With music from artist such as ELO, The Emotions, Sniff ‘n’ the Tears and War, the Boogie Nights soundtrack represents a curious window of time, late 70s through early 80s, when everybody was doing it in every conceivable way; when cocaine was thought to be relatively harmless despite enormous evidence to the contrary and, yet, there was still a pervasive, wide-eyed innocence that could be exploited to the max. These are the times of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), a well endowed porn star straight out of high school who, through a series of mishaps, winds up on the couch of a coke crazed millionaire in bikini briefs and a wide open silk robe. Now this guy loves (and I do mean loves) mix tapes. While he hits the freebase pipe, his mix tape blares–dun dun dun–Night Ranger’s Sister Christian. As the crescendo builds he air drums manically, passionately. Normally this would just be lame, but here it is unsettling because Dirk and a couple of his buddies have conspired to sell the dude a large plastic bag of baking powder despite his–Rahad’s his name (Alfred Molina)–bandying about a huge revolver, albeit playfully. Even more disturbing, a weird teenage boy unceremoniously lights firecrackers and then throws them onto the carpeted floor, over and over again. Those of us who partied hearty in the 80s pretty much agree–no good can come of this.
I wrote the above passage in a post back in February that highlighted some of my favorite films that utilized the needle drop to perfection in the soundtrack. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights was number one on my list.
The description is a lighthearted capsule of a harrowing scene in the movie. I remember well the first time I saw it. I was very uncomfortable. Urgency and dread pushed me to the edge of my seat.
My reaction is a testament to powerful movie direction, yes, but that is not all. I recognized a similar turn of events from an article that I had read in the Rolling Stone back in the day that undoubtedly inspired the Anderson scripted film. As good as Boogie Nights is, the article is even better because there is more at stake than a dysfunctional porn family’s adventurous stab at redemption through a facade of normalcy.
It’s about porn actor John Holmes and his involvement in the Wonderland murders. I had heard of John Holmes but I knew nothing of his backstory or the horrific murders that that rocked Hollywood in 1981.
Trust me, there is zero normalcy here. No naivete. No boyish charm or good looks either. (Look no further than the above feature image of John Holmes. Point taken? Good.)
The following is an excerpt from Mike Sagers article for the 1989 May issue of Rolling Stone magazine entitled The Devil and John Holmes. I’m including the link to the article. I urge you to read it in entirety. It is a riveting account of the narcissistic downward spiral of a man that destroyed or, at the very least, severely damaged everyone that came within its wake.
The Devil and John Holmes was written at a time when Rolling Stone was a creditable, viable force in print media, some twenty-five years before it published the disastrous and erroneous Rape on Campus article that decimated its credibility. It was a good magazine back in the day.
John Holmes was a porn star. Eddie Nash was a drug lord. Their association ended in one of the most brutal mass murders in the history of Los Angeles.
…Holmes was into Nash for a small fortune. Now Holmes owed the Wonderland Gang, too.
“I leave the sliding door unlocked—this one,” said Holmes, pointing to the floor plan, “here, in the back. The guest bedroom. Then I leave. I come back to Wonderland. Tell you it’s all clear. Then you guys take him down.”
And so the plan was fixed. At midnight, the Wonderland people scraped together $400, and Holmes, whose pretense for entrance would be buying drugs, drove off to Nash’s house.
As night stretched into morning, Holmes had an attack of conscience, a glimmer of an understanding that knocking over Eddie Nash might lead to a lot of trouble. Nash knew the Wonderland people. He’d never met them, but he had, through Holmes, given them a $1000 loan. Holmes muttered something to Nash about the gang. He wasn’t specific, but it really didn’t matter anyway. Nash hadn’t slept in ten days. He hardly knew what Holmes was saying. And, as Holmes’s supply of coke dwindled, his conscience was overruled by his jones. He excused himself, left the room and unlocked the sliding door.
Arriving back at Wonderland just after dawn, Holmes announced the coast was clear.
Tracy McCourt turned right onto Dona Lola Place, drove 100 yards into the cul-de-sac, parked, cut the engine. DeVerell, Lind and Launius pushed aside the chain-link gate to Nash’s driveway and filed around to the right, behind the house. The sliding glass door was still open, as Holmes had said.
“Freeze!” yelled Lind. “You’re under arrest! Police officers!”
DeVerell and Launius covered Nash. Lind made his way behind the shirtless, blubbery bodyguard. He shifted the badge to his gun hand, his left, then took out the handcuffs with his right. As he fumbled with his paraphernalia and Diles’s thick wrists, Launius came over to help, tripped, bumped into Lind’s arm. The gun discharged. Diles was burned with the muzzle flash. The right side of his back, over his kidney, began to bleed. Nash fell to his knees. He begged to say a prayer for his children.
Lind rolled Diles onto his stomach, handcuffed him, threw a Persian rug over his head. Then he joined the others in Nash’s bedroom. Everything was where Holmes had said. Lind put his .357 to Nash’s head, asked for the combination to the floor safe. Nash refused. Then Launius forced the stainless-steel barrel of his gun into Nash’s mouth.
In the floor safe were two large Zip-lock bags full of cocaine. In a gray attaché case were cash and jewelry. In a petty-cash box were several thousand Quaaludes and more cocaine. On the dresser was a laboratory vial about three-quarters full of heroin.
“Where’s the rest of the heroin?” he demanded. “I don’t know,” said Diles. Launius pulled a knife slowly across Diles’s neck. Blood flowed. Suddenly, outside, Tracy McCourt began honking the horn of the getaway car.
“Forget it!” said Lind. “Let’s get out of here.”
Gregory DeWitt Diles, six feet four, 300 pounds, barged through the front door of the house on Dona Lola, dragging John Holmes by the scruff of his neck.
