Truth is stranger than fiction, or so they say. This story will absolutely confirm that adage as gospel.

The year is 1980. Caddyshack, the all-time classic golf farce starring Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray among others, debuts in late July and receives horrendous critical reviews. However, the film enjoyed massive support from the golf community, along with the rest of the movie-going public, earning nearly $40 million at the U.S. box office — against a paltry production budget of just $6 million. The film’s producers were hoping to break even with the theatrical release and, if the ball bounced their way, maybe earn a small profit when the movie came out on video. What they ended up with was the equivalent of a hole in one.

Unfortunately, long before Caddyshack raked in the dough and earned “cult film” status, with multiple dialogue snippets and scene references becoming part of popular culture, the abysmal reviews sent producer Douglas Kenney into a brutal tailspin. Just a month after the film’s release, Kenney was dead, falling off a cliff in Hawaii. The irony of that dreadful event, according to author/screenwriter Chris Miller, who worked at National Lampoon magazine with Kenney, is that “Kenney was looking for a place to jump from when he slipped and fell.” But here’s where this story takes an even stranger turn…

Two months prior to the release of Caddyshack, another film was hacking the competition to pieces — the gory summer camp slasher, Friday the 13th, which gave birth to one of Hollywood’s most iconic horror film characters: Jason Voorhees. Made for peanuts ($550,000 — virtually unheard of today for a film that enjoys a major theatrical release), it went on to gross just a tick under $60 million at the box office.

Those two films got Hollywood producers thinking: What if we could combine the “captive global audience” of a golf movie with the low-budget, low risk-high reward revenue potential of a slasher film?

Two producers in particular — Thomas Wellman and Ed Chang — began to explore that notion in earnest. First, they reached out to literary agents to see if any such genre combo already existed. Finding not a single on-the-nose golf-slasher screenplay (gee, I wonder why?) in all of Hollywood, they expanded the scope of their search, looking for any sports-themed horror script that could be rewritten to fit the story model they had in mind. Amazingly, they found a few that just might work.

Blood Ice was the story of a star-in-the-making pro hockey rookie who, after being hazed mercilessly by his veteran teammates, suffers an accident that ends his once-promising career. Hell-bent on revenge, he enlists the help of his Canadian fur trapper father to brutalize the teammates who tormented him.

Bean Ball was about a minor league baseball player who was intentionally hit by a pitch after showing up a pitcher with a snarky home run trot on a previous at-bat. The targeted pitch hit the slugger in the head, giving him permanent brain damage, sending him on a killing spree when he recovered. That script was actually optioned twice before going back to the spec market.

And then there was Thrust, the story of a gold-medal-winning Olympic fencer who was poisoned by his best friend and training partner just weeks before he would try to defend his title at the next Olympic games. He slipped into a coma and, when he awoke, his best friend was the new world champion. Enraged by this turn of events, he disappears from the hospital. A year later, friends, family members, and anyone else who might have been involved in the poisoning plot begin dying by grotesque, sword-related injuries from an unknown assailant. Guess who? The story ends with an epic sword fight that sees both men kill each other simultaneously with their final thrusts.

Wellman and Chang optioned all three scripts, then commissioned rewrites of each, paying writers they had previously worked with out of their own pockets to nip and tuck the screenplays into the stories they envisioned. Turns out this was a classic Hollywood case of wasted funds, as none of the three scripts ever materialized into the golf-slasher stories they were hoping for. And so, they finally did what they should have done right from the beginning — hire a talented scribe to craft a new story from scratch that perfectly adhered to their exacting wants.

Three months later, the hired literary gun (who had no previous credits, horror or otherwise) turned in the first draft of The Woods about the golf pro at an exclusive country club who, suffering from a split personality, begins killing its members, usually beating them to death with a wood, and leaving it beside the battered body as a calling card. Supposedly, the script went through multiple rewrites and polishes before it was given the green light. But when the script was shown to studio execs where Wellman and Chang had their deal, it was panned resoundingly; they thought it was a joke. When they learned the producers were serious, rumor has it their first-look deal with the studio was rescinded.

Without a studio to finance the movie, Wellman and Chang had to raise the production money or finance it themselves. According to the story, they reached out to all the major golf equipment brands, including E-Z-GO, America’s preeminent golf cart manufacturer, but everyone turned them down. And when they tried to attach an actor or a director to the project in the hopes that a big (or even just a recognizable) name would loosen investors’ purse strings, the concept’s pitch turned everyone away.

Out of options, Wellman and Chang discussed putting their own funds into the project — a process that included the possibility of mortgaging their homes. This resulted in an argument (Chang was no longer convinced their “business model” was sound, and he was having serious doubts about the quality of the script) that ultimately broke up their friendship and dissolved their film-producing partnership. The pair went their separate ways and eventually left Hollywood. According to the IMDB Pro database, neither Thomas Wellman nor Ed Chang ever produced a feature film that the Hollywood industry was aware of.

The moral of the story: There’s already enough horror on the golf course (wait ‘til you see my game!) that a film isn’t necessary.

Adam Rocke

Adam has dived for pirate treasure in the Caribbean, hunted for poachers in Africa, played poker with cartel kingpins in Juarez, scouted for UFOs in the Sonora Desert, raced in the Baja 1000 and the original Gumball Rally, swam with great white sharks sans cage, jumped out of planes sans parachute, and taken part in Sasquatch safaris, Chupacabra expeditions and many other “crypto-quests” around the world. Or so he says.