|Jul/Aug 2003 • Miscellaneous|
Chapter One: The Invasion of the Rocket Men! (runtime: 25 minutes)
The way Roger Twilight scratches his stubble as he gets out of bed tells us he's a man of action. Sure, his eyes are blurry with sleep-stuff and he looks somewhat scrawny in his briefs, but we just know that he's the star. The decisive way he scrunches up his mouth as he stumbles to his feet and scrapes his fingernails over his chin is indication enough. Hell, his face is on the serial's poster. This is our hero.
Roger oozes to the bathroom. We remain outside and hear the shower drizzle. Then we cut to Roger having a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Groomed, he looks more presentable. There's something about him that might remind you of a slightly depressed puppy. He lights up a cigarette. Coughs. The impatient among us might be getting restless right about now: where's the action?
Fear not. The phone rings. Roger hacks once more, then shambles into the living room. The walls are plastered over with B-movie posters and his bookshelves are filled to capacity with pop culture detritus. Plastic aliens and monsters rampage on every available horizontal surface, ready to rumble against the cartoon heroes that perch in choice locations, frozen in plastic poses. A scale-model zeppelin hangs from the ceiling, revolving lazily in a draft from the open window.
He picks up the phone. "Yeah?"
A female voice says, "Roger? Are we still on for tonight?"
"Hi Jenny," he says. "Uh-huh. Seven or so? What do you feel like doing?"
"Um, there's an exhibition at the White Hall."
There's a bit more dialogue that we can safely whizz past. Talk is cheap, and cliffhanger serials were never renowned for their snappy dialogue. And, while we're at it, we can entirely bypass the boring bits showing Roger Twilight at work and his troubles with his pathologically workaholic boss (which might've been zany if the dialogue were better) and cut straight to nineteen hundred hours. See, kiddies, there's this thing called a budget. And this is the deal: talk and static set-ups are cheap, especially if you just do only one take of each shot, or two max if the actors screw up royally the first time. So, tell you what, from now on we'll just jump past all the padding and focus on the action. After all, The Perils of Roger Twilight is all about action. One hundred percent, straight-up, two-fisted action. Or would have been if Murr Pictures had had the money. But, don't worry, there'll be a real exciting fist-fight soon. And a humdinger of a cliffhanger. Plenty of good stuff coming up.
Such as this: Roger meets Jenny outside the White Hall. There's thunder, black clouds massing. He greets her with a peck on the cheek. She's cute, a bit on the heavy side maybe, but in that way the Germans call zaftig, and when she smiles, as she does now, she's adorable. Man, we might think, this Roger's a lucky guy. Or... is he? Let's not jump to any conclusions.
Right on cue, it starts to rain—only a small section of the pavement in front of the camera gets wet—and the two of them run up the stairs into the gallery.
They look at the paintings and make small talk for a while, all of it quite unexciting. Then, while they're facing a wall of Roy Lichtenstein paintings, he happens to glance over his shoulder and sees a girl in black leather staring intently at a Francis Bacon Pope that's deformed and screaming.
"Roger?" says Jenny.
"Um. Look at that." The girl has green eyes, set a tad too far apart, and unruly long dark hair. Her face glimmers with dozens of points of light where she has chrome piercings. We can see Roger thinking what we, by which I mean us male members of the audience, are thinking: her beauty is unusual, exotic. And further: she'd probably be good in bed. Very good. "That painting. Remarkable."
"Ugh. It's horrible... but strangely fascinating."
"Yes. Yes it is. Fascinating."
"Creepy. Reminds me of some of my patients at the Psychological Realism Lab."
The girl in black pads away. But the eerie music on the soundtrack tells us that we'll be seeing her again. The expression on Roger's face is certainly an indication that he wants to.
Cut to Roger and Jenny walking out of the gallery. It's no longer raining. She says, "Roger, we've been seeing each other for a while."
"Yeah. A couple of weeks."
She looks away for a bit. Bites her lip. "And..."
