"Satan's Sleepover" (2013)

Back when Johnny Cash had ambitions to follow Elvis into the movies, he starred in the woefully confused cheapie Five Minutes to Live, shot during an extended lunch break in 1961.   Better known today as Door-to-Door Maniac, the film centers on a bank heist masterminded by Vic Tayback (later to flip burgers on the CBS sitcom Alice).  Tayback hires Cash as sociopathic muscle to hold the bank president’s wife hostage at her home so that Tayback can waltz into the Savings and Loan and demand the cash quick, clean, and simple-like.  Complications ensue, of course, and most of the film centers on Cash menacing the wife with threats of sexual assault, stabbing, gunfire, and post-sync guitar strumming.  There is some additional gimmick about Cash having to answer the phone every five minutes (thus the original title), or else the wife gets it, but the film is so poorly directed that I found it very difficult to follow the logic here (Door-to-Door Maniac is “bad,” not in the spectacular Ed Wood school of cinematic disintegration, but in that much less satisfying mode of failure where everything—script/staging/acting—is just tepid and slightly off, like the entire movie is taking place under water.  The most competent moments in the film come courtesy of little Ronnie Howard as the terrorized wife’s kid.  At 8 years old, he was already more of a pro than anyone else on the set).

Just a few years later, Ann Margaret co-starred with John Forsythe in a somewhat similar film, Kitten with a Whip (1964), made at Universal with more money and much better equipment.  Although Margaret had already been in Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Viva Las Vegas (1964), Kitten was to be her first “dramatic” role and thus a crucial stepping-stone in making her a bonafide “star.”  Based on Wade Miller’s pulp of 1959, the film is a surprisingly unrevised nightmare about the fragile social constraints designed to keep appropriate male sexuality appropriately channeled.  Forsythe plays David Stratton, a rich middle-aged San Diegan, happily married, who is on the verge of announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.  With his wife away for the weekend, Stratton comes home late one night unaware that 17-year old hellion “Jody” (played by Margaret) has broken into his home to hide from the police.  When he wakes up the next morning in what he thinks is an empty house, he finds the magnetized jailbait asleep in his daughter’s former bedroom.  But Stratton is a gentleman and has a political future to worry about, so he agrees to buy the bad girl some new clothes and put her on the next bus to her hometown--anything to get her the hell out of there before his better half returns from her trip.   But this act of kindness backfires as it convinces the emotionally unstable Jody to stick around and live the good life for a few days.  In between threats to commit suicide or go to the police to file rape charges, Jody prances seductively around the Stratton home in a twisted bid to make "daddy" love her.  Things get worse when Jody’s friends arrive for a night of partying.   As the jazz plays and the liquor bottles empty, Stratton must hide the entire affair from both his wife and potential political donors. Worse yet, a weaselly beatnik lectures Stratton in nihilist philosophy while his meat-headed sidekick repeatedly threatens to beat Stratton to a pulp. 

Will Stratton throw away his marriage, life, and career by succumbing to the temptation of Jody’s seemingly indefatigable gyrations?  Will he be murdered by the Leopold and Loeb of Redondo Beach?  Will his wife and potential political backers discover that the sexual tension brewing in Stratton’s mind is so intense as to make an underage Ann Margaret physically materialize, in a negligee no less, in Stratton’s home?   Many dismiss this movie as marginal trash, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a more terrifying expose of the Eisenhower libido cowering at the threshold of the ‘60s sexual revolution.  Kitten with a Whip is less a “suspense” picture than an index of another  “whipping” that lurks unrealized just beyond both the plot and the title.  Universal clearly understood this, as should be most evident by the publicity still that features Ann Margaret continuing to torment Forsythe with her pussy, even during a seemingly candid moment away from the set.

Both Kitten with a Whip and Door-to-Door Maniac have their roots in The Desperate Hours, the 1955 adaptation of the famous novel and stage play by Joseph Hayes about a suburban family held hostage by a trio of escaped convicts.  Why use this premise to introduce aspiring dramatic actors like Cash and Margaret to the screen?  Acting gives me the hives, but if I had to guess, I would imagine it’s easier for a novice performer to play borderline crazy than something more naturalistic.  What better way to channel the nervous energy of an awkward and unpolished actor than to have him or her pacing around the set in a state of constant agitation? It's not bad acting, it's an electrifying performance!

