River's Edge (1987)

R | 99 mins | Drama | 8 May 1987

Director:

Tim Hunter

Writer:

Neal Jimenez

Cinematographer:

Frederick Elmes

Production Designer:

John Muto

Production Company:

Hemdale Film Corporation
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HISTORY

As noted in various contemporary sources, including a 4 Jul 1987 LAT article, the film is loosely based on the 1981 murder of fourteen-year-old Marcy Conrad. The girl was raped and strangled to death in Milpitas, CA, by sixteen-year-old Anthony Jacques Broussard, who gave his friends tours of the corpse. The teenagers failed to report the murder for two days, and the news media publicized the phenomenon as evidence of “the shredded moral fiber of the post-Vietnam generation.”
       A column in the 9 Apr 1986 LAT explained that writer Neal Jimenez used the story as inspiration for a screenwriting assignment in the early 1980s, when he was a film student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Jimenez told the 24 May 1987 Washington Post that he was drawn to the plight of the Milpitas teens because he “wanted to show that these kids were growing up without an inherited moral system, and they had to create it themselves.” While a 16 Jul 1987 LAT article stated that Jimenez initially received a mediocre grade of C+ for River’s Edge, a 25 Jul 1987 LAT letter to the editor by Professor Richard Walter claimed that the final project earned an A+, and was honored with a live reading, moderated by Oliver Stone. The event was reportedly attended by producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury, who optioned the script in 1983. At that time, the project had already been turned down by major Hollywood studios, and Sanford and Pillsbury submitted it for a second review. However, production companies and potential ... More Less

