THE USA WORLD PREMIERE PROJECT – NIGHTMARE ON THE 13TH FLOOR (1990)

Join us for our year-long celebration of the USA World Premiere Movie in conjunction with Made-for-TV Mayhem! Check out out previous entries on THE FORGOTTEN here, MURDER BY NIGHT here, THE TICKET here, SNOW KILL here, DEADLY GAME here, ACCIDENTAL MEETING here, HITLER’S DAUGHTER here, ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? here, AS GOOD AS DEAD here and MURDER ON SHADOW MOUNTAIN here, TRUCKS here, OUR MOTHER’S MURDER here , THE HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE here and ULTIMATE DECEPTION here!

Normally as part of the USA World Premiere Movie Project, we’ll take a look at one of the films the network produced, go into a little detail as to the context of it among the other made-for-cable films of the time, and move on.  These were, after all, films meant for a very ephemeral audience, meant to be watched, enjoyed, and then banished to the realm of wind and ghosts.  (This doesn’t mean that they don’t have components that make them much more memorable – certainly films like THE HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE and DEADLY GAME are quite entertaining on multiple viewings – just that they weren’t necessarily produced with the intention that people would still be watching them two and half decades later.)

This week, however, we’ve got something a little different.

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 NIGHTMARE ON THE 13TH FLOOR first aired on Halloween night in 1990, an airing I remember fondly when I first caught it in high school.  (Give me a break, IT WAS A WEDNESDAY.  The actually Halloween parties WHICH I WAS TOTALLY INVITED TO were on the previous weekend.  At least, that’s what everyone told me on Monday.)  “L.A. Law” star Michele Greene plays Elaine Kalisher, a travel reporter sent to Los Angeles to write about the Wessex Hotel, a locale with a mysterious history.  The plot kicks into gear after Kalisher witnesses a murder on the 13th floor that, by all evidence, the hotel shouldn’t have.

There’s more to NIGHTMARE than that, of course.  It’s a solid TV-movie horror film from prolific TV director Walter Grauman (ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE?, CROWHAVEN FARM, PAPER MAN, the 1981 VALLEY OF THE DOLLS),with Satanic overtones and some nice turns, more aligned with the ‘70s era of made-for-television horror than the stalker movies and ghost stories the USA Network excelled at.  It’s also got a solid cast, including James Brolin, Louise Fletcher, Alan Fudge, “Cagney and Lacey” hubby John Karlen and THE TERROR WITHIN and THE NEST’s Terri Treas, then a regular on “Alien Nation.”  (What the heck happened to her?)  While the VHS release is a bit difficult to find, you can watch the whole thing online here, at least until Paramount notices.  It is, for most viewers, a solid little horror movie with an interesting cast and some nice creepy moments.

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For Christopher Allan Mallow, however, it’s more than that.

Mallow is the creator behind Nightmare on the 13th Floor Online, a compendium of information on the 1990 telemovie that contains every piece of information on the plot, the cast, the crew, the hotel, the history, and every other component of the film currently available.  It’s an astonishingly detailed compendium of knowledge, one that can’t help make genre fans think of ROOM 237, the documentary about film fanatics devoted to finding hidden meaning in the similarly hotel-set THE SHININGNIGHTMARE offers enough content to be analyzed as much as the Kubrick film, as can be seen in Mallow’s lengthy analysis.

If the guest book is to be judged, Mallow isn’t alone, as others have mentioned their fascination with the film as well.  NIGHTMARE ON THE 13TH FLOOR has, probably more than any other USA World Premiere Movie, transcended its ephemeral creation and become a film with a genuine cult following, albeit a small one at this point.  I talked to Mallow about his site, his fascination with the film, ROOM 237 and more.

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Daily Grindhouse (DG):  What is it about NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR that you found so compelling?

