I don’t go to the movies very often anymore, but last week I was having my house sprayed for fleas and needed a place to hang out for a couple of hours. Since I no longer frequent pool halls and videogame arcades as I did in my younger days, the movie theater seemed to be my best bet. Unfortunately, there was hardly anything playing besides Best Picture nominees, so I decided to take in a film I’d never heard of with the colorful title of HORSE ATTACK!!!
As I sat through the coming attractions, deftly applying several little packets of mustard and relish to the lukewarm, semi-cooked hot dog that I’d purchased for five bucks from an indifferent snack bar attendant, my imagination ran wild at the thought of the impending horse attack that would be assailing my senses in mere minutes. Of course, your standard horse attack probably wouldn’t be all that exciting, but with three exclamation marks in the title, HORSE ATTACK!!! promised to be a humdinger of a film.
Little did I know that only a few months earlier, a pre-release screening of HORSE ATTACK!!! for the head of Imperial Studios had been less than successful. A particular bone of contention came in relation to, not surprisingly, the big horse attack sequence. The setting was a typical city street with ordinary people walking to and fro about their daily lives, when suddenly Natalie Portman leapt into the frame, pointed, and screamed, “HORSE ATTACK!!!”
“NOOOOOO!!! YAAAAAAA!!!” bellowed another woman, played by fellow Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock. She dropped her grocery bag, which had celery greens and an egg carton sticking out of the top just like grocery bags in movies always have, and ran away in stark terror.
The rest of the players began to scurry and hop around, flailing their arms and screaming at the top of their lungs. “HELP!!! HELP!!! THE HORSES ARE ATTACKING US!!!” cried the film’s director in his usual cameo role.
Frantic neighing and clippity-clop sounds filled the air as the characters on the screen rolled around in their death throes. Sprawled between the sidewalk and the curb, a look of inutterable anguish on his face, Morgan Freeman croaked a dying lament in his distinctive voice. “We…had no… warning…(gurgle)”
Then the camera panned to the right to reveal Jeff Goldblum standing there, assessing the situation. “Horses…horses…” he was muttering to himself, making a series of eccentric hand gestures. “Let’s just stop for a minute and think about these…horses. Where do they come from? What do they want? Now, if we could…discern…the answers to these questions…then…then…we’d have something.”
“Stop the projector!” boomed a commanding voice. The screening room went dark, then was illuminated by the overhead lights. Studio executive J. Warner Wanger turned in his seat to face the film’s producer, Feldmar Burrito, who asked, “Is there a problem, J.W.?”
“Well, I do have a question,” said Wanger. “Where are the horses?”
“Horses?” Burrito responded, perplexed. “What horses?”
“The horses that are supposed to be attacking everybody!” Wanger shot back. “Where the hell are they?”
“Oh!” said Burrito, finally understanding the meaning of Wanger’s words. “Well, unfortunately, we ran out of money for special effects.”
“What do you mean, you ran out of money?”
“CGI is expensive, sir. Why, these days, just a single digital horse costs upwards of–“
“I know how much it costs!” Wanger cut in, irritated. “So, why not use real horses?”
“Real horses?” asked Burrito, confused. “Is there such a thing?”
“What do you mean, ‘is there such a thing’? Of course there’s such a thing!”
“You mean, like, on some other planet?”
“No, no!” Wanger sputtered, not quite understanding the question. “Right here on earth. Horses are indigenous to earth!”
“THEY ARE?” Burrito marveled. “WOW! I thought they were just some kind of imaginary creatures whipped up by special-effects technicians for all those Westerns and Robin Hood movies and whatnot!”
“Don’t forget NATIONAL VELVET,” added a junior executive.
“Shut up!” said Wanger. “Listen, Burrito–there’s no way we can release this picture without horses it it. Why, we’d be the laughing stock of Hollywood! A horse-attack movie without any horses!”
Burrito thought about it for a minute, then snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! We can stick a title card at the beginning of the movie, telling everyone to IMAGINE the horses!”
“IMAGINE the horses?” echoed Wanger. “But…that’s ridiculous!”
“Sorry, J.W, but it’s either that or get rid of Portman, Bullock, Freeman, and Goldblum. Well, maybe not Goldblum. His mom wrote the screenplay.”
“And THE BLACK STALLION,” added the junior executive.
“SHUT UP!” spat Wanger. “Hmmm…’imagine’ the horses. Maybe this’ll work after all. We can tell people it’s like a brand-new kind of 3D or something.”
“Movies of the mind…IMAGI-MOVIES!” gushed Burrito, squirming in his seat. “It’ll be the greatest film innovation since…since that thing they invented where you could hear people talking and horns honking and stuff!”
“You mean ‘sound’?”
“YES! YES! SOUND!” screamed Burrito. “IMAGI-MOVIES WILL BE BIGGER THAN SOUND!”
And so, a few months later, there I was sitting in the theater watching HORSE ATTACK!!! and imagining the horses during the actual horse-attack scenes. I heard a little kid on the next row ask his parents if he could go to the bathroom, and they told him to just imagine he was going to the bathroom. Then I looked over and spotted a young couple sitting there imagining that they were making out instead of actually making out. I tried to imagine that the hot dog I’d just eaten didn’t give me gas and that HORSE ATTACK!!! didn’t totally suck, but it was no use.
I found out later that movie concession sales, where theaters actually earn most of their profits, were plummetting across America because patrons were imagining that they were eating popcorn and hot dogs and stuff instead of buying them. Pretty soon, people simply started staying home and imagining that they were at the movies.
This began to carry over into all other areas of popular entertainment as well, with millions of people avoiding concerts, video games, TV shows, live theater, sporting events, brothels, and even restaurants, and cavorting instead within a mental wonderland of their own imagining. This lasted until studio executives put out a press release announcing that imagining things was “out of style”, causing panicked theatergoers to rush back to the movies in droves.
Well, believe it or not, I purchased HORSE ATTACK!!! when it was released on DVD, because the box promised extra nude scenes not included in the feature version. It turned out the bonus footage consisted of Morgan Freeman applying medicated ointment to his left buttock after being bitten by a horse. So I guess HORSE ATTACK!!! got the last laugh after all–the old “horse laugh”, that is! (wink)