Les Daniels LOVED the movies, from the highest works of cinematic art to the absolute worst moving pictures ever captured on film. Loved them. Studied them. Taught them. Reviewed them. Had a frightening encyclopedic knowledge of them. Some might even say obsessed over them. Sound like any other current horror writers you might know (whose web site you’re currently reading)?
While Les’ passion for movies was unquestioned, it was one aspect of his personality that never really crossed over into his own work. As I mentioned earlier, he did write film reviews for the Providence Eagle and he also taught the occasional film class at Rhode Island College, but Les’ own pen was usually fixed to writing novels and comic book histories rather than screenplays. Of course, that doesn’t mean an artist like Les, who was as diverse as a Swiss Army knife, never dabbled in writing for the silver screen, and the stories of his dalliances in the film world are as bizarre and zany as the campy movies he so enjoyed.
I teased this story a few articles back, so now it’s time to make good on my promise to share it — the tale of Les Daniels writing a screenplay for Dino DeLaurentis. Fresh off the heels of his enormously successful King Kong and inspired by the (unfortunately) popular music of the time, acclaimed producer Dino DeLaurentis hired Les Daniels to write him a script for … wait for it … a disco horror movie. (Side note: isn’t it amazing how even the most brilliant geniuses in their respective fields have some ideas that just make you shake your head? A disco horror film? Really?) Moreover, DeLaurentis was so enthusiastic about the project that Les wasn’t the only writer he hired; in fact, he paid three horror authors, flew them to and put them up in London, and challenged them all with the same task, his plan being to shoot the best script that came out of this “competition.” Of course, the disco craze faded, wiser heads prevailed, and DeLaurentis’ disco horror project never progressed past the pages written in London. If it ever had, I all but assure you there’d be a review of it on Cinema Knife Fight.
Les wrote another screenplay with a fellow Providence staple — musician, comedian, and humor columnist Rudy Cheeks. Together, they co-wrote The Comediac Movie. This project came much closer to fruition, as several scenes were even shot with Cheeks playing the title role, but the film was never finished or released. It’s premise? There is a serial killer who dispatches his victims in manners inspired by (or, more accurately, lifted directly from) old Three Stooges bits. While it feels a bit strange to analyze a piece of work which was never completed, I can’t help but feel that The Comediac Movie is a sterling example of the strange, brilliant, and magical conglomeration that was Les Daniels’ mind. As all who knew him will attest, Les was hysterically funny, but his was always a dry, smart wit. The Comediac would have brought together aspects of Les’ personality that rarely, if ever, co-mingled in his work — his sense of humor, his unabashed love of campy, over-the-top movies, and his spine-tingling ability to write horror. And to close with an important aside on this topic that I feel speaks for itself, Rudy Cheeks attended the memorial service that was held for Les at Necon 32.
Which segues me into another topic that simply cannot be ignored when writing about Les Daniels’ love for movies (particularly bad ones) — Necon’s infamous “That Damn Game Show.” Look, I’m not going to hijack this article into a diatribe about the polarizing pros and cons of Necon’s traditional trivia contest; instead, I’ll simply say, some Neconers adore it, and some Neconers abhor it. No matter how people feel about it, however, no one disputes that Les Daniels was its unquestioned king and grand champion. There was seemingly no question obscure or esoteric enough to have escaped his knowledge, particularly when it came to movies. In fact, when I had the honor of inducting Les as part of the inaugural class of the Necon Hall of Fame, I introduced him in the manner of a quiz show question — what do you get when you cross a brilliant horror writer with an obsessive movie fan with a “Rain Man-like” capacity for useless trivia? Les received a much more moving tribute a few years later, as Doug Winter and Craig Shaw Gardner (hosts of “That Damn Game Show” and, thereby, Les’ longtime tormentors and antagonists) dedicated the Show in his honor the first year that Les’ failing health kept him from attending Necon and competing.
In a way, this was a bit of an odd article to write; after writing five blogs about Les’ seminal and influential works, doing a piece about movies which were never shot and his trivia dominance might seem, well, trivial. However, it would just be wrong to spend a month celebrating the life of Les Daniels without dedicating some time to his unabashed love of movies, particularly seeing how SO many horror writers share his passion for both the best and the worst of the cinema. Simply put, some important parts of a writer’s legacy don’t appear on his bibliography. For me, and for many others, Les Daniels will always be linked with some of the most head-scratching, ridiculous, and useless wastes of time the movie world has ever thrown upon us. But then again, seeing as his love for film influenced and informed this true giant of the genre, maybe Les’ guilty cinematic pleasures weren’t so useless after all.