THE LEGACY Haunts the Tube
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Thanks to Showtime,
ghosts and ghouls will be coming
out of the TV set on a regular basis.
Dominion Bridge Studios has been the site of some serious TV horror-making
in the last few years, playing host to the miniseries of Stephen King's
It and, in 1994, Showtime's CableACE Award-winning revival of The
Outer Limits. Now the company behind that show, Trilogy Entertainment
Group, is tackling another genre cable project with Poltergeist: The
Legacy, a series about a wealthy and influential secret society devoted
to the understanding of and battle against supernatural phenomena
around the globe.
Dutch actor Derek
de Lint toplines as charismatic university professor Derek Rayne, who
leads the Legacy, humanity's unknown and final line of defense against
a growing evil presence in the world. The cast also includes Broadway
actor Patrick Fitzgerald as the group's spiritual guide, priest Philip
Callaghan; Robbi Chong (Tommy's daughter and Rae Dawn's sister) as brilliant
researcher Alex Moreau; Martin (Friday the 13th Part VIII) Cummins as
adventurous risk-taker Nick Boyle; and newcomer Jordan Bayne as the beautiful
and inventive Julia Walker.
When Fango visits
the set on a soaking wet November morning, the filmmakers are in the midst
of shooting the series' two-hour pilot, which is scheduled to air on Showtime
in mid-April. Under production designer Ian Thomas, the crew has constructed
the interior of a turn-of-the-century Gothic mansion; expensive-looking
antiques and a rich wood tone lend the set a rustic, old-world feel. There's
a cozy-looking fireplace in the main foyer, and a piano in the living
room which the sophisticated Dr. Rayne plays at his leisure. At the rear
of the set stands a nighttime rendering of the San Francisco skyline (the
mansion is set on Angel Island).
Located above the
sitting room is the command center for The Legacy, where state-of-the-art
computers pinpoint paranormal problems around the world, but the head
of the organization is currently resting in his trailer. The slim, handsome
de Lint bids welcome, turns down the volume on his stereo and, while Neil
Young warbles in the background, fills Fango in on what initially attracted
him to the project.
of all. I'd never done anything like this in 20 years of acting,"
"so I was very curious about doing a show of this genre. And what I really
like is that this guy, the leader of The
Legacy, is psychic. All the members of The Legacy are good at certain
things, and [series creator Richard Lewis] was looking for a leader with
a lot of charisma. Right away I was taken by everything he told me about
the character and the show."
De Lint is best known
internationally for his starring role in director Fons Rademakers' The
Assault, a powerful and disturbing drama about a Dutch boy who witnesses
the arbitrary murder of his family by Nazis that won an Academy Award
for Best Foreign Language Film. His current portrayal of Derek Rayne is
his first shot at major stardom on these shores, but at this stage of
the game he is unable to offer an in-depth analysis of his character's
role in the series.
just shooting the two-hour pilot, so it's hard,"
he says. "We have a vague idea where the series
will go, but we don't really have it in print yet, so it is a big adventure.
But what I really like about the show is that all the work we do one day
is the inspiration for the writers on the next, and everyone really wants
to have the actors involved with it, to speak out about the writing. It's
not like you cannot touch it, like it's Shakespeare; you can really talk
about it and make it together and see if it works or not."
One thing de Lint
does know, about the series' pilot at least, is that he's pleased to be
working with actor-turned-director Stuart Gillard.
"It's pure bliss," says de Lint of working with Gillard.
"I think every director who has been an actor before is a special reactor
for them because he knows how an actor works. Some directors are very
technical and don't have a clue how actors work, and in all their sincerity
they can say the wrong things. So it's really good to work with Stuart."
All this rumination
about the actor/director mindmeld is fine, but your trusty Fango correspondent
is itching to get the lowdown on Poltergeist: The Legacy's more
visceral attributes, so a chat with the pilot's FX crew is in order. In
the cluttered corner of one spacious building, Leon Laderach and Joel
Harlow of Steve Johnson's XFX are doing their thing, keeping close company
with the sculpted form of a fanged and nasty-looking baby that any mother
would be hard-pressed to love. Think It's Alive and you'll get
some idea what this ticked-off tyke resembles.
"We have a scene
that involves a pregnant stomach prosthetic," explains Harlow. "As the
mother goes through contractions, veins pop out on it and bladders pulse
with the illusion of the demon child trying to work its way out. Then
we have an insert stomach that lights up from the inside, so you can actually
see the baby workin' its magic."
