John and Charlie and Fun with the FBI
By Chris Gore
As a teenager filled with passion, pointless arrogance and no publishing experience, I learned everything on the job. My underground magazine Film Threat was a project I undertook right out of high school, and I was determined to make the ‘zine an important voice in the discussion of movies. And by an important voice, I meant a loud one, of course.
One idea to get the attention that sounded pretty good at the time was asking a former Presidential assassin to review movies for my up and coming magazine.
Having made friends with fringe film writers all over the country, I discovered one named Jack Stevenson, who was buds with John Hinckley, Jr. Yes, the John Hinckley Jr., the man who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. But more importantly to me, he was a movie guy as he was inspired to action by one of my favorite films, Taxi Driver. Some people are inspired to start a movie magazine, others try to kill Presidents, but we both had in common a passion for great cinema.
I asked John if he would review Taxi Driver. I thought it would be fun to get his thoughts about the film. And I know he was trying to impress a girl with his plan, I mean, aren’t we all? Maybe Jodi Foster would read my magazine. I could impress her myself and without jail time.
The “review” arrived in the form of a letter, and it was a disappointment. It was not the review of Taxi Driver that I’d hoped for, but I’ll read it to you anyway:
After some pleasantries, which was nice, John said:
“As for the film review… I don’t think I can do it. I haven’t seen an entire movie since I’ve been locked up. Taxi Driver sucks. And I don’t want to write about that.”
Success! He gave his opinion! Hinckley went on to say:
“By the way, send me Manson’s address if you have it. Squeaky Fromme wrote to me!”
There must be some tiny group of Presidential assassins and jail-bound celebrities who feel some sort of kinship. Hinckley ended his letter by saying:
“Do good, be good, look good and shit good – you’ll live a long and healthy life.
Regards, John Hinckley”
Well, it wasn’t what I had hoped for, but he did say “Taxi Driver sucks.”
That was enough for me, and I published the letter with a snipe on the cover of Film Threat which read: John Hinckley reviews Taxi Driver.
The quote from Hinckley received national attention, but my magazine did not. In fact, each article that mentioned the Hinckley quote seemed to go out of their way to avoid mentioning the source. (I was a very early anti-mainstream media advocate as a result.) And, worse, Film Threat magazine and I then got the attention of the FBI. The magazine and I were added to a watch list. Which I guess is something that might happen when you correspond with a Presidential assassin. Although, I did take comfort in knowing that some FBI agent somewhere was getting an education in alternative film.
This would be my first, but not last, run-in with the FBI. The second was after I moved to Los Angeles and met Charlie Sheen. Charlie had just finished up working on a film called The Chase, and I met the young director Adam Rifkin. Adam, like me, was into strange alternative films like Legend of the Overfiend, So was Charlie. After borrowing several gems from my collection, I found myself a kind of dealer of bootlegged VHS oddities for Sheen to enjoy.
But one film shocked Sheen to the core – it was a Japanese horror film called Guinea Pig, in which a woman is led to a room, murdered and dissected – effectively autopsied alive. It’s not something I liked, I’m not one for gore even though that’s my last name, but it is fake. Anyone with a knowledge of special effects could tell it was fake but not Charlie. He thought he had seen a snuff film and reported this to the FBI. In fact, he turned over his copy of the tape to an agent and gave him my phone number. I the waited for a phone interview with the FBI who were merely looking to confirm some facts about this “snuff” film. I was told to turn over my original and then the source of the tape, which was a bootleg video dealer from the Midwest, who would reward me the next time I saw him with a beer over the head.
After a grueling, nerve-wracking hour-long interview I convinced the FBI that this film, was in fact, a fake.
Months later, a story broke in the media that Charlie Sheen was to receive a “letter of commendation as a good citizen” from the FBI. This story broke in the newspaper and on news magazine shows on all four news channels (it was the early 90s, there weren’t that many channels). The story mentioned a “VHS snuff film obtained from a bootlegger” that Charlie had turned in. This time I was pleased that my name did not appear.
And as one of the few people to make Charlie Sheen look good, I guess I should feel some sense of accomplishment.
There is no moral to the story, except the one that comes to mind with each lesson I learned on the job… I’m an idiot.
Chris Gore is a former G4 TV host. Comedian. Writer. Indoorsman. Born in Detroit, based in LA. Read his movie rants on FilmThreat.com.