Next to the Angelika in Mockingbird Station, a secret side door leads to a nightclub used for special events. A red carpet unrolled at its doorstep in March after the new horror comedy Bad Kids Go to Hell had a private screening. Inside, the room pulsed with music, but no one danced—save for one guy. He was all over the place. A few girls in tight dresses swayed to the beat, which was all their attire would allow. The DJ performed his task in an animated fashion to disguise the simplicity of his job. Everyone else shifted through the dark room, moving from one conversation cluster to another on a seven-minute rotation. Speaking over the noise, they talked politely about the movie they had just seen. “I think it’s going to be a huge hit. I really do.” “I just loved it.”
At the entrance, filmmakers Matthew Spradlin and Barry Wernick stood on the red carpet, framed by a Bad Kids backdrop. It was their movie and their night. Both had their arms around a star from the film while the cameras flashed. (One actor had been in Degrassi and White Oleander; the other was a pretty girl who had played bit parts in a smattering of lesser-known films.) Spradlin and Wernick each wore a mischievous smile—as if they had planned everything to go precisely this way.
Wernick attended St. Mark’s School, where he was student council president. He went to law school at SMU. Spradlin is a Highland Park High School graduate. The two met when they each moved to Los Angeles. They are an effective partnership. Spradlin exudes the indie director vibe. He has dark-rimmed glasses, wild hair, and uses the word “primo” without irony. He wore a plaid shirt, leather jacket, and baseball cap to his own film premiere. Wernick went for the more respectable black t-shirt with a pin-striped jacket. He is the tenacious salesman. In our first email exchange, Wernick included seven quotes from critics about the comic book (from Geek Monthly to HorrorNews.net). In our second email exchange, he informed me that this D Magazine story needed to be “big (not short).”
These two may have the Hollywood look and attitude, but not everything ran smoothly at first. With Bad Kids Go to Hell, we
may have a first—a movie idea that turned into an independent comic book that turned back into a movie.
When Spradlin and Wernick finished Bad Kids Go to Hell, a gruesome twist on The Breakfast Club, the Writers Guild of America was in the middle of the strike that began in 2007. “We couldn’t sell it,” Wernick says. “We couldn’t do anything with it. No one would talk to us.” The setback did not daunt them. “Matthew brought up the idea to me that this would make a great comic book series.”
Spradlin was a long-time Comic-Con devotee and already had connections within the comic book industry. Antarctic Press agreed to publish their story as a comic book, allowing Spradlin and Wernick to retain the rights.
The comic book was well received, due in part to the relentless in-store signings and convention appearances they scheduled for themselves. The touring improved their pitch and gave them a second chance at making the movie. Not that they were worried. “We knew we were going to be a movie all along,” Wernick says.
More important, the comic gained the attention of the right people. Their Breakfast Club homage was made perfect when Judd Nelson agreed to join the film and play a headmaster. “Sort of an ironic twist of fate,” Wernick says. “The bad kid from the detention in The Breakfast Club is now the headmaster of all these bad kids.” Ben Browder, known for television shows such as Farscape and Stargate SG-1, also joined the cast as Max the janitor, adding even more geek credibility.
Beyond these two fan favorites, the majority of the bad kids came from Texas. The interior library scenes were filmed at Spiderwood Studios in Austin, and a few of the exteriors were shot in Dallas. Spradlin and Wernick both came from prestigious, wealthy schools. The movie is about students from a prestigious, wealthy school. It’s not too hard to imagine they pulled from locations familiar to them.
Now that the film is finished, Spradlin and Wernick have begun showing it to select audiences. The film debuts this month at Comic-Con International, and they have signed with XYZ Films as their domestic representative. So, yes, there’s some buzz.
Will it be a hit? Comic book movies are a sure thing only when a studio deals with known properties like Batman and Spider-Man. Much rarer are movies based on independently produced comics. Spradlin and Wernick have already come further than most. There may be a few more twists and turns left to come.