Christopher Allan Mallow (CM): Everything. The music, the dark and creepy ambiance, the thought of a hidden floor in an antique, Victorian-style hotel. The heart-racing chase scene, the Satanic cult, the empathy built for those that come into our life, only to be murdered off in a gruesome fashion. I love everything. It’s the hotel itself, however, that the storyline revolves around, not just the adjacently run themes of satanism, cults, and the practicing of each in large groups, and therefore, it’s the hotel, in all its granduereousness, and with all its mystery, that, if I absolutely had to choose, is what I found most compelling. The Wessex Hotel, however, being a simple culmination of two individual hotels in Los Angeles, means that it wasn’t imaginary, but, rather, presented itself as a real-life structure existing within the city’s boundaries, that could be visited at any time. In fact, before the Ambassador, the one used to film the hotel’s interior shots, was demolished, its interior never changed. Not even a modicum. This means that, in theory, before the demolition (or, at the very least, before all of the decorum, including the hotel’s signature fountain, were auctioned off), one could have walked down the aisles of the Ambassador, and feel like they had literally been teleported back in time, straight into the film, and right into the Wessex Hotel.

One of the things I will always regret is that I never had a chance to visit the “Wessex Hotel” in person. And now, with the city having demolished the building, I never will. It’s a sad realization, but pictures, and the film itself, help me to create a surrogate feeling that I can visit the Wessex Hotel, anytime I want.

In the truest forms of Victorian and Mediterranean Revival architecture combining in the vernacular, the Wessex Hotel presents an extremely grandeurious and grandiose vision of wealth and manpower combined during a time when its presence was required the most. Its exterior presents Elaine with the image of a tidy little structure that appears to be big, but not so big that it couldn’t be properly managed or maintained. The exterior provides a massive, somewhat overwhelming feel, while at the same time presenting the feel that the hotel isn’t too big that Elaine can’t handle the task at hand. (As a side note, the film’s production company, Wilshire Court Productions, is just 51 blocks away from this hotel.)

The interior, however, is a different story. It opens to reveal a massive labyrinth of seemingly endless but well decorated hallways, a plethora of greenery and ornate chandeliers, elevators, staircases and even a hidden floor where Satanic rituals are performed on a regular. It’s the perfect setting for a film of its premise and for a movie of its genre. The bigger question is, what’s not to love?

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DG: What prompted you to want to create a website for it?

CM: I first saw the movie on its world premiere telecast. It was Halloween, 1990, and the USA Network had been pushing the movie for quite some time by the time it was released. I had just turned 8 years old a few months before, and when I saw the movie, it scared the crap out of me. I actually had recurring nightmares for two years! But through it all, 23 years later, I have never forgotten this movie. Perhaps that was why it stayed in my subconscious, even years after not having seen the movie. It has had a lot to do with certain areas in my upbringing that contribute to who I am today. And now that I possess the means to preserve this classic, building a website to honor it was my next course of action.

This movie is very near and dear to my heart and I have always loved it. Will always, too. It is a solid movie with a solid cast, excellent music, beautiful filming locations, stylish props and decorum and a very, very engaging storyline. So many people have not seen it, or just do not give it the credit it deserves, and I feel that my efforts to preserve this classic are welcome to some.

Yes, the film is obscure, and I put a lot of time and attention to detail in creating my site, but to me, it was worth every second. Still is. I was, in fact, just discussing the movie a few days ago with an old colleague who believes that the site is a waste of my time and talents (because “such an obscure movie can’t have been such a miraculous production to warrant going through all of that”, and apparently, at least to him, “95% of the general population would pass right by a site like that”), and that I need to find something more valuable to put my time and thought into… but like I told him, I love that movie, and the site is made for the 5% that will stop and read. That will appreciate. That do remember. Those are the ones to whom the site is devoted to and attended to reach. It’s a movie I saw on its premiere debut, and a movie that gave me recurring nightmares for years. I had no choice but to grow up and create a website devoted to it! The movie has helped to shape my entire existence, and it’s one that I have never forgotten, and one that I will never forget. Despite my pleas not to want to work on anything modern, he stated “Did Mark Zuckerberg create a site for something obscure? No, he created FACEBOOK.” What?

Again, I expressed my love for the film, and that I like working on sites that are rare, unique and the internet’s first. I told him that’s why it gets praise for remembering something that most people forgot. I also told him I’m always getting emails from people who have been searching for the movie for years and have stumbled on my site. And that to them, the compendium of knowledge I provide is like a godsend, and that’s why the site exists.

I eventually plan a remodel, however, as, until I can reacquire a copy of the image editing software I used to own, I am forced to use Paintbrush, thus creating a site that isn’t exactly “all that it can be”. Still, it didn’t turn out that badly, although there are several incomplete pages that I plan on completing (mostly filmography listings), and several walkthrough pages that I plan on revising as well. I feel all of this is necessary to continue providing the most definitive and comprehensive online coverage of the film. NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR is worthy of the best, and I want to do everything I can to provide the most detailed coverage of the film as possible.

