Screenplay by Harry Nilsson and Terry Southern
Based on the Screenplay for Obituaries by Roger Watkins
A talk with a bartender about the screenplay he had just written led Roger Watkins to a meeting with Harry Nilsson. Nilsson had recently become interested in making films. Watkins was the writer and director of several films including The Last House on Dead End Street.
Nilsson optioned Watkins's screenplay which was called Obituaries and eventually purchased the rights to it on July 3, 1985.
On October 23, 1985, Nilsson assigned the rights to Hawkeye Entertainment, the company recently formed by Nilsson and writer Terry Southern.
Nilsson and Southern rewrote the screenplay and changed its name to Obits. According to Roger Watkins, Nilsson and Southern took a "pretty good script" and "utterly ruined it." Watkins describes the rewritten script as "precisely what two drug addicts would come up with at three o'clock in the morning."
Nilsson and Southern's Obits is a black comedy about a frustrated tabloid reporter who goes to Texas to
investigate a strange obituary notice and enters the bizarre, surreal world of a group of
crazy millionaires from which he never returns.
|Harry Taylor||a reporter for News World, an Enquirer-like tabloid|
|Betty||Harry's sexy secretary|
|Jason Stoat||a wealthy Texas oil man|
|J. D. Striker||publisher of News World|
|Granddad Stoat||the patriarch of the Stoat family|
|Jason Stoat||Jason Stoat's twin brother|
|the Stoats of Stoats' Mansion|
As a baby Harry Taylor is dropped on his head. A stylized, rapid fire montage shows his unhappy childhood.
As an adult we see the unstable Harry run from an unseen pursuer. The chase takes us into a surreal and
apparently animated world which threatens Harry's life. Suddenly, Harry walks through a seemingly impenetrable
wall and enters the offices of News World - a New York City tabloid along the lines of The Enquirer.
Harry enters the scene as if he's been there for years. His sexy secretary Betty greets him as he goes
through the latest edition of the rag. Harry suddenly notices an unusual obit on Jason Stoat, a wealthy
Texas oil man who supposedly died years ago. Harry starts packing. It looks like he's on the trail of another
hot story. Manic, lecherous publisher J. D. Striker gives his dramatic brand of approval and Harry makes his
way to Crystal City, Texas, the spinach capital of the world, in hopes of interviewing the Stoats.
A faded statue of Popeye stands in the middle of the small town square. All around, Harry sees
the landscape as though it were made up of moving paintings. Harry finds a bar and strikes up a conversation
with Red, the cowbilly barkeep. Red tells Harry about the Popeye statue. It was given to the city
by old Granddad Stoat, a man who had a passion for spinach. That was after he struck water and oil
turning the desert town into an oasis and his family into millionaires. According to Red, there were twin
Stoat sons, both named Jason. That's the reason Harry was confused about the obit. Now, though, his
curiosity is piqued and Harry checks in to the Tony Perkins Motel - taking a room with a view of the
old Stoat mansion on the hill. The first thing he sees is a goat head peering out one of the mansion windows.
Something mighty strange is going here and Harry aims to find out what it is.
Demented Peirsol Stoat invites Harry into the mansion the next day. Apparently, he was the looney wearing the
goat's head. Piersol's loud, overpowering brother Vern takes over. Harry starts to ask questions for his story
but is distracted first by Piersol's poor potty training and then by Vern's unabashed sexual inquiries about
Marilyn Monroe with whom he obviously has a fixation. That's when entranced Emily Stoat enters the room.
Though she has the power of speech, she uses a speak and tell voice box to communicate and we gather she is
Vern's sex slave. She wanders about in a night gown and masturbates to a tape recording of Walter Cronkite
in her room. After a brief, surreal skate around the Stoat's indoor ice-skating rink, Harry goes home completely baffled.
Later, Harry accepts an invitation to dine with the Stoats. Though it's meant to be a black tie affair, Vern and
Piersol are in western duds and Emily is naked except for her open robe. Vern pulls Harry under the table and they
both watch as Emily spreads her legs. Harry is told he is the chosen one. The guests all around them speak in hushed
tones as if they weren't really there at all. Vern says that together Emily and Harry will make the Stoat family eternal.
Emily begins smothering Harry in kisses and as she does the room seems to transform into a bizarre animated version
of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover. Harry succumbs and becomes a part of this world with the face of
Back at News World, Betty fends off the horny Striker. Harry has not returned. All they have is a syrupy postcard
from Crystal City which features the Stoat family standing next to Howdy Dowdy.
Here's how one reviewer reacted to reading the screenplay:
Apparently the idea here is to create an adult, x-rated fantasy featuring a live-action reporter who enters a make believe world that might even be the world of his deranged fantasies and fears. Whatever the goal is, it is not at all clear from the way the script is written. The opening sequence is intriguing but the rest of the story is vague, puerile and offensive.
If one puts aside the many off-color, distasteful scenes long enough to examine the story it shows itself to be completely lacking in logic and continuity. Unlike Roger Rabbit, this fantasy never defines the separate worlds, their origins or shows under what conditions they might come together. Consequently, everything feels arbitrary and confusing. We don't know if the lead is nutty, if he's happened on a haunted house or if the make believe stories he's been writing have actually come into existence.
The main thing that makes this unappealing, however, is the disgusting use of sexual innuendo, masturbation, nudity and excrement. It's thoroughly dehumanizing and foul. I hated it.
The film was never produced.