Saturday, September 17, 2011

NBC Dateline reports on Canadian filmmaker committing his own crimes to film them ("Deadly House of Cards" aka "The Devil's Cinema")

Friday night, NBC Dateline aired a strange mystery about a filmmaker in Canada, “Deadly House of Cards”.  Keith Morrison reports.

The story involves a filmmaker in Edmonton, AL, who wrote a script for a murder, then apparently committed the murder and tried to manipulate the justice system to get off so he could make his film. He even tried to plant “urban legends” in advance of his film and possible book.

The film was to be titled “Day Players” or, alternatively, “House of Cards”.

The filmmaker viewed this as an example of “Multiple Angle Psychosis Entertainment” or “MAPLE”. There was a line near the end of his screenplay, “The best way to succeed is to write what you know”.

The case started without a body but with a bizarre script found by police. Eventually the perpetrator led them to the body of Johnny Brian Altinger, who did not know him.

True Crime has more details about the case of Mark Andrew Twitchell here

The idea that fiction could anticipate reality has long been an occasional problem in the courts, all the way back to Bindrim v. Mitchell in California in 1979.  I wrote about this on my “BillBoushka” blog July 27, 2007 with my own situation when I was a substitute teacher.

Twitchell may well have intended "sequels" as a serial. This was going to become another "Silence of the Lambs".

Here is the Wikipedia attribution link for West Edmonton Mall, which I had  visited in Sept. 1983. 

Here is additional coverage after re-airing on July 19, 2014:  This episode seems longer and more complete.  Given the importance of the "fact v. fiction" problem in my own life  (when I was substitute teaching) I'm a little baffled that I didn't recall seeing this episode before when I rewrote the notes below, as I didn't find the account above until later.  Perhaps I missed part of it the first time, or more details have been added. 

NBC Dateline re-aired, as a “Saturday Night Mystery”. (from Sept. 2011) an episode “Deadly House of Cards”, about the case of a filmmaker turned murderer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 2008. There’s a typical account by Steve Lillebuen, here. Lillebuen, who appears in the episode, authored “The Devil’s Cinema: The Untold Story Behind Mark Twitchell’s Kill Room” (McClelland and Stewart, 2013, link). The killer was (as just noted) Mark Twitchell, a local horror filmmaker making a pilot horror film “House of Cards” (no relation to the Netflix series) with colleague John Altinger, who disappeared mysteriously.  Police gradually became suspicious of Twitchell.even though he had no criminal record. 

At the trial, Twitchell offered a bizarre defense. He was trying to create an urban legend of a murder so when the movie came out, it would sell.  But in his own mind, he wanted to know he had committed the murder.  The Edmonton police chief said that they caught a serial killer on his first kill.  The horror movie was supposed to mix the genres of “Friday the 13th” with Dexter.  

Part of the forensics included a bizarre “manifesto” that had been deleted but was recovered on a hard drive by police.  The manifesto seemed related to a screenplay treatment and actual screenplay Final Draft text, which may have been part of the same document.   The manifesto outlined the mental sensations of going through with the compulsive crimes.   (It’s quite different in tone from Elliot Rodger’s;  there is not claim of injustice or entitlement.)  Another copy was found in Twitchell’s home with more missing pieces. (It's likely that thus second copy actually included the screenplay script; it wasn't totally clear from the narrative/) It was hard to understand why it took CSI so long to recover some key evidence (both physical evidence in terms of tools, as well as the screenplay or manifesto)  from his home, however.

Although this happened in Edmonton, it could make for an episode of Gregory Smith’s series “Rookie Blue” on ABC, set in Toronto.

The documentary (more like a real film than a typical Dateline episode, although Keith Morrison did the interviewing) did not get into the differences between Canadian and American criminal court systems. 

The case seems important because it illustrates the dangers of violent fantasy or media for someone who has a serious personality disorder (or "mental illness").  I presume that Twitchell got life without parole.
I think there was a similar case with a filmmaker in Pennsylvania, near Hazelton, around 2005.  In Richmond, VA in 1989, police broke up a "snuff" porn film ring before a murder occurred.  There was a "fact or fiction" documentary in 1998 "The Last Broadcast" about merging reality with fantasy in film (concerning the New Jersey Pine Barrens devil and some deaths).

Note the Wikipedia attribution link of Edmonton race site.  I visited the city (and Calgary and Banff) in September 1983.   You can't see the Rockies from Edmonton;  they are just out of sight.  The climate is not as cold as you would think.
I'll consider ordering the book by Lilibeun as soon as I have a little more time to read it.  

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