Memoir: The Island of Nicolas Cage

A true tale of the strangest (and best) celebrity encounter I’ve ever had

When I look back on my days as editor-in-chief of the mighty FANGORIA, I’m overwhelmed with anecdotes; true tales of mad adventures on the fringes of movie culture. Very often, those adventures took me from the fringe into the mainstream, or maybe sometimes it was the mainstream coming out to visit me. Very often we met in the middle.

In the case of my connection to the inimitable Nicolas Cage, we collided in the Bahamas over a slimy snail penis.

Buckle in, reader. This yarn’s a doozy.

Now, I was always a Nicolas Cage fan, an obsessive before it was cool to be one. The first time my mom and I saw PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, when the world – my mom included – was clicking its tongues and saying how Cage’s oddball mannerisms and nasally voice ruined the picture, I was like, no way. Cage is what MADE the picture. Sure, Francis Coppola’s sweet romantic fantasy shines because of its central vibrant Kathleen Turner performance, but you REMEMBER it because of Cage mangling THE BEATLES’ “She Loves You” (“she loves you, ooooh ooooh ooooh…).  You remember his lazy-lidded stare, his wounded hound dog face and his sudden bursts of manic, spastic, over-boiled-cauldron dramatics. Soon after that, we saw RAISING ARIZONA and we loved that too, but here, the universe the Coen Brothers create around Cage is just as wild, if not wilder, so he sorta blends into it. It feels organic. No, it was in films like PEGGY SUE, MOONSTRUCK, FIREBIRDS and IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU that Cage really stuck to me, movies where his alien charisma is injected into the natural world, turning a “normal” entertainment into a sort of divine mutation.

Later, I lived for the “showcase” Cage movies, those signature slabs of cinema that were sort of built AROUND his talents. Like David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART or, perhaps most astonishingly, Robert Bierman’s VAMPIRE’S KISS, perhaps the ultimate Nic Cage joint. Cage was and remains my favorite living performer and as a horror fan, I always felt like he was channelling some sort of expressionist, silent-shocker stylization into his work. Later on, he would come right out and say that he was doing just that, that even his single-handed lovelorn baker in MOONSTRUCK was a riff on the frantically gesturing mad scientist in Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS.

My first encounter with Nic came after a screening of Werner Herzog’s brilliant BAD LIEUTENTANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS at the Toronto International Film Festival. I stumbled into a small press scrum at some fancy hotel and while other critics were asking him about NATIONAL TREASURE and CON AIR, I stood up and asked him about VAMPIRE’S KISS. He lit up. I asked him to say my favorite line, “Am I getting THROUGH to you, ALVA?!”. He did. I recorded that. Email me if you want to hear it.

Later, we connected to discuss Alex Proyas’ ludicrously underrated sci-fi chiller KNOWING for a Toronto Star feature I was writing and then, a bit later, when Disney released their bonkers THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE movie, I locked him down on the phone for a chat. I had recently taken over FANGORIA and had developed a friendship with his equally brilliant brother, the filmmaker Christopher Coppola. Christopher was then writing for me in fact and he and I would spend many hours on the phone discussing our love of horror movies and transgressive, experimental film. I told Nic about this and, at the time, he and his brother were having some family issues and weren’t speaking. But when he found out I was the “FANGORIA guy” and that his big bro was scribbling for us, he went crazy, wanting to talk about FANGORIA and how much the two of them loved it in the ‘80s and how important it was to them.

Soon after that, word got ‘round that Nic was making another GHOST RIDER movie. I liked the first one. Didn’t love it. But I liked it and though Cage was fantastic in it, especially his improvised additions to the Blaze character, like his fondness for jellybeans and monkey-centric television shows. And as a kid, I LOVED the comics and they were certainly part of my entry point into horror and dark fantasy culture. Since my mission was to almost always write every single FANGORIA cover story myself and make it PERSONAL, I thought, why not use this GHOST RIDER sequel as my hook to do a career retrospective cover story on the power and brilliance of Nicolas Cage? So I reached out to Sony, they reached out to Nic. Within a day, Nic fired back and said not only would he do this cover story interview…but he wanted to do it at his house. Live. In person.

