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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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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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