Hot summer daze: Fall Down Dead

by Mark Burger

Five years after it was filmed in Winston-Salem, Fall Down Dead makes its DVD bow this week from Image Entertainment (see review click HERE). I’ve been waiting to write about it, because I was there.

I was working for a daily newspaper in Winston-Salem (which one is unimportant). During pre-production, Cinematographer Richard Clabaugh introduced me to Director Jon Keeyes.

The idea came up that I would not only write a story for the newspaper, but also act as unofficial publicist for the film. I would observe shooting and conduct interviews with cast and crew for the electronic press kit. For this, I would be paid a grand total of nothing.

No problem. I love horror films; this was an opportunity to do something I’d never done before; Clabaugh’s a friend; and I immediately liked Keeyes, a bright, energetic guy with a delightfully ghoulish laugh.

The story of Fall Down Dead is familiar: On Christmas Eve, damsel-in-distress Dominique Swain is pursued by the fiendish “Picasso Killer” (Udo Kier) into an office building. Mehmet Gunsur and R. Keith Harris are the cops called in, and David Carradine the building’s oafish security guard.

Needless to say, they, and some unfortunate stragglers, soon realize that they’re next on the hit list. Cue the blood and guts.

Much of the crew I already knew: Clabaugh, Key Grip Matt Moore and Art Director Sophia Madalana Martinez (who would later marry), Script Supervisor Ike Quigley and Grip Cory Doggett (who’ll be thrilled to learn his name is spelled two different ways in the end credits).

There’s the Hollywood adage that the most exciting day is the first day you’re on a set and the most boring day is every one that follows. But not on Fall Down Dead. Operating on a breakneck 15-day schedule, I don’t recall much downtime.

As for me, I would work a full eight-hour shift (often longer) each day at the paper, attend a screening or a play and then get to the set. Almost the entire movie was shot at night, so I’d arrive between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and sometimes stay until 4 a.m. If I was lucky, I might get a couple hours’ sleep before going back to work in the morning.

The producers were wary about my writing an article, and said they’d prefer waiting until the shoot was over for reasons that don’t bear going into here. When it ran, I think they were relieved. Why, I’m not sure. I was hardly going to slam filmmakers who were, if nothing else, bringing extra business to the local economy and giving local talent a break… and I certainly wasn’t going to write about the infamous “bowling-alley incident.”

Had the DVD included cast interviews (alas, it doesn’t), I was the nameless, faceless voice asking questions. I had the most fun interviewing Harris, because we were already friends, but the most interesting was Carradine, who would sadly die under tragic circumstances three years later in Bangkok.

The actor tended to answer my questions, which were scripted and standard, with monosyllabic answers: “Yes.” “No.” “I guess so.” “Not really.”

So I went into Burger mode, and he became an amiable, engaging raconteur. He talked about his days of summer stock in North Carolina, making The Long Riders with brothers Keith and Robert and director Walter Hill, Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill. He joked he took the role in Fall Down Dead because he got tired of turning them down.

He said he wasn’t a horror fan, but “sciencefiction fascinates me, and, oddly enough, I love vampire movies.” (His father John, who amassed over 500 film credits in his career, played Dracula numerous times on screen, as did David in 1988’s Sundown.)

Walking back to the set, I offered a sincere thanks for all the enjoyment his family has given me over the years.

He smiled and shook my hand. “It’s been our privilege.”

That’s how I prefer to remember David Carradine.

The climax of the film was shot at the building where I worked, which led to one of my favorite stories. During the set-up, an editor (mine) approached a security guard and asked what was going on. The guard said they were making a movie. The editor asked what movie.

“The movie Mark Burger wrote about in the paper the other day,” came the astonished reply. “Didn’t you read the story? Didn’t you edit it?” That would be yes. This editor had never written an article for the paper and, to my knowledge, still hasn’t. There’s something to be said for that. I’m just not going to say it.