"I like you," he blurts out. "I like you a lot. But I'm not sure I'm ready for anything yet."
She freezes in place.
"I'm sorry, I know I've been a bit... distant," he says, and takes hold of her hand. "It's not you. I've just been ... a bit preoccupied. Too much work. And, to be honest..."—he gulps—"...I'm still trying to get over Lula."
"Yes." He squeezes her hand. "It's not easy, life isn't, well, not sometimes. I mean, there's complications. That, uh, need to be worked through. But it'll all turn out fine. I promise."
"Cross my heart and hope to die." He gives her a lopsided smile. "I had fun."
"Okay." She looks away for a moment, then adds, "Well, see you on Friday?"
And suddenly, there's a terrible noise, like countless leaf-blowers starting up. What's this? There are men wearing rocket-packs descending from the sky! This is the action we've all been waiting for. The rocket men touch ground and fire lasers. Whoosh! Buildings explode in fragments of flaming balsawood. People scream in fear and mill around aimlessly. Toy cars detonate. Park benches erupt with flame. Squirrels go bang. Something heroic surges in Roger. We can tell that from the swell of music on the soundtrack. He charges one of the rocket men and fights him mano-a-mano. They struggle for a while, then Roger lets loose with a real haymaker that sends the bad guy flying. Jenny looks on in awe. Roger pries the laser pistol from the unconscious rocket man's slack grip. But then one of the rocket men points his death-ray at Roger and pulls the trigger. The beam whizzes towards our hero—and that's the end of Chapter One!
Chapter Two: City Held Hostage by the Zeppelins of Death! (runtime: 23 minutes)
Roger Twilight manages to avoid being zapped by the rocket man's laser. How'd he do that? Looked like he was a goner for sure. Turns out he rolled away right before the bad guy pulled the trigger. Hmmm, you might think, that's not the way you remember the scene playing out in last week's chapter. You seem to recall that Chapter One ended with the beam streaking towards Roger and that he was standing stock-still. But that was a week ago and you can't be totally sure...
Never mind. Even if you felt gypped, the semi-spectacular sequence of destruction that follows is enough to make up for it. Imagine buildings exploding and Roger fist-fighting dozens of rocket men until he's forced to retreat. Then it's over and the bad guys are out of here, thrusting up into the clouds where they board three dread black zeppelins that have huge skull-and-crossbones painted on their sides. Fighter jets close in on the zeppelins and launch missiles that are effortlessly shot down by the zeppelins' laser turrets. Then the terrible weapons home in on the jets that now explode in fragments of plastic.
The president addresses the fear-stricken population on the radio and TV. Dr. Himmelfisch, the Lord of the Skies, has issued demands. He has a doomsday device that can wipe out all human civilization but leave all the plants and little animals alive "because they are cute." He wants forty million dollars in gold. Or else. The country has twenty-four hours to cough it up.
The time is ripe for a hero.
Extensive print damage has ruined reel two, so unfortunately we'll have to skip over it. When reel three begins, Roger is dropping Jenny off at her home. She says, "You sure were great out there. Like a real hero." She leans in a bit, waiting for a kiss.
He hesitates, then says, "I'll see you on Friday."
Jenny pouts because he didn't kiss her. "Unless that awful doctor kills us all before that."
"Trust me," he says, "he won't."
On his way back home, he stops at a street corner and shakes his fist at the skies. "By God," he vows, "I will find a way to defeat you, Dr. Himmelfisch."
Chapter Three: The Lord of the Skies! (runtime: 15 minutes)
We open with a close-up of Dr. Himmelfisch's masked face. He's laughing insanely. His costume, we find out when there's a cut to a wider angle, looks like bondage paraphernalia, all chains and leather and weird slits. His cape is purple. Rocket men bow down to him as he rants, in a single take, for five minutes about his plans for world dominance. He cackles, makes swooping gestures with his arms, shouts, gratuitously slaps one of the rocket men, stamps from one side of the set to the other so forcefully that the plywood walls of the zeppelin cabin set quiver. Then the serial recycles the previous chapter's footage of jet planes being shot down.
