Director Works Actual Site Of Notorious L.A. Murders Into Creepy ‘Wonderland’
Wow, this is such a great article full of stuff that I did not know. Also, don’t be afraid to email the blog, there are tons of things I’m finding everyday, but that doesn’t mean I have it all yet.
I am very glad that I never sent any letters to the house. Not that I am not a “crime solving kook” 🙂 but I was tempted before in order to get some photos of the interior. I can’t believe they receive letters at the house, and that’s probably been going on for years, and probably still goes on.
Also, I did not realize James Cox was only 28 when filming the movie. When I was 28, I was still living in my mother’s basement (not).
The band that was living there during this interview was not “LMFAO”, the crazy rappers who made those YouTube videos and stuff. I Googled the guys mentioned and they are a real rock band, and not just bubblegum rappers like LMFAO. It’s cool that they let Cox use the house for parts of the movie. We had discussed that here on the blog before.
Enjoy! Have a great weekend~
Director Works Actual Site Of Notorious L.A. Murders Into Creepy ‘Wonderland’
By Norma Meyer
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
October 14, 2003
HOLLYWOOD – Like a macabre tour guide, 28-year-old “Wonderland” director James Cox ambles through what he calls The Murder House, where the notorious L.A. multiple-slaying occurred that is the subject of his new true-crime film.
It was in this hillside Laurel Canyon rental where four druggies died and a fifth was badly beaten in a 1981 revenge frenzy that involved porn star John Holmes. Cops compared it to the Manson bloodbath.
“Ron was here,” says Cox, in blue flip-flops and cargo shorts, standing over the current resident’s twin bed with the gold throw spread. He raises his arms to simulate the vicious, lead-pipe bludgeoning that killed Ron Launius and severely injured his wife. “Susan gets hit there, and she flops over and survives.”
One might think this would spook the guy who’s watching the mini-reenactment, since he now sleeps in the room every night. And especially since Mark Maher, 33, along with roommate and fellow band tour manager Mike Flynn, 27 – whose upstairs lair is where Billy DeVerell and Joy Miller were clubbed – didn’t know about the slaughter until after Flynn rented the infamous Wonderland Avenue white-stucco house two years ago.
In the film that opens Friday, their home (the real exterior is shown, although the split-level interior, including the living room where 22-year-old Barbara Richardson died, was re-created on a Hollywood soundstage) is on the big screen, its corners crammed with drug partiers, its walls covered with blood.
“It’s a little weird,” says Maher, noting that crime-solving kooks send letters and teenage girls recently knocked on the door and asked to come in.
Cox understands the lure of wickedness. It’s why Val Kilmer, cast as cocaine-addicted, hard-core has-been Holmes, got so into his seamy character that he decorated his movie trailer with fake bloody palm prints and collages of the late porn king.
It’s why Sharon Holmes, a now-retired, straight-laced R.N. who’s played by Lisa Kudrow and who was estranged from John after he became X-rated Johnny Wadd, gave Cox her wedding band before shooting began.
“Everybody was creeped out,” recalls Sharon, 59, who was an adviser on the film. “I said, ‘I have something I believe is a good omen.’ ”
On and off-camera, Kilmer wore the ring, inscribed with the couple’s initials, around his neck on a chain.
“Wonderland” explores the homicides from several perspectives, including that of Holmes, the “Boogie Nights” inspiration who died in 1988 at age 43 of AIDS-related complications. After his death, Sharon said he had confessed his role. But a jury in 1982 acquitted him of any involvement in the killings, a payback for a $1 million robbery Holmes set up for his Wonderland pals at the home of nightclub owner and drug dealer Eddie Nash. (Nash was acquitted in the murders in a 1991 retrial after his first trial ended in a hung jury. He later admitted bribing the lone holdout with $50,000. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges, including conspiracy to commit the Wonderland murders and served eight months in prison).
The subplot of this depravity is the unlikely nurturing alliance between Sharon and Holmes’ teenage girlfriend, Dawn Schiller (played by Kate Bosworth). Still close, Sharon and Schiller, now 42, married and the mother of a 3-year-old, chat with each other almost daily on the phone.
