mistook Sidney Poitier for a valet parker and asked him to fetch his car. Or in Pine’s words: “What’s the big deal? I was going to tip him. It could happen to anybody.”
Or when Pine threw his script for A Slut Is Born over Barbra Streisand’s fence. It unfortunately landed on her patio table while she was having a poolside lunch with Robert Evans. It dropped anchor in the soufflé, smashed her china and ruined Evans’ leisure suit. Of course, none of this was Pine’s fault.
After several of these events, someone else might have thought to look beyond bad luck. But we’re not talking about someone. We’re talking about Fred Pine. And it’s not just a couple of missteps. You’d need a table of contents to catalogue his bonehead moves. The only bad luck involved was his being born.
Every snub, rejection and insult thrown his way throughout his life were all playing endlessly in his head this day. It overwhelmed him. Anger built as Pine got redder and redder.
He pounded the side of his fist against the commissary’s concrete wall. Hitting. It. Repeatedly. Relentlessly. Then silence. He stopped. Pine seemed surprised when he noticed his hand was bleeding. Then came the pain. But he had bigger concerns. He took another look at the directors’ clique and exhaled with a fierce determination: “I’d sell my soul to be one of the big boys.”
When you first see Fred Pine’s cramped apartment, you couldn’t imagine how it could be less appealing. Then the smell hits you.
Dozens of rusted 16mm film cans are casually stacked against a beat-up Moviola that was last used by D.W. Griffith as a paperweight. This was surrounded by cheaply made one-sheets of his past endeavors thumbtacked to the wall. He autographed them himself to add “extra value.” They include such cinematic achievements as The Good, The Bad And The Monster From Neptune’s Moon, and Space Monsters From Outer Space.
Pine’s greatest success, actually his only success, was when he sold Warner Bros the idea for Pet Rock – The Movie. Can you believe the crap they were buying in the Seventies? What’s next: films based on board games?
Pine was industriously engaged in picking his nose when he turned and saw The Devil there. ”So you want to sell your soul?”
Pine was a combination of stunned and startled. “You’re the Devil!”
Satan let it sink in. Then spoke. “Yeah. Every time someone offers me their soul, I have to follow up. It’s the only downside to the gig.”
“You must get some real losers.”
Satan let that thought linger.
As with any pause in conversation, Pine used it for self-promo. “You know, I’ve got a big meeting with Francis Ford Coppola coming up.” The Devil looked skeptical. “Are you familiar with my movies?”
“We have a certain place where your films play round the clock.”
Pine broke into a large grin. “You do?”
“Of course. It’s Hell.”
Nervously, Pine threw out the odd question that didn’t involve himself. “As the Devil, what exactly do you do?”
“Wars, starvation… the usual. I’ve caused the impossible to happen. How else could you explain Bachman-Turner Overdrive?”
“Are you responsible for all the nasty things that happen on earth?”
“Just some of them. Never underestimate mankind. For example, I put greed out there. It’s people who ran it into the end zone.” Satan flashed Pine a sly smile. “My work can be more insidious. I invented disco. When I showed it to the boys downstairs –
“Don’t you mean upstairs?”
It took Pine a few seconds. Actually many seconds. Then the dime dropped.
Satan continued. “So when I showed it to the boys downstairs, they said it would never catch on. ‘People dancing to music played by machines with no human emotion? Come on!’ I got great odds on that one and cleaned up big.”
Pine gathered up his balls and asked the big one. “What can I do to please you, master?”
“First, don’t call me ‘master’. Second, if you want to please me, don’t ever summon me again.”
“So we’re in business?”
“Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
Pine turned away for a second to give Satan his business card. But when he turned back, the Devil was gone.
Something extremely unusual happened next. Pine changed his clothes. His dimly lit apartment’s cheap threadbare furniture had hastily been pushed to the walls. But the real eye-catcher was a misshapen pentagram drawn on the floor in chalk. Cheap candles that surrounded it gave off an eerie glow.
Pine was sweating a lot even by his standards. He quickly knelt before the pentagram. In what Pine’s idea of hallowed tones must sound like, he uttered: “I summon thee the power of darkness.”
He cringed in anticipation.
“Oh, Lucifer, come see how I’ve done your bidding.” Pine tensed. “Please?” He anxiously awaited Satan’s arrival.
Pine looked more puzzled than usual. Then it hit him — “I’ll sell my soul to the devil.”
He noticed The Devil was seated casually in the easy chair.
“I thought I made myself clear – “
“Just wait here a second.”