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DG: How many times have you seen the film?

CM: Somewhere in the realm of 40-50. As mentioned above, I first saw the movie on its world premiere telecast. It played a few times after that, that I remember watching. And I’m pretty sure I remember renting it on one or more occasion. Most of the viewings are recent, as I have watched the movie over and over recording details and taking notes for my site’s Walkthrough/Detailed Analysis of the movie. I even have a copy saved on my phone and will watch it on occasion. (Like on a long trip or waiting in a waiting room… Just pop in the earbuds and become one with the movie.) Put it this way: I’ve watched it enough I can recite the entire script word for word!

Now, I have read about individuals that have watched [THE SHINING] 400-500 times, and while I cannot compare to these people, I will continue to watch and enjoy the film, and will continue to look for details missed, thus adding to my current count. One of these days, and it’s not such a hyperbolic thought that it couldn’t happen, I will be able to claim 400-500 viewings of NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR. It’s a movie I feel worthy of my time and attention, and, actually, since I consider myself to be the leading online authority on the film, I devote a lot of my time to attention to trying to insure that my website is the most professional, definitive, and comprehensive online resource guide ever devoted to a film. It’s a grandiose dream, anyway, that can only be achieved through multiple viewings and a strong desire to give back to the movie what it gives to us. And I plan on giving it my all.

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DG: How have you tracked down information like the screenplay and original promotional materials for the film, like the preview for it?

CM: Various sources. A lot of the information I have received comes directly from cast and crew members with a desire to assist me on this venture. Other items have been acquired through rare internet auctions and through extensive searching, both through online databases and archives. The preview was used on the film’s opening debut and can be acquired on the Videos page of my site courtesy of Youtube user nickah79. It’s the first part of the video labeled Part 1 of 9. (You can also read a pictorial copy on the first page of the Walkthrough/Detailed Analysis.) I am still actively searching, as I know that there is more to be found. And I want it all. I want NOTTFO (“Nightmare on the 13th Floor” Online) to be the most comprehensive and definitive site available. Therefore, anything and everything that I find relating to the movie, will be added to the site. And the more I can acquire the better. In fact, if anyone out there reading this has any promotional materials that they are willing to part with (or at least make copies of, for me), I will gladly pay you! Please send a message to webmaster@nottfo.com if you have anything (knowledge and stories included) relating to the movie!

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DG:  Have you been aware of any other fans of the film? It seems like it’s fairly obscure, I don’t know a lot of people who have even heard of it.

CM: The film is definitely a made-for-television movie rarity! Honestly, before the site’s release I had never met any other fan of the movie. But then again, I never actively sought out any fans of the movie, either. By this I mean I never really discussed the movie with others, prior to the site release. Had I, however, I may have met several fans. I might have also met several critics. Most of the film’s fans are ones who saw the film on its premiere debut. The remainder either saw the movie at one point or another, or are drawn in by the film’s vital elements. Either way, fans I encounter have usually been searching for the film for several years, and it’s a pleasure to meet each and every one of them. As the site’s message board is currently offline, its Facebook page acts as a gathering place for friends of the movie. And while approximately 250 people may not be many, I’m sure that there are thousands that just haven’t found the page yet. The movie was rare, but those who saw it, remembered it, and they are slowly finding the page. The movie could have been more popular, indeed, but you have to remember that the movie was created in a time when television censorship was at its highest. Foul language is kept to a minimum, there is absolutely no nudity, and there is no blood and gore. With a small budget and so many filming limitations, suspensefulness became the key to delivering a successful film. Creative camera usage, eloquent decorum and elaborate architecture help to set the stage. Mix in the stunning and suspenseful score, a cast of characters who gave it their all, and a clever script, and you are able to produce an astounding movie, with a ton of limitations or not.