As noted in various contemporary sources, including a 4 Jul 1987 LAT article, the film is loosely based on the 1981 murder of fourteen-year-old Marcy Conrad. The girl was raped and strangled to death in Milpitas, CA, by sixteen-year-old Anthony Jacques Broussard, who gave his friends tours of the corpse. The teenagers failed to report the murder for two days, and the news media publicized the phenomenon as evidence of “the shredded moral fiber of the post-Vietnam generation.”
       A column in the 9 Apr 1986 LAT explained that writer Neal Jimenez used the story as inspiration for a screenwriting assignment in the early 1980s, when he was a film student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Jimenez told the 24 May 1987 Washington Post that he was drawn to the plight of the Milpitas teens because he “wanted to show that these kids were growing up without an inherited moral system, and they had to create it themselves.” While a 16 Jul 1987 LAT article stated that Jimenez initially received a mediocre grade of C+ for River’s Edge, a 25 Jul 1987 LAT letter to the editor by Professor Richard Walter claimed that the final project earned an A+, and was honored with a live reading, moderated by Oliver Stone. The event was reportedly attended by producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury, who optioned the script in 1983. At that time, the project had already been turned down by major Hollywood studios, and Sanford and Pillsbury submitted it for a second review. However, production companies and potential directors remained unconvinced that the film could merit a commercial release.
       One year later, director Tim Hunter agreed to take on the project, despite his fear that it would not find a distributor or an audience. Hunter was a Harvard University graduate who recently started his directing career with the teenage-genre film Tex (1982, see entry), and he was on the cusp of making his second feature, Sylvester (1985, see entry). Actor Dennis Hopper was also uncertain about the economic viability of River’s Edge, but he accepted the role of “Feck” on condition that he be paid upfront. Hopper was making a career comeback at that time with the 1986 releases Blue Velvet and Hoosiers (see entries), and the filmmakers believed his name would help bring attention to River’s Edge. According to the 6 Jun 1987 NYT, Hopper learned about the project from actor Harry Dean Stanton, who reportedly declined to take the part because it was “too weird.”
       With a firm commitment from Hopper, producers Sanford and Pillsbury convinced Hemdale Film Corporation to finance River’s Edge for $1.7 million. However, production was delayed, as Sanford and Pillsbury were preparing to begin their first feature film, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985, see entry), and twenty-three-year-old Neal Jimenez, who was still a student at UCLA, became paralyzed from the neck down after a hiking accident. He regained control of the top half of his body and continued to write, even though few changes were required for River’s Edge, according to the 9 Apr 1986 LAT.
       Principal photography began in Jan 1986 and lasted thirty-two days, with locations in Sacramento, Sunland, and Tujunga, CA.
       Although post-production was completed in Aug 1986, Hemdale shelved the picture to prioritize the release of Platoon and Hoosiers (1986, see entries). Still, River’s Edge screened at various festivals, including the Mill Valley Film Festival in Oct 1986, and had a test opening later that month on 31 Oct 1986, at the Egyptian Theater in Seattle, WA. Although the film failed to gain momentum after the Seattle preview, the president of Island Pictures, Russell Schwartz, took a liking to the project after seeing it at the Mill Valley Film Festival and acquired distribution rights. Island believed the movie would appeal to young adults and college students, and marketed the picture as a commercial release, not an art film.
       River’s Edge was received with critical acclaim and box-office success. Three weeks after opening to sold-out, limited engagements in New York City and Los Angeles, CA, the film’s release was expanded to ninety-three theaters in thirty cities nationwide, and grossed $529,000, according to the 6 Jun 1987 NYT. Just over one month later, a 16 Jul 1987 LAT column reported that earnings increased to $3.8 million in the picture’s first nine weeks of release.
       The film won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and Best Feature. In addition, Tim Hunter was nominated for Best Director by the Independent Spirit Awards.
       End credits include: “Special thanks to: Affordable Studio Teachers Association; David Colden; Ann Erickson; Lucy Fisher; the Great Southern Company, Inc.; Bradley Gross; Leonetti Cine Rentals; Ellen Lewis; Linda Lichter; Motley Crue, Inc.; Niji Management, Inc.; Sacramento Chamber of Commerce; Chuck Shapiro; Dee Somers.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 1986
p. 3, 41.
Los Angeles Times
9 Apr 1986
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
7 May 1987
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jul 1987.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Jul 1987
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