I stopped. Breathed. Considered that Nicolas Cage asked me to come to his house. And said as calmly as I could…yes.

But then I found out that Cage was spending the season at his home on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. And I kind of lost my mind.

Now, back in those days, the former FANGORIA publisher was a bit, well, frugal. He didn’t like to spend money. In fact, his lack of interest spending money helped lead to the slow, inevitable disintegration of the magazine back in 2015, three years before Cinestate first controversially revived it. So getting dough for a quickie in-and-out to the tropics for a work assignment just wasn’t in the cards. So I ponied up for the ticket out-of-pocket and booked myself into the cheapest-ass hotel I could find. After all, I was only going to be resting my head a few hours before sailing off to the Isle of Cage, who cares how grungy my accommodations were? And a flophouse on the beach is better than staying in some dump motel in South Central LA (which I’ve done and almost got shot to death at and thus don’t recommend it).

So I got on that plane late on a Monday evening in Toronto and arrived in the Bahamas at around 10-ish. I hailed a cab to my joint in Junkanoo (key word, “Junk”) and was met in the lobby by three gentleman in ancient suits that were too big for them and that had presumably belonged to generations of heavier-set porters before them. I announced my presence; they checked their archaic computer, having a whispered pow-wow of great intensity, before giving me a key-card for room 803. They told me the elevator was broken, so up the stairs I went. I slid my card into the slot of 803’s door and was met by a naked man on a bed who gasped in surprise when I entered and, after a quick apology, I exited.

Then I went back down the stairs to the lobby and explained what had happened. The trio once more had a whispered huddle around the glowing old-school screen before handing me back the EXACT SAME CARD and saying I was actually in room 804. I wasn’t mad. It was too amusing and cinematic.

So back up I went, eight floors, to the room next door to my regrettably naked friend. Room 804 was happily empty save for the army of bugs that scattered when I turned on the lights. Still, my view of the beach and ocean at night was divine. I was on an adventure, after all. So I went to sleep. In my clothes. And rested up for my big day.

When I woke the next morning, I found I could not open my left eye. It was sealed completely shut, a yellowish crust locking the lids down tight. I stumbled half-blind to the bathroom and turned on the light and more bugs scattered. I looked in the mirror and I was a cyclops. I jumped in the shower and let hot water blast my face until my lids came unglued, looked back in the mirror and saw that my poor tormented eye was completely blood red, not a trace of white in sight.

I realized I would need to find a pharmacy before I met Nic to fix this, lest I look like patient-fucking-zero. Now, Nic’s people had given me a sort of secret map. I was to make my way to the far end of the island, to the docks. I was to look for a specific dock where I would march to the end of it and be met by a boat that would whisk me away to Paradise Island, where Cage and his son and then-wife lived. So I put on my aviators, checked out of the roach hotel and grabbed a cab to what was undoubtedly the sketchiest area of the entire Bahamas. Each and every business was locked down, barred-up completely. To buy a bottle of water, I had to rattle the bars on a smoke shop door before an old guy unlocked it and let me in. I found a pharmacy and had to ring a bell, answer an intercom and be buzzed in, before the doors locked behind me. That’s just the way it is there. The lovely pharmacist looked at my eye and said “ewww” which is never a good thing to hear from a pharmacist. She said I had a serious infection and no eye drops would treat it and then she sent me on my way. Back on went the sunglasses and since I could still see out of my blood-blasted orb, I sucked it up and went onward to meet my destiny.

I walked for half an hour through the ports and docks and tiny roads. Soon, I forgot just how impoverished and shabby the area was and instead felt very relaxed, very much part of the world I was visiting. This was completely removed from the tourist-trap zones, I was in the wild. And I liked it. Finally I found the “secret” dock I was told to go to and I walked down to the end as instructed and waited. Soon a speedboat came roaring in and docked. A smiling sailor man with a heavy island accent stepped out.