nightmare on 13thI think that what originally drew a lot of people in would be a combination of the name and box artwork. VHS box covers had to be a little more imaginative in those days (versus DVD covers today). In a time before streaming internet videos and television “on-demand” channels, video rental was always a popular choice for being able to find something to watch, other than regular cable television channel line-ups. So many people would walk the aisles of their local video rental store, eagerly searching for something eye-catching. The picture of a man with an ax (the focal point being black on red), gargoyles, the number 13 and word “nightmare” are all elements that helped to draw in renters. And what I understand, those things were indeed what caught the attention of so many. Unfortunately, with the waning popularity of VHS, and the fact that there is no official DVD release, so many people have slowly forgotten about this movie. Not only am I wanting to introduce the movie to those who have never seen it, I am hoping that my site will bring the movie back into the subconscious of the populace and help to induce memories of the movie in the minds of all those who first saw it in 1990. May the movie live on in the hearts and minds of fans forever.

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DG: Are you a big fan of other television horror films? I know at the time, USA was making a few of them, like HIGH DESERT KILL, INTO THE BADLANDS and Tobe Hooper’s I’M DANGEROUS TONIGHT.

CM: I appreciate a lot of other television horror films, but as far as saying I’m a big fan, I can’t really say that. So many fascinating movies have been created, many of which will never truly be given the credit they deserve. I can say, in all assertiveness, that I can’t speak for any movie other than NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR. I would love to provide valuable insight into all of the movies mentioned, but the only one I can speak accurately, confidently, and assertively about, is NIGHTMARE. I was very big into the USA Network at the time, and I may have actually watched all of them. But NIGHTMARE was the only one that made a sizable impression.

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DG: How have you been getting in touch with people that worked on the film?

CM: The simple answer is generally through email. The more complex answer involves a lot of searching and wading through inaccurate contact information looking for some viable piece of usable information. Some of the cast and crew still haven’t responded to any of my requests for an interview or to provide any stitch of helpful information, while others have stated that, about the film, they have “no comment.” Others have really gone above and beyond to help provide information prevalent to my search. Even today, I am still seeking out the film’s cast and crew. One of the things that bothers me most, adjacent to the fact that the Ambassador Hotel was demolished, is that some of the cast and crew have passed away in the years since the film’s release, and thus I will never get a chance to interview them. While I once dreamed of interviews with each and every cast and crew member related to the series, that dream, like the dream of running wild through the aisles of the Wessex Hotel, is one that will never materialize.

DG: Has it been difficult getting information on a film made nearly two and a half decades ago?

CM: Absolutely. Not nearly as tough as I might have originally thought, but tough enough. I originally thought that the hardest things to track down would be all of the original filming locations, but they haven’t been that hard to find. The movie provides scant clues to finding each location and I have been able to piece together other bits of information which have led to finding other locations. I still have to contact the production company, although it doesn’t seem like they’re doing much anymore. The cast and crew (at least, the ones that have been helping on this venture) have provided me with a lot of background information. Inaccurate contact information when trying to get ahold of cast and crew has been the biggest hindrance. Most of the cut and alternate scenes come straight from the film’s preview while behind the scenes pictures have come courtesy of crew members responsible for those aspects of the film.

Sometimes I really wish that I could turn back time (a lot of times, actually) and be able to build the site in the mid ’90s. Back when I started building webpages, and back when the internet started becoming commonplace in the eyes of the general populace. It would have been much easier to acquire information prevalent to my search. It might have been easier to get interviews. I might have had a chance to fulfill my dream of touring the two hotels that “created” the Wessex… Maybe acquire promotional materials easier. Everything would have been so much easier to acquiesce if it was two, two and a half decades ago. For some reason I always choose to covers topics that have long been forgotten by the general public, but that doesn’t make them any less special. I think it actually makes them more special. And being one of the greatest films of all time, at least in my eyes, NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR is definitely worth desperately seeking out and searching for, tidbits of information prevalent to the film, no matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes.

DG: What do you do professionally, if you don’t mind my asking?

