Between The Crow and Dark City, movie maker Alex Proyas had a lost project, revealed here.
by Patch O'Furr
Do those titles perk your ears up? They had major impact on cult movies from the 1990’s to now. The Crow won a new level of respect for comic-based movies, which had never been so dark before. (The soundtrack alone was a gateway for countless black-clad kids.) Then, Dark City created a visionary sci-fi dystopia world with only a handful to compare: like Brazil, The City of Lost Children, or Blade Runner. It was stellar work from director Alex Proyas. 1994-1998 may have been his peak (so far.)
There was supposed to be a movie in between: an adaptation of Freak’s Amour, an obscure but highly praised cult novel by Tom De Haven. It was optioned and scripted for Proyas. The project fell by the wayside for two sad reasons. One was aftershocks from the tragic death of Brandon Lee on set of The Crow. The other was critical success but financial failure for Dark City. Even though it’s called the best movie by Proyas, it hurt his career. It was triumph and tragedy. A year later, The Matrix came along (sharing studio and style) and won all the attention. Dark City has continued to influence movies like Inception.
Proyas followed up with 3 features that got mixed reviews. There’s mentions of a number of projects in development. The next one for sure is Gods of Egypt in 2016. (Hey furries, I wonder if there will be characters like Anubis?)
As far as I can tell, almost nobody in the fan world has talked about this lost movie project. (As a fan of the novel, I’d never known about it until now!) Stories like this are why I blog.
It’s an indirect topic for a Furry blog. The anthropomorphism is Monster Movie style – not funny animals. This is for sci-fi fans in general, especially ones for the niche called Body Horror. But it’s inspired by comics, and it’s relevant.
“…The story of Freak’s Amour is, in it’s own way, a story of body dysphoria.” – Dana Marie Andra, artist for the comic.
More about the underappreciated “Freak’s Amour”, by Tom De Haven- and what Tom told me about the movie project.
I wrote a review of the book at Flayrah. I hadn’t known there was a 1990’s comic of it – it was reprinted as a book from Dark Horse in 2013. It was ushered into print by artist Steve Bissette (known for The Swamp Thing.) His introduction says: “Freaks Amour put pictures in the heads of all those who read it…” It tells many behind-the-scenes stories about efforts to adapt the novel visually, and notable creators it has inspired. But it doesn’t mention this story!
Steve Bissette thanked me for the notice. His website has a page about efforts to promote the comic, and special features in it.
Then I found the author’s blog and movie script, and wrote to him to ask about it.
Hi Tom –
It was very, very interesting to browse your blog and learn that you wrote a film script for Alex Proyas. Apparently someone with very good taste matched your work with someone who I bet could have done amazing things with it.
Before I knew that, my review said, “it begs for a movie. If you want to read something really unique that Hollywood isn’t cool enough to use yet, pick up a copy now.”
Can you say more? Why did it not go forward? Do you think a movie will ever happen one day? (I hope?)
Tom De Haven writes:
Dear Patch, thanks very much for email and for the terrific review of Freaks’ Amour at your blog, and apologies for not responding sooner: my wife and I have been moving our stuff out of the house we lived in for 23 and into a new (old) house in Richmond, and my life has been pretty chaotic lately, I’m running behind on everything
I’m glad you found Café Pinfold, which for nearly two years I’ve been pretty assiduous about maintaining–until the move just crashed everything creative and fun, but I’ll get back to it soon. About the Freaks’ Amour film project: Alex Proyas contacted me in the early 90s when he was in the states preparing to film The Crow in North Carolina; he’d first read the novel when he was in high school and it had stuck with him. He optioned it and hired me to write a script, and we met on the set of The Crow to talk things over. But, as you might remember, the subsequent production (I left before shooting started) was tragic, Brandon Lee being killed during filming. Alex was so devastated by what happened that he was pretty much incommunicado for a long time afterward. When he finally got back in touch with me again, I flew out to L.A. and worked with him for a week or so on breaking down the novel into a film story, then went back home to Virginia and did a draft; I think I had three months to write it. I’d worked before with director Susan Seidelman on an adaptation of another of my novels, Jersey Luck (also never filmed) and had written a few scripts for an animated TV series called The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, so I had some screenwriting experience.
After I did the first draft, I met with Alex again and he gave me some comments, crits, and suggestions, and I did a second draft (the one posted at my blog). I’d assumed this would be Alex’s next project, but suddenly he informed me that he was going to make a film called Dark City (which he’d written himself) as his next project, and Freaks would follow that. I got that old sinking feeling when I heard the news, but nothing I could do about it, and besides, I’d had a ball working with Alex, and the screenplay money, I gotta say, was far, far better than anything I’d ever made before.
As does happen in the film business, Dark City, though a well-thought-of cult film these day, was a bomb when it came out, and Alex’s standing in Hollywood took a sudden nosedive. He returned to Australia to do commercials again (which is how he started in the movie business), and we lost touch. He’s since made a number of movies, of course. About 8 years ago, I got a call from Alex out of the blue: he was thinking of Freaks’ Amour again but couldn’t find a copy of my script, could I send him one. It took me a while to locate (I’m not the most organized of writers), but I dug it up finally and sent it off to California, but never heard anything more. If you’ve seen the script, which I still like, you’ll see it doesn’t quite fit the big-budget extravaganza sf/fantasy requirements of the 21st century, so I’m not surprised Alex couldn’t see fit to make that kind of picture anymore. This is probably way more than you wanted to know, but those are my recollections.
I always felt that novel would’ve made a great movie, whether written by me or not, and in recent years I thought it might even make a better cable series, which is one of the reasons I prodded (with the help of my friend Steve Bissette, who’d unsuccessfully pitched a comic-book version of Freaks’ way back in the early 80s) Dark Horse Comics to collect the three-issue early 90s comic-book series into a trade paperback: I was hoping somebody at some production company somewhere would chance upon it, and see the possibilities. As it turned out, however, not a nibble.
Again, thanks for the review, and thanks for getting in touch.
Tom allowed me to share for this blog. I think somewhere, some cult fans may find this as exciting as I do.
It speaks volumes that Proyas was considering “Freak’s Amour” at the time he did, when he was earning great respect. Tom De Haven still hasn’t gotten his due for it. If the book sounds up your alley, get it. It’s a find.
If fans keep it alive, maybe one day we’ll get a movie at the rare heights of weirdness that’s been explored by directors like David Lynch and Cronenberg.
Here’s another perspective about Tom’s public reading and his experiences with the book.
A retrospective article about the unique vision of Proyas, and his troubles with Hollywood.
A good video about Dark City, the loved cult movie that happened instead of this:
Dark City was one of those movies that was so completely original in terms of design, special effects and plot that it just blew me away when I first saw it back in ’98.Only The Matrix that came out the fallowing year came close to it.
Same here! I was entertained by The Matrix, but felt it was derivative. Many years later, and in hindsight after really disliking the sequels – I find it hasn’t dated well and is overrated. You should read this blog post that discusses how The Matrix borrowed from Dark City- even buying the same sets to reuse them after it was made: http://blog.rottencotton.com/remembering-dark-city-15-years-later/
I think if a Freak’s Amour movie was made, it could have been even weirder and more original.
Dark City was/still is a cinematic masterpiece. Alex Proyas came a long way from directing music videos in the late 80’s!