25 Jul 1987
p. 2.
New York Times
8 May 1987
p. 28.
New York Times
6 Jun 1987
Section 1, p. 9.
Variety
3 Sep 1986
p. 16.
Washington Post
24 May 1987
Section G, p. 1.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Hemdale Film Corporation presents
A Sanford/Pillsbury production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-prod
Asst prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Elec
Key grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Video eff
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dept coord
Art dept prod asst
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Prop asst
Set dec
Leadman
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus supv
Mus coord
Mus consultant
Asst mus consultant
Mus rec at
West Berlin
SOUND
Prod sd
Cable man
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Sd eff ed
Foley ed
Foley artist
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Supv re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec and sd ed facilities by
Berkeley, California
VISUAL EFFECTS
Main title seq des by
Opticals by
Title opticals by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup asst
Spec makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charge of prod
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Casting assoc
Prod assoc
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Honeywagon driver
Camera car op
Camera car op
Driver
Driver
Driver
Craft service
Studio teacher
Extras casting
Animal handler
Mr. Glover's trainer
Post-prod accountant
Motion picture banking by
Credit Lyonnais Bank, Nederland
Insurance provided by
Albert G. Ruben & Co., Inc.
Completion guarantee by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“Kyrie Eleison,” written by Jim Matheos & John Arch, performed by Fates Warning, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Captor Of Sin,” written by Jeff Hanneman & Kerry King, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Tormentor,” written by Jeff Hanneman, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
+
SONGS
“Kyrie Eleison,” written by Jim Matheos & John Arch, performed by Fates Warning, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Captor Of Sin,” written by Jeff Hanneman & Kerry King, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Tormentor,” written by Jeff Hanneman, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Evil Has No Boundaries,” written by Jeff Hanneman & Kerry King, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Die By The Sword,” written by Jeff Hanneman, performed by Slayer, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Lethal Tendencies,” written by Stacy Anderson, performed by Hallow’s Eve, courtesy of Metal Blade Records
“Let Me Know,” written by Greg Sage, performed by Wipers, courtesy of Restless Records
“Fire In The Rain,” written by Mike Palm, performed by Agent Orange, courtesy of Enigma Records
“Happy Day,” written by Winston Rodney, performed by Burning Spear, courtesy of Burning Music Productions
“Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go,” written & performed by Hank Ballard, courtesy of Gusto Records
“I’m Gonna Miss You,” written & performed by Hank Ballard, courtesy of Gusto Records.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 May 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 8 May 1987
Production Date:
began January 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Hemdale Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
30 March 1988
Copyright Number:
PA367329
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
99
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28249
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Early one morning in small town U.S.A., a twelve-year-old delinquent named Tim throws his sister’s favorite doll off a bridge. Hearing a howl in the distance, Tim looks toward the river’s edge and sees teenager Samson “John” Tollet with a naked female corpse. Tim realizes the young man has murdered his girl friend, Jamie, and is titillated by the wanton killing. Sometime later, at the Stop-Go Liquor Market, Tim watches from afar as John argues with a clerk, who refuses to sell alcohol to minors. Hoping to establish a good rapport with the older teen, Tim steals two beers and leaves them on John’s car seat. To reciprocate, John drives Tim to the ramshackle bungalow of a psychologically unhinged recluse named “Feck” to buy marijuana, but Feck does not come to the door. Tim returns home and taunts his sister, Kim, about her “drowned” doll. However, Tim’s older brother, Matt, is enraged by the boy’s insensitivity. As the two argue, Matt’s friend, Layne, arrives to drive Matt to school and they stop at Feck’s house for marijuana. Tim secretly follows on his bicycle and watches as Feck holds Layne at gunpoint. Undeterred, Layne convinces Feck of their friendship and collects two marijuana cigarettes. At school, Layne and Matt do not believe John’s casual murder confession, so he takes them to the river’s edge to show off Jamie’s corpse. Layne is delighted that life in his sleepy town has become more like a Hollywood movie, and he vows to protect John’s secret. While Layne dramatizes the tragedy, John does nothing to conceal his crime and invites more peers ... +