CM: I am a carpenter, by trade, even though I perform all aspects of construction, when required. As for what qualifies me to make observations and analyze the movie the way I have, that calls for a more detailed answer. Being a carpenter, all of the architectural subtleties in the movie really get me excited. I feel I can make accurate, unbiased opinions and assumptions relating to the hotel’s design and set construction, and this allows me to call attention to structural oddities that may arise. Having taken psychology, I feel like I can really get into the character’s heads and feel as if I can personally relate to each and every one of them. This also helps during the Walkthrough/Detailed Analysis, where I feel I can accurately provide a detailed “psycho-analysis” of the film. I have taken years of music theory and feel confident about providing notation on various musical themes. I have always appreciated and tried to understand the supernatural and paranormal. This helps to be able to understand and analyze the film on a spiritual level. I have also always appreciated the basics – mathematics, grammar, history and the sciences in particular, and that helps to be able to analyze elements of the film from a deeper level, as well. Same goes for my appreciation of cultural events. This allows me to understand and provide information about cultural differences between the Americanized version and the multitude of language-specific, international versions. I have even learned quite a bit relating to my studies, while seeking background information to help understand and properly provide a detailed analysis of the film. Simply put, I’m just a Jack of all trades with an overwhelming love for this film.

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DG:  Have you seen ROOM 237, the documentary on various readings of THE SHINING? If so, what were your thoughts on it, and on THE SHINING as well?

CM: When I was first asked this question I would have sworn that I had never seen either.  Watching clips, I realized that I had, but that it had been years and years since I saw them last. I’ve actually devoted the last week (I’ve spent hours and hours {and hours and hours!}) to watching clips, reading reviews and reading extensive breakdowns (various readings) of the movie. I’ve been working on a response to this, but my thoughts would honestly take up an entire article by itself! Plus, there honestly isn’t anything I can say about the film that hasn’t already been said. Fans have literally spent their entire lives obsessing over, and studying, the film, hoping to uncover every single subliminal message contained within the movie.

That said, I have read a lot of background material on the film, and I know that Stephen King hated and despised the Stanley Kubrick remake of his film, and would eventually go on to form his own television mini-series version which contained everything he felt should have been included (or not included) in Kubrick’s version. The complex nature of comparing differences between the three makes you appreciate the simplicity of NIGHTMARE just a little bit more.

ROOM 237 is definitely filled with speculative opinions! While I’ve read that one of Kubrick’s personal assistants states that 70-80% of the movie is complete rubbish, and even debunked several of the theories, it doesn’t make the movie any less interesting. You definitely have to admire the eye for detail that many fans possess. They definitely point out some very obscure details and seem to put a lot of emphasis in finding everything and anything relating to their cause. I admire their tenacity. And I really enjoyed the animated maps of the Overlook Hotel and have been wanting to incorporate similar maps of the Wessex Hotel to my site’s 3D Renderings page.

THE SHINING is a very good movie, even if it does deviate from the novel. I do agree with King’s interpretation that Kubrick didn’t care much about invoking an emotional state towards the characters. You really don’t get much chance to gain empathy for the characters. We see “One Month Later” and Kubrick makes the assumption that we are to know how the characters have responded to one month of living in shear isolation, listening to their own footsteps as they echo through massive, oversized rooms, helpless and defenseless. We know they go crazy, but we are supposed to “know” what it’s like to lead up to that moment. There are also a lot more spatial anomalies in the Overlook Hotel than in the Wessex. The movie is largely subliminal. The only murder committed during the stay was Halloran (and later Jack); the music invoked more of a psychological feel. We know the book was written with much more background information while the film eliminated background information in order to just jump right into trying to deliver a plot through subliminal, rather than paranormal means, about people we know nothing about…

I’m not the person to ask, honestly. Brevity was never a strong point of mine and I could literally write an entire article on my thoughts. I tried my best to summarize, because, even though the Overlook may have qualities reminiscent of the Wessex, the two will never compare in my eyes. There are many, many, dedicated fans of THE SHINING but me, I’m a fan of NIGHTMARE. And while NOTTF may not have received the recognition and fanbase that THE SHINING possesses, the pair still reside together in the Top 10 List of Hotel Horror Movies. And that makes The Wessex Hotel just as equally important as The Overlook Hotel. (Even though in my eyes it might be slightly better!)

@Paul Freitag-Fey

dailygri

dailygri

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    April 9, 2014

    I absolutely love the article! Very well written! Although the part about reading about fans that have seen the movie 400-500 times… I was referring to research I had done on “THE SHINING”. Fans of that film have watched the movie 400-500 times. Not quite unbelievable, but almost. But nobody has watched “NIGHTMARE” that many times. Not that I know of anyway! I’ll be the first, for sure!

    • Reply
      dailygri
      April 9, 2014

      Corrected to make that a bit more clear. Thanks again!

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