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Filmmakers skip good, prefer bad and the ugly

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000

Okay, I'm as glad as anyone that Dade City is back in the movie business with the making of a World War II mystery, part of which is being filmed at an auto parts store there.

But once again, the appeal is slightly dubious.

The makers of Florida City admit they were attracted to Dade City and Cecil and Sons Autos and Parts because of the "small town feel" and the discovery that they can find all the things they need here to make "everything look like 1941."

Oh, great, our appeal is that we're 59 years behind the times.

Florida isn't an unusual site for movies and television shows. Miami Beach is a mecca of hipness, Yankeetown was home to an Elvis Presley movie, and nobody can resist all of that skin on Daytona Beach at Spring Break.

But just about every time the showbiz types show up in these parts, it's because we seem to provide adequate material and setting for a variety of negatives.

In the past 30 years, we have been used as a backdrop for -- among others -- an episode in a horror series, a made-for-television movie about a serial killer, a movie about a turncoat and a movie about a bunch of hillbillies who load up everying they own in their car and camp in the woods. (Elvis had no way of knowing it was a documentary). There is also a movie about an FBI sting that resulted in a gangland murder in which the victim's hands were cut off. And, on the subject of hands, we had a strange movie about a guy born with scissors for hands (and we never did learn how he went to the bathroom).

We also had a biker exploitation film and a Saturday Night Live mention about a Dade City couple, a brother and sister, who had eight children with each other and were called by their kids (and nieces and nephews) "Uncle Dad" and "Aunt Mom."

That was a true one, and they're still at it as far as we know. It was such a proud moment.

Johnny Depp made it here twice, sort of. His movie Donnie Brasco was set, in part, in Holiday, but just to move the story along, the Hollywood types moved Holiday to Miami. Musta been a glamour problem.

Depp was really here for Edward Scissorhands. Director Tim Burton found Blanton scary enough for the castle exteriors and a Land O'Lakes subdivision "paranoid" enough for some other scenes (although he did have to go to Lakeland to find a really tacky mall . . . but then again . . . that was before Gulf View redecorated).

Part of an episode of Night Stalker was filmed in Hernando County back in the 1970s, involving the usual moldy graves and mumbo-jumbo. A movie about Vietnam War turncoat Robert Garwood was shot in part in Citrus County, as was the biker flick, Running Cool.

We also got a piece of the Aileen Wournos story. Her claim to fame was being that great sociological rarity, a female serial killer.

So Elvis Presley's Follow That Dream and a handful of Tarzan movies shot (Citrus County again) in the 1950s, are about as positive as it gets . . . unless you are one of the African extras who were always getting eaten by something unpleasant in all of those movies while the horrified white bwana and his crisply pressed wife looked on.

It would be almost embarrassing to have Dade City, my adopted hometown, singled out as looking like 1941 . . . except that, in a left-handed way, it is a compliment to the people who have been working so hard to drag the city's appearance into the 20th century. Shucks, I've got plumbing that predates 1941.

Apparently the movie deals with an allegedly true story linking a series of Florida disappearances to Franklin D. Roosevelt's frequently supposed knowledge of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor.

Shucks, maybe X-Files could spin something off of that. All you would have to do is throw in a little time travel and buying some Microsoft and Intel stock, as well as Orlando-area real estate pre-Disney . . . the only possible way for anyone as obnoxious as Donald Trump to have gotten as wealthy as he is.

And, yes, I'd take the role.

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