Pine hauled ass to the bedroom and quickly returned dressed in a glitzy tuxedo two sizes too big. Even with the shine of the jacket, the soup stains still showed through. It also looked as if the moths had been eating better than Pine.
He sweated even more than earlier if humanly possible. “I brought you a virgin. You still like those, don’t you?”
At that, Pine wheeled out a young attractive woman tied tightly to an odd wooden gurney. A leather bag enveloped her head. Her muffled screams exploded from the sack. Her limbs wildly contorted in a hopeless attempt to break free of the ropes. As she struggled, the bonds burrowed into her already bleeding wrists.
“Sir, I give thou your virgin.” With much gusto, Pine pulls off the bag exposing her face.
The Devil stared at the poor woman tied to the gurney. Her mouth was duct taped. Satan was stunned.
“Let me get this straight. You go get a virgin and you bring back Maggie Chambers, the porn star? I hope you kept your receipt.”
“I think I have a way of getting her to do whatever you want.”
“So do I. It’s called asking her.”
Pine was undaunted. “I’m going to do something you’ll really love.”
“Stop annoying me?”
“Even better. I will prove my loyalty to you and the dark side by performing a feat of black magic on this virgin…“ Pine glanced at Maggie Chambers briefly, “…or whatever she is.” Pine quickly slid the side wooden panels onto the gurney. They encased Maggie in a coffin size box. Her limbs and head extended out of pre-existing holes. Pine continued. “I couldn’t find any books about black magic at the 7-Eleven but I found something just as good.” Pine wiped dust off the edges of the instruction booklet and quickly consulted it: “How To Saw A Woman In Half.”
In a corny overly theatrical way, Pine displayed his saw. He gave it a reverberating slap to prove it was real. With total confidence, Pine proceeded to saw the center of the box. By far, this was the worst thing Maggie Chambers ever had in her. Her legs kicked frantically. Her head jerked wildly. Her arms futilely gyrated as they tried to break loose of her bonds. Her muted screams of agony were accompanied by streams of blood flying in multiple directions. Suddenly, the screams stopped. Her body stopped fighting. But the rush of blood continued.
A red stream hit Pine directly in the face, temporarily blinding him. He quickly mopped Maggie’s blood from his eyes. Panicked, Pine maniacally pawed through the instructions trying to figure out what to do next. He continued to saw all the way through the center of the box. Pine proudly separated the two halves and stepped between them to prove his magical prowess.
“If you think that’s amazing…” Woodenly, he read out loud from the instruction pamphlet. “Don’t start your propellers just yet. There’s even more! Here’s the part where I put her back together!”
With a smile on his bloody face, he put the halves of the box back together. And with a “Ta-Da” he opened the box and extended his hand to Maggie. Her hand didn’t arrive.
Pine looked into the box and was both shocked and horrified. He assessed the situation. “Now I’ll never get my deposit back on this tuxedo. Stupid bitch.”
Pine looked around for the Devil’s approval but he was gone. Pine sulked.
In the dead of night, dressed in semi-fresh blood free clothes, Pine stood behind the open trunk of his beat-up gold ’69 Ford Fairlane. His ex-wife had given him the personalized license plates as she left. LUZR. He never figured out what it meant but having personalized plates gave him a feeling of class. Maybe she hadn’t been so bad after all.
Beside him, wrapped in dry cleaning bags, were two sections of what was once Maggie Chambers. The top half sat adjacent to the bottom. Should he put the top half in first. then the bottom half on top, or the other way around? He stood there baffled. He had never done this before. Finally, he took out a coin and flipped it. It landed with a dull thud breaking the deafening silence for a second. He bent down in search of his answer — heads or tails. Pine couldn’t see the coin in the dark. Dropping down to his knees, he felt around in the dirt for the coin. He then searched frantically. He was more panicked about this than the dead body lying next to him.
Finally, Pine got dejected and reluctantly rose to his feet. He picked up the top half of Maggie, surprised by how heavy she was. He was thrown off balance and he landed on his ass. Hard. Maggie landed on top of him. They were face to face. With haunted eyes, she peered at him through the plastic. A look of sheer terror lined his face. Through a hole in the dry cleaning bag, Maggie’s blood leaked from her left eye and landed his mouth. Pine let out a pent-up scream that even Maggie could hear as he struggled to push her off of him.
