They walk among us. Sociopaths. Devoid of conscience, empathy, no shame, no regret, no moral compass whatsoever. That's Johnny Tone in The Video Killer. The sociopath next door. There was actually a book out about ten years ago with that title. It claimed that 1 in 25 people walking around are sociopaths. I hope that figure is high, but who knows? I work in Hollywood in the film business, which attracts the type like flies on you-know-what. So what happens if the sociopath next door falls for the girl next door, a stone-cold psychopath? When Worlds Collide. And what if you're forced to get inside the heads of both of them? How uncomfortable would that be? That's the idea for The Video Killer.
I was first introduced to the concept decades ago, when I first moved to Los Angeles. A group of young roommates were arrested for throwing a friend of theirs off a high cliff. It turns out the friend had stolen a TV from them. Okay, so in the heat of passion, they killed him—it all made some kind of crazy sense. Except it soon came out that after they caught him, they locked him in the basement while they had a house meeting in the living room and after hours of discussion, came to a consensus: "Let's throw him off a high cliff and kill him!" Always amazing—people—aren't they?
That's why I like horror, especially the kind that makes you laugh, or squirm, or laugh-and-squirm-and-then-feel-all-icky-inside.
The Video Killer: Wannabe music-video director and serial killer Johnny Tone—stuck in backwater Hilltown, Kansas—is sure his next-door neighbor, Laura Causely—beautiful, suicidal, and just released from a mental institution—is his ticket to Hollywood. Once a professional dancer, Laura has the moves Johnny craves, and for her part, she's convinced he will rescue her from her uncaring family and the demons that scream in her head. But Laura is not the first pretty young thing to fall under Johnny's spell. What happened to those old flames is a secret horror Laura never wants to uncover—she has her own bloody past to obliterate. Only one of them can survive—who wins in a fair fight, the psychopath or the sociopath?
About me: I've been writing professionally and working in the film industry since the Stone Age—a long and occasionally successful career. Like film producer George Lucas, I graduated with a degree from USC Cinema; unlike Mr. Lucas, everything else. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, a production sound mixer on major motion pictures. Our daughter resides in Beijing and speaks both English and Chinese, which is good for her. Yes, I have pets, who asked not to be mentioned.
An excerpt of The Video Killer
He shook her but there was no response. Explosions pounded Terri's brain, the guns of Fort Riley maybe, or something blasting right in her mind, electric snaps, crackling current deep in her weary skull, surging toward oblivion.
Is it too much to ask, to die in peace?
Johnny panicked. Dried sweat burned his nostrils. Another odor, even stronger...what is it? He had smelled it before. The smell of death? Johnny wasn't sure. Oh, God no. He shook Terri's shoulders again, harder now.
She wondered: is this it? Rattle till you're dead? Some kind of cruel joke to end it all—a Godshake, then off to Hell. Maybe this is Hell, an eternity of shaking, until the food won't stay in and the thoughts won't stick in your brain.
From somewhere...way in the distance...the voice of Rod Serling called to her. Terri laughed out loud.
No, it's just Johnny.
The fog cleared for a moment, then another chuckle tore Terri's throat. The pain was excruciating. She passed out again.
Johnny slammed the new bra to the concrete.
"Damn! Right in the middle of production!"
Johnny sulked, unrealized possibilities in fabric and flesh spread before him.
Such a waste, so tragic.
Wearily, he picked up the old bra, wrapped it around Terri's neck, then tightened hard. His disappointment switched easily to murderous lust, sparking fires in his brain, burning bright, fueling his fevered sickness from left ear to right. He really didn't want it this way. His torment tightened and so did the bra, latex on skin, slicing down deeply into Johnny like a hot knife through butter, right into his cursed soul. Guilt surged through the muscles of his arms to the fabric wrapped around his fists.
Terri realized there was no more air, thank God. That's the last. What's next, I don't know or care; it's got to be better than this. The light burned ahead and she knew where she was headed, for the first time in her life, so near death. If there is a God, you'll see him; if there isn't, at least your suffering will be over.
Johnny hated this. You're an artist, damnit. He released the bra and felt for a pulse. Nothing.
"Why me?" he lamented out loud, grabbing Terri's wrists and—careful to use his legs and not his back—dragging her across the floor and plunking her onto the concrete next to the Amana.
Terri vaguely understood a freezer was being opened, one of the three she'd had occasion to wonder about during her long ordeal in Johnny's basement. Something nice and cold would be pleasant right now, she decided.
"Do you love me?" Terri suddenly heard her own voice in the back of her mind. "Do you love me, Johnny?"
He opened the Amana. The weight of the world pressed his deltoids and pinched his neck. He leaned against the freezer to catch his breath. The cold air from the open freezer helped. He stretched, five torso twists to the right, five to the left, slowly, until the pain was gone. With a great groan of vast disappointment, Johnny hefted Terri into the freezer.
He does love you, Terri thought ahead of the last beat of her heart. He loves y—
The lid closed on Terri Beales' life.
Eighteen short years of existence, two long weeks with Johnny and it was all over.
He would have to find someone else.
Someone worthy of your talents, who won't bitch or make demands. Someone who loved him…
Time was running out. MTV had changed its format, VH-I was a bust. The record companies were now making videos only after a song was a hit. The number of new videos had dwindled and the broadcast shows on free TV had disappeared. Video stores were gone. Somewhere, somehow—Johnny wasn't sure about this—people were probably watching things on their computers and telephones, by-passing TVs altogether. The thought filled Johnny with both fear and resolve: if you're going to make a move, it's gotta be now.
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Thanks and good reading to you,