“The script was original, it had this carny/circus thing which I’ve always associated with Hollywood. Let’s face it, it’s a freakshow out here, it’s a circus, we’re all on the merry-go-round. And this cartoonish, kind of weird sensibility this film had, it was almost like a weird childhood memory of these local television shows I remember watching as a kid…”–Bill Paxton on why he was attracted to the script of The Dark Backward
DIRECTED BY: Adam Rifkin
PLOT: Marty Malt is a garbageman and aspiring stand-up comic with no talent and no confidence. One day, a third arm begins to spontaneously grow out of his back. Although his act hasn’t improved, the gimmick is enough so that greasy agent Jackie Chrome takes interest in him and his accordion-playing, garbage-eating buddy Gus.
- The Dark Backward was the first script written by Adam Rifkin, who was only 19 years old at the time. He would direct the film six years later at age 25.
- The title was selected by opening the complete works of Shakespeare to a random page (the quote comes from “The Tempest,” Act I, Scene II: “How is it/That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?”
- James Caan reportedly agreed to appear in the film only after an insistent Rifkin called him at the Playboy Mansion.
- Judd Nelson auditioned for the role by performing Marty Malt’s comedy routines, in disguise, at open-mike nights in Los Angeles.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Probably, one of the many images of Marty’s third arm, whether he displays it to the audience by mechanically spinning around after delivering another lame joke, or as doctor James Caan examines the embryonic fingers sprouting from the his back. Individual viewers’ mileage may vary, however; you may be indelibly grossed out by the orgy with three morbidly obese women, or by Gus’ nauseating midnight snack of rotting chicken.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise alone—the world’s worst stand-up comic becomes a success after he sprouts a third arm from his back—immediately qualifies as weird. For better and worse, director Rifkin doesn’t shy away from going whole hog into grotesquerie, churning out a first feature that looks like a technically polished version of an early John Waters film.
Clip from The Dark Backward
COMMENTS: If a therapist laid The Dark Backward down on a couch and psychoanalyzed Continue reading 46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)