Dr. Himmelfisch cackles. He grabs his crotch and shouts, "I am the master of the world! They are powerless before my atomic zeppelins and my doomsday device! There are none who can oppose me!"
Or is there? Cut to Roger.
He's sitting in his living room. There's a woman there with him. She looks somewhat similar to Jenny Glower, with the same body type and pretty face, but her hair is dark and there's a sweet underlying melancholy to her.
"I don't know," she's saying. "But... maybe I want to give it another try."
"Lula, things are so complicated." He groans and sinks into the sofa. "I've started seeing someone else. Sort of."
"Is it serious?"
"Maybe. Great timing. Goddamnit."
"Not your fault. Truth is, I do want you back; that's what I've wanted. And I knew something was up the last time we met. But you have to know what you want."
She starts weeping. "You've been so patient with me."
He hugs her and kisses her forehead.
"Soon," she says. "I promise I'll know soon. It's just that I... lost myself. I didn't know who I was anymore. I don't know why I broke up with you. It was like I became someone else."
"I guess I wanted to... change my life or something. I don't know. It's so hard to know who you are, sometimes."
"Well you've certainly been acting like a girl from one of those French movies."
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and gives him a faint little smile. "Don't call me neurotic."
"What should I call you, then?"
"Dunno. Confused, I guess."
They sit there holding hands. After a moment, Roger tries to give her a kiss. She turns her face away and whispers, "I'm not ready yet. I need time."
"You can keep seeing that other girl if you want."
"Like that's so simple." He strokes her hair and whispers, "Okay. I'll wait and see what happens. Just for a while. Silly thing."
Then there's much more chatter, all presented in a single take, plus a sensitive hugging scene that during the serial's original release was bound to induce terminal embarrassment in the younger members of the audience, leading boys to run up and down the aisles imitating airplanes or shooting at each other with their fingers. They would have settled down when Roger says, "Now, if you'll excuse me... I have to go save the world."
Roger dons a mask and a spandex costume. Next, we see him on a rooftop looking at the zeppelins through his binoculars. And then the girl in black leather from the art gallery appears behind him. There's a wicked stiletto in her hand. She advances on him, but he seems to be so intent on the zeppelins that he doesn't notice her. The blade is pressed against his neck.
The Black Leather Girl says, "Boo. Gotcha. Not much of a superhero, are you?"
End of Chapter Three!
Chapter Four: Forbidden Secrets Are Revealed! (runtime: 23 minutes)
But Roger says, "Wrong." He presses a button on his wrist. There is a high-pitched whine and the stiletto shoots down and clanks metallically against his arm. The Black Leather Girl lets go of the handle and the stiletto remains stuck flat to his costume.
"There is a super-powerful magnet on my armor-plated wrist." He presses the button again and catches the stiletto as it falls off. "Who are you?"
"You'll have to catch me to find out." She turns on her heels and runs to the edge of the rooftop and jumps down onto the roof of the adjacent building. He gives chase. This sequence is excellent value for money. The stuntman and stuntwoman worked real hard on ensuring it would make your heart beat a little faster, so just sit back and enjoy the movie magic.
Finally, the Black Leather Girl slides down a drainpipe and wiggles through an open window into a burlesque club. Or, more accurately, into a wine bar, but some wag has replaced all the cutaways to the performing jazz trio with shots of exotic dancers Justa Dream and Candy Samples in action. Every cut to the stage leads to a jarring break in the soundtrack, with the overly-tasteful tootling and chatter suddenly replaced by brassy horns and wolf whistles.
The Black Leather Girl leans panting against the wall of the wine bar/club. Roger swings in and grabs her by the shoulder.
"Cool it, baby," the Black Leather Girl says, then looks at him appraisingly. "You're not even out of breath. You sure have staying power."
"Why'd you try to kill me?"
