Incidental Music and Storyline for “The Devil’s Painter”
Five years after his wife dies, the famous artist, Terry Haines, is bitter against God and the world. His art reflects this, only focusing on the macabre, the dark and the occult. Much in the same way Stephen King is famous in books, Terry is equally well-known in art and much for the same reason. His daughter, Lilith, is featured somehow in all his works, the more to contrast Beauty with Death. She got “discovered” through this and is almost as famous as her father in the modeling industry. Both are “Untouchables” as superstardom makes each more reclusive than ever.
A wealthy young artist, Carl, has become enamored of Lilith beyond usual fandom. An infrequent gala opening shows off some new works by Terry. Carl’s infatuation is obsessive and he won’t miss this for the world: he misses seeing Lilith by seconds and seeing him in mock despair, his friends commiserate. One of them, Rich, confides that he saw Lilith in a nearby cemetery, (apparently where her mother is buried.) Carl is shocked, for Lilith is well known to be under her father’s lock-and-key. He makes an excuse to be “jogging” in the cemetery around sunset and sees Lilith weeping at a marker. She is startled to find that it is getting dark, and Carl offers to escort her to her car.
“Are you sure you want to walk through the park by yourself?” he says. With no other choice, she goes with him. And that is it: she gets in the car and leaves. He is worse than ever and proceeds to call in favors owed to get an apprenticeship with Terry. Finding out that Rich’s new archeological work is near Terry’s retreat, Carl drives out to Arizona to be nearby.
He interviews with Terry. Terry is interested in spite of his reclusive nature, for he realizes that here is a new model he can twist and experiment on at will. Carl is asked to move into the Haynes’ retreat, located on the border of the Navajo Reservation. Terry deviously treats Carl with drugs to elicit images of pain and suffering.
The Navajo housekeeper, Mary, discovers that a native died under mysterious circumstances on the “Rez.” Superstition explodes in the nearby village until natives and whites alike become convinced that the ghost of a malevolent witch floats about. She comes back and tells Terry and the others over dinner. Terry’s obsession with the macabre leads him into over-embellishing Navajo “skinwalker” lore. We find that a skinwalker, or “witch” can change shapes, usually like coyotes, owls or other animals, and cast malevolent spells. The fact that he is now dead only makes it worse as his evil ghost, or chindiis now on the loose. Tension builds as the others are sucked into the eery story.
As Terry and Carl work, an undeclared love grows between Carl and Lilith. Terry begins adding drugs to Carl’s food so he can see what sort of suffering he can elicit for his painting.
Terry goes out of town to get more experimental drugs from Mick, his supplier. Mick’s a little freaked out about the rumors in town, especially when he finds his sheep being killed inexplicably. Terry doesn’t believe that kind of stuff and is surprised that Mick, a modern Navajo, does. Mick replies: “I don’t. It’s just . . .weird.” A dustdevil sweeps across the flats between Mick’s hogan and the distant mountains. It is big. Mick says, mysteriously, “You know, they say a dustdevil is a spirit. You know. A chindi.” Terry’s interest in the macabre is falling quickly into superstition and he leaves, a bit freaked out.
Finally, one dark, very early morning, Terry’s experiments cause Carl to collapse: to all present, appearing dead. Lilith leaves in tears. Terry covers Carl’s body in plaster of paris wanting to make a cast. He does not quite finish before the horror of what he’s doing reaches him and he flees. Carl breaks the cast. Terry realizes he has not locked the door, goes back to the studio, sees a white (powder-covered) Carl and faints. Carl staggers to Lilith’s room, still high as a kite, and Lilith screams as her “dead” lover approaches her.
Carl comes to himself, finds his room and dresses, finally thinking through what’s been going on. He finds a collapsed Terry with a bag of white powder in his pocket and fills in all the gaps. He fills the cast and rebuilds it to its former appearance. A revived Terry sees the “body,” to all purposes undisturbed and is convinced he saw Carl’s ghost. He and Mary hide the “body” in the basement.
In the next few days, Carl spends the night humorously re-painting all of Terry’s works, while Lilith, Mary and Terry sit together, terrified of Carl’s ghost. Every morning they find a new painting by the “ghost.” One evening, Rich and Carl get carried away and add more humor than is practical. Terry freaks out worse than ever, but they make a silly mistake: Lilith understands Carl is the practical joker. She lays her own successful trap for Carl the next night and both confess the situation and their love.
Rich tells them that the Rez police are about to charge a medicine man with fraud. The eerie things happening on the Rez are unrelated, but have been played up by a snakeoil salesman who has been making a financial killing doing healing ceremonies for frightened traditional Navajos. The news will get out and the pranks will no longer be effective. This precipitates their next move:
Lilith talks to a Navajo police officer she knows, Peters. Rich and Carl put roadkill in the basement at night and the smell begins to filter through the house. Peters shows up the next morning looking for a missing “student.” He pretends to smell “the body” and this leads Terry to believe the police are “looking into” Carl’s “death.” This precipitates Terry’s panicked actions. That night, he, Mary and Mick drag the heavy cast into the woods.
Carl and Lilith show up at Mary’s caretaker cottage. She sees Carl, takes him for a chindi and freaks out. They take Mary into their confidence and find out about Mick’s involvement. They believe that “something needs to be done” regarding Terry’s macabre existence and they put a plan into motion. This includes the help of and falconer with an owl, good timing and the disappearance of Mary and Lilith.
Terry now believes his actions against Carl has had its retribution in the skinwalker’s ghost. He actually believes Mary, Carl and Lilith are now chindi, who are after him. He happens to see himself in he mirror and sees and old, old man: he has made his suffering model in himself! It drives him to the bottle and he eventually tries to hang himself. The practical jokers save him in the nick of time and put him to bed.
Terry wakes to a normal morning. Mary is making coffee and Lilith reads the paper at the table. Carl shows up as if nothing had happened at all: Terry drops the mug of coffee (which…well, you know). Terry believes he has been ill and imagined everything that has happened over the last few weeks..
Terry has some soul-searching to do. He sits for weeks at his easel doing nothing but staring at it. The others get worried. When he finally begins painting, we see beautiful paintings of his models, Carl and Lilith, with no pain or suffering, but immense beauty. There has been redemption of the old man and his art.