“My daughter calls her Nana Sharon,” says Schiller, a former L.A. legal secretary who lives in the Pacific Northwest and is pursuing her real estate license.
The story of the women – one childlike and vulnerable, the other maternal but resolute – is the reason that Kilmer, after months of turning it down, took the role. About 20 other leading men, including Matt Dillon, Vince Vaughn and Willem Dafoe, rejected the part because “the character was less than admirable,” Cox says, putting it mildly.
For a time, it seemed the Lions Gate indie, which Cox co-wrote from an existing script, might not get made. But then Cox, who with tousled, spiky hair and wire-rim glasses looks like a college kid, is one of those Hollywood stories. At 23, based on a 10-minute short, “Atomic Tabasco,” and before even graduating New York University film school, he was picked to direct the New Line movie, “Highway,” starring Jared Leto and Selma Blair. It went straight to video, and Cox went straight to “movie jail.”
“Wonderland,” which Cox says shot in 23 days for under $5 million, was his next big chance.
Raised in the Bay Area, he knew nothing about Holmes or the murders until he rented a documentary from a video store, which included LAPD footage of the crime scene. “The hair went up on the back of my neck,” says Cox, sipping coffee at a Sunset Boulevard cafe earlier in the afternoon. “Five minutes after I turned it off, I said, ‘I have to do this movie.’ ”
He recalls with awe how Kilmer early on took the script to Oscar-winning “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne, who made some suggestions. And after it was shot, “Val brought the film up to Napa, which was incredible, and the Godfather took a look at it.” Cox means Francis Ford Coppola.
The big coup was getting Schiller to participate. Crucial to the story was her relationship with Holmes, whom she met when she was 15 and he was 32 and with Sharon. In the movie, Holmes clearly loves his wife and Dawn, the latter who lets him physically abuse and prostitute her because she’s more addicted to him than drugs and believes he will turn around.
What the film doesn’t show is what happened after the two fled to Florida, the movie’s last scene. The couple lived in a transient hotel, and Schiller, again subjected to beatings and prostitution, turned Holmes in. Fearful for her life, she moved to Thailand, where she lived for seven years, attending school and obtaining a degree in gemology.
Cox e-mailed Schiller for two months before she agreed to meet him in a coffee shop near her home, then in Northern California. “For years, I tried to run from any connections to the past,” she says. “This was not the stuff I wanted people to hear about.”
But Cox convinced her he only wanted to get their relationship right. “It meant more to me to discuss the love,” Schiller says.
Schiller was on the set daily offering actors insight and reliving her past; Sharon, who had been awaiting Dawn’s decision to sign on, showed up during Kudrow’s scenes.
In the meantime, Sharon, who lives in L.A., never remarried or had children, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Always the protector, she made sure that Kilmer returned her wedding ring, which Dawn wanted to keep for good karma. Cox brought it to Schiller the night of the movie’s premiere.
The story’s darkness – which initially made it hard to find a lead – attracted the film’s other actors, says Cox, including Dylan McDermott, Josh Lucas, Carrie Fisher and Janeane Garofalo (who originally wanted to play Sharon). Christina Applegate, who is cast as Susan Launius, the survivor who couldn’t identify her assailants because of massive head injuries, wanted in because the case was L.A. lore.
“She said, ‘I grew up around the corner from the murder house, and I remember driving by when I was 8 and seeing the bloody mattresses,’ ” Cox says.
Finally, it got to him. Cox says he “bawled” when he added the guttural sound mix to the murder scene. He thought about the autopsy photos. And about Sharon and Dawn. He says, “in front of the camera, off-camera, during the filming, after the filming,” the immersed Kilmer also sobbed.
It was lowbrow evil. It was two decades ago.
But says Cox, as he winds up Wonderland Avenue in a car toward The Murder House, “This happened.”
“That this was true Los Angeles-noir was like, ohhh,” he sighs. “Can you get much better than that?”