"Who said I was trying to kill you. All I was supposed to do was warn you to stay out of it." And that said, she leans in and kisses him. His eyes widen. She presses herself against him and licks his earlobe. She whispers, "You won the chase. You get a prize."
"And what would that be?"
Roger can't resist. There's a torrid and unusually explicit scene in a motel that would have young kids gagging in their seats and older ones feeling all funny inside. Once it's over, she wipes herself with a moist towel and gets dressed. Roger, still in bed, looks at her through heavy-lidded eyes and smokes a cigarette.
"Well, wasn't that fun," she says. "You asked me who I am. I'll tell you. I'm—"
And she starts to sing, accompanied by an unseen rock band:
I'm the mistress done waiting by the exit sign
where you won't pity me any longer.
I'm through hurting because of my childhood trauma
and all the fucking shit you gave to me.
I think complexes are too much on my mind
and I think you've got too many problems
and I don't excuse you on these premises
that I don't believe because there's so many things
I think are just dragging me down from me.
and I thank you mother
and I thank you father
and I thank you little brother...
The song has six more verses and goes on for six and a half minutes, explicating the Black Leather Girl's various psychological problems, their sources, and their implications for her present and future behavior, but we might as well move on to the grand finale. She snaps her fingers and the music stops. She says, "I call it: 'Reputedly Unstable You Said'. Now. Here's the warning. If you interfere with Dr. Himmelfisch's plans, that girl, Lula DeMorneau, gets it."
Roger jumps up, his dork flapping.
"Bye," she says and exits with a little wave of her hand.
"Oh God," Roger says, covering his eyes with his hands. "What have I done?"
We cut to Lula being carried into the sky by one of the rocket men.
Can Roger save her?
Heroic music swells as Roger runs through the streets in his crumpled superhero costume.
"I have to save Lula!" he shouts. "Must... get... to... my apartment!"
He has to strongarm his way through hordes of middle-aged Star Trek fans on their way to a convention. Spock ears and Starfleet insignia fly. The trekkies shout at him with adenoidal voices. But, what's this? From the other end of the street comes a horde of live-action roleplayers dressed as hobbits and elves and knights and sorcerers and witches and barbarians and Amazons and Vikings and wannabe dwarves (who hobble on their knees, left behind in the rush) and vampires and orcs and trolls and dark elves and ghosts and ghouls and very small dragons. Screaming luridly, the LARPers charge against the trekkies, sharp implements of destruction held above their heads! The trekkies firm up their ranks and raise their phasers. What the hell? The fantasy has turned serious! What absurd events led up to this?
Too late to ask why—because Roger gets crushed between two waves of geekdom!
Chapter Five: Left-wingers in Your Closet! (runtime: 15 minutes)
Ah, that scrape isn't so hard to get out of. All Roger has to do is jump up when the opposing forces clash. Then he just jogs over their heads, prompting ouches and oofs and ows as his boots stamp down on them. He leaps free of the horde of nerds and is off again, narrowly avoiding the troop of cops sent to bring order to chaos with truncheon and tear-gas.
Meanwhile, in one of the zeppelins, the Black Leather Girl is tying Lula to a missile!
"Let me go!" Lula shouts.
"Ssssh, sister. This is an atomic missile, so don't struggle so much. It might go bang."
"You won't get away with this!"
"You better hope we do." She runs the tip of her tongue over her lips. "Oh, I just slept with your boy wonder. Another notch on my bedpost. A little hobby of mine. It keeps me going. Gives me a purpose in life. I'm up to five thousand and six hundred and twenty-nine."
"No, really. He was number five thousand and six hundred and twenty-nine."
"You did not sleep with him!"
"He has three moles around his navel. And, when he comes, he closes his eyes like this and does this with his mouth."
"You... total bitch! You suck."
The Black Leather Girl grins. "Don't mock the gentle art of fellatio."
Cut to Roger entering his apartment.
