So it was prophesied: in 1999 appeareth a demonic, apocalyptic thriller. It beareth a $35 million price tag, stars the blond from ”When Harry Met Sally…,” and taps into an audience writhing in end of millennium angst.
Oh, prophecies are made to be broken. And such is the case with the satanic conspiracy flick ”Lost Souls,” whose road to hell has been appropriately vexed. The story begins with Meg Ryan’s Prufrock Pictures, which had, in the mid ’90s, been seeking a screenplay with soul. ”We wanted to address spiritual crisis and rebirth,” explains Ryan’s producing partner, Nina R. Sadowsky. The pitch they picked, from newcomers Betsy Stahl and Pierce Gardner, landed at New Line in 1997 as a vehicle for Ryan.
But then came the divinely themed ”City of Angels,” already on the fast track at Warner Bros., and there went Ryan. ”I was a little nervous when I made that call,” Sadowsky admits about informing New Line it was short a star. ”But [the studio was] incredibly cool about it.”
While the lead remained open, the director’s chair got filled. Oscar winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (”Schindler’s List,” ”Saving Private Ryan”) had been looking for a directorial debut, and honed in on the story of a young Catholic teacher who must convince a skeptic that Satan will soon possess him — and try to take over the world. ”It’s not the most ideal project, but no one will give me the most ideal project without being able to see what I can do as a director,” Kaminski admits.
With Kaminski aboard, Winona Ryder swooped into Ryan’s spot, Ben Chaplin (”The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) signed on as the guy with the devil inside, and production kicked in for a fall 1999 release. Then — the horror! A slew of studios had Otherwordly Movie Fever too: ”The Sixth Sense,” ”Stir of Echoes,” ”Stigmata,” and ”End of Days” were also slated to open between August and the end of ’99. ”We were afraid we were going to die,” Kaminski says. ”There’d be no audience.” A winter 2000 release was scratched when ”Scream 3” staked out February.
But the delay can’t be blamed entirely on competition: The studio had requested reshoots for the finale. ”It has a very abrupt end, almost like we had with ‘Seven,”’ says New Line production head Mike De Luca. Two more resolutions were filmed before the studio returned to the original. During the down time New Line also brought in ”The Sixth Sense” editor Andrew Mondshein to ”make the boo scares a little more scary,” De Luca says. A timely tagline (”They’ve had their 2000 years… now it’s our turn”) helped make the film Y2K compliant.
Finally, ”Lost Souls” is baaaaack, with an Oct. 13 release date piggybacking on the frightfully good recent debuts of ”Urban Legends: Final Cut” and ”The Exorcist.” A solid hit would be welcome for the film’s star, who has been bedeviled by more than her share of reserved roles (Angelina Jolie ran off with ”Girl, Interrupted”), underperforming films (”The Crucible,” ”Alien Resurrection”), and critical flops (”Autumn in New York”). But Kaminski believes that makes Ryder ripe for a change: ”Rather than being a slightly whimsical, occasionally soft young female, in this movie she became a strong, dangerous adult woman.”
And what does the director think of his first film? ”People are telling me it’s scary. To me it’s not scary anymore because I’ve seen it so many times,” he says. ”If people like the movie, and it doesn’t [do] humongous box office, that’s still good. Because I think the movie’s all right.” How’s that for a prophecy?
(Additional reporting by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh)