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14 Fascinating Facts About Sling Blade

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In Sling Blade, a mentally challenged man—described by writer-director-star Billy Bob Thornton as a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and Boo Radley—named Karl Childers is released from a psychiatric hospital 25 years after committing a murder, befriends a mother and her young son, and is gradually tasked to help save them. Thornton would become a household name following his Oscar-nominated performance in the film, and for winning the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. In honor of its 20th anniversary, here are some facts about the movie that pair well with French fried potaters.

1. KARL WAS BORN FROM BILLY BOB THORNTON'S FRUSTRATION WITH A MADE-FOR-CABLE MOVIE.

Daniel Mann, Thornton’s director on 1987’s The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains, insisted he “overact” for all five of his lines. Back in his trailer during lunch, Thornton looked in the mirror, which is where he imagined Karl’s visage for the first time. He also came up with the character’s distinctive manner of speaking right then and there. Thornton developed the character of Karl Childers further via a one-man show titled Swine Before Pearls.

2. BEFORE THE FEATURE, THERE WAS A SHORT FILM TITLED SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE FEATURING MOLLY RINGWALD.

The 29-minute movie was released in 1994, written by Thornton and directed by George Hickenlooper. Molly Ringwald portrayed the newspaper reporter in Hickenlooper’s version; she was replaced by Sarah Boss in the feature. Thornton did not mention the short during the Sling Blade Oscar press tour because he had a falling out with Hickenlooper, who was claiming the movie was based on the short, while Thornton said it was based on his one-man show. At the time, Thornton said he "would have been glad to have talked about the short if George hadn't bad-mouthed me all over town. This whole thing is based on the character, and I created that before I ever knew George Hickenlooper existed."

3. THORNTON WROTE THE SCRIPT IN LONGHAND, MOSTLY ON THE SET OF A SITCOM.

The show was titled Hearts Afire, which Thornton starred in alongside Sling Blade co-star John Ritter. Thornton finished the script on a Christmas Day on his mother’s dining room table.

4. VAUGHAN WAS BASED ON A CHOIR LEADER IN AN ARKANSAS CHURCH.

Thornton also wrote the character with his friend Ritter in mind, knowing he could handle the rhythm of Vaughan’s words.

5. RITTER GAVE VAUGHAN THE LAST NAME "CUNNINGHAM" AS A REFERENCE TO HAPPY DAYS.

The former Three’s Company star revealed as much on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 1997. As an in-joke to some of his friends who were on the cast of Happy Days, Ritter made his character a Cunningham to open up the possibility that Vaughan was actually Chuck, Richie and Joanie’s older brother from season one of Happy Days, who was written out of the show and never spoken of by any of the characters again after he disappeared. In Ritter’s mind, Chuck had a “different alternative lifestyle” that he was too ashamed to reveal to his parents. Thornton had no idea this was the reasoning behind the surname choice.

6. IT WAS MADE FOR $1 MILLION.

Sling Blade was filmed in just 24 days. It made more than $24 million at the box office.

7. CHARLES BUSHMAN’S CHAIR DRAG WAS THOUGHT UP THAT DAY BY THORNTON.

Thornton explained: “I was trying to think of a beginning. You always want that first image to hook you, and if J.T. (Walsh) had just walked over and fucked with the other patients on the way, and then sat down, that would have been too normal.”

8. FRANK DIDN’T HEAR KARL’S VOICE UNTIL HE HAD HIS FIRST SCENE.

Lucas Black figured that his co-star/director wanted to give him the element of surprise.

9. DIRECTOR JIM JARMUSCH MADE A CAMEO.

Jarmusch played Gene, the Frostee Cream employee. The director agreed to take the rare acting role because he knew Thornton, and thought it might be fun.

10. EACH SCENE WAS SHOT IN TWO TAKES.

A rare third take was used if there was a lighting or a technical issue. Robert Duvall (Karl’s father), when referring to Thornton as the “Hillbilly Orson Welles,” explained that Thornton believes that two takes and no rehearsals are best, because you can “catch the freshness.”

11. "NERVOUS HOSPITAL" WAS A SAYING FROM THORNTON’S GRANDMOTHER.

She said it to avoid the terms “nut house” or “asylum.”

12. THORNTON PUT CRUSHED GLASS INSIDE HIS SHOES.

It gave him Karl’s famous limp.

13. HARVEY WEINSTEIN PAID $10 MILLION FOR THE DISTRIBUTION RIGHTS AFTER WATCHING THE FIRST 30 MINUTES.

The head of Miramax initially agreed to give Thornton the final say on editing. Weinstein then saw the rest of the movie and wanted Thornton to cut 20 minutes. Martin Scorsese told Thornton not to change his edit, before Weinstein went ahead and edited it without Thornton’s knowledge. For what it’s worth, Sling Blade producer Larry Meistrich later admitted that Weinstein’s edit was better than Thornton’s.

14. MIRAMAX ALSO SUGGESTED A DIFFERENT TITLE.

They asked Thornton if he would change Sling Blade to The Reckoning. He got his say on that one.

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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