Laid out next to
the nasty new-born is the fake, fully-dressed body of a full-grown man,
and this fellow an over-eager antiques dealer portrayed in the pilot
by Demon Knight's William Sadler has seen better days. His face
is contorted in agony, and he's flat as a pancake to boot. "That guy supposedly
has no bones," says Laderach. "They tackle him and inside he kind of deflates.
But first his head starts vibrating and his eyes pop and his chin starts
stretching and he gets sucked into a box."
It would be nice
to hang around and chat further about popped eyes and stretched chins
with these makeup veterans of The Stand, Species and Lord of
Illusions, but this is one of those rare set visits where there's
a lot going on at once, and your reporter has to hoof it back over to
the mansion set to see some actual filming. While manufactured lightning
flashes in one of the manor's well-appointed bedrooms, a nightgown-clad
Helen Shaver is stretched out on a rug pulling a Rosemary's Baby.
While one stagehand holds her bare ankles off the ground and another tosses
bits of paper into the path of a fan, Shaver makes the kind of pained
noises you'd expect from a gal who's just popped a 2-foot demon child.
When the afterbirth scene is played out to Gillard's satisfaction, he
yells "cut," an apt utterance considering that this particular baby could
really use a snip of the old umbilical. As a wrung-out Shaver relaxes
with a smoke after her harried series of takes, she offers a rundown of
"I am birthing evil
incarnate," she explains, "and I'm being dragged around by the demon by
its umbilical cord, because he didn't quite bank on the fact that once
he's out he's still attached to me. That part's kind of horrifying and
scary, but right at the end of it I open my eyes and what I see is my
son who died a year ago, standing like an angel. Part of me is experiencing
my dead son being reborn, so it's a really interesting scene, because
this extreme violence of birth is also a kind of bliss. I'm sort of in
In the Poltergeist
pilot. Shaver's character, Rachel Corrigan, is attending the gravesite
of her husband and son in the small town of Connemere, Ireland, when she
unwittingly stumbles upon a supernatural object of unimaginable power
in a dusty antiques shop. It is one of five ancient sepulchers containing
a demonic soul trapped centuries ago by Druid priests, and when the members
of The Legacy are alerted to this paranormal disturbance through Rayne's
unsettling psychic visions, they dispatch to Ireland to recover the sepulcher
before its devastating energies can be unlocked. But by the time they
get there, Rachel has been seduced and impregnated by the power of the
sepulcher, and the fetus is developing at an astonishingly fast rate.
Before you can say spawn-o'-hell, the aforementioned birth takes place,
which isn't good news for The Legacy, although Rachel's traumatic encounter
reveals a remarkable psychic gift and ultimately leads to her initiation
as a permanent member of the group.
for the series is obvious as she describes her role; her animated delivery
gives the impression that she's a real fright fan. But even though she
appeared in the original Amityville Horror, had spiders burst from
her cheek in The Believers and costars in Tremors 2: Aftershocks,
her eagerness does not stem from any great appreciation of horror flicks.
"I don't go to see
them myself," she explains between puffs. "I'm not really interested in
straight horror, 'cause oftentimes to me the visual is a disappointment
next to what my imagination can do. I wouldn't go see what's-his-name
on Elm Street, and I've got no interest in Pinhead or anything like that,
because I think gore and mixing sex and violence and that kind of stuff
is patently prurient and exploitative. I walked out in the first minute
and a half of Mortal Kombat, that aggressive hard rock with hideous
images for little kids.
"What we're doing
is very different from that," she adds. "This deals with archetypal struggles
between good and evil. It isn't in fact horror, it's another world; it
is the demons that we struggle with, that are part of ourselves. So I'm
interested in that heart inside, you know, that place between waking and
sleeping, just where you're letting go and it scares ya. To me, therein
lies the mystery, the magic."
So what attracted
this normally noncommittal, self-proclaimed "gypsy" to a role that if
the series takes off could have her locked in to one character indefinitely?
Part of it had to do with her positive experiences on The Outer Limits
pilot "Sandkings," which Gillard also directed and for which Shaver scored
a CableACE Best Actress nomination. Then Poltergeist: The Legacy
creator Lewis won her over the rest of the way.
"Richard called me
up, and after 45 minutes of listening to him on the phone, I said, 'Well,
send me the script.' Then I read the pilot we're shooting right now, called
him back and said, 'This is good, but what next?' So he started telling
me about the series bible, and I became fascinated with the idea that
since 500 B.C., there's been a group of people who have dealt with those
things that could not be explained. This group has continued to grow to
where it's a secret society that reaches into every echelon of our world.