In his panic, she landed back on top of him again. Her eyes seemed to be shouting out murderer as blood streamed from her face. Pine slid out from under her, wiping off sweat. At least he hoped it was sweat. He was afraid to look. Pine quickly scrambled up as poor Maggie landed tits first. Pine muttered, “It’s not my fault you didn’t know how the trick worked.”
Trying to compose himself, he glanced down and realized he was drenched in her blood. He grumbled, “Great. My favorite shirt. Never trust women.”
This time he braced himself better and put Maggie‘s top half into the trunk. Then he lifted the bottom half. Unexpectedly, it was heavier than the top. He paused a few seconds at her crotch. “Nah. Got to keep my mind on business.”
He dumped bottom Maggie on top Maggie. “I hope I’m doing this right.” Pine felt relieved. Home free. Then he noticed he was drenched in blood. “Better change my shirt. This might look suspicious.” He started to walk away but quickly doubled back, closing the trunk. “Too many weirdos around here.”
Pine was driving along, listening to KJAM’s Morning Zoo DJ team of “Monkey Man & Jay.”
“— Boy, did you see those nipples on Farrah Fawcett? I’d sure like to wet her T-shirt,” Monkey Man’s voice spat out from the car’s shitty speaker.
“Yeah, but you’d have to do it without wetting yourself first,” sidekick Jay came back with, topping his boss.
A clown horn sounded from the radio. The DJs laughed, but not as loudly as Pine. If you’re thinking how could this shit pass as comedy — keep in mind this was the late Seventies when Chevy Chase was the top comic of the time.
“How do you think Farrah got as big as she is?”
“She’s not big. ‘B’ cup at best.”
“So who’s more your type then — Randy Mantooth?”
Pine was laughing. We’ve never seen him laugh before. We’ll never see it again.
“ I’m being serious here.”
“You mean you were being funny before?”
“How do you think Farrah got as far as she did?”
“Isn’t it obvious? She sold her soul to the Devil.”
Fun time was over as Pine listened intently.
“Which reminds me,” said Monkey Man, starting in on his rant. “Coming up tomorrow, I’ll challenge the Devil yet again to a boxing match. If he’s so tough, why doesn’t he meet me? This is the third day of my challenge and guess what — that punk was a no show. Why? Cuz the Devil’s a wuss… This is Monkey Man & Jay signing off. Coming up next are Jenny and her boobs playing the latest hits.”
Pine left a legacy of rubber behind as the Ford screamed into a U-turn. He had a crazed look as he drove 90. Neither hairpin turns nor the thumping of a dismembered body in his trunk slowed him down.
In KJAM’s parking lot Monkey Man was calmly heading toward his destination. He looked about 60 but it was hard to tell because of the layers of fat. He could have been 12. His comb-over was practically a work of art. It looked as if it took him an hour and a half to position everything just right. The problem was, even at a rumor of a breeze, the whole thing went to hell.
Pine screeched into the lot, leaped out and scurried up to him. “Are you Monkey Man?”
The tightening on the man’s face was a tacit admission. Monkey Man quickened his pace towards his car. He talked without a hint of slowing down. “Are you one of my moron fans? Listen, pal. I’m off the clock. Why don’t you go bother your dick.”
Pine was undeterred. “You said some very bad things about a friend of mine today.”
Monkey Man hit the brakes. “Today, I busted balls on the Pope, Queen Elizabeth and Benjamin Franklin. Which one is your pal?”
“So you and the Devil are friends? Then why don’t you go to his place?”
“Go to hell.” With that, Monkey Man turned and continued towards his car.
Pine pulled a piano wire from his pocket. Quietly he approached Monkey Man from behind and instantly wrapped the piano wire around the DJ’s neck and pulled with all the strength he had.
Monkey Man instinctively caught the space between the piano wire and his neck with his fingertips.
Pine knew he was lucky that he saved a piano string from a few days earlier. He had stood in the parking lot of Zoetrope studios. There was a reason he looked as if he had been waiting for hours. He had. Then the moment arrived, the moment he had been practicing for all week. Francis Ford Coppola was heading to his car. Pine jumped into action and flagged FFC down.
“Frank!” Pine decided to call him Frank because Francis sounded too faggy.
The second time Pine yelled Frank, Coppola swung around. By that time Pine was in front of him.
“Hi. I’m Fred Pine. We’re in the same business.”
“You make wine?”
At first Pine was thrown off his game. But he plunged ahead.
“No. I create cinema just like you do. I’m working on my newest creation.” Pine gestured with his hand to simulate a marquee. “Globe Of The Chimps.”