Suddenly, his closet doors open and a baker's dozen of people in Sally Anne threads pour out and give him a hot vegetarian meal and subject him to ten minutes of socially conscious dogma! He learns all about the benefits of devoting his life to a worthy cause—but all that cant makes his eyes droop. My God! He's going to fall asleep. And if he does, what's going to become of Lula? Fear not, at last he's able to rouse himself and marshal up the energy to thank them for the meal and evict them from his pad. He slams the door on them and then retrieves his jetpack from under the bed, where he finds a scrawny skinhead with a swastika on his bald pate. "I can explain," the neo-nazi whimpers as Roger pulls him out. "It's not what it looks like. This (he points at the swastika) is a birthmark. And I'm, like, congenitally bald. Ow, don't do that. That hurts. Jeez. Well, okay, okay, it's not a birthmark, I guess it's just that White Power structures my existence. It's because I came from a broken home. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was one too. So was my dog. He died of liver cirrhosis when I was six."
Roger tosses him out of the window.
That done, he straps on the jetpack. Heroic music parps triumphantly as Roger climbs up to the roof and activates the jetpack. He wooshes up into the sky!
Chapter Six: Rockets in the Sky! (runtime: 22 minutes)
This chapter is mainly uneventful, consisting mainly of shots of Roger flying towards the zeppelins and spurious exposition and scenery-chewing courtesy of Dr. Himmelfisch as he explains his motivations in extensive, yet unilluminating detail. And, contrary to the chapter title, there is only one rocket. That nuclear missile, to which we previously saw the Black Leather Girl tie Lula, provides the only real action in this rather moribund chapter. At around the 20-minute mark, the bad guys spot Roger heading their way. So, in a fit of petulant rage, the Doc launches the missile. It drops out of the bomb bay and its thrusters ignite... Lula screams as the missile zips through the clouds!
Roger maxes out his throttle and shouts, "I'll save you!"
But can he?
Chapter Seven: The Doomsday Device! (runtime: unknown)
We regret that Chapter Seven has not been found even though extensive efforts have been made to locate the missing reels. We assure you, though, that this chapter was a real action-packed extravaganza into which Murr Pictures poured a hell of a lot of money, relatively speaking. Imagine the greatest action sequence you've never seen. That was Chapter Seven.
Chapter Eight: Mutant Lions! (runtime: 15 minutes)
The city lies in smoking ruins. Chapter Seven really was a doozy. After a montage of the destroyed city, we cut to Roger carrying Lula through the wreckage, an eruption of steel bars jutting from shattered blocks of concrete that glitter with glass dust.
She flutters her eyes and looks up at him. "You saved me."
He gently lowers her onto the ground and kneels next to her. His expression is pained. Eyes wide with concern, she wipes dust off his tattered costume.
"But I couldn't save the city."
"Oh, baby..." She raises her hand to her mouth. A solitary tear drops from her right eye.
"It's all gone. And... oh God..."
"Baby, what are you thinking?"
Roger is barely able to control his emotions. "It could be worse than that. Dr. Himmelfisch's doomsday device. I thought I'd fully disarmed it, but then it became unstable and sent out the wave of energy that destroyed the city. But what if... what if that wave spread around the world? We were safe in the lead vault..."
"Maybe we're the only ones left," he whispers.
Fade to black.
Intertitle: "TWO MONTHS LATER."
We fade back in on the edge of the city, where lush vegetation is gradually encroaching on the ruins. Roger and Lula have built themselves a small wooden home here. The single-story building is surrounded by a wall made of debarked logs erected side by side, their tops sharpened to points. Inside the stockade, strips of meat hang drying on a rack and crops sprout from a small plot. Right next to the front door of the home is a golden statue. Chapter Seven apparently featured an ironic twist in which Dr. Himmelfisch fell into a vat of molten gold. Served him right for being so greedy, etc.