And I love the idea that people like Robert Louis Stevenson and H.P. Lovecraft
were members, and that their writings were in fact their true experiences."
Whether or not the
TV-watching public finds a similar fascination in Poltergeist's
premise will depend greatly on the success of its two-hour debut, which
was written by Brad Wright based on a story by Lewis. Director Gillard
says that he's taking a different approach to this pilot, which he describes
as "a little trickier" than his previous one.
being an anthology show, the demands were a little different," he says.
"It was more of a one-shot, like doing a movie, but with Poltergeist
being the pilot for a series with continuing characters, you've got to
try and set the show up a little bit more. It leads you to do more exposition
about the characters than you would normally have."
Given the critical
acclaim that greeted "Sandkings," the director found that there were challenges
in following it up. "Everything these days is a lot of pressure," Gillard
shrugs. "I find the shows way more ambitious year by year. It's like,
you deliver a big show and then the next year it has to be even bigger.
'Sandkings' won all those awards, which put even more pressure on this
show. It's ironic that if you're successful, it makes it even harder to
do another one."
Prior to "Sandkings,"
the closest Gillard had gotten to directing in the fantastic genre was
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IIIin other words, not too close
at all. "I wasn't a horror fan for years," he says, "but I've become one.
As a director, I
love the challenge of doing them. It's like, how do you tell a fresh story
and not be solidly in the Wes Craven genre? They're hard to do, but boy,
they're fun to pull off. It's fun to scare people. I love that side of
it. And of course the technical demands, because of the CGI work and everything
else, that's really major now in almost every project you encounter as
From the title of
this series, you might expect that it's somehow derived from the Steven
Spielberg/Tobe Hooper blockbuster ghost epic of 1982. But according to
Lewis, whose company is producing the series for MGM Worldwide Television,
there's little connection. "The only relationship to the Poltergeist
film is that MGM had the underlying rights to it," Lewis relates, "so
they owned the property. When it came time, with the success of Outer
Limits, to see what else they could mine, they came to me and said,
'Do you want to do Poltergeist as a series?' and I said, 'Well,
I don't really get it. What, is the family moving to another [haunted]
house? What a horrible life these people have" I said that I wouldn't
do that story because there's a real limitation to it, and they said,
'Well, if you could do it, what would you do?'
"And where I started
from was to create a franchise based around a secret society that has
been around for 2, 3,000 years, like Freemasons have, with their special
handshakes and all that fun stuff that I grew up loving," Lewis continues.
"There's much more of the wonder of what Spielberg did with Raiders,
and you'll even see in our two-hour pilot a little bit of a homage to
that. Our opening sequence takes place in a mine in Peru, where Winston
Rayne, one of the members of The Legacy, has taken his son Derek on what's
supposed to have been a vacation. But basically, the father's completely
obsessed with finding this box, a sepulcher which contains all these evil
spirits, and that obsession results in Derek witnessing his father being
killed right in front of him.
"Then we cut to 25
years later, and now Derek is himself the leader of The Legacy, and he's
sort of tortured by the way his father died. And what happens in the pilot
is that they find another box, and Derek knows more than anyone how dangerous
Lewis admits that
the success of The Outer Limits had a lot to do with spurring MGM
to seek out another dark fantasy-minded series, but there's also the question
of competition and comparison with that biggest of all paranormal
investigation shows, The X Files. "I've never watched a complete
episode of X Files." Lewis says, "but I believe they're pretty
different. Obviously it's a huge hit, and I wish them well, but... Someone
asked me if we feel that Outer Limits was created by the success
of X Files, and I remind people that Outer Limits was created in
1963, when [X Files creator] Chris Carter was just a kid. So it's
the other way around. Outer Limits was a success, Poltergeist
existed before Chris Carter probably wrote his first TV show, and I think
you do borrow from successful material.
"The premise of The
X Files, as I understand it, is that the government's hiding everything.
In Poltergeist. these people believe exactly what they're seeing,
and they're trying to protect society. It's almost that H.P. Lovecraft
thing where, in between what we see normally, you catch glimpses of incredibly
disturbing images. Highlander tapped into that a little bit, where
there's this sort of mythic battle that's been going on since the beginning
of time, good vs. evil."
It is this historical
context that Lewis believes will ultimately allow Poltergeist: The
Legacy to stand apart in the increasingly crowded field of spooky
TV. "What I'm positing is that this secret society of people was created
to help understand the world," he says. "And what's fun about this is,
Edgar Allan Poe was a member of the Legacy, as was Robert Louis Stevenson.
They were writing their stories while they were part of this secret society,
which really gives it a solid grounding and makes for great fun."