Coppola didn’t know what to make of this. “Isn’t that like Planet Of The Apes?”
Pine couldn’t believe Coppola didn’t get it. He looked at FFC as if his belt size and IQ were the same. Still, Pine continued with his pitch. “No. A chimp lands on earth and discovers it’s run by humans. The humans can talk and everything!”
Dejected from his meeting, Pine headed towards the hole in the fence near Zoetrope’s back gate, grumbling to himself. “He said he wanted to make films about the ‘human condition.’ What’s more human than chimps? And he’s supposed to be a visionary? I’m sure after years of working together, Frank and I will laugh about this. I just know he’ll make a fine assistant director. But this can’t go unpunished.
Pine changed course and snuck into Zoetrope’s recording studio. After much effort, he pulled out a piano string from the baby grand and shoved it into his pocket. “That should teach him,” Pine proclaimed with his own brand of smugness.
But Pine had current events to worry about now. For some reason Monkey Man didn’t want to die. Still behind him, Pine yanked the piano wire tighter around the DJ’s neck — but he didn’t go down. Pine then tried to lift Monkey Man off the ground. Monkey Man had gravity on his side. Pine never thought this would be so hard.
Monkey Man’s life’s trickled away as the piano wire cut into his neck. He was turning colors Pine had never seen before. What was taking so long? Pine hoped Monkey Man didn’t yell for help. Then remembered he’d already severed his voice box.
Monkey Man’s fingers were being sliced away as his blood flowed freely. Finally, his life gave out. Blood drained from his face, but he made up for it everywhere else.
Pine took a quick inventory of what was what. He saw he was drenched in Monkey Man’s blood. “Damn. My second favorite shirt.” Out of breath and with all the strength he could muster, Pine dragged Monkey Man toward his car. He tried to give himself encouragement as he performed this exhaustive job. Then he realized, “Oh. I could have brought the car to the body.”
By that point he had reached his vehicle. As he opened the trunk, there lay Maggie Chambers – some assembly required. She took up all the space. Pine looked into the trunk and at the dead weight of Monkey Man’s girth.
“Next car, I gotta get a bigger trunk.”
Pine was stumped. “Think Fred, think. Use your creativity. I know — Monkey Man strangled himself with piano wire. Could happen.” Pine was visibly pleased with his fine plan. He frantically went through Monkey Man’s pockets. No paper to write on. “What kind of retard doesn’t have paper on them?”
Pine searched his own pockets — no paper. Almost by providence, a tattered receipt blew by.
“Thank God — er… I mean Hail Satan.”
Pine bent to retrieve it as it blew out of his reach.
He reached for the paper again. And again it was blown further away. Chasing after the paper and finally diving for it, Pine tripped over Monkey Man’s body and landed in the dirt. ”What have I done to deserve this?”
As Pine started to compose the suicide note on the back of the receipt, he became immediately stuck. “Damn. Monkey Man can’t be his real name… can it?” Pine shrugged. “I’m sure if I just sign it Monkey Man, no one will notice.”
He stared at the suicide note when he’d finished it. Please forgive me for strangling myself and dragging myself 20 feet. The forgiving is for the strangling part not the dragging part. It’s just that as a radio DJ the music isn’t as good as it used to be and how can I live in a world like that? All the best, Monkey Man
Pine took pride of authorship. “Problem solved. But it’s a shame I can’t sign my name to a suicide note.”
Siegel, Peckinpah, Frankenheimer and Aldrich were at their regular lunch table at the Universal “other” commissary. Different day. Different shirts. Same seating.
Siegel was exhibiting a combination of pride and relief: “Yeah, I’m starting my mix on Escape From Alcatraz next week.”
Peckinpah: “The film’s got this great twist ending. They escape from Alcatraz.”
Siegel: “Thanks for spoiling the picture, Sam.”
Aldrich hauled a huge fork full of tuna casserole toward his mouth but stopped midway: “What does that make now? You and Eastwood have done four films together?”
Aldrich: “Why not just make it official and marry him?”
Siegel: “Cuz I didn’t want to make you jealous.”
At the other end of the Universal commissary stood Pine, all cleaned up. He stared longingly at the big-time directors and their table. As usual, they were laughing and enjoying themselves.
Just then, the Devil strolled by. Pine stopped Satan and said, “Hell’s got to be better than this.”
“Don’t you get it? You are in hell.” Satan replied with a devious smile. With that, the Devil went back to the table with Peckinpah, Frankenheimer, Siegel, Aldrich — his fellow directors.