It's close to midnight in Austin, Texas and the temperature is falling fast. The crowd packed into the lot next to the charming dive bar are dressed appropriately -- hats and coats and gloves on everyone.
But the man on the makeshift stage is shirtless. And shoeless. And carrying a toy machine gun. And now, he's exchanging words with the man currently holding his "wife," a male actor with a wig, hostage.
It's the climactic scene of 'Die Hard,' live on stage (or, as it was advertised, "In 3D!"). Soon enough, the villainous Hans Gruber gets the "Yippey Ki-Yay, Motherf*cker" treatment and plummets to his death by diving off the stage into the audience and John McClane gets into the cardboard limousine and exits stage left to the tune of 'Let It Snow.'
The video of this memorable performance went viral a few days back (and you can watch it after the jump), but surely you must be wondering: what kind of people would put on a stage version of 'Die Hard'? Or, more accurately, what kind of people would perform a live action double feature of 'Die Hard' and 'Home Alone'?
The answer? Old Murder House Theatre. It's founder and director? The same man that went shirtless in the freezing cold to play the iconic role of Detective John McClane: Sam Eidson.
The troupe originated in Savannah, Georgia, where Sam was attending film school at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It was a lark, really. What if they performed a low tech, stripped down, sped up adaptation of 'Jurassic Park' on the front porch of their house? Taking their name from the house itself (which was home to several murders in the 19th century), Old Murder House Theatre was born in a flurry of nostalgia and cardboard dinosaurs.
Riding off an enthusiastic response, they followed that up with 'The Lion King,' 'Predator,' 'Independence Day" and then ... graduation. By all accounts, Old Murder House had no reason to survive after its core team was split apart and scattered, but if there is one city where low budget re-enactments of summer blockbusters can flourish, it's the infamously "weird" city of Austin, home to one of the most spirited film communities in the world.
Sam sees the move as a boon to the group's continued existence: "Since we relocated to Austin, we're suddenly surrounded by a much richer film industry and people that will appreciate these more. We hope to up the ante in terms of level of production."
By "up the ante," we can only assume he's talking about the frequency of performance, not necessarily putting on a smooth, polished production that operates just like the film it's based on. There is a charming, rough-around-the-edges quality to Old Murder House's performances, the encapsulation of our mutual memories of a film rather than an accurate adaptation. "Telling the story logically doesn't matter," Sam says, "as long as the we stay true to the energy of the movie." In a way, this is not so much a performance of 'Die Hard' as much as it's a performance of those post-midnight discussions about 'Die Hard' that happen after one too many beers.
Sam admits that these are "kind of put to together at the last minute," but insists that there is a written script and a rehearsal process (and many, many viewings of the movies in question). The selection of 'Home Alone'/'Die Hard' double feature came out of Sam's desire to do a Christmas-themed show. " 'Die Hard' and 'Home Alone' are my Christmas movies," he says. "I know everyone has their own, but those are ones that stayed with me. There are other great ones, but these two movies have many similar story elements and themes. One man against 'em all." Watching the two Christmas-themed stories of a lone warrior defeating a superior force, it's hard to disagree with him.
Watching videos of Old Murder House performances simply don't do them justice. There is an energy in the air that doesn't translate to a computer screen. Sure, there is a charming campiness to bloody gun battles being recreated using blasting caps and silly string (in place of squibs) and there is much joy to be had in watching someone "outrun" an explosion that's actually a makeshift umbrella covered with red and yellow streamers, but these performances act as more than parodies. By compressing 'Die Hard' into 45 minutes, large chunks of plot are gone, but tiny little details, the kind of things you only notice if you've seen the films twenty times, remain. Actor Nathan Sakulich does a fine Alan Rickman, but his take on Alan Rickman's fake American accent ("You know those guns that shoot red paint?") is just plain eerie.
In the 'Home Alone' half, Kirk Johnson gives an almost terrifying Macaulay Culkin impersonation, not only capturing the voice, but the swagger and physicality. Although there are certainly liberties taken (the creepy broken heater in 'Home Alone' didn't threaten to, er, assault young Kevin in the original film and Sam's choice to play Old Man Marley as completely incomprehensible just kills), it's the straight-faced honesty in the face of cardboard-and-scotch-tape absurdity that makes these performances something to savor. Just as much as these productions ask you to laugh at these films, they also ask you to remember them, to treasure them and to take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.
As the show goes on, passing pedestrians stop and watch from the sidewalk. Was it the general loudness of the show that attracted them or was it a recitation of a familiar line? Either way, they stay put and watch the thing to the end. There's no need for them to have seen this from the beginning -- everyone has seen 'Die Hard' and 'Home Alone.' When the audience isn't laughing, they're certainly smiling and not out of derision, but out of a mutual love for these movies.
A parody is easy. The balance between comedy and nostalgia struck here is simply one-of-a-kind. It's truly a case of "You just gotta' be there."
What's next? Sam is continuously working as an actor (his work in the gloriously weird short film series 'Hard Gravel' borders on extraordinary and a feature is on the way) and filmmaker (he's working on a full-length version of his hilariously twisted 'Moon Buddy' short), but he's hoping Old Murder House will reach a bigger audience and maybe, just maybe, it will find some sort of sponsorship. Alamo Drafthouse, anyone?
In the meantime, Sam, his fellow actors and his small crew are still figuring out what film they'll take to stage next. He tosses out a few suggestions: 'Aliens,' 'Hook,' 'The Land Before Time' and 'Jumanji.' Whatever it is, they plan to have it ready for SXSW in March.
Sam and his team are putting in hours upon hours of work. They're performing in empty lots in the freezing cold. Deadlines and electrical issues and wardrobe and prop malfunctions are a constant concern. When asked what keeps him going, Sam shrugs: "I just remember what my dad always told me ... Don't pick your nose."
Words to live by, surely.