Early one morning in small town U.S.A., a twelve-year-old delinquent named Tim throws his sister’s favorite doll off a bridge. Hearing a howl in the distance, Tim looks toward the river’s edge and sees teenager Samson “John” Tollet with a naked female corpse. Tim realizes the young man has murdered his girl friend, Jamie, and is titillated by the wanton killing. Sometime later, at the Stop-Go Liquor Market, Tim watches from afar as John argues with a clerk, who refuses to sell alcohol to minors. Hoping to establish a good rapport with the older teen, Tim steals two beers and leaves them on John’s car seat. To reciprocate, John drives Tim to the ramshackle bungalow of a psychologically unhinged recluse named “Feck” to buy marijuana, but Feck does not come to the door. Tim returns home and taunts his sister, Kim, about her “drowned” doll. However, Tim’s older brother, Matt, is enraged by the boy’s insensitivity. As the two argue, Matt’s friend, Layne, arrives to drive Matt to school and they stop at Feck’s house for marijuana. Tim secretly follows on his bicycle and watches as Feck holds Layne at gunpoint. Undeterred, Layne convinces Feck of their friendship and collects two marijuana cigarettes. At school, Layne and Matt do not believe John’s casual murder confession, so he takes them to the river’s edge to show off Jamie’s corpse. Layne is delighted that life in his sleepy town has become more like a Hollywood movie, and he vows to protect John’s secret. While Layne dramatizes the tragedy, John does nothing to conceal his crime and invites more peers to visit the body, including Layne’s girl friend, Clarissa. Layne orders his friends to cover up the murder and help bury the corpse, but they decline to get involved and resume their daily activities. When Clarissa wavers in her allegiance, Layne argues that the murder was justified, since Jamie’s irreverence toward John’s dead mother instigated his rage. That evening, Matt helps his little sister, Kim, perform a funeral for her “dead” doll in the backyard while Layne returns to the river’s edge and drags Jamie’s body into the water. Layne later reunites with John to buy beer and they are shocked to discover police cars in front of John’s house. Unaware that Matt reported the murder, Layne drives to Feck’s bungalow and asks to borrow his car, so he can escort John out of state in a more reliable vehicle, but Feck reveals that he, too, is guilty of murdering a former girl friend, and does not wish to expose himself to police. Layne orders John to stay in the house and drives away in search of an alternate plan while Feck introduces John to his new sweetheart, an inflatable sex doll named “Ellie.” Feck reminisces about his youth as a promiscuous outlaw, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, and John convinces him to forego his self-imposed isolation and drive to the store for beer. Meanwhile, Matt is taken into police custody and released to his exhausted mother. Returning home, Matt gets into a fistfight with Tim, who accuses his brother of betraying John. Vowing revenge, Tim goes to his friend’s house and steals a car while Matt wanders away from home, seeking refuge from his dysfunctional family. However, Layne finds Matt on the street and orders him to get into the car, oblivious that his friend tipped off the police. When the two pick up Clarissa, she objects to Layne’s mission, and he commands her to get out of the car. Matt points out that it is dangerous to leave Clarissa alone, and Layne instructs him to stay behind. As he speeds away, Clarissa walks home with Matt, finds sleeping bags, and invites him to spend the night in the park. On the way, Matt buys beer at the Stop-Go Liquor Market and is shocked to see John, robbing the clerk at gunpoint. Meanwhile, Layne returns to Feck’s house and is enraged to discover his friends are missing. As he leaves, Tim and his friend break inside, looking for Feck’s gun, and lose consciousness after smoking his marijuana. Back in town, John continues his crime spree, stealing bullets from a hardware store and driving to the river’s edge. There, Feck dotes on his imaginary girl friend, “Ellie,” but John snatches the doll away, simulates fellatio, and fires Feck’s gun into the river. Startled by John’s callousness, Feck grabs “Ellie” and the gun, explaining that the weapon has sentimental value because he used it to kill his girl friend. Feck describes his murder as a crime of passion, in which violence was a base reaction to overwhelming sensations of love and desire, but John remains indifferent to his victim, Jamie. He admits that he strangled her because it gave him the thrill of ultimate control, and her death made him feel more alive. However, John assumes his life has now come to an end, and he cannot understand why Layne is dedicated to safeguarding his future. He does not wish to become a recluse, like Feck, and realizes that he lacks the empathy to reciprocate friendships. Meanwhile, Matt tells Clarissa that he reported the murder, and they make love in the park. As the town sleeps, Feck remains restless and tearful, watching over John and contemplating his destiny. At dawn, Feck shoots John dead and returns home, where Tim knocks him unconscious and steals his gun. Out on the street, police officers find Layne sleeping in his car and detain him for questioning. He telephones Feck from the police station, unaware the call is being traced. Although Feck does not answer the first call, Layne tries again when he is released from police custody, and Feck is finally awakened by the ringing telephone. As Feck mumbles that John is still at the river, policemen break into his house and Layne realizes his friend has been discovered. Meanwhile, television news reporters gather at the high school to interview students about the murder, and a teacher named Mr. Burkewaite berates Clarissa for her indifference to the tragedy. Escaping the frenzy, Clarissa joins Matt and their friends at the river’s edge, where they smoke marijuana and find “Ellie,” floating in the water. As the teens ponder the humanity of the lifeless doll, Layne arrives in a panic, searching for John, and Matt confesses that he reported the crime. He begs Layne to bring John to justice, but the boy is incensed at Matt’s betrayal, and will stop at nothing to protect John. Running along the embankment, Layne finds John’s corpse and wails in grief, beckoning the others to the crime scene. Just then, young Tim arrives with Feck’s gun and points it at Matt. He believes his older brother must be punished for going to the police, and for hitting him in their subsequent fistfight, but Matt reminds him of their kinship, and Tim cries. Sometime later, the friends attend Jamie’s open casket funeral, and are forced to look at her body one last time. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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