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Koontz Thriller Books Head for Small Screen

June 30, 1989|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer and

Dean Koontz fans who can't get enough of the prolific "Master of Menace" are in for a treat.

The best-selling author, who pens his suspense thrillers at his home in the hills east of Orange, will have four of his novels produced by Warner Bros. for a series of specials on CBS television: "The Face of Fear," "Eyes of Darkness," "Night Chills" and "Darkfall."

The first two shows in the series, which may be released under the banner of "Dean Koontz Suspense Theater," are expected to air next winter. In addition, Warner Bros. also has optioned four other Koontz novels, including the best-selling "Lightning" and "Strangers." The Warner-CBS deal won't be Koontz's first foray into Hollywood. Three of his thrillers already have been turned into movies--to mixed reviews from the author:

"The Demon Seed," a 1977 cult favorite starring Julie Christie, ("I thought that was generally a good piece of work"), "Shattered" ("It was made as a French film and a really terrible one") and "Watchers" ("one of the biggest piles of reeking celluloid ever foisted on the public").

Koontz, however, is enthusiastic about his Warner-CBS deal.

"In this case, we've got a much better shot at a quality production," he said, citing his working relationship with Warner Bros. producer Lee Rich.

Another plus: Koontz is serving as executive producer on the series and is not only overseeing the writing of all four scripts but is writing the teleplay for "Darkfall."

"At this point, all I really care about is that we deliver some really tight suspense--the kind of suspense that keeps you biting your nails," he said.

Koontz, whose latest suspense novel, "Midnight," spent three weeks as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, is now completing his next suspense thriller for Putnam, "The Bad Place." He describes it as "a Southern California detective story, a Nick and Nora Charles for the 1990s, with elements of the fantastic." While it's not a mystery in the vein of Dashiel Hammett's "Thin Man" series," Koontz said, it is "very mysterious." "It's scary and just that weird mix I write," he added.

When his work on "The Bad Place" is completed in about a week, he will begin writing the script for "Darkfall."

Script writing is nothing new to Koontz. He spent a year in the early '80s writing screenplays, selling one to the "CHiPs" TV series. But it was not an enjoyable experience.

"I didn't like the collaborative aspect of writing screenplays, and that was largely because, at that time, the people I was working with were often not the most creative people," he said. "I was a far less well-known writer, so my opportunities for working with people like Lee Rich were nonexistent, and it was very frustrating and creatively limiting."

"Subsequently," he added, "I found with this deal with Warner and CBS, the big thing that makes it worth it is who you work with. I'm working with people who are creative and flexible and out for a good production. I can't emphasis enough what a difference that makes."

Koontz doesn't anticipate having any difficulties in adapting "Darkfall" for television.

Like the other three novels in the Warner-CBS package, "Darkfall" is one of his shorter novels, with fewer subplots to contend with. He will, however, have to make several concessions for television. The novel takes place in a blizzard in New York, which would be too expensive to film. "So," he said, "the blizzard buys it--that's gone." The novel also deals with voodoo, "which is a lot easier to make scary in a book than on the screen," he said. "Voodoo tends to look silly in a movie." He said he will drop the voodoo and "go for a different source for the supernatural."

In separate deals, three other Koontz novels--"Phantoms" "Whispers" and "The Servants of Twilight"--have been sold to Hollywood and are pending either production or development as feature films. Koontz said he has also received several offers to turn "Midnight" into a movie but so far has rejected them.

Koontz said he and his film agent, Patricia Karlan, have "mutually reached a decision that we just won't allow anybody to have a book anymore if we don't respect them creatively."

Westercon: Award-winning author John Varley will be guest of honor at the 42nd annual West Coast Science Fantasy Conference (Westercon) Saturday through Tuesday at the Anaheim Marriott. Convention hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $60 for all four days; daily rates will also be available.

Guest appearances will be made by authors David Brin, Gregory Benford, Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Tim Powers; artists Kelly Freas, Rick Sternbach and Corey Wolfe. Also, Frank Marshall (producer of the "Indiana Jones" movies) and Steve Gerber (creator of "Howard the Duck"). For more information, call (213) 837-4708.

Book Signings: Mike Madigan will sign copies of "The Twisted Badge" from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Waldenbooks in the Mall of Orange. . . . E.C. Ward will sign copies of her Orange County-set mystery, "A Nice Little Beach Town," from 1 to 3 p.m. July 8 at Book Carnival, 870 N. Tustin Ave., Orange.

Mystery Writers: Upchurch-Brown Booksellers in Laguna Beach will host a Mystery Writers Night at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the bookstore, 384 Forest Ave. Among the guest authors who will speak and do readings are Elizabeth George, Robert Ray, and Ann and Evan Maxwell.

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