Now the camera shows our two heroes making love on the flat roof of their home. The tanned limbs of the lovers entwine as they satisfy themselves and each other in the heat of the sun that is shown in a neat-o dissolve as a segue to a shot of them lying there in post-coital satisfaction. Even the unruliest boys in the audience would not have dared to make a sound during this scene; their older brothers would have shushed them and threatened to thrash them senseless later if they so much as breathed and interfered with the liquid warmth the scene provoked. These were images they'd replay in their bedrooms.
"I feel good," Lula says. "I guess I'll never know who I am, I guess that's impossible. But I'm happy."
Suddenly, the sounds of frantic animals erupt from the nearby forest. Chimpanzee noises and the roars of lions feature prominently in the mix, chee-chee-cheee and rrrroooaaargh!
"Wonder what's going on," Roger says. He stands up and shields his eyes from the sun with the flat of his hand. We cut to a woman running in front of rear-projected stock footage of five ferocious lions! Disappointingly, they are not mutants, but rather ordinary looking beasts.
Roger leaps down off the roof, his wang flopping, and grabs a spear that's leaning against the front entrance. Then he hotfoots it out of the stockade and raises his spear, howling savagely! The lions are still running towards their prey and gaining with every passing second. But then Roger is standing there, between them and the running woman, and suddenly the lions turn into guys in mangy lion suits and there's a thrilling, if incoherently staged fight! Finally, the three surviving lions, now looking like the real thing again, hightail it back into the forest, where we can hear elephants trumpeting.
Roger turns to face the woman, who'd remained there to watch. "Are you okay?" Then he recognizes her. It's Jenny Glower.
"You're naked, Roger."
"Yup." He sticks his spear in the ground. "I'd offer to shake hands, but they're..."
"...covered in blood."
"Well. Long time no see. How are you doing?"
"You mean, apart from the destruction of the world and so on?"
"Oh, great. I've been surviving out there on my own for who knows how long. I thought I was the last person on earth. But then I saw smoke, earlier."
"And now you've found us."
"Us? Who else is in there?"
"Ah," Jenny says. Now Lula can be seen standing by the stockade gate. She is still naked. There are no tanning lines on her skin. "So that's her."
"That's my baby."
"Quite small tits," Jenny mutters, but Roger doesn't seem to hear her.
He picks up his spear and says, "You can stay if you like. It's a simple life, but we've got all we need. We're happy here."
Cut to the three of them eating roast meat and potatoes with a side serving of canned creamed corn. "So," Lula asks Jenny, "how'd you survive?"
"I was flying solo over the Atlantic. When I landed, everything was... gone."
"So there's bound to be a few other survivors, too," Roger says through a mouthful of meat. "We'll rebuild civilization, eventually."
"In the meantime," Jenny says, putting down her plate, "let's just enjoy ourselves."
Lula and Roger stare at her.
"I mean," she says, "if I stay here, surely you don't expect me to just listen to the two of you fuck your brains out. Let's not complicate things. This would have come up sooner or later, so let's just deal with it now."
Jenny stands up and takes off her clothes.
"Well?" She turns to Roger and adds, "You promised me once that everything would turn out fine. So, how about it?"
Then, just to add to the confusion of the kiddies in the audience, the theme music kicks in and the words THE END are superimposed on the screen in huge letters, followed by the text: "Don't miss the new adventures of Roger Twilight: Deadly Savages In the Ruins! Coming soon!"
Unfortunately, the next series was never made, as Murr Pictures went bankrupt shortly after the completion of The Perils of Roger Twilight due to persistent accounting fraud by exhibitors. But story notes found in the files of the screenwriter suggest that, in the unlikely event that the film-makers could have conned the alcoholic studio head into bankrolling it, the next serial would have taken a very peculiar twist indeed: it was to have been a neo-realistic portrayal of survival in the wilderness with very little dialogue or action, and only a few mangy lions.
In his notes, the screenwriter underlined one sentence fragment three times: "The irrefutable truth and raw realism of the silences and spaces of the human heart!" Under it, he'd written: "Or maybe we should just make it as a nudie-cutie?"
We can only guess what might have been.