A troubled writer is lured to a small town where he hooks up with an equally disturbed Sheriff ,who wants to collaborate on a his first novel, in this twisted take on the creative process from the man who brought you ‘The Godfather.”
Hall Baltimore has fallen on hard times. He’s making a modest living cranking out a book series about witches when he isn’t too drunk to work his laptop. He rolls into the small town of Swann Valley for a book signing only to learn the town doesn’t even have a bookstore. It does have a corner in the local hardware shop where a table has been set up for him.
Turns out the local Sheriff, LaGrange is the one who lured him there ,and the only one who buys a book. He reveals that the town has a history of mayhem and that he is currently seeking a serial killer who has been murdering young women by driving a stake through their hearts.
Hall is hurting . His wife is threatening to sell off his antique book collection so he reluctantly stays in town and accepts LaGrange’s offer to work together. Convincing his agent takes some work and inspiration is a little slow in coming until he gets his first night’s sleep.
Edgar Allen Poe, who had stayed in the area and found it inspiring, visits Hall in his dreams and agrees to help him unlock the town’s secrets. A young lady with a ghostly complexion also agrees to help him spiritually. Soon Hall is finding out about the creepy history of this speck of real estate.
A local minister is the scariest legend. In the 1950’s he created an orphanage and took in runaways only to turn on them one fateful night. The resulting slaughter is graphically rendered and deeply disturbing.
Soon Hall is investigating the young people who live across the lake and appear to be somewhat craven in their appetites. Could they be responsible for the deaths? Even more distressing is the notion that they could be providing the victims for an evil townie who is happy to prey on strangers.
All will be revealed but the real fun is getting there thanks to the assured script and direction by Francis Ford Coppola. He has always been known as a frenzied creator behind the scenes(as witnessed in the behind the scenes footage from his “Apocalypse Now’)and here he turns his focus on the process.
He picks a fine subject in Hall who is a borderline alcoholic who can’t come to grips with losing his daughter in a tragic accident. Hall is well played by Val Kilmer who nails a montage sequence in which he sits at his laptop trying to martial his creative resources which refuse to answer his call. Bruce Dern is equally good as the edgy LaGrange who sparks the action.
The unraveling of the mystery takes center stage but the real twist is seeing how his agent reacts to all of this. It’s clear Mr. Hall is far from done with wrestling his own demons and has only traded witches for vampires.. Great stuff but a real downer .
Best Line: “The evil kids at the lake. they are evil.”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.