Sailor: Get in.

Me: Are you sure you’re here to get me?

Sailor: Yeah, man.

Me: Well…who are you taking me to see?

Sailor: My boss.

Me: Who’s your boss?

Sailor: Nee-co-las Caaaaage.

That was enough for me. I got in the boat and we were off. The sun was hot, the wind smelled sweet. And then suddenly, we approached an island and the closer we got to the dock, I could see a figure, a man. He was wearing a white linen suit and had a scruffy beard. And he was waving. It was in Nicolas Cage.

Cage: Hellooooooo!

Suddenly it hit me hard. I was in a waking dream. I had just followed secret instructions to get to The Island of Nicolas Cage. It was like The Island of Dr. Moreau, but without the science. I was soon to discover it was almost as mad, though…

I stepped from the boat and Cage gave me a hearty handshake.

“Welcome to the Bahamas!”, he beamed.

“Great to be here!” I shot back. And it was.

We walked the long path to his house, a beautiful, surprisingly modest bungalow nestled in a maze of palm trees. He led me to his courtyard and there, on the table were piles and piles of Hammer horror movies on DVD. Stacks of them. He had been on a kick recently, to absorb as many Terrence Fisher films as he could because he had just seen FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL and was obsessed by it. His housekeeper came out with a bottle of wine and two glasses and Nic filled them both. We toasted to Fisher and then spent the next 20 minutes just talking about British horror and the ways in which one could approach a remake of MONSTER FROM HELL, something he dreamed of doing. Not any other of the Hammer Frankenstein films. Just that one. Then, his charming cook brought out the first of many delicious dishes she had prepared for us. We bagan to eat. And continued to drink.

Cage: You know, I brought out all these movies in honor of you. In honor of FANGORIA.

Me: I’m touched!

Cage: I also arranged something else special for you…

Suddenly, he nodded to one of his staff and the man went out and came back with a gigantic sea snail. Another man showed up, armed with an axe. Nic explained that today, we would be hacking this giant snail – a conch – to bits and that we would then be eating its penis.

Me: Eating its penis? You’re joking.

Cage: No, I’m not joking. This is the island’s main food source and the penis is a kind of Viagra.

Me: Ummm…

Cage: I’m doing this in honor of FANGORIA!

Me: What happens when Entertainment Weekly comes to visit?

Cage: They’re not invited!

The men started chopping away at the poor creature. I started filming it. It was like something out of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (look it up; the clip is still on YouTube, I think).

After it was done, the men pulled out a huge, slimy thing. The creature’s member.

Me: Uh, Nic…I’m not sure I want to eat that!

He considered this.

Cage: Yeah…yeah. It looks a little dark, doesn’t it. Okay…take it away guys, take it away. We won’t be eating it today.

Saved by the apparently putrid state of the conch’s dick, we continued our lunch and another bottle of wine was brought out. We talked about his life growing up. His brother. His parents. His all-consuming obsession with horror movies, the occult and comic books. I dug deep into undervalued Nicolas Cage films like the Italian thriller A TIME TO KILL and we talked at length about projects he had prepped with Roger Corman and his time working with Herzog. He even told me a story of meeting Klaus Kinski when he was a kid hanging out with his uncle Francis. We laughed, swapped stories of fandom, got into the guts of the GHOST RIDER movies and then, suddenly, a massive, 3 foot-tall rooster stalked onto the courtyard.

Me: Jesus! What the hell is THAT!

Cage: Oh! Yeah, that happens sometimes.

Me: Is that a rooster?

Cage: Yes it is.

Me: First you try to make me eat a dick, now there’s a cock…what’s going on here Nic?!

Cage: Oh God, you’re probably going to print something like that.

He was right. I did. Now, I’ve printed it twice.

Cage: Hey, do you want to try something?

Me: What?

Cage: Obeah.

Me: Obeah?

Cage: Yeah, you know Obeah?

Me: You mean like…voodoo?

Cage: Yeah, something like that.