Which makes me think of Justin Beaver.  Sadly, this particular rite of low-genre initiation no longer exists anymore for aspiring young actors.  Make no mistake about it, one day that Justin Beaver kid will want to be in the movies, and when he does, whatever synergistic overlord has Beaver’s bloody signature on a contract will stage an appropriately high-profile vehicle to get that kid’s hair up on the screen.  There will be a full media tour and simultaneous CD/mp3 drop, followed by extended warbling at the nation’s most profitable tweener strongholds.   No, Justin Beaver will never have to pay his dues in a series of creepy and potentially embarrassing genre films.  Unlike Jennifer Aniston, he won’t have to fight off a homicidal leprechaun for the right to get a shot at a network sitcom, he’ll just have his people drive him straight from the recording studio over to the main stage at Paramount. 

Which is a shame, because that kid would be great in a straight-to-DVD psychopathic hostage-taking movie, even if it did mean watching him perform a couple of mid-tempo dance numbers in some terrified family’s living room.   Actually, to work, the formula probably would need just a few tweeks to make it more age-appropriate.  For example, Beaver wouldn’t be all that convincing holding an entire family or any actual adults hostage inasmuch as he looks like he would be easily distracted by no more than the promise of a root-beer float.  Until the voice drops and he hits the weight-room, he'll need to tangle with more managable fare.  Teenage girls, perhaps, maybe at a slumber party?  But of course he couldn’t really threaten to go all Speck on them, so the narrative stakes would have to be changed somewhat.  Rather than play a true psychopath or criminal, perhaps he could merely be “troubled”—sent away to military school by his abusive father.  Maybe mix in a touch of dyslexia or a dead brother so that tweener girls feel extra sorry for him.  Then, like kitten before him, the Beaver could escape and seek refuge in a seemingly empty house.  But let's face it, no one would take him seriously as a hostage-taker, even if it was a nursery run by elderly blind nuns.  So here’s the twist: he finds himself taken hostage, perhaps by a gaggle of 13 year old girls who arrive unexpectedly for a secret slumber party. Everything seems innocent at first. Milkshakes and pillow fights, followed by Beaver opening up with the girls about what a creep his father is and how he just wants to sing, which he would then do.  Truth or dare?  Sure, why not?  The girls dare Tina, clearly the misfit of the group what with her glasses and unhighlighted hair, to give Justin a French kiss.  She's humiliated, he slightly embarassed...but somehow their eyes meet in tortured sympathy. 

Truth or Dare gives way to “light as a feather, stiff as a board” which then gives way to a Ouija Board.  Beaver gets worried as the questions and answers become increasingly freaky and cryptic. Something weird is going on here.  Just as he tries to make his excuses and leave, he feels woozy and blacks out. A mickey in his milkshake!  When he wakes up, the girls have removed the tarp from the pool table to reveal a pentagram hastily scribbled onto the green felt with pink bubblegum lip-gloss.  Bound and gagged, Beaver watches in astonishment as the girls don black robes, light candles, and coax a goat down the basement stairs.  His only hope is Tina--who has fallen in love with the troubled little mop top at first kiss.  Loosening his bonds while the other girls begin their Latinate chanting, she tells Beaver she's a good girl and never wanted to worship Satan in the first place.  That was all Ashley's idea!   Their destiny is clear. Tina and only Tina can save him from the fate of human sacrifice and a life of troubled, tussled brooding.  

Not only would this make for a brutally frank unpacking of the entire sexual economy informing the teen heart-throb racket, it would also make for great post-midnight Showtime fodder. 

Length: 79 minutes
Tone: From Justin to Kelly, if Kelly worshiped the Prince of Darkness.
Rating:  PG, obviously.
Budget: Can be done very cheaply.  Really only need about 15 million for a convincing suburban basement set and the appropriate hair care products for Justin. 
Estimated global box-office: pre-sold to cable, baby, can’t fail.

Please send whatever residuals you believe are fair to my home address.   

(P.S. I am aware the singer’s name is actually Justin Beiber, but I prefer calling him Beaver as it is funnier and more befitting of his luxurious coat). 

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