Almost 30 years ago, Kiefer Sutherland looked over Lake Michigan on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus and proclaimed, “Today is a good day to die.” He was filming the 1990 movie “Flatliners.” Now, a sequel of the same name attempts to revive the film.
While the filming of the 1990 “Flatliners” was a major event for campus, neither the original movie nor the sequel got the same positive attention.
Both films follow the same premise: medical students take turns temporarily stopping their hearts or “flatlining” up to minutes at a time to get a glimpse of what happens after death. Of course, this has consequences.
Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC) was one of the set locations for the first “Flatliners” movie. During filming in 1989, Mark Guarino, a PHOENIX editor, was given inside access to the production to write a 4-page piece covering Loyola’s week as a Hollywood movie set. We spoke with Guarino to talk about his memories of the event.
Guarino said there was a tangible excitement in the air at the time.
“It was a really big deal on campus,” he said. “Kiefer Sutherland was a real big heartthrob at the time. People were really excited about him and Kevin Bacon [on campus].”
The LSC was chosen as a filming location for a few reasons, one of which was the architecture.
“[The location scouts] really liked the art-deco buildings,” Guarino said. “They liked the gothic nature, the mood of those buildings. Dumbach [Hall] and Crown [Hall] were two of the main ones they used.”
The outside of Cudahy Library and the old Jesuit Residence (now replaced by the Information Commons) were also transformed to look like a medical school by replacing the signs and adding statues around them, according to University Archivist Kathy Young.
Loyola was also chosen because of its proximity to Lake Michigan.
“Loyola’s really the only place in Chicago that you can walk right up to the lake and have those buildings right there,” Guarino said. “There’s no Lake Shore Drive separating it and no parks. It’s perfectly situated for what the movie called for.”
When The PHOENIX heard about the big Hollywood production coming to campus, it knew that this wasn’t a typical story. Guarino set out to write a major, 4-page piece covering the filming and was granted unprecedented access because of it.
“The production company was really generous,” Guarino said. “They let me be on set.”
This included meeting the director of the film, Joel Schumacher (“Batman & Robin,” “Batman Forever,” “Falling Down”).
“He was an extremely nice guy,” Guarino said. “I remember him taking time outside his shoot to sit down with me and really explain what he was doing. He was very sweet to me.”
While he didn’t meet Kiefer Sutherland or Kevin Bacon, Guarino did recall seeing various actors and crew members all over campus.
“I remember seeing actors walking back to their trailers,” he said. “They blocked off campus and always shot at night.”
After The PHOENIX published its coverage of Loyola’s week under the bright lights, Guarino said the piece was well-received. The “Flatliners” marketing team also used the piece in their advertising campaign.
“Because it was such a big deal [for campus], we made it above and beyond what we’d typically do,” Guarino said. “They used my story for their press materials to show people what it was like to film in Chicago. That was nice, because a lot of times the expectation is we’re a student newspaper so people don’t take us seriously. But they treated us like we were the [Chicago] Tribune.”
Guarino had nothing but pleasant memories when discussing his time on the set of the original “Flatliners,” however critics felt differently when the film finally hit theaters in 1990.
The original “Flatliners” movie has average ratings with a 50 percent score on the film rating site Rotten Tomatoes. Critics were divided on whether or not the film’s fascinating premise was executed effectively.
2017’s “Flatliners” has been less divisive, currently holding a shocking 3 percent score on the same site. It tries to revive the first film with flashy special effects and fresh young actors, but it ultimately fails to do so.
The new movie was filmed throughout Canada, according to IMDB.
“Flatliners” is marketed as a sci-fi horror film, but the movie’s cheap and predictable jump-scares fail to bring genuine fright.
The movie starts strong, but quickly loses life. Ellen Page stars as Courtney Holmes, who introduces the flatlining experiments to two other medical students, Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton). Another student, Marlo (Nina Dobrev) joins them after catching wind of the experiment.
Holmes is the first flatliner, and she’s quickly revived by her wary colleagues. Her experience after death is cliche but holds some potential. Holmes says she felt “a pure energy” when she died. She’s drawn into a dreamy montage and other-worldly landscapes until she is pulled back into reality.
The students find a promising discovery holding answers to the question of what happens after death, but instead of exploring this further, they try to gain advantages by flatlining. But Holmes’ experience is the only unique one. The other characters have visions tying back to past wrongdoings.
Each character made mistakes, some deadly, on which they never received closure. The four students who went under are haunted by their pasts through persistent visions.
These visions come suddenly and affect the group’s ability to function. The movie deals with conflicts and resolutions too quickly after the premise of the film is introduced.
The question of what happens after death isn’t new, and plenty of movies examine this such as “The Lovely Bones” (2009), “Ghost Town” (2008) and the original “Flatliners.” This film doesn’t add anything to the narrative. It had the potential to explore a new angle, but failed to do so. Instead, it puts the focus on the characters’ past issues and ties things up hastily.
Flatliners is rated PG-13 and runs 110 minutes. It was released on Sept. 29 and is playing in theaters nationwide.