It was all too much. Too much! I looked at his face. He seemed serious. I told him I didn’t really want to cut a bird’s throat today and bathe in its blood and he seemed to agree that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea. He called for his men to take the beast away and we slid back into our chat.

But after that…how could I even try to pretend any of this was normal? I was a bit drunk, sitting on an island with Nicolas Cage, narrowly escaping eating snail schlongs and sacrificing chickens while riffing on horror movies and then, eventually, doing impersonations of Cage for Cage, the likes of which he approved of. It was surreal. It was insane.

And, like all amazing, surreal, insane things, it ended.

Eventually, after the wine stopped coming and the desert was served, I got up and left. We shook hands and he promised he would stay in touch. He had a Basil Gogos painting of himself that he wanted included in the magazine, which I of course agreed on and he was going to get someone photograph it in his LA home for me. I jumped back in the boat and went directly to the airport. As I waited for my plane, my phone rang. It was Nic. He was worried that perhaps he had been “too weird”. I assured him that he had been just weird enough and that I had a great time.

When I came back to reality, after a couple of days, my land line (remember those?) rang and my oldest son answered. It was Nic. So this was to be my life, I thought. Nicolas Cage is my new best friend. I can live with this.

When GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE was about to be released, Nic, directors Nevaldine and Taylor and co-star Idris Elba were to be in New York to promote the film. I asked Nic if he wanted to have a FANGORIA/ GHOST RIDER party and to my delight, he said yes. I booked the now defunct Manhattan horror bar Times Scare (which itself was built on the bones of the notorious porn paradise “Skin World”) for the soirée and invited only 200 lucky FANGO readers. Cage showed up in full voodoo attire and we had a blast, the two of us running a GHOST RIDER screaming contest with the fans which he and I judged. It was insane. And I know the lucky people who made it to that event have never forgotten it.

Soon after, the movie opened and was promptly ripped-to-shreds by the critics and ignored by audiences. I put Nic on the cover of FANGORIA and called him a “Master of Horror”, which I knew him to be. Those who got it, got it. But mostly, I found myself personally attacked for that cover by people who did NOT get it. If they had actually read the 2-part interview, they would have learned the ways in which Cage had long been bringing horror to each and every role he played. But you know how it is. The assholes never actually read anything. They just jump on the first thing they see and then burn the house down. Recently, I was told the New Beverly Cinema hands out photocopies of that interview whenever they screen THE WICKER MAN.

Cage and I were also planning a FANGORIA movie together, but after the utter failure of GHOST RIDER 2, he called me to say that he was stepping back from all horror-related projects with the aim to rebuild his career. I enjoyed watching him do that in a very unique way, slowly re-entering Hollywood with voice work in big animated features (like THE CROODS) while re-inventing himself as an “above the credits” star of a seemingly never-ending, hugely successful series of direct-to-video action and thriller movies. Now, he’s sort of a genre unto himself.

I’ve watched with pride to see him star in celebrated modern horror movies like MANDY, MOM AND DAD and COLOR OUT OF SPACE and am cynically amused that the very same frogmouths who ripped him apart and lambasted me for calling him a master of horror, are now, y’know, acknowledging him as a master of horror…

I haven’t seen or spoken to Nic in many years. But I love him. I’m not just a fan of his work, I’m a fan of the way he lives his life, the choices he makes. His unpredictability. But even now, the mainstream doesn’t really “get” him. It’s fashionable to love Nicolas Cage in an ironic way these days, with his face blasted on pillows and pajamas and hipster audiences loving to laugh at not with his energy on-screen (I was overjoyed to see Nic recently own that odd new legacy with the masterful meta comedy thriller THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT). And while I’m no fan of loving anything or anyone with irony, I am pleased that Nicolas Cage, the King of Cage Island, the killer of snails and disciple of Terrence Fisher, is alive, thriving and evolving and still relentlessly looking to explore and invent and re-invent the very essence of what it means to be an actor. There’s no one else like him. There will never, ever be anyone else like him. And that’s that.

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