Cockburn can’t possibly imagine what attracted alleged pedophile Bryan Singer to Stephen King’s ‘Apt Pupil’, a story from King’s 1982 collection Summer of Corruption, which Singer first read aged 19 in 1984. Nor can Cockburn imagine why Singer was so obsessed by adapting King’s story that he commissioned a script on spec, and then, after the success of The Usual Suspects, turned down offers to direct The Truman Show and The Devil’s Own.
In Apt Pupil, set in the Eighties, Todd Bowden, a 16-year old a Californian high school student, realizes that Arthur Denker, the old man who lives down the street, is really Kurt Dussander, a fugitive Nazi war criminal. As in many of King’s stories, an older man corrupts a younger man, and the younger man, who wants to be corrupted, enjoys it. When the boy identifies the older man’s secret and tries to blackmail him, Dussander turns the tables, blackmailing Bowden with threats to reveal their shared perversion. He dresses the older man in an SS uniform, then orders him to march around the room. ‘I tried to do this the nice way, but you don’t want it,’ Bowden says. ‘So fine, we’ll do this the hard way.’ Bizarrely, Dussander helps Bowden’s career along, in this case not as a sugar daddy offering a screen test, but by pretending to be Bowden’s grandfather and making him promise to study harder.
The Atlantic’s publication of serial allegations against Singer has focused attention on Singer’s conduct during the filming of underage boys in a shower scene, shot at Eliot Middle School in Altadena, CA, and Singer’s alleged molestation of a seventh-grader named Victor Valdovinos. Singer has yet to explain why he wanted the boys to be that young, or why he cast 14-year-old Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden.
In King’s original, Bowden is 16 when the story begins — above the age of consent — and about to leave high school when the story ends with his suicide. Directors usually cast older actors to play teenagers, but Singer liked his Bowden young and beneath the age of consent. According to Fernando Altschul, first assistant director on Apt Pupil, Singer wanted to push Bowden and the other underage actors over the legal limit of daily hours; Singer, Altschul says, relented when Altschul threatened to walk out. Renfro is unavailable for comment. Like many of the apt pupils whose careers were helped along by Singer, his life fell apart. He died of a heroin overdose in 2008.
The shower scene appears nowhere in King’s original story. It’s only one of several additions and changes that appear in Singer’s film. The film script downplays Dussander’s anti-Semitism, and reduces Dussander and Bowden’s multiple murders of hobos to a single killing. In King’s story, Edward French, Bowden’s high school supervisor, realizes that Dussander isn’t Bowden’s grandfather. When Bowden’s secret is exposed, he kills French and then goes on a shooting spree. But in the film, Bowden doesn’t kill French. He silences him with the threat of accusing him of inappropriate sexual advances, and exposing him as a homosexual and pederast.
Singer says that his determination to adapt King’s story was driven by a ‘passion’ for its ‘dark subject matter’. But Singer’s movie adds a dark subject matter of its own. Cockburn is shocked, just shocked to learn that Hollywood, source of Democratic party funding and moral guide to the nation, could harbor such people. To take his mind off these horrors, this evening Cockburn will watch Corey Haim and Corey Feldman in The Lost Boys.