“In here,” said Nash.
Diles shoved, Holmes skidded across the carpet. Nash shut the bedroom door.
Eddie Nash was fifty-two years old, six feet tall, gray haired, strong and wiry. His family had owned several hotels before the creation of Israel in 1948. Nash told a friend that he missed the moonlight and the olive trees of his homeland, that he’d spent time in a refugee camp, that his brother-in-law was shot by Israeli soldiers.
The youngest son in the family, Nash arrived in America with seven dollars in his pocket. He worked for others for a time, then opened Beef’s Chuck, a hotdog stand on Hollywood Boulevard. Nash was on the job day and night, wearing a tall white chef ’s hat, waiting tables himself.
By the mid-Seventies, Ed Nasrallah had become Eddie Nash and had amassed a fortune. He was also a drug dealer and a heavy user. His drug of choice was freebase; sometimes he mixed the crack with heroin. Nash was missing part of his sinus cavity, one of his lungs had been removed, and he had a steel plate in his head.
For the last several years, Nash had rarely left his white-stone ranch house in Studio City. At home, Nash walked around in a maroon silk robe, or sometimes in bikini briefs, his body covered with a thin sheen of sweat. His voice had a smooth Arabic lilt. “You want to play baseball?” he’d ask his ever-present guests, lighting his butane torch, offering a hit off his pipe.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 1st, 1981, Eddie Nash was again consuming drugs at an alarming rate. He’d been ripped off for eight pounds of cocaine, but the Wonderland Gang hadn’t found his private stash, and now he was bubbling his glass pipe furiously.
Diles smacked Holmes, threw him across the room, shoved him against a wall. “How could you do this thing!” Eddie Nash screamed. Diles hit him again. “I trusted you! I gave you everything!”
Holmes was crumpled on the floor. Diles leveled a gun at his head. Nash was leafing through a little black book that Diles had taken from Holmes’s pocket.
“Who’s this in Ohio?” Nash screamed. “Who’s Mary? Your mother? Who’s this in Montana? . . . Is this your brother? . . . I will kill your whole family! All of them! Go back to that house! Get my property! Bring me their eyeballs! Bring me their eyeballs in a bag, and I will forget what you have done to me! Go!”
This is quite an epic post and a great one at that 🙂 Nevertheless, it is also a very tragic one too. Not only was John Holmes family life bad, but even when he was living it up, he “severely damaged everyone that came within its wake” as you so eloquently put it. Ironically or not, he also destroyed himself in the process. The in-depth article you linked to helped give this reader even more insight into who Holmes was in his entire life personally and professionally. Not only are you intelligent about films as I am, but you are also equally knowledgeable about these true crime stories too. Speaking of which (though you are probably aware of it by now), did you know that the Norman Bates character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, is said to be based (or at least loosely) on that of Ed Gein? Interesting. Anyway, keep up the great work as always and I just love your site 🙂
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Thank you John. Your kind words mean a lot. Yes, I did know that about the Norman Bates character. Another interesting tidbit about that character–Anthony Perkins based his interpretation of Norman Bates on the Dennis Weaver handyman character in Touch of Evil. Glad you enjoyed Mike Sager’s article. He’s a great writer.
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Wow I had no idea that Perkins also based some of his mannerism on Dennis Weaver’s character in Touch of Evil. Interesting 🙂
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Fabulous post, Pam. As John points out, it’s a tragic story, and one that seemed to continually spiral out of control until his death.
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Thanks John. It really packed a wallop for me back in the day. The good thing is that his teenage lover was able to pull out of the spiral. She is now an advocate against domestic violence and substance abuse and she’s earned several degrees. So that’s life affirming. Plus, she took in Holmes’ ex wife Sharon when she was down and out. Their bond and friendship continued even after all those years and all that horror.
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Considering how you have covered true crime stories on this site in various blog entries, what are your thoughts on the 1982 Twilight Zone Tragedy. I know it does not really count as a story about a serial killer, but the grisly deaths of actor Vic Morrow and those two children on the set prompt authorities to charge the director of that one film’s segment (John Landis) and a few others with involuntary manslaughter which they were eventually found not guilty. The freak helicopter accident footage is on youtube and it is really disturbing and sad.
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Terribly tragic. I remember when it happened. I like John Landis as a director; I’m a fan of most of his movies but, I do believe he was negligent in the deaths of the children and Vic Marrow. I think he should have been charged with negligent homicide instead of involuntary homicide; if that were the case I think he would have been convicted. Prosecutors often over-charge and that ploy often works, forcing the defendant to cop a plea, but with affluent clients it’s not such a sure deal.
Did you know that Jennifer Jason-Leigh is Vic Marrow’s daughter? I didn’t until just recently.
I hope you don’t think I’m some kind of freak due to my interest in crime. I don’t have a serial killer fetish. I just have a taste for the macabre and I find crime dramas to be the most compelling.
Just posted a piece on Midnight Cowboy. What do you think of it?
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No you are not a freak at all. I actually am interested in true crime stories as well. I am also riveted by your interpretation of them too. I also agree with you about John Landis. I mean, I think he could have accomplished the same effect with trick photography or maybe even using a studio location. Their was no reason for him and I believe his producer George Folsey (or Fosley) to hire those kids illegally. I am also aware that Jennifer Jason-Leigh was Vic Morrow’s daughter though the two were estranged at the time since her mother divorced him I believe in the late 60’s. For more about The Twilight Zone, their is a 1988 book (I do not know If it is out of print or not), but it is titled “Outrageous Conduct” which goes into a lot of detail about the accident and the trial itself. I remember hearing that Steven Spielberg ended his friendship with Landis as a result. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂 I shall read your Midnight Cowboy review right now 🙂
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