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Will 'Peaks Freaks' Light Up 'Fire' at the Box Office?


Laura Palmer--the only dead girl ever to grace the cover of Esquire magazine while swathed in a plastic tarp--comes alive again today on movie screens across the country. Whether the "Twin Peaks" mania that once propelled her macabre fame can be revived as easily just a year after the innovative TV series died on ABC, is another matter entirely.

The buzz among industry insiders who have seen David Lynch's prequel, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," is anything but harmonious: "a fascinating mess" is how one production executive described the film; "an unqualified disaster" was the majority opinion among other Hollywood executives and publicists. When the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the audience booed.

New Line Cinema, which paid $6 million for the North American distribution rights without ever seeing the film, has kept the movie from critics here in the United States, apparently hoping that the anticipation and curiosity of all those who religiously watched and analyzed "Twin Peaks" as a TV series will make for a boffo first weekend at the box office before the expected bad reviews scare anyone off.

Sandra Ruch, New Line's president of marketing, denied that the company is afraid of negative reviews. She insisted that New Line has opened films without screening them for critics before--most recently the last installment in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series--and as a small independent film company battling the well-heeled major studios, New Line is forced to try unorthodox strategies to create a "must-see, event-like atmosphere" for its films. Ruch added that New Line has maintained a tight lid on the film as a part of a marketing plan designed to heighten the "mystery, mystique and element of surprise" that drove the "Twin Peaks" phenomenon in the first place.

"Peaks freaks," meanwhile, don't seem to give a hoot about marketing strategies or disgruntled movie critics. A survey of about 10 devoted fans of David Lynch and his TV show revealed that come Monday, they all will have plunked down their money for the chance to again enter that bizarre, murderous small-town forest primeval. Some of them twice.

"I've been counting the days for almost a month now," said Camile Brown of Long Beach, who added that she will see the film the minute she gets off work this evening. "I don't care very much about the bad publicity. I have every episode of the TV show on tape. I've cut and saved all the magazine articles. David Lynch's work shows the dark, mysterious side of life--subject matter that Hollywood is very reluctant to touch on, and even if it's not for everyone, I'm going to be there."

"No word of mouth is going to stop us from going," said Mike Faneuff, who plans to attend the film this weekend with his wife, Jennifer. "We are both big enough fans of David Lynch and the show--it became a weekly obsession--that I think we both want to see what characters--alive or dead--made it to the film and what Lynch may have put in the film that was unacceptable or inappropriate for TV."

Jennifer Butler, a 23-year-old college student, already paid more than $1,000 earlier this month to fly from her home near Baltimore to attend a "Twin Peaks" festival in Snoqualmie, Wash., the town in which "Twin Peaks" was filmed. A few hundred other "Peaks" groupies showed up to dine with the stars of the film, sleep in the lodge made famous in the TV series and watch the American premiere of "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me."

"I loved it, and I think if you are a Lynch fan, you'll love the movie," said Butler, who plans to see the film again tonight with her equally "Twin Peaks" obsessed 13-year-old sister. For the last episode of the TV series in June of last year, Butler and her sister flew here from Baltimore to attend a costume/grand farewell party at the Sportsman's Lodge in Encino. Butler dressed up as Albert Rosenfeld, the show's uppity FBI agent played by Miguel Ferrer; her sister came as "Eraserhead," the weird title character of Lynch's first film.

But even Butler cautioned that she doubted if the new film "will be what they call a hit. If you've never seen 'Twin Peaks' before, you might like the movie, but you won't love it. If you don't know who all these characters are before you go in, you probably will think the whole thing is pretty strange."

Critics who saw the film in Cannes echoed those sentiments. Variety, an industry trade daily, said: "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" is like an R-rated episode of the show that embodies both the pros and cons of the intriguingly offbeat program. A detailing of the final week in the life of the quasi-lengendary Laura Palmer, with plenty of digressions and artistic doodlings, as well as the occasional striking sequence, the picture will inevitably attract die-hard fans, but will be too weird and